Kombucha Brewing 101: How Is Kombucha Made?
The Science Behind Kombucha Brewing
Have you ever wondered how kombucha is made? How does it get its fizz and unique taste? There’s a reason why kombucha is reportedly the fastest growing product in the functional beverage market. Nielsen found kombucha to be one of the most popular low-alcoholic fermented beverages in the world.
When you dive into kombucha brewing, you realize just how amazing kombucha really is. It’s so wonderfully different from carbonated beverages, sugary drinks, or simple teas. Speaking of tea, that’s where we’ll get started because kombucha is basically sweet tea with some pretty cool science behind it.
Starting with Sweet Tea
All kombucha begins as sweet tea: tea leaves, water and sugar. The tea leaves used will depend on the kombucha manufacturer. At Brew Dr., we do things a little differently than anyone else. We started out as a tea company, and there’s a reason our teas get so many great reviews.
We source our teas thoughtfully, partnering with tea buyers who carefully curate tea leaves from some of the world’s best growers. With tea as the foundation for kombucha, we think the tea part matters. So do our customers who choose our kombucha over so many other options.
After the tea is brewed, the fermentation process is where science takes over. A combination of specific yeast and bacteria are added to the sweet tea, often referred to as SCOBY. SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. The sugar from the sweet tea feeds the SCOBY, aiding in its growth of beneficial colonies of bacteria.
You can even see this bacteria on the bottom of many kombucha bottles. It’s often referred to as “the mother.” If you see this floating in your kombucha, don’t fear! It’s perfectly natural and nothing to be afraid of.
However, you’re not likely to see bits of SCOBY in any Brew Dr. bottles. This actually has to do with our carbonation process — We’ll explain!
Those bits of SCOBY typically form during a process called secondary fermentation, or bottle conditioning. After a primary fermentation, some brewers allow the kombucha to ferment a little more in the bottle, producing carbonation.
At Brew Dr., we choose to gently carbonate our kombucha using chilled brite tanks. The process is similar to that of craft beer. By using brite tanks instead of a secondary fermentation, we can make sure the carbonation levels are consistent and avoid producing any extra alcohol as a byproduct of fermentation. It also means you won’t find many floaters in our brews!
Much of the sugar in the sweet tea is consumed by the yeast in the SCOBY during the fermentation process, producing byproducts of carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is what gives kombucha the slightly fizzy and tart taste. Residual sugar gives the kombucha its mildly sweet taste, although some manufacturers add additional sweeteners to further sweeten their kombuchas.
The fermentation process continues over a set number of days in a controlled-temperature environment. Because commercially-sold kombucha must remain below 0.5 percent alcohol, we use a unique, non-heat distillation process that removes excess alcohol without compromising the live and active cultures.
Kombucha brewing is a somewhat complex process with results that are well worth the effort. Once you get the kombucha bug, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!
The Many Flavors of Kombucha
You’ve probably seen dozens upon dozens of kombucha flavors on the market. How kombucha is flavored depends on the manufacturer. At Brew Dr., we start with great-tasting tea. We then blend in organic botanicals, herbs, fruit, and fruit juices to make our kombucha delicious. Many of our herbs and botanicals are added directly to the sweet tea before the fermentation process begins.
In this way, our flavors are not only completely from nature, but they “marinate” in the tea during the entire fermentation process, giving our kombuchas a deep, complex, and rich flavor profile.
In some of our kombuchas, we add organic fruit juice or puree post-fermentation to help balance out flavors and create the best tasting kombucha for our customers to enjoy.
Most commercial kombuchas are sold in glass bottles and stocked in refrigerated coolers. Since our kombucha is raw and unpasteurized, it contains live and active cultures. It therefore must be stored cold to maintain freshness and consistency.
If unrefrigerated, raw kombucha will continue to ferment in the bottle or can. This can create more carbonation, and in extreme cases, the bottle or can may burst. Continued fermentation will also affect the overall taste, quality, and live organisms.
Brew Dr. packages our kombuchas in two ways: in glass bottles and aluminum cans. Our bottles and cans aren’t your basic bottle or can, either. We put a lot of thought and work into the design.
Our bottles are brown to keep the sunlight out and to prevent oxidation that could compromise flavor and quality. They use up to 20% recycled glass in production, a number we hope to increase in the coming years. They also feature a slim design that reduces their shipping weight by 700 pounds per truckload — And lighter truckloads equal lower carbon emissions. They are even up-cyclable as decor.
Our cans were also specifically designed to be transportable. The lightweight cans have a distinctive wide mouth for a smooth flow. Both our bottles and cans are 100% recyclable.
The Difference Between Home Brewing and Professional Brewing
Brewing kombucha at home has become very popular over the past few years. It seems like everyone is finally understanding the joys of kombucha and the magic of fermentation. We think that is exciting, and we support folks who delve into the world of kombucha brewing and experiment with their own home-brews!
However, professionally made kombucha has a few advantages. Professional kombucha brewers like Brew Dr.:
- Have spent decades refining their tried-and-true brew practices
- Have access to a cornucopia of high-quality ingredients from all over the world
- Take special precautions to make sure their products are healthy and safe
Professional brewers have invested time and money designing state of the art kombucha brewing facilities with specialized equipment. The combination of high-quality ingredients with the right tools for the job help ensure that every batch comes out exactly as designed.
Kombucha brewers rely on a system of commercial-grade fermentation tanks, hoses, lines, valves and clean-in-place systems to craft their meticulous recipes. This equipment is kept in tip-top shape and brewers follow strict methods for cleanliness.
High-Quality Monitoring of Important Metrics
After years of commercial brewing experience, professional kombucha brewers have identified certain important metrics to monitor in order to ensure a perfect brew every time. The Brew Dr. Kombucha team is no different.
Without monitoring for these metrics, a batch of kombucha could experience inconsistencies in carbonation, alcohol content, sweetness, and overall taste and flavor. Some metrics to consider are:
- Final gravity: the weight of the liquid at the end of brewing. Suggested final gravities are between 1020-1030
- pH content: kombucha is typically between 2.5 and 3.5, with sweeter kombucha having higher pH levels, and more tart kombucha having lower pH
- Titratable acidity: the approximate measure of total acidity in a batch of kombucha
- Carbonation: yeast in kombucha eats the sugar content, and turns it into alcohol and co2
- Alcohol by volume: also known as ABV, the alcohol by volume is closely monitored to ensure it remains below 0.5% by volume in the final product.
So now you understand a little more about the ins and outs of kombucha brewing. The next time you’re craving something deliciously nutritious and fizzy, reach for one of our brews. You might just have a deeper appreciation for the time, care, and science behind it!