How to Make Caffeine-Free Kombucha Tea
To keep your kombucha SCOBY healthy, you need to give it three things: a safe place to live (like a SCOBY hotel), enough oxygen to breath, and the right food to eat. And what a SCOBY likes best to eat is a sugary liquid made with the caffeine-rich leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, the ancient Chinese tea plant that the microorganisms in the SCOBY (the Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) have evolved to use as a nutrient source. But even if the SCOBY loves its caffeine kick, where does that leave you if you’re avoiding caffeine?
Many people give up caffeine for health reasons:
- it’s a diuretic that can cause your skin to lose hydration and age faster
- it can compromise your digestive system and put it out of balance
- the artificial stimulation can disrupt your normal sleep patterns
- it can affect your body’s ability to regulate insulin levels
Of course, there are other reasons to include coffee and tea in your diet, many of which are also backed by scientific research:
- caffeine can improve cardiovascular function
- caffeine helps protect you against age-related loss of cognitive ability
- L-theanine, a component found in tea, helps fight depression and stress
If you just want to lower the caffeine levels in kombucha there are ways to do that, but it’s also easy to make completely caffeine-free kombucha. It’s actually quite simple really. With a few ingredient changes and / or adjusting some of the brewing processes, you can reduce or eliminate caffeine from your kombucha.
The SCOBY Uses Caffeine
When the microorganisms in the SCOBY feed on the caffeine and other nutrients in the sweetened tea mixture, they’re doing so by breaking down the molecules into smaller components that they then use for growth and reproduction. That means when the SCOBY is done feeding, there will be less caffeine in the tea. Measurements of the caffeine levels in kombucha tea during the brewing cycle show that the amount of caffeine drops steadily during the first 10 to 14 days on average, and then drops more slowly.
In general between 20% and 30% of the caffeine is consumed by the SCOBY over the course of a normal brewing period.
How Much Caffeine is in Kombucha?
The amount varies depending on the type and amount of tea used to brew Kombucha. 1 Cup of Black Tea might have anywhere between 25 to 80 grams of caffeine may end up with only 8 to 25 grams of caffeine. Green Tea, which has much less caffine than black tea, will yield even less caffeine when it’s turned into Kombucha (2-3 mg of caffeine per cup).
How to Eliminate Caffeine from Kombucha
You can eliminate caffeine from your Kombucha, by varying the ingredients and brewing time. Here’s how to reduce or get rid of the caffeine.
Choose Teas with Less Caffeine
Different teas have different caffeine contents. So you can use tea types that naturally have less caffeine in them to brew Kombucha with less caffeine.
We suggest you use a blend of green or white tea with black tea. You can use about 75-90 percent green tea or white tea with black tea as the rest. Not only does this make a delicious tasting ‘buch’, but you also reduce the caffeine content by about half compared to using ONLY black tea alone.
Of course, you can just use pure green tea or white tea alone with no black tea. We suggest a blend because Kombucha culture does thrive if you mix tea types (it likes the variety), but it’s not strictly necessary.
Keep in mind, this will STILL leave your tea with SOME caffeine, though greatly reduced. To further reduce or pretty much eliminate it, you should also do the next step.
Steep Then Wash Leaves
According to two separate studies, it’s possible to remove all of the caffeine from any tea leaves just by using them to brew tea. In 1981, a group of New Zealand researchers discovered that stirring tea leaves for 15 minutes in almost-boiling water removed all of the caffeine from the tea, a result that was verified in 1996 by another research study in the United States.*
- Spiro, M. “Tea and the Rate of Its Infusion.” 1981. Chemistry in New Zealand.
- Hicks, M., Hsieh, P., Bell, L. “Tea preparation and its influence on methylxanthine concentration.” 1996. Food Research International, 29 (3-4) pp 325-330.
This will add a little time to your brewing schedule, but if you want to make sure there is no caffeine in your kombucha tea, it’s 15 minutes you’ll want to take.
- Bring filtered water almost to a boil in a nonreactive pan (stainless steel or glass). The water should be at about 175F.
- Add all of the tea leaves or tea bags that you plan to use for your kombucha brewing.
- Keep the temperature at 175F and stir the tea constantly for 15 minutes.
- Strain the tea bags or tea leaves out of the liquid. Discard the liquid.
Use the decaffeinated leaves to brew your sweetened tea. Be sure to leave the tea leaves in for the full length of the brewing period so that all of the other essential nutrients in the leaves are extracted into the water for the SCOBY to use.
Note, if you don’t want to take the extra 15 minutes, you can go for the quick method to reduce 50 to 80 percent of the caffeine in your tea leaves by first steeping your tea for 1 to 2 minutes in a cup of water, then dumping out the liquid. Then steep those tea leaves again by making your own decaffeinated tea.
Use Store-Bought Decaffeinated Tea
If you don’t want to make your own decaffeinated tea (the long or short method given above), you can buy some.
Since the SCOBY won’t use all of the caffeine, you’ll need to lower the caffeine level in the sweet tea mixture itself. If you buy decaffeinated tea bags, you can use those instead of regular tea bags. That will give the SCOBY all of the other nutrients it’s used to.
Since the SCOBY will use about 25% of the caffeine anyway, that means only 25% of your tea bags need to be caffeinated. Using the basic kombucha brewing ratio of 8 tea bags per gallon of water, that means you can use just 2 bags of regular tea and 6 bags of decaffeinated tea, and you should end up with kombucha tea that is virtually caffeine free.
NOTE: Look for “naturally decaffeinated” tea that uses carbon dioxide or water extraction. Avoid decaffeinated tea that uses solvents like ethyl acetate or methylene chloride, which leave trace amounts of chemicals on the leaves.
Remember, the action of the SCOBY depends on the ingredients you’re using, the health of the SCOBY, and the temperature of the brewing container. All of these measurements are approximate, because every batch of kombucha is slightly different.
Allow Kombucha to Ferment Longer
Since the SCOBY uses caffeine, you can simply brew longer before removing the SCOBY from the container. However, you may end up with a kombucha tea that’s more sour than you like so you might want to add some fruit juice to it after you finish brewing to make it sweeter.
Experiment with brewing time, brewing temperature, and brewing ingredients until you get the result you like.
You can also do a longer brewing period that will continue to remove caffeine during second fermentation of the kombucha. The remaining yeasts and bacteria in the kombucha tea will continue to break down some of the leftover caffeine molecules.
Keep in mind that increasing the brew time and or doing a second ferment will further remove caffeine (if there is any), but if you used tea with caffeine in it and didn’t de-caffeinate it, you still will have SOME caffeine left.
Don’t Use Tea At All
You can use a healthy SCOBY to brew a batch of kombucha tea without using any actual tea. Besides actually using fully decaffeinated tea, using herbal teas (that have no caffeine — some do), will ensure a 0 percent caffeine kombucha.
There are a number of herbal teas that make very good kombucha tea, without caffeine:
- Rooibos is an herb tea that comes from South Africa. The leaves from the rooibos bush make a red tea that is high in antioxidants and calcium and low in tannins. Rooibos can help prevent age-related problems like hypertension and heart disease.
- Hibiscus flowers are traditionally used to make tea in Mexico and South America. They make a tangy red tea that is mildly astringent.
- Chicory root has been used for centuries as a substitute for coffee, and you can use it as a substitute for tea in kombucha as well.
- Chamomile makes a tea that is the opposite of caffeinated! Chamomile tea is a traditional sleep aid.
Avoid using herbs that have volatile oils. This includes peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, or any blended herbal tea that contains lemon peel, orange peel, or essential oils. The oils will float to the top of the liquid and will interfere with the SCOBY’s ability to absorb oxygen from the air.
Note: the SCOBY does need caffeine for long term health. This means that if you want a healthy SCOBY, you can’t keep brewing caffeine-fee tea indefinitely. At some point (usually every other brew or four), you will have to put the SCOBY back in regular (caffeinated) tea it stays healthy. If you don’t, it will degrade and slowly die.
You can pick and choose what technique you want to use or you can use a combination of some of them to reduce or completely eliminate caffeine:
Reduce or Mostly Eliminate Caffeine Combine two or more:
- Choose only Green or White Teas or a blend of Green/White (about 75 percent) with Black Tea (25 percent).
- Steep Then Dump (short method)
- Brew Longer (First Ferment) and do a Second Ferment after
OR to completely eliminate caffeine:
- use herbal teas or do a ‘long steep then dump’ (15 minutes)
Keep Your SCOBY Healthy (it NEEDS Caffeine Eventually)
Before experimenting with non-caffeinated tea, make sure you have several extra SCOBYs. Since you’re going to be depriving the SCOBY of some of its nutrients, your SCOBY may age faster. If you brew tea with something like hibiscus flowers, the SCOBY may turn red or pink.
One way to keep your SCOBY healthy while still making caffeine-free kombucha is to use any particular SCOBY only every 3 or 4 batches. In between those batches, store that SCOBY with plenty of strong sweet black tea in your SCOBY hotel and give it a chance to get back to full strength. When you put the decaffeinated SCOBY back in the hotel, take a fresh one out of the bottom of the container to use for your next batch of decaf tea.
NOTE: Be sure to save some of your decaffeinated kombucha to use as the starter liquid for you next batch of tea, since you won’t be able to use the starter liquid in the SCOBY hotel.