How to Make Decaf Kombucha
Is it Possible to Reduce or eliminate the Caffeine Content in My Kombucha?
Yes. There are a few ways one can reduce or completely eliminate the caffeine content of your kombucha brew. While none of them are very complicated or too time consuming, one needs to keep in mind the health of your SCOBY culture.
The kombucha SCOBY culture has adapted itself over thousands of years to live off of the nutrients from the Camellia sinensis plant. This is the tea plant, from which black tea, white tea, green tea, yellow tea and oolong tea are derived. One of the elements that teas from the Camellia sinensis plant contain, which the kombucha SCOBY needs, is caffeine.
All the teas derived from Camellia sinensis contain varying amounts of caffeine, with black tea containing the most. While the SCOBY culture can function without caffeine and the other nutrients from the Camellia sinensis plant for a time, after a few brews the culture will need to have access to these components once more, in order for it to not starve, and remain in a healthy condition.
How to Create Decaf Kombucha
There are three main ways to reduce or eliminate caffeine in kombucha through making adjustments to the tea
- If you want to use black tea (the strongest caffeinated tea), you can decaffeinate it yourself, at home, or purchase decaffeinated black tea from the store.
- You can use alternative (herbal) teas which contain less caffeine – or none at all (makes a decaf kombucha or caffeine-reduced tea)
- You can buy decaf tea and use this as the sweet tea base (makes a decaf kombucha)
1) Decafinate Your Own Tea
All of the teas which come from the Camellia sinensis plant contain varying amounts of caffeine.
Black tea is the strongest, and white tea the weakest.
Decaffeinating tea at home is not complex, but you will need a thermometer. Having a thermometer extremely helpful when brewing kombucha, if you do not have one already, now would be a good time to invest in one (besides helping you decaf your tea, you can use it to test your brew temperature to ensure it’s in the ideal 76 to 79 F range).
Home DIY Tea Decaffeination Method
- Heat up a medium quantity of filtered water in a pot. Get the temperature up to 75o Fahrenheit (24o Celsius)
- Maintaining heat at approximately 75o Fahrenheit (24o Celsius), put your tea bags (or loose tea) into the heated water and leave to steep for 15 minutes, while stirring the brew intermittently.
- After 15 minutes, take out the tea bags, or strain out the leaves if you have used loose tea. Discard the liquid and keep the bags or leaves. If you wish to save on time, steeping the tea for 2-3 minutes will already extract 40%-60% of its caffeine.
This method should extract the majority of the caffeine present in your tea. As the kombucha SCOBY removes between 20% – 50% during the fermentation process, using the above method for 15 minutes on your tea should ensure a virtually caffeine free kombucha beverage.
2) Use Store-Bought Decaffeinated Tea
If you are opting to use store bought decaffeinated tea, then make sure that it states on the box that it is ‘naturally decaffeinated’ (with the use of either carbon dioxide or water) and that the tea has not been treated with solvents, like ethyl acetate or methylene chloride, in the decaffeination process. Trace amounts of these chemicals can remain on the leaves, and are harmful to your SCOBY culture. Generally, we recommend doing your own decaffeination.
What Tea Do I Recommend?
If you just want to buy high-quality Decaf Tea and not make it yourself, then I recommend Davidson’s Decaf English Breakfast.
The reason why I recommend this brand is that Davidson’s teas are always organic, tasty, and in this specific tea, naturally decaffeinated, meaning chemicals are not used to achieve the decaffeination process.
People DO use this tea to brew Kombucha just fine (look at the reviews), so if you don’t want to make your own decaf, get this one.
Note that I also recommend the non decaf Davidson’s Bulk Black tea as well for those looking for regular black tea. Why? Because Davidson’s has a reputation as being quality tea, organic, while also being affordable (coming in a 16 ounce bulk size).
3) Use Different Tea Types To Reduce Caffeine levels
If you wish to reduce or eliminate the caffeine present in your kombucha, you can also use others teas besides the standard black tea. Black tea’s sister teas – green, white, oolong, yellow and pu-erh – contain less caffeine while still providing the SCOBY with the nutrients it needs. By using a less caffeine-rich tea, you automatically reduce the amount of caffeine in your Kombucha tea.
You can also ‘blend’ different teas together for less caffeine. For example, you can blend white and black tea which will have less caffeine than pure black tea Kombucha, but more than pure white tea Kombucha. Combining different teas also adds slightly different flavors to the Kombucha.
Caffeine Content of Teas
The following milligram amounts are per 8 ounces (227 grams) of tea.
- White tea contains an average of 45 milligrams
- Green tea contains an average of 55 milligrams
- Oolong tea contains an average of 60 milligrams
- Pu-erh tea contains an average of 65 milligrams
- Black tea contains an average of 75 milligrams
Choosing a tea type with lower levels of caffeine will result in a kombucha which has less caffeine as well. This is compounded by fermentation process which also brings down caffeine levels.
4) Use Herbal Teas
If you wish to use an alternative herbal Tisane tea, then this will of course result in no caffeine at all. Herbal teas do not contain the correct nutrients for the SCOBY to feed on, and its health will be compromised if deprived of nutrients for an extended period – but with some correct SCOBY management, this can be circumvented.
Alternative Teas (Tisanes)
There are many different types of herbal teas which can be used to make caffeine free kombucha, such as:
- Rooibos (very popular alternative tea used by Kombucha brewers to make decaf Kombucha)
- Chamomile (chamomile will have the opposite effect of caffeinated black tea in that it is calming)
- Hibiscus flower
- Jasmin tea
- Aniseed tea
- Blackberry or raspberry leaf tea
- Dandelion tea
- Elder berry tea
- Nettle tea
- Rose hip tea
There are also some herbal teas which are best not to use. These include those which contain chemical flavorings and or volatile oils. They can damage the SCOBY culture and impede the fermentation process. Peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, or any blended herbal tea that contains lemon peel, orange peel, or essential oils are some of the herbal teas which contain oils.
For an awesome tasting Decaf Kombucha, try brewing Kombucha with Rooibos tea.
5) Use a Tea Blend
Similar to using a variety of tea that has less caffeine, you can also blend different teas together to reduce the caffeine. Of all the teas, black tea has the highest caffeine content while white tea has the lowest. You can reduce the caffeine content significantly by doing a blend that’s about 80 percent white or green tea, and 20 percent black tea. This combination gives the SCOBY some black tea (SCOBYs do best in black tea usually) but because most of the tea is white or green tea, the caffeine content is reduced dramatically.
6) Use a Herbal Tisane Blend
Another option is to mix regular tea with herbal tea. If you ONLY brew with a herbal tea, your SCOBY will have health issues after a few brews. But you can blend herbal teas with regular tea (black or green work best, though you can try white tea and other teas) without issue. Typically, use between 50 to 80 percent as the herbal tea with 50 to 20 percent as the regular tea.
So for example:
- 20 percent black tea + 80 percent herbal tea
- 30 percent green tea with 70 percent herbal tea
- 50 percent black tea + 50 percent herbal tea
You can play around with the ratios of tea to herbal tea and see how your SCOBY does. The type of tea and herbal teas and the ratio will affect the taste and the SCOBY health. My one rule of thumb is keep at least 20 percent (even better, 30 percent) tea — preferably black tea — to get continuously healthy SCOBY brews.
7) Some Other Ways to Reduce Caffeine
You can also reduce the caffeine content of your finished Kombucha by adjusting the following factors:
1. Reduce Tea Strength
Reducing tea strength will also reduce the amount of caffeine present in your sweet tea base. Add less teabags (or loose leaf tea) to your sweat tea mix means less caffeine content in the final product.
2. Increase Brewing Time
As the fermentation process lowers the caffeine levels over time, leaving your brew to ferment longer, will result in less caffeine being present in the finished kombucha. This might make the kombucha more tart than you like usually it. You can increase brewing time by doing one of the following (or all of them):
- extending the first ferment time
- doing a second ferment
- extending the second ferment time
3. Do a Second Ferment
Doing a Second ferment uses up even more of the caffeine present to fuel the Kombucha growth.
4. Dilute your Tea
Mixing in water or juice into your Kombucha after your first ferment (if you don’t intend to second ferment) or after your second ferment will dilute the caffeine levels. Keep in mind this will affect the taste, however.
How to Keep Your SCOBY Healthy While Making Caffeine Free Kombucha
If you are making caffeine free or reduced caffeine kombucha on a regular basis, you need to have a system for keeping your SCOBY fed and healthy. This is not complicated if you have 3 or 4 SCOBYs on hand.
Note, using caffeine-free teas will eventually harm your SCOBY. You may get a few good brews without caffeine, but eventually your SCOBY will suffer and you won’t get a fermentation. Your SCOBY NEEDS caffeine to survive — so you will need to rotate your SCOBY back into caffeinated tea (or add in a caffeine tea blend) every couple brew cycles. Another option is to throw your SCOBY away and take a new, fresh one from your SCOBY hotel for each couple non-caffeine brews.
Depending on your brewing time, the SCOBY you are brewing with should be rotated out in 3 or 4 brews. In a tea base brewed from one of the teas from the Camellia sinensis plant, if left to ferment for longer than 30 days, the SCOBY will start to starve. In a decaffeinated brew, or one made from a herbal tea, this time is reduced.
The SCOBYs which are ‘on holiday’ should be kept in your SCOBY hotel in a strong batch of sweet to ensure that they can replenish themselves. For guidelines on how to make a SCOBY hotel, check out How to Create a Kombucha SCOBY Hotel (to Store Extra SCOBYs).