Kombucha: How it’s Made and its Supposed Health Benefits

By SAM SANSON

Students drink it to cure hangovers. They drink it to be “healthy.” Some brew it themselves in their dorms. First-years in Introduction to Psychology even feed this miracle substance to their rats because they think it enhances operant conditioning. Kombucha: what is this miracle tea and why do Colorado College students love it?

Photo Courtesty of Sam Sanson

Kombucha is a fermented tea made with symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (scoby). The scoby — which  is a combination of yeast and bacteria — looks, smells, and tastes like a moldy pancake. Combining scoby with tea and sugar, however, results in kombucha. 

Wayan Buschman ’20 brews kombucha in her on-campus apartment. Her home-brewing process demonstrates the simplicity of this wonder drink. First, she gets scoby from a dealer in downtown Colorado Springs. Despite the suspicious title of “scoby dealer,” Buschman’s supplier is a legal, above-board operation run by an enthusiastic elderly hippie who wants to share her love of kombucha with the community. The scoby dealer — who Buschman found through the app Next Door — grows scobys and gives them to Colorado Springs residents interested in brewing kombucha. The scoby comes with starter tea (finished kombucha) on top of it to aid the fermentation process.

To make kombucha, Buschman boils water, adds an abundance of Lipton tea bags and a cup of sugar, lets the boiling mixture cool, then pours it over the scoby and starter tea. 15 minutes of preparation and two to four weeks of fermentation later, she has her very own batch of cheap, fresh kombucha.

While Buschman enjoys the tea for its unique taste, other kombucha advocates on campus praise the tea for its health benefits. But how healthy is kombucha, really? In an article on Mayo Clinic, Dr. Brent Bauer, an M.D. board-certified in internal medicine, noted, “There isn’t enough evidence that kombucha tea delivers on its health claims.” In fact, Bauer warned that people shouldn’t drink kombucha because it can cause infections, stomach issues, and allergic reactions.

Zhaoping Li, professor of medicine and chief of the clinical nutrition division at University of California, Los Angeles, further cautioned about kombucha’s supposed healthiness. For instance, although a bottle of kombucha has bacteria that has been proven effective for treating gastrointestinal conditions, this serving has far from enough organisms to make any real difference in bacteria levels (Tonic).

The storing and shelving conditions for kombucha are also somewhat alarming. A manufacturer may initially be aware of bacteria levels, but after being stored and shelved, a consumer may be picking up a bottle that has entirely new bacteria numbers, levels, and species. Some types of bacteria are unhealthy, and if conditions are right, harmful pathogens have the ability to proliferate.

If kombucha makes you happy, go ahead and drink it; but drink it in moderation. Until well-conducted studies come out on the health benefits of kombucha, exercise skepticism on how much it is really benefitting you.

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