The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Kombucha Tea
Kombucha began in the late 19th century in Russia, with the Kombucha culture
called cajnyj grib (meaning "tea mushroom").  In Russia the drink is called simply
grib (meaning "mushroom"), tea kvass, or just kvass, not to be confused with
regular kvass, traditionally made from water and stale rye bread.
English Kombucha (or Kom-
bocha, "yeast tea") is often confused with
Japanese Kombucha (meaning "kelp tea")
which is a dry, powdered drink mix used to
make a kelp based beverage.  In
Japan the
fermented
black tea based drink called
Kombucha in the West, is called Kocha
Kinoko, meaning "red tea mushroom."

In China Kombucha goes by several different
names, among them, jiaomucha meaning
"yeast tea," hongchajun meaning "red tea
fungus-mushroom," hongchagu meaning "red
tea mushroom," and chameijun meaning "tea
mold."

Kombucha is available
commercially as a ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage, or can be made at home
by creating your own culture to ferment the tea.  The culture consists of
several different
bacteria and yeasts and looks like a large pancake.  It's
often called a "mushroom," a "mother of vinegar," or a SCOBY, an acronym
for Syymbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, and is scientifically classified
as a zoogleal mat.

The Kombucha culture consists of several different
bacterial species which
ferment the alcohol produced by the yeasts into acetic acid, which increas-
es the acidity, and limits the alcohol content.

                                                The acidity and low alcohol content in Kombucha helps resist con-
                                                taminants from airborne molds and
bacterial spores, making the
                                                Kombucha culture fairly easy to maintain in areas inside the
                                                home that aren't perfectly sterile.  Although cleanliness is import
                                                ant, the bacteria and yeasts in the Kombucha culture can also
                                                produce antimicrobial defense molecules, preventing the growth
                                                of unwanted contaminants.

                                                Although it's impossible to gauge precise quantities outside of a
                                                lab analysis, finished Kombucha can contain the following:  mildly
antibacterial acetic acid, alcohol (usually less than 0.05%), B-vitamins, butyric acid, gluconic acid,
lactic acid, malic acid, oxalic acid, and usnic acid.

There are plenty of
health claims surround-
ing Kombucha, some of which are that it
"detoxifys the body and energizes the mind,"
aids in cancer recovery,
increases energy,
          improves eyesight, aids in digestion,
          and helps to swallow sticky or starchy
          foods like rice and pasta, along with
          overall detoxifying properties, helping
          the body's system work properly and
          more efficiently. Most claims have not
          been verified by research or the med-
          ical community, so some may be true,
          while others may not.  We won't know
          for sure until more research is done to
          verify them.  For now, unfortunately,
          you have to proceed with caution and
          at your own risk.

          To brew your own Kombucha, place a culture in sweetened tea, as it's the sugar that
          creates the fermentation.  Black tea is the usual choice, but white, geen, or a
blend of
          teas can be used, although
herbal teas or scented-flavored teas should be avoided as
          the oils may harm the Kombucha culture over time.

                                            To make a standard Kombucha recipe add one cup of sugar per
                                            gallon of tea/water.  Various types of sugar can be used to ferment
                                            the Kombucha, including refined white sugar, evaporated cane
                                            sugar, brown sugar, glucose-fructose syrup, molasses, or pasteur-
                                            rized honey.  Never use raw honey, stevia, xylitol, lactose, or any
                                            type of artificial sweeteners.

                                            The
container should be covered with a muslin or loosely woven
                                            cloth to allow for "breathing" and transfer of gas and to keep out
                                            contaminants such as dust, mold, or other bacteria.  During each
                                            fermentation a baby SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and
                                            Yeast) is produced on the liquid/gas interface.  

          The surface area is the best location for both aerobic bacteria to form on top of the new
          "pancake," and anaerobic bacteria to form on the bottom The surface area also provides
          the right concentration of oxygen for the yeast in the mixture to readily grow.

          After the liquid has fermented for about a week or two it should be tapped, reserving
          some for the next batch to keep the pH low to prevent contamination.  This process can
          then be repeated over and over. In each new batch the "mother" culture will create a
          "baby" with the two cultures easily separated like two pancakes, and moved to a new
          container, while the yeast in the tapped liquid continues to survive.
A second fermentation can be done by moving the liquid to a covered glass jar for approximately
one week to create more carbonation.  Care should be taken, however, as increased carbon
dioxide can cause bottles to explode.

Many home brewers worry about keeping their Kombucha brew safe and free of contaminants.  
When
brewing Kombucha it's important to have a clean area, the right temperature, and a low pH.
If a culture becomes contaminated it will most likely be from common mold which is often green,
blue, or black.  If mold does start growing on the surface of a Kombucha culture or "mushroom,"
it's best to dispose of both tea and culture and start over with a new fresh Kombucha culture.
Enjoy.
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