WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?

Kombucha is a refreshing, healthful beverage made by fermenting sweet tea. The culture that metabolizes the sweet tea is a pancake-like “mother,” known popularly by the acronym “SCOBY," which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.

WHERE DID KOMBUCHA COME FROM?

Kombucha has a long history as a folk beverage made in households. In my decades of conversation at farmers markets, I have talked with many people whose grandmothers from China, Russia, and Ukraine make this in their homes in the old country. Many people believe that it began in China, which seems likely since tea culture has its roots there. The transmission of kombucha knowledge would seem to run from China to Russia and then through western Europe to the US.

THERE ARE SO MANY KOMBUCHA VARIETIES NOW; HOW IS YOURS DIFFERENT?

  • We seek out exceptional teas. Tea is the basis of kombucha; exceptional tea is the basis of great kombucha. We use organic Himalayan tea – a blend from biodynamic green tea from the Makaibari Tea Estate in Darjeeling and green tea from Nepal Tea – which leads to a light, well-balanced, mouth-watering tartness.

  • We “bottle condition” our kombucha after the primary fermentation is complete. This period of further development in the bottle or keg brings about a fuller flavor and delightful effervescence.

  • Nothing is added; nothing is taken away. We do not add additional sugar or flavoring elements of any kind. We do not pasteurize, filter, centrifuge, or otherwise alter our kombucha. It is full of living microorganisms. It is not intoxicating but does contain between 1.5 and 2% alcohol.

  • Reusable deposit bottles reduce our carbon footprint.

  • We are a local business. Our brewery is in Seattle’s Central District.

  • Our kombucha is delicious – crisp and elegant, with subtle citrus notes and a very clean finish.

WHY DON’T YOU HAVE FLAVORS?

[to be written]

WHAT ARE KOMBUCHA’S HEALTH BENEFITS?

I have been happily making and consuming kombucha since 1993, and read avidly about it, but I am not an authority. I consider kombucha a tonic that assists the body in maintaining good health. Different people, with different constitutions, in different situations will experience kombucha differently. As Chris Kresser, a functional medicine practitioner, writes (in another context), “We share a lot in common as human beings, but we also have important differences—in our genes, gene expression, health status, physical activity, and goals.”

There is fascinating research being done now, and while much more work is needed to confirm specific benefits, the research often shows plausible connections between “anecdotal reports” of benefits and known effects of compounds which can be found in kombucha.

The Big Book of Kombucha, by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory, gives as complete an account of kombucha research as I know of, and includes citations!

IS THERE ANYTHING DANGEROUS ABOUT DRINKING KOMBUCHA?

Here is information my dentist gave me when I asked if he has concerns:

Dental concerns about kombucha

Thank you for your concern regarding educating your customers on how to protect their teeth when drinking kombucha. If we work together, I think we can maximize the many benefits of kombucha while also reducing the potential damage to teeth. The damage occurs due to the acidity of kombucha. It causes demineralization and erosion of enamel. I have a couple of recommendations to minimize this effect: 

  • Limit slow sipping of kombucha - It is better to drink the whole serving of kombucha at one time versus sipping it throughout the day. It takes approximately 20 minutes for saliva to neutralize following exposure to acid. If you are sipping throughout the day, your saliva doesn't have time to neutralize before it [is] exposed to further acid, and the constant exposure can damage teeth. 

  • Sip through a straw to limit exposure directly to teeth - a glass or metal straw is preferable, as the acidity of kombucha can cause plastic to leach. 

  • Drink water after kombucha to help neutralize saliva. 

  • Baking soda is a great buffer against the acid. Do a baking soda rinse before bed. 

  • Do not brush your teeth immediately following kombucha. The combination of toothbrush abrasion and acid can be doubly damaging to teeth. Wait at least 1 hour after drinking before brushing.  

WHAT ABOUT PROBIOTICS? AREN’T PROBIOTICS ONE OF THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF KOMBUCHA?

Since the early 20th century there has been enthusiasm about the health benefits of kombucha. I started making it in 1993 because of the testimonials about these benefits. However, I am reluctant to endorse with the common perception that “the health benefits of kombucha are largely attributable to probiotics.” 

My sense is that the thinking behind this belief goes like this:

  1. Kombucha is a fermented food. 

  2. Fermented foods have probiotics.

  3. Probiotics are good for us.

  4. Kombucha is good for us because of its probiotics.

However,

  1. Fermentation is a very broad term. Beer and wine are fermented; cheese and bread are fermented. They do not contain probiotics.

  2. Some fermented foods do contain probiotics. However, the scientific and legal definition is very narrow. Probiotics are defined as microorganisms that when present in large enough amounts have a specific healthful effect on the body.

  3. All kombucha is not created equal. While some kombucha SCOBYs, according to my research, do have the sort of bacteria which are defined as probiotic (Lactobacillus spp. is one), it is by no means universally present in all kombucha. And its absence does not make the kombucha any less “kombucha” or any less healthful. And it can be present in varying amounts. 

  4. The FAQ page of Kombucha Wonder Drink answers the probiotic question this way. “The fermentation process does NOT naturally introduce probiotics in levels high enough to meet the World Health Organization's definition. For a kombucha to contain probiotics, you must add proven, well-established probiotics to the beverage after the fermentation process.” In fact, it has become important enough in the marketplace to be able to (truthfully) claim the presence of probiotics, that the largest kombucha maker has purchased an exclusive license to utilize a proprietary strain of probiotic. This is added after fermentation.

DOES KOMBUCHA HELP DIGESTION?

A consistent theme in the reports of kombucha drinkers from the early 20th century to today has been improvements in digestive health. This is potentially very significant because it is said that 80% of our immune system depends on a healthy gut.

While I do not think it is accurate to say that the benefits of kombucha are due to probiotics, I do have faith in the importance of “bacterial diversity.”  To quote an article from Vice:

Zhaoping Li, professor of medicine and chief of the division of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles, has studied the microbiome and calls beneficial bacteria “our good neighbors.” “They're part of us—the microbes,” she says. “We need to be very mindful and take care of them.”

But if it's a probiotic boost you're seeking, Heather Hallen-Adams [Hallen-Adams, a microbiologist, is an assistant professor in the food science and technology department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln] recommends yogurt or kefir instead—it boasts more good bugs, has been more solidly linked to health benefits (including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels, and obesity).

Besides, you don't necessarily need to ingest more bacteria, even the beneficial types. “You have good seeds, you just need to take care of them. You don't need to keep planting in poor conditions,” Li says. In other words, you're better off nurturing the flora already growing in your gut with high-quality soil and fertilizer, aka a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, and bacteria-feeding fiber. “If you really want to grow the garden with rich variety, take good care of it by eating right.”

WHAT ABOUT OTHER BENEFITS?

The two most basic facts about kombucha are:

  1. It is made from tea:

  2. It is fermented by yeast and bacteria.

A significant health benefit, about which there is no ambiguity, is the healthful effect of tea’s antioxidants and polyphenols. Dr. Andrew Weil writes about green tea that:

“thousands of scientific studies confirm what the ancient Chinese knew through simple observation: green tea is perhaps the most healthful beverage human beings can consume. Studies either strongly suggest or confirm that the antioxidants in green tea can reduce LDL cholesterol, promote fat burning, reduce the risk of several forms of cancer and alleviate depression.”

Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation, write in his foreword to The Big Book of Kombucha,

“Fermentation preserves food, makes it more flavorful and digestible, makes nutrients more bioavailable, breaks down certain toxic compounds, and produces others that are beneficial.”

DOES KOMBUCHA HAVE MUCH SUGAR?

In the universe of beverages, kombucha does not have much sugar. Apple juice has 24 grams per 8 fl oz serving. Coke has 26 grams in 8 oz, or 39 grams in a can. The residual sugar level varies brand by brand, and flavor by flavor. Some kombucha is sweetened with stevia and so has much less sugar.

HOW MUCH SUGAR IS IN YOUR KOMBUCHA? WHY DOESN’T YOUR LABEL HAVE A NUTRITION PANEL?

There is about 10 grams sugar in an 8 oz serving of our kombucha. This is about the amount of sugar in half an apple. We are regulated as beer and as such are not required to have a nutrition panel. I have discovered over the course of years of testing our kombucha and many other brands, that many, if not most, labels do not report sugar levels accurately. Many of the biggest brands have been sued, some multiple times, because of inaccurate labeling.

I do not want people to compare our label with other brands’ labels, and conclude that our kombucha has more sugar because the other label lists a lower – but not accurate – level. In tests I have performed with our instruments, there is only one brand that we have measured with a lower sugar level than ours. Most are 50% higher; some are more than twice as high.

WHY DOES YOUR KOMBUCHA HAVE ALCOHOL?

This is another topic that requires some careful explanation. Kombucha is sweet tea fermented by a culture of yeast and bacteria. First, yeast eats sugar and makes alcohol, just as in wine and beer. In kombucha’s case, this alcohol is not the goal, but is a step in a more complex metabolic pathway. The alcohol is food for the bacteria. The bacteria are a microbiological powerhouse; my sense is, if we want the bacteria to do good work for us, let’s give them what they need in order to thrive! 

WHY DO YOU USE GREEN TEA? ISN’T KOMBUCHA USUALLY MADE WITH BLACK TEA?

Kombucha is usually made with black tea. This may be because black tea was more common in Russia. However, I suspect it is because kombucha is more challenging to make with green tea. I originally chose green tea when I started making kombucha in 1993 because it is richer in antioxidants and polyphenols. A happy accident is that green tea produces a different acid profile, and is not as sour or vinegary. Because of this, it is more palatable without adding sweetening from sugar or other substances. Our kombucha is notably dry.

WHAT DOES “BIODYNAMIC“ MEAN?

Wikipedia says,Biodynamic agriculture was the first of the organic agriculture movements. … It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks, emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives.”

Biodynamic agriculture was conceived by Rudolph Steiner in the early 20th century as an answer to the challenge of “degraded soil conditions and a deterioration in the health and quality of crops and livestock resulting from the use of chemical fertilizers” [Wikipedia] after the first World War. Steiner is also responsible for Waldorf Education and the Campbell Movement.

“Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition.”from Biodynamics Association web page

WHY DO YOU SELL YOUR KOMBUCHA IN DEPOSIT BOTTLES?

[Answer coming soon.]