What is Kombucha Tea?
It is exactly that, Tea, but with a little twist! Instead of milk and sugar, you are getting a concoction of bacteria and yeasts. Sound odd? It is, but not so much when you think that yogurt, kimchi, and kefir are all cultured products.
Kombucha too is a cultured drink. This means that it goes through a fermentation process, where a sugary tea solution and a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast (known as a SCOBY), are left to sit for a period of time. During this time, the beneficial bacteria and yeasts, get to work feeding on the sugar and tea to produce a low sugar, probiotic-rich beverage that is great for supporting your natural gut microbiome.
The length of time that Kombucha should be left for varies considerably on several factors, such as temperature, sugar content, the quantity of starter solution used and even personal taste. But it is over this period, that a fascinating process happens. A new Kombucha SCOBY (baby SCOBY) forms on top of the original (or mother). How?
Breaking It Down – The Kombucha Scoby
First, let me clear something up. The Kombucha SCOBY is a Colony of bacteria and yeasts. It is not a mushroom or fungus, which it can be mistakenly referred to. This and the biochemical processes, are important to understand if you attempt to produce Kombucha tea yourself at home.
So let’s get a little nerdy and a take a closer look.
The Kombucha SCOBY is a network of cellulose fibers produced primarily by a particular strain of bacteria, Acetobacter xylinium. Other bacteria and yeasts house themselves in this network and thrive, producing a thick, creamy pancake like colony, with the consistency of raw squid.
The yeasts in this colony take the first steps in the fermentation process. They produce yeast strand’s that are sent down from the SCOBY into the solution and break down the sugar (sucrose) into its smaller molecules, fructose and glucose. This process releases carbon dioxide and alcohol. The next step is the cool bit! The acetic acid bacteria actually convert the alcohol to acetic acid (Drunk little guys!) and glucose to gluconic acid.
In the early stages, the alcohol produced takes on an important role in protecting the brew from foreign infections. While it is the acetic acid that gives Kombucha its iconic mild vinegary smell, it also protects the brew in the later stage, as it lowers the overall pH.
Low sugar & Non-alcoholic
This process is how Kombucha tea comes out low in sugar and non-alcoholic. In fact, our PJ Kombucha comes out around 3.5g of sugar per 100ml. That’s not too shabby if I do say so myself.
But, when it comes to Kombucha tea, it is important to understand that sugar is a vital part of the brewing process and is not the enemy. As we saw from above, it kick starts the whole process and is essentially the yeast’s food.
There you have it! Now you know one of the main processes that take place during kombucha tea fermentation. You can now pass on the information and tell your mates what’s what, when they ask, “What the hell is this Kombucha I keep hearing about?”