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Caffeine and Kombucha, pt. 1 - Brewing Kombucha without Caffeine

 

I'm frequently asked about caffeine and kombucha, and caffeine content of kombucha in general. This consideration has immediate repercussions for many people, such as those allergic to caffeine, to those who are very sensitive to its effects. As such, there is a lot of interest for kombucha brewers in the range of caffeine one can find in kombucha. Today I'd like to discuss the making of kombucha without, or with very little caffeine.

Barley-Rooibos kombucha Barley-Rooibos kombucha

*Contrary to some opinions I've heard, it has been verified that caffeine content in kombucha does not decrease during fermentation.* (from Michael Roussin's "Analyses of Kombucha Ferments," a great paper that can be found here)

 

**The kombucha recipe Kombucha Brooklyn provides, and that we brew with, calls for 3/4 less dry tea than does the same amount of tea you would drink, say at 2pm with snacks. That means 3/4 less caffeine than a standard cup of tea.**

 

Firstly, I'd like to provide a disclaimer. One of the major tenets of KBBK philosophy holds that kombucha brewed without tea (camellia sinensis) will not always reliably change from sweet to fermented, and if it does, you will find it very difficult to sustain a culture on these tisanes, herbal teas, or otherwise. Whereas you can usually get one or two ferments successfully, at most, from non-tea containing brews (grape juice, coconut water with pineapple, barley and rooibos), you will not be able to sustain a SCOBY with these seemingly normal foods that are actually alien to your culture.

 

Shu-mee White tea, left; Silver Bud white tea, right Shu-mee White tea, left; Silver Bud white tea, right; great for making tea-based kombucha - but not actually low in caffeine

As I sat pondering this issue, I started to consider other fermented beverages with foods that provide a good nutrient profile suitable for feeding yeast. My first thought was beer; then I remembered something my co-worker Anna had brought in to our office, that we enjoyed immensely when steeped as a tea - roasted barley. Bingo! I wanted to brew a kombucha that had greatly reduced caffeine, and it seemed barley might be the key. Another of my favorite alterna-"tea"ves, rooibos, came to me as the next best herb to use in this caffeine-free kombucha admixture. Said to have been cultivated by Dutch settlers of South Africa as a replacement for black tea (then a prohibitively expensive prospect for import), rooibos has become a popular facet of South African culture.

 

Barley, left; Rooibos, right Barley, left; Rooibos, right

I was relatively sure that a combination of barley and rooibos would ferment just fine into kombucha. As I've been experimenting with many different herbal additions to traditional kombucha teas (which have been pretty much anything camellia sinensis), and discovered that the culture is relatively resilient to such experimentation, I figured diving in head-first would be both fun and informative.

 

I would call the results highly successful. To fully ferment took about 10 days, when I reached a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, and I was left with a kombucha that had a very malty and tart cherry flavor. Rooibos, tasting a lot like an herbal cherry, undoubtedly was the most forward of the flavors in this brew. My SCOBY wasn't anything substantial, about 2 mm thick, but the 'buch was definitely 'buch. And since I have an essentially unlimited supply of SCOBYs, I wasn't worried about keeping a culture going feeding on this simple, tea-free brew.

 

The longevity of your culture will however be a great concern to you, the home brewer. You will be able to use your initial, "seed SCOBY" multiple times, but your caffeine-free brew may not produce a nice, thick SCOBY every time you brew, as camellia sinensis is the best food for kombucha. As such, I suggest keeping a container in your refrigerator full of SCOBYs, like the one seen below. You'll want to keep it covered to prevent drying, but each time you have a nice new SCOBY, consider putting it in the refrigerator to keep it as a backup. That way, you won't have to count on your caffeine-free brew producing a SCOBY every week, as you'll have plenty, and this brew won't kill off your original "seed SCOBY" necessarily, it just won't produce a new one.

 

Collection of SCOBYs as backup Collection of SCOBYs as backup; cover with a lid and store in the refrigerator indefinitely!

 

So, keep these possibilities in mind when you make your next batch, and also remember that experimentation is the spice of kombucha brewing. You may very well find many different mixtures that work for you that don't include caffeine or tea!

 

Stay tuned - in my next blog, I'll go over making caffeinated and energetic kombucha that will have you jumping for jitter-free joy!

16 thoughts on “Caffeine and Kombucha, pt. 1 - Brewing Kombucha without Caffeine”

  • Cathy

    I have been making herbal brew for over 6 months now and love it!! I use the same scoby which is active and only gets a new coating each week but is healthy and delis! I use a blend of Tazo Rest and Wild Sweet Orange
    Nice and bubbly ! May not be getting a big scoby each time but that's ok as this is great!

    Reply
  • Jessica

    What about decaf black teas (like decaffinated English breakfast)? Would they work just like caffeinated Black tea or is there something I'm missing?

    Reply
    • Rebecca

      You can't use English breakfast w kombucha bc of the bergamot oil. Can't use decaf read because of the chemicals used in the process of decaffination.

      Reply
      • Chris

        Hi Rebecca! I think you mean that you can't use Earl Grey because of the bergamot - though I would say that your mileage may vary, and if you blend some Earl Grey with black tea you may have success. Also, decaffeinated tea may work fine, but the consideration is for one's general health in brewing with these potentially chemical-affected teas.

        Reply
  • Ann

    I've been brewing JUN, and heard that it likes tea due to the polyphenols, so I tried a batch that still used some green tea but also used some other hig polyphenols ingredients: some peppermint tea and star ginger. The results were really delicious. I plan to experiment with shifting the proportions a bit more (don't have enough scobys yet to sacrifice one to 100% experimentation)

    Reply
  • Brandon

    Do you merely steep the tea and barley - strain then add to your scobe? No starter needed? My original starters will likely still have caffeine in them.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Brandon - Steep the tea and barley for a good amount of time - at least 20 minutes. Squeeze them out. You can use 3 TBSP distilled vinegar per gallon as your starter - don't omit this. Or you can still use your original starter, that will have some caffeine, but in adding it to a much bigger volume, it will be negligible.

      Reply
  • Claudio

    Hi, what are the quantites of barley and rooibos for a gallon? Thanks!

    Reply
  • Sandra B

    I tried a black tea with burdock and have a nice tasty brew. Not sure if it has less caffine though.

    Reply
  • annie

    could i try to make it sans the rooibos? i want to make a kombocha without black tea period. would this be possible with the same success?

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hi Annie, you may have success without rooibos, I just chose it for flavor and a variation of nutrient for the culture. To be clear, rooibos is not "tea," and is not black tea, thusly. Happy brewing!

      Reply
  • Katie

    Did you slowly transition the SCOBY to the new tea blend or just switch it all at once? I'm looking to switch my SCOBY to a non caffeinated tea and maple syrup instead of black tea/cane sugar (it's current blend). Was hoping for tips on this process!

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hi Katie! I didn't slowly transition to this blend. You'll have trouble though doing both the new blend AND using maple syrup, which you may want to slowly train from regular sugar.

      Reply
  • Kate

    I accidentally made my last batch of Kombucha with caffeine-free tea & it came out fine. I made it with riboois chai and assumed it had caffeine then later noticed the packaging that said otherwise. I had a breif moment of panick thinking I screwed it up, but then it was fine. The taste was lighter and it didn't ferment as strong, but it still taste good :)

    Reply
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