What Is Kombucha And How Can I Prepare Healthy Kombucha Tea?

This essay discusses some of the claimed health benefits of the Kombucha tea, discusses its preparation and examines the controversy surrounding this unusual beverage.

Kombucha tea is touted as a cure-all and is used throughout the world by people who have a wide variety of ailments ranging from acne to cancer. The tea is thought to have originated in China or the Middle East, but has flourished in other cultures and times and has become a phenomenon in present-day America.

This essay will discuss some of the claimed health benefits of the tea, discuss its preparation and places to find starter kits, and examine the controversy surrounding this unusual beverage. The first order of business, however, is explaining what the "mushroom tea" is and describing how the fermentation process works.

Although sometimes called a mushroom, the Kombucha colony is actually a fermentation of various yeasts and bacteria. This colony expands over a fermentation vessel, spreading across the water in a gelatinous film. When a starter kit - comprised of a colony and a small amount of fermented tea - is added to a brew, the original colony sinks beneath the surface of the liquid and a "baby" is created.

The culture ferments the sugar in the water exactly like beer yeast, and the tea does retain a very slight alcohol rating. (It also obviously contains caffeine from the tea, as well.) The amount of sugar and tea used varies somewhat from recipe to recipe, but the overall equation creates a PH level that's hospitable to the colony and encourages fermentation. Carbon dioxide is created through the process, which creates a zestful carbonation in the drink.

The process then involves straining out the two masses for future use and storing the tea for everyday use. A small amount of Kombucha will grow in any space that has an oxygen supply and sugar for it to feed on, so expect to find some inconsistency in the tea, even after straining, if you've left it for some time in a container.

The colony (or Scoby) is a symbiotic culture of specific bacteria and yeast. If this colony is contaminated, dispose of the tea and the Scoby immediately; but if the culture remains pure it can be reused for quite some time and stored indefinitely under sterile conditions.

Kombucha tea has been used for thousands of years. The tea is thought to work as a general detoxifier. This means that it does not necessarily combat one type of alignment - the way certain herbs are used in the treatment of arthritis, for example - but rather helps the entire body by ridding it of poisons and toxins. The tea's detoxifying characteristics have been cited as one reason it is sometimes used for cancer patients.

In addition, the tea is said to help with digestion. Numerous Russian studies conducted in the early part of this century demonstrate its power in helping patients deal with constipation and intestinal deficiencies and digestive disorders.

Kombucha also works as an astringent, pulling "toxins" out of the body, and there are many recipes for creating face creams from the colony or applying the tea directly to acne, eczema and other damaged areas. The colony has also been used as compost around gardens and in household plants.

Kombucha tea can be brewed using both black teas and green teas, but green teas appear to offer better benefits. Usually the tea is brewed using a mother colony, but you may also brew it using a small starter vial of the tea itself, though fermentation time will be affected.

Many holistic health companies also sell Kombucha, and there are lists online where proponents swap colonies. Always make sure your source is reputable and be sure to throw away any culture contaminated with mold. Any colony should come with a cup or two of the tea brew in a sealed baggy or piece of Tupperware.

The tea will ferment best if left at room temperature, but colonies have been know to form in rooms well below 60 degrees. On the other hand, some studies have suggested that the tea will ferment much faster if it is in a very hot environment.

An easy direction for brewing the tea follows. Use only white sugar and purified water, and keep your work area sterile.

Boil three quarts of water with four or five tea bags in a stainless steel pot. Slowly pour in one cup of sugar until it dissolves. Keep the tea bags in the container for 15 minutes, then discard them. Cover the container and let it sit until the water is room temperature, and then add the colony, using a wooden spoon.

Don't panic if the colony sinks to the bottom of your fermentation container: Not all "mothers" float. Cover the top of the fermentation container with a paper towel or other breathable material. Your colony will need to breath and the barrier will keep contaminates and insects from bothering your tea. In five to seven days the "baby" colony will form over the top of the tea.

On average, allow between six and nine days for your tea to ferment. Removing the colony from your fermentation container too early will result in a very sweet tea while keeping it for too long will create a sort of vinegar. The vinegar has all the health benefits of the tea.

Warnings: The United States' Food and Drug Administration has not approved or endorsed health benefits associated with Kombucha. Furthermore the FDA has issued a warning about the possibility of contamination and advises against using lead-glazed pots in the brewing process. In addition, there have been some reported health risks linked to liver damage from drinking the tea.

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