Kombucha 101 - Tea
Aktualisiert: 24. März 2022
Tea is essential for the traditionally brewed Kombucha.
By tea, we obviously refer to the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.
Tea is divided into different categories, and that it is based on how that tea was processed.
The earliest Kombucha recipes that can be found called for black tea. As a matter of fact black tea was used for a very long time for many reasons. In European countries, like in Germany for example, black tea was always the most popular & most available tea. So was the case with Russia.
The wide availability of black tea, made the tea price affordable, so that could be one reason why it was used.
Another reason was the high caffeine & tannin content, that black teas have. Both of those factors help with better fermentation & overall with a better health of the culture (SCOBY).
Since Kombucha was considered to be a highly medicinal drink for quite some time, there was a very specific recipe from which it was not recommended that one should stray away.
Many doctors, including a German doctor Sklennar (see History of Kombucha p.2 here) considered black tea to be optimal to achieve specific results. Also many older books from late 1980s & early 1990s did not recommend using any other tea, than the black one.
The optimal recipe was: a TBS of black tea & 100-150 gr of sugar per liter.
Also, let's take a look at the the Chinese name for Kombucha.
It is hong cha jun” (红茶菌), which can be translated into "red tea bacteria". Hong Cha, is actually a Chinese or Taiwanese red tea, which in the West is categorized as black tea.
It is a different type of black tea, when compared with the traditional Assams or Darjeelings made specifically for the British & European markets.
This whole concept can be confusing, but it is pretty well explained in the blog entry "Hong Cha? No, I wanted Black Tea", which can be found here.
Needless to say, you will find Hong Cha as a separate tea category, with skillfully highly oxidized teas that usually cost a good amount of money.
We have made Kombucha with a Taiwanese Sanxia Hong Cha before & it was well worth it, even though the price of the tea was over 300 Euro per kg, at that time.
To read about our Sanxia Hong Cha Kombucha, please click here.
Black tea is definitely a good tea to make Kombucha with. Especially a high quality black tea.
Kombucha made with those teas is very complex in flavor. In many cases its flavor profile can carry a resemblance to a good quality red wine.
Take our recent special, Black Jungle Tea Kombucha, made with a high quality Taiwanese tea from the Sun Moon Lake area, in which the malt & fruit notes of the tea come out so nicely in the Kombucha.
Some other high quality black teas that we have used before that made an excellent Kombucha were Chinese Keemun Mao Feng and Nilgiri South Indian Treasure.
Both highly recommended, if you are looking for an excellent Kombucha.
There are also black teas that carry more resemblance to the highly oxidized Oolongs, rather than the standard black teas. Many of them are quite special.
We use one of them to make our Jun Chiyabari Bärbucha Kombucha.
This particular black tea has strong malt & chocolate notes. When this Kombucha is freshly made, it can really serve as a liquid desert.
This particular tea, is a second flush black tea, and it comes from the famous Jun Chiyabari tea plantation in Nepal.
Another excellent black tea worth mentioning here, is Leafhopper's Black
This one gave us a super delicious Kombucha with strong honey notes. Those notes were the result of cicada bites, as this tea belongs to the category of bug bitten teas (in this particular case, it's a good thing).
And we should not forget about the humble Darjeeling, one of our Classic line Kombuchas that is made by cold brewing Darjeeling (black) tea.
This specific brewing process gives us even more fruity notes (like hints of raisins, dates or plums) that lie hidden in those second flush tea leaves.
But black tea is just the beginning, if one wants to experiment with different teas.
All other types of tea work equally well with Kombucha. And there are many of those types to experiment with. So let's start with the opposite end of oxidation process, namely the white tea.
White tea also makes a nice Kombucha. But this Kombucha is quite different.
For once, it will be much lighter than black tea Kombucha. Also, the additional flavors that lie hidden in the white tea will be very delicate.
Making Kombucha with a white tea can be tricky as they are delicate & they can also cost a lot of money. So, it is easy to ruin this Kombucha by letting it ferment for too long. When that happens, the vinegary notes of organic acids can overpower the delicate notes of the tea.
If white tea is new to you & you want to find out about different types of white tea & white tea history, please click here.
There are two types of white tea that are better known: Silver Needle (Yin Zhen Bai Hao) & White Peony (Pai Mu Tan).
We picked Pai Mu Tan to make Kombucha with, as this tea has a fuller flavor & a greater potency.
Here, the mild peony & other floral notes stand out. And they stand out even more in the Kombucha, than in the tea itself.
The next category, green tea, has a wider selection to work with. Here one can find a really wide selection of teas that can come from either China, or Taiwan, or even Japan.
Green tea Kombucha is light & very refreshing. It can be compared to a nice floral or fruity white wine (sans alcohol, obviously). This kind of Kombucha will appeal to a really wide audience.
In our selection, we do have a few Kombuchas that are strictly green tea based. Some of them have an extra flavoring agent added, like various flowers in our Morgenduft Kombucha, or Bergamot oil (and calendula flowers) in our Lady Grey Kombucha. We also had to have a Kombucha that would jasmine flavored - our Jasmine Kombucha - made with a cold brewed Jasmine Mao Feng.
Cold brewing this tea, preserves the delicate notes of Jasmine that this tea has.
Osmanthus Gui Hua, a green tea mixed with osmanthus flowers is another tea that we make Kombucha with - our Osmanthus Kombucha.
That is a very light Kombucha with sweet floral notes of osmanthus flowers.
All the above mentioned teas are an easy & predictable choice for a tea based Kombucha.
Predictable, because the main flavor is already there.
Other green teas that are not flavored with additional ingredient(s) are more challenging.
Kombucha made with those teas, will have to accentuate the finer notes that are characteristic for a specific tea. That is when it's made right.
This particular tea has discernible, natural passion fruit notes & those notes come out even stronger after the Kombucha fermentation process.
But Jade Silk is not the only unflavored green tea that we made Kombucha with.
A good quality Pi Lo Chun (Bilochun) makes a very tasty Kombucha, like the one that we used to make this Pi Lo Chun Bärbucha Kombucha.
Longjing (Lung Ching) is the tea of choice for our Jun Kombucha.
But we used it also as a special. The tea has those tasty, pan-roasted notes, that are so characteristic of Lonjings.
Other good choices for excellent Kombucha would include teas like Anji Baicha, or even some Japanese teas, like Kukicha. We made a Kombucha out of it a while back.
Good quality Sencha, Gyokuro or Kabusecha would also be good choices for a fine Kombucha.
Japanese Genmaicha makes a great Kombucha, too. We had it couple of times already as a special & many of our customers loved the sweet notes of roasted rice that make up this tea, along with good quality Sencha.
As a matter of fact, there are many less known good quality green teas out there. If they stand out flavor wise, then they should also stand out as a Kombucha.
Oolongs are probably the most exciting category of teas to make Kombucha with.
Good quality Oolongs might not be cheap, some are actually quite expensive. But Kombucha made with a good quality Oolong can be really super delicious.
Oolong teas can vary from light & green, delicate High Mountain types, like the Taiwanese High Mountain Oolongs, to heavily roasted Dong Ding Oolongs, also from Taiwan.
The complexity & flavor profiles will also vary, depending on the type of Oolong that is used.
In our selection we feature two different Oolongs to make two of our different Kombuchas.
One of them is called Lan Gui Ren, or Ginseng Oolong.
It is an unusual Oolong, where the tea leaves are rolled & are coated with Ginseng powder.
We picked this Oolong for extra health benefits.
The other one is a Dan Cong, also known as Rock Oolong. This one comes from famous Phoenix mountains in China & it is the base for our Black Phoenix Kombucha.
This tea has some natural citrus notes with hints of passion fruit & papaya. And those notes make this Kombucha even more complex in flavor.
Those two Oolongs we use all the time, but we have even more fun with Oolongs that we use in our specials.
Currently, at the time of this writing, we have a Magnolia Oolong Kombucha as a special.
In Magnolia Oolong, the tea leaves are mixed & dried with Magnolia flowers. Those flowers are later removed, but the incredible scent stays on the tea leaves.
Tie Guan Yin, or the Iron Goddess of Mercy is a famous Oolong from Anxi.
Those Oolongs can either be green or roasted. Either one of them makes an excellent & complex Kombucha.
We normally use the green Tie Guan Yin.
Oriental Beauty is another famous Oolong. This one is produced both in Taiwan & in China. Either one of them is a great choice to make Kombucha. We used a Taiwanese Oriental Beauty.
Dan Cong Oolongs are quite expensive, but recently we used one that is rare & thus less known.
It is called Ao Fu Hou. This one is characterized by its particularly fruity aroma and a subtle fragrance of flowers. And those notes came out so nicely in the Kombucha that we have made.
Another Dan Cong that is waiting to be turned into Kombucha is: Milanxiang (Honey-Orchid).
Da Hog Pao is yet another Rock Oolong, this time from the Wuyi Mountains, in Fujian China.
This one also caught our attention as a tea & is waiting to be the upcoming special.
So, for fruity & floral Kombucha, use green Oolongs. For more complex Kombucha with dried fruit notes, chocolate or even tobacco notes, turn into darker, heavily roasted Oolongs.
One of a good examples of a heavy roasted Oolong, is the Taiwanese Black Oolong
How our Kombucha came out, when we used this Oolong cannot be better described, than when it was done by Angie, the owner of Deerland Tea. That's obviously where that tea came from.
"It's very fruity and has beautifully transformed the signature aroma profile (ripe fruit, nectar, plum, pineapple, apple) of our black oolong through fermentation and given it an extra layer of bubbly sourness. At some point I thought I was drinking Riesling Sekt."
Sekt is a sperking wine.
All we can say is, that it was delicious & we will definitely make it again! And we will be experimenting with other Oolong teas, as they always make super tasty Kombucha.
Pu-erh tea is a variety of fermented tea, but the fermentation process refers to microbial fermentation. Pu-erh is a very complex tea.
There are two styles of producing Pu-erh. The longer production method produces Sheng (or raw) Pu-erh & the shorter one produces Shou (ripe or cooked) Pu-erh.
Pu-erh is also known to be in a pressed form (cake), although some Pu-erhs are available in a loose form called Maocha.
Pu-erhs have a great complexity in flavor & they have some earthy, cellar or even mushroom notes that not every one enjoys. Although through Kombucha fermentation some of those notes mellow down.
We use a Sheng Maocha Pu-erh from 2017, that comes from 200 year old trees. This particular tea makes an excellent & light Puerh Kombucha.
Judging from the amount of clicks on our post about Pu-erh Kombucha, there's a big audience that would like to experiment with this particular tea category.
As a special, we do occasionally make Shou Pu-erh Kombucha. For that we use mini Tuo Cha, as seen on the vintage picture below.
So different Pu-erhs are definitely worth checking into. Both, as cold brews & the traditional steeped way.
Yellow tea, Chinese huángchá (黄茶; 黃茶) is a rare & usually expensive variety of tea.
Here's an explanation of what Yellow Tea is, taken from Times of India:
"Native to China, Yellow Tea is another drink that has slowly gained popularity across the world. This one is a little different in taste, as it offers a fruity and distinct after taste, smooth texture and a pleasing aroma. When it comes to benefits, it is somewhat similar to green tea. However, it is easier on the stomach as compared to green tea and other teas as well. The bright yellow colour of this hot drink is not natural and is attained through a process called ‘Sealed Yellowing’. Under this process, the tea polyphenols (catechins) are first oxidized to attain the yellow tinge and then further treated to preserve the colour and aroma of the dried leaves."
We have Yellow tea in plans for future Kombucha & we are very curious about the end results.
As one can see, there are almost endless possibilities for the Traditional Kombucha making.
Too bad that the vast majority of commercial Kombucha brewers, as well as most of the Kombucha home brewers, do not take the advantage of such a wide plethora of available teas.
Instead, they opt for making the so called soda Kombuchas, flavored with fruits & juices.
Soda Kombuchas, in which tea is only there because it has to be. And when that tea is cheap, and it's conveniently packed inside the tea bags, it just can't get any better.
Using tea as the main flavor is very rewarding. But to get the best results, one needs to use the best ingredients. In this case, the best teas that one can afford.
And by best teas we mean good quality loose teas. Relatively fresh, especially if they are green teas. Darker teas can get better with time, when stored properly.
If the cost is the factor, then go for Organic (BIO), as cheap standard teas are usually loaded with chemicals, insecticides & fungicides and they might also contain a lot of fluoride.
And by best teas, we also mean single estate teas from smaller tea farms. those you can get directly from China or Taiwan. If that's too tricky, then check out the online tea retailers. Their teas will always be fresher & better than the teas found in supermarkets or in Organic stores.
Those usually sit too long and they lose their aroma.
Tea that goes into tea bags is usually the worst quality, left over tea leaves that can not be sold as loose tea. And most of the tea bags contain plastic. But what is even worse, it's those nylon mash bags with tea inside. Even when they contain a better quality tea, you are getting a good mix of chemicals that the heat will release from those bags. Plus billions of micro-plastics that are released into every single cup of tea, as the not so new study finds.
Probably one more thing needs to be mentioned here.
There's a whole category of the so called flavored teas. These teas have Camellia sinensis leaves as their base, but they are additionally flavored with either natural substances (like essential oils) or synthetic substances.
There's a myth among Kombucha brewers that those teas harm the culture & that they should be avoided. In some cases, that can be true. But it is difficult to generalize like that without looking into details.
We have been using some flavored teas for years & they make very tasty Kombucha.
One of the better known examples of a flavored tea is Earl Grey.
A good quality Earl Grey will be made by mixing a high quality black tea with Bergamot orange essential oil. This is a natural oil & it is normally added in a small quantity to the tea.
This will not affect the health of the culture. On the other hand a cheap version of a Earl Grey, loaded with pesticides & they flavored with a synthetic "bergamot" oil might indeed cause some damage to the Scoby. So, keep that always in mind.
As there are many, many different versions of flavored teas, always check the ingredients.
But even that can be misleading. Some teas that seem to be natural, still contain or can contain some hidden synthetic flavor enhancements.
Smoked Lapsang Souchong can be one of them. This one when used correctly, can make a very interesting & tasty Kombucha. Here, instead of tea being naturally smoked over pine needles, synthetic liquid smoked can be used.
Milk Oolong (Jin Xuan), is another example of a misuse. Milk Oolong was developed in the 1980s in Taiwan. It is a cultivar that has sweet, creamy notes that remind people of milk.
A lot of cheaper Milk Oolongs will contain flavoring substances that smell & taste like condensed milk. Although, nothing will be mentioned on the label.
But tea is not the only substance that sustains the Scoby growth & contains caffeine (or tannins).
South America gives us couple of other wonderful substances that work well for Kombucha.
Yerba Mate is one of them & its cousin Guayusa is yet another tea substitute one can use.
We used to make a wonderful Guayusa Kombucha for quite some time.
Coffee also contains a lot of caffeine & some people make Coffee Kombucha, although it can be challenging, taking into consideration the relatively high acidity of coffee.
Cascara (dried skins of the Coffee fruit) on the other hand, makes great Kombucha & it's a lot easier to work with.
We cold brewed Cascara for our Kombucha. And here's another historic photo.
When one has a bit of experience with Kombucha brewing, it could be a good time to experiment with other substances that do not contain caffeine and do not belong to Camellia sinensis family.
A healthy & strong Scoby, with a good starter liquid can basically ferment any infusion.
Especially herb infusions and so called herb teas (properly described as tisanes). Some of those substances will sustain the proper Scoby growth & with some other ones, the Scoby will have to return to tea in order to get some nourishment.
The herbs (botanicals) that do sustain the Scoby growth include the following: Chamomile, Hibiscus & Chaga. Those we know for sure. There might be more though, that we are not familiar with.
At Bärbucha, we have a whole line dedicated to medicinal botanicals like that.
So again, many many possibilities for great Kombucha.
After tea, it's time for the next crucial ingredient: sugar!