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Best Tea for Kombucha

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Best Tea for Kombucha

Best Tea for Kombucha

How to Choose the Best Tea for your Brew

December 10, 2021

Making kombucha is a commitment. If you’re putting in the time, it makes sense to start with the best inputs to get the best results. The biggest input of all is the tea itself - after all, brewed tea is the fermentation base for kombucha.

That means the big question for kombucha brewers is: what is the best tea for kombucha?

Nate Uri, kombucha and fermentation expertNate Uri, kombucha and fermentation expert
expert Nate Uri

In short, the best tea makes the best kombucha.

We talked to fermentation expert, beverage consultant, and owner of Prohibition Kombucha Nate Uri to learn how to choose the best tea for kombucha brewing. In this article, we’ll share his pro-tips and the science behind kombucha fermentation.

special thanks to Nate Uri for his contributions to this article

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What Role Does Tea Play in the Kombucha Brewing Process?

When you brew kombucha, the tea you choose to brew has a dramatic effect on several aspects of the fermentation.

In Uri’s experience, caffeine content has a positive influence on SCOBY stability. This means higher caffeine teas can be a good choice. 

In addition, Uri shares that “the oxidative qualities of black and some oolongs seem to speed up both fermentation time and SCOBY cap production, contributing more to vigor and overall SCOBY health, stability, and longevity.”

Finally, clean tea is critical for successful kombucha. “Fungicides, pesticides, or additional bioactive matter (usually dust, dirt, or unsanitary handling) can slow down and/or spoil even a healthy kombucha ferment. It’s extremely important to have the cleanest, highest quality tea possible both to make your next batch better and to keep your SCOBY healthy for the next hundred batches.”

  • Clean tea means healthy, flourishing SCOBY

  • Higher caffeine content makes for better fermentation

  • Darker, oxidized teas often support overall SCOBY health

choose clean, carefully grown + finished teas for better kombucha

Is It Possible to Make Kombucha Without Tea?

Many home brewers want to know: can I use herbal tea to make kombucha? While it’s possible to make kombucha with an herbal infusion, it is very hard to maintain SCOBY integrity and longevity without tea. 

Brew and fermentation expert Nate Uri explains in more detail:
“You can make great tisane kombucha 1st generation - meaning cultured with a tea kombucha. However, in subsequent tisane-only generations, the SCOBY biotic composition can shift, leading to problems from a different balance of yeasts and bacteria. That can affect alcohol and acidity levels, which is a safety concern. The more noticeable effect is that the kombucha’s consistency of flavor will suffer.”

If you choose to make kombucha without tea, keep these tips in mind:

  • Begin fermentation with a tea-based kombucha culture

  • • Always carefully monitor alcohol levels and acidity

  • To avoid safety issues, start new batches with tea kombucha culture instead of the herbal culture

Do not use herbal kombucha for new batches. Instead, start fermentation with tea-based kombucha each time.Do not use herbal kombucha for new batches. Instead, start fermentation with tea-based kombucha each time.

What is the Best Tea to Make Kombucha?

For fermentation, tea quality matters more than tea variety or processing. 

“While it’s true that black and well oxidized oolongs technically do best,” Uri notes, “you can maintain a stable SCOBY on any clean, quality tea.” 

The most important thing in selecting a tea for kombucha is thinking about the final flavor you are trying to achieve. \

  • Fruity black teas are great with citrus and stone fruit flavors

  • Malty black teas are best with ginger or spiced kombucha

  • Oolong teas are versatile all-around best choices. Their aftertaste compliments kombucha’s sour effervescence. Some of the tastiest kombucha teas are made with oolong tea!

think about your flavor goals before you choose your teathink about your flavor goals before you choose your tea
think about your flavor goals before you choose your tea

Best Black Tea for Kombucha

“The best black tea to make kombucha is always going to be the cleanest, highest quality black tea you can find," Uri advises.

Avoid teas grown with pesticides for tea without chemical residues. Stay away from large factory-farm operations and buy trustworthy tea, grown on small family farms where the environment adds flavor and complexity to the brew.

Favorite black tea options include:

Green Tea vs Black Tea Kombucha: What’s the Difference?

In Nate Uri’s experience, darker black teas often produce healthier, longer-lasting SCOBY and more consistent kombucha, but there are always exceptions to the rule.

Any clean, well-made green tea can be used, because green teas can have as much caffeine as black tea - if not more!  

Nate’s advice? “Pick green teas that are sweet - not smokey - and take care to carefully control the brew to avoid bitterness.”

green tea kombuchagreen tea kombucha
green tea kombucha

Other Teas to Use for Kombucha Tea

Feel free to experiment and go beyond the simple idea of green tea vs. black tea. The world of loose leaf tea is full of a huge variety of styles, and that means kombucha tea brews can be just as varied.

From floral juicy oolong, to deep rich sweet pu’er, tea should be more than just a fermentation base. Make it an essential part of your kombucha, the “secret ingredient” that gives your brew a boost.

  • Oolong teas are the most versatile, offering juicy aftertaste and complex flavors that complement any kombucha.

  • White teas can be very high in caffeine, benefiting your SCOBY. They often have a sweet aftertaste and a clean flavor for a more “neutralbase.

  • Green teas can be challenging if they are smokey or too savory, but if you find sweet green teas, they can be beautiful textural kombucha bases.

  • Pu’er tea undergoes its own fermentation for deep, complex flavor. Sweet sheng pu’er or deep shu pu’er can be perfect for unique kombucha flavors. 

Teas to Avoid When Making Kombucha

Any clean, high quality tea without added flavors or botanicals will be able to maintain a healthy and stable culture to keep your kombucha going for many generations. So - what teas should you avoid when making kombucha?

Some are obvious. Any teas you wouldn’t want to drink on their own - like low quality, bitter teas made with pesticides - should not be used to brew kombucha. Others are less obvious, like flavored and blended teas. 

Make sure to avoid these teas when making kombucha:

  • Teas flavored with essential oils

  • Teas blended with other herbs and botanicals

  • Low quality teas produced with pesticides or finished in an unclean way

Using Flavored Teas for Kombucha

It is very important to avoid any flavored teas when you brew kombucha. As Uri explains, the oils can disrupt and kill bacteria in many SCOBYs.

“It might not happen right away, but after even three generations of a kombucha based on flavored tea, the SCOBY tends to ferment differently, and ultimately die.”

Instead, start with high quality base teas and only add flavors at the end of the process (blending with juices, etc) for more consistent results.

do not brew with flavored teado not brew with flavored tea
do not brew with flavored tea

Can You Use Earl Grey for Kombucha?

Do not brew with Earl GrayDo not brew with Earl Gray
Do not brew with Earl Gray

Do not brew kombucha with Earl Grey tea. As tempting as it may be, Earl Grey is flavored with bergamot oil which could have long term consequences for your culture. 

Earl Grey tea should always be avoided when brewing kombucha. Instead, consider mixing some of your finished batch with citrus juices to achieve a similar flavor.

Teas for Different Types of Kombucha

With so many different teas to work with, it is easy to be inspired to explore unique kombucha flavors. By starting with high quality base teas and adding flavor with juice at the end instead of using flavored teas for fermentation, you’ll see better more consistent results.

Here are a few of Nate Uri’s favorite kombucha tea combinations:

  • • Ginger Kombucha

  • • Lemon Citrus Kombucha

  • • Peach Kombucha

  • Lychee Jasmine Kombucha

Ginger, Lychee, and Peach KombuchaGinger, Lychee, and Peach Kombucha
Ginger, Lychee, and Peach Kombucha

Ginger Kombucha