The Best Tea Flavors for Homemade Kombucha Brewing
Kombucha — the wildly popular fermented tea drink — has taken the world by storm. It’s typically made using loose tea and an array of different flavors that range from sweet and sour to bold and spicy. Whether you want to brew this tasty drink at home or are looking for a great bottled variety, using the best tea for kombucha makes all the difference when it comes to flavor. It also helps ensure you’re brewing or consuming the healthiest tea possible. Brew great tasting kombucha today with this list of the best tea flavors and tips to guide you on your brewing journey.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fizzy tea drink that is made through a fermentation process. The tea is widely regarded as a healthy beverage thanks to a high concentration of probiotics and antioxidants in the beverage.
Kombucha is made from five staple ingredients: water, tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast. The water and tea are combined to produce flavor while the bacteria, yeast, and sugar create a fermentation process that results in a carbonated beverage. The bacteria and yeast used in kombucha brewing are known as a SCOBY — which stands for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast".
Kombucha tea can be made using tea bags or loose leaf tea. Tea is an essential component of kombucha because it provides the SCOBY with nutrients and minerals it needs to grow and sustain itself long-term. Tea contains tannins, polyphenols, nitrogen, caffeine, and other compounds like theanine that support the fermentation process. Without these ingredients, you'll have a hard time making a healthy SCOBY that can produce tasty kombucha tea.
The Best Teas For Making Kombucha
While we usually recommend brewing teas that you love, not all teas are suited for brewing kombucha. In general, true teas are the better choice if you want to make kombucha at home. True teas, or real tea, are a type of tea made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis tea plant. There are five types of true tea including green tea, white tea, black tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea.
Most herbal teas don't contain enough tannins and other ingredients to keep your SCOBY healthy. Teas like Earl Grey and other flavored teas also contain oils and artificial flavorings that can damage the fermentation process and should be avoided. In addition, some herbal teas boast antibacterial properties that may kill the healthy bacteria in your SCOBY.
That doesn't mean you have to swear off all herbal teas like hibiscus, chamomile, peppermint, and rooibos. If you love herbal flavors, you can still brew them in kombucha, just make sure to blend it with at least 25 percent true tea leaves to preserve the health of your SCOBY. Beginner brewers should stick with true teas until they get a hang of the fermentation process. Advanced brewers can experiment with herbal flavors to produce unique tea blends, while still preserving the kombucha SCOBY properly.
True Teas For Brewing Kombucha
Black tea is a classic go-to tea for people who have been brewing kombucha for years. The term "kombucha" is a Chinese word that literally translates to "red tea bacteria". In China, red tea is the term used for what the rest of the world calls black tea.
The tea contains tannins and other compounds that offer a bold flavor and full body. In addition to taste, this tea contains all the nutrients and minerals a SCOBY kombucha culture needs for fermenting.
Black tea is oxidized, meaning enzymes in the tea leaves are allowed to interact with oxygen. This oxidation process produces the dark black or deep brown hue of the tea leaves and also develops the rich, bold flavor profile associated with black teas.
Green tea is a non-oxidized tea that offers grassy, herbaceous, and vegetal flavors. There are two main types of green tea: Chinese green teas and Japanese green teas. During the production process, Chinese green teas — like gunpowder green tea — are dried using roasting or pan-firing methods. This results in a toasted and earthy green tea with a medium body.
Japanese green teas — like Sencha and matcha — are steamed during the drying process rather than roasted. These types of green tea tend to have more vegetal and umami flavors. They're often described as having hints of seaweed and grassy notes.
Green tea is well-suited for brewing a batch of kombucha thanks to large amounts of nutrients including antioxidants and polyphenols. This type of tea contains high concentrations of the amino acid L-theanine as well as catechins like EGCG, which has been associated with a host of health benefits including improved digestive health and lower blood pressure (1).
Oolong tea is a partially oxidized tea that offers a middle ground of flavor between green tea and black tea. Lightly oxidized oolong teas have a light body and sweet, floral flavors while heavily oxidized oolongs are bolder and more robust. The tea also boasts high amounts of catechins and tannins that SCOBYs need to produce the fermented, sour kombucha blends.
White tea is made from the youngest leaves and tea buds of the tea plant. This tea offers a delicate, nuanced flavor that has hints of mild sweetness. It is a light-bodied tea with an airy feel that is perfect for tea drinkers who enjoy mild flavors. White tea also contains high amounts of catechins that are great for supporting a kombucha SCOBY. Try Silver Needle white teas for the highest quality flavor and health benefits.
Tips For Making Kombucha
There are hundreds of bottling companies that brew kombucha for sale in grocery stores and online. While it's easy to grab a bottle of the fermented brew, it's also simple enough to make at home thanks to online tutorials on how to brew kombucha.
You don't need a lot of teaware tools to brew kombucha tea. In fact, there are just a few simple things you'll need. Always brew kombucha and store the SCOBY in a large glass jar, not a reactive container. Metal, crystal, and plastic containers can contaminate the fermentation process and create negative health consequences so stick to glass. Alternatively, you can also use food-grade ceramic or porcelain jars instead.
Since fermenting tea can attract fruit flies and other pests, you'll want to keep the glass jar closed to prevent contamination. You can use a coffee filter, dish towel, or butter muslin to cover the container. The kombucha needs to be able to breathe so avoid using air-tight lids and seals. Instead, look for tightly-woven fabrics that can keep out pests, but still allow airflow. Secure the towel or fabric using a rubber band.
A strainer and funnel can help make bottling easier while a tea strainer makes it easy to steep tea leaves without creating a mess. Thermometers are another great tool that helps maintain the proper temperature for fermentation. The SCOBY is most effective when it's at room temperature so you can use a thermometer to monitor any changes. Kombucha made with culturing kombucha that is too warm will result in vinegary types of tea while those made at cooler temperatures will have a weak flavor instead of a delicious sweet tea taste when made at room temperature.
How to Make Kombucha
1. Find a SCOBY
Kombucha starter tea kits include a SCOBY, making it easy to brew your first batch. You can also find SCOBY cultures for sale from a variety of kombucha producers. If you're looking for a truly DIY experience, you can make your own SCOBY, though it is a time-intensive process that can be difficult for beginners to master.
2. Brew Tea & Sugar
Choose the best tea for your kombucha and brew it using hot water. Always use spring water instead of tap water or distilled water, which don't develop flavors well. In addition to steeping the loose leaf tea, you'll want to add sugar for the fermentation process. Stick to white cane sugar or organic cane juice crystals for the best results. You can also use honey, but avoid artificial sweeteners and things like agave or maple syrup, which can damage the SCOBY.
If you want a fizzier kombucha, you can add in fruits like berries and peaches. The added sugar will increase fermentation and produce carbonated bubbles. Some people also use fruit juice to add a touch of extra sugar and flavor.
3. Combine Tea and SCOBY
Let the tea cool to room temperature and then add the SCOBY to the mixture. Add a dash of brewed kombucha to jump-start the fermentation process. If you're going the DIY homemade route, you can also complete the first fermentation and second fermentation process on your own. Using a pre-made kombucha can help speed up the brewing process.
Let the liquid sit in a glass jar for one to two weeks. During this time, the bacteria and yeast will slowly convert the sugar into alcohol through the process of fermentation. After one week, taste the kombucha. Some people may want to ferment the tea a bit longer if they prefer more sour notes. The perfect kombucha tea will have a delicate balance between sweet and sour notes.
5. Bottle It Up
Once the tea reaches your desired flavor, use a fine mesh strainer to pour the liquid into an air-tight bottle. Store in the refrigerator and keep the lid on tight to lock in the carbonation.
6. Save the SCOBY
The SCOBY can be reused multiple times for new batches of kombucha. Combine it with kombucha starter in a sealed jar in the refrigerator until you are ready to brew the next batch.
Brew Kombucha Today
Tea is an essential component of brewing kombucha. While there are thousands of tea flavors, the five true teas are the best tea options when it comes to making homemade kombucha. As you develop your kombucha brewing skills, you can begin experimenting with herbal teas including yerba mate in your next batch. Brew up a healthy and delicious batch of booch today and sip your way to bliss.