Kombucha & Caffeine Explained

A black and white cartoon of a smiling woman holding a steaming cup of coffee says "My Drug of Choice"

Caffeine is very addictive when over consumed.

Caffeine, often called America’s favorite drug, can have negative (and sometimes hilarious) effects on the body and the nervous system. Yet significant amounts of this pharmacological agent occur naturally in the 2 most popular beverages in the world (besides water), tea and coffee. Large doses are added to soft drinks and even bottled water. Like many good, naturally occurring substances found in nature, commercial production has perverted our relationship with caffeine, leaving us addicted or scared or both.

It is my opinion that because caffeine is present in these plants in the natural world (it acts as a natural pesticide), and we have been drawn to consume this substance for all of recorded history, it must provide something of benefit to our bodies beyond simple alertness.

Green tea leaves spill from a roasterWhile the health benefits of tea have been well documented, science is still debating caffeine’s health benefits, including the potential to prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and we have certainly seen study after study that contradict what came before. Many sources I respect warn against any caffeine consumption but I still believe that, in moderate amounts and when consumed as a whole food, most naturally occurring substances are harmless to beneficial.

As Kombucha is made from tea (Camellia sinensis), it contains caffeine. However, the amount of caffeine present in a glass of Kombucha will vary widely, as should be expected. After all, Kombucha recipes vary endlessly and several factors such as type/quality of tea, steep time and fermentation cycle & temperature must be accounted for.

Still it is clear that properly fermented Kombucha contains only small amounts of caffeine and, even more importantly, we can control the amount of caffeine present through some very simple choices and techniques. Perhaps most exciting is learning that the caffeine present in Kombucha is paired with a natural amino acid that slows it’s absorption into the bloodstream, l-theanine, with great side benefits.

What is caffeine?

A pile of refined caffeine powder on a black table top.

Refined caffeine.

Caffeine (C8H10N4O2) …was first isolated by the German chemist Friedrich Ferdinand Runge in 1819 (and)…In humans, it stimulates the central nervous system, heart rate, and respiration, has psychotropic (mood altering) properties, and acts as a mild diuretic…A normal dose of caffeine is generally considered to be 100 mg, which is roughly the amount found in a cup of coffee. However, more than half of all American adults consume more than 300 mg of caffeine every day, which makes it America’s most popular drug.

L-Theanine: Tea’s Relaxation Effect

An important distinction has been made between caffeine in tea and caffeine in coffee. Tea has been observed to create a calming effect on the drinker, as opposed to coffee which tends to raise anxiety. These contradictions piqued the interest of researchers who have been studying caffeine’s effects on the body for over 100 years.

Studies have found that tea contains an anxiety reducer called l-theanine which acts “antagonistically against the stimulatory effects of caffeine,” producing a calming effect 30-40 minutes after ingestion. It does this by stimulating alpha brainwaves, which calms the mind in a way similar to meditation, and by ticking up the body’s production of dopamine and serotonin (yes please), resulting in improved memory and learning ability in addition to relaxation.

Further studies show that when taken together L-theanine and caffeine improved “cognitive performance and mood.” It is also speculated that poly-phenols present in the tea not only deliver health benefits but mitigate negative effects that caffeine may have when consumed alone.

How Much Caffeine Is In A Glass Of Kombucha?

Kombucha is generally considered to have about ⅓ the amount of caffeine as the tea it is made with, so for example black tea, which might have 30-80mg of caffeine per cup may yield a glass of Kombucha with 10-25mg of caffeine. Green tea Kombucha might have just 2-3mg of caffeine. The range is extremely broad!

Can I Make Decaffeinated Kombucha?

A woman sips from a coffee cup and smiles crazily into the fisheye lens

Perhaps you are sensitive to caffeine?

For most healthy people, the small amounts of caffeine in Kombucha are no problem and may provide benefits. If you fall into the category of those most sensitive to caffeine, there are simple ways to control, reduce and even eliminate the caffeine in your Kombucha.

However, you should NEVER USE most store bought decaffeinated teas as they have been treated with a chemical process (even “naturally decaffeinated” ones) which leaves them damaged and covered in toxic residues.

Instead, try the tips below.

Use A Tea Blend

Black tea contains more caffeine than green or white. The Kombucha culture prefers variety when it comes to tea, so use mostly green and/or white (80%) to reduce your caffeine content by about half over black tea alone.

Use Herbal Teas/Tisanes to Blend

There is a common misconception that herbal or flavored teas cannot be used to make Kombucha. In fact,teas such as Rooibos and Hibiscus make a delicious, flavorful and healthful fermented tea. However, the flavorings in these herbal teas must be natural and not from oils or other synthetics as these will kill the bacteria and therefore your brew.

Also, it is best to blend in 25% Camellia sinensis for the long term health of the Kombucha culture. Alternatively, you could brew every fourth batch with real tea to reinvigorate the SCOBY.

Brew Longer

Sugar and caffeine content both reduce as the ferment continues. Brew for a longer cycle, then dilute with some juice if needed to cut the sour flavor.

Steep & Dump Method

Just as it sounds, steep your tea for 30-60 seconds in a cup or two of very hot water. Dump the liquid and use the tea once again to make the Kombucha. Anywhere from 50-80% of the caffeine will leech into the water leaving truly naturally decaffeinated tea leaves.

Look for my video tip on
naturally decaffeinating your tea
later this week!

Hannah Crum, the Kombucha Mamma!Hannah Crum is The Kombucha Mamma, founder of Kombucha Kamp, Industry Journalist & Master Brewer, educating others about Kombucha since 2004. Connect with her on Google +
Kombucha Mamma SCOBYs & Kits ship free in the US!
27 Responses to Kombucha & Caffeine Explained
  1. Eros Bongiovanni via Facebook

    This is extremely helpful. Thank you!

  2. Хэлэна Коронадо Салазар via Facebook

    Why anyone would fear caffeine is way beyond me! =p

    • sam kaffine

      for a small minority (incl. me), ingesting caffeine can cause migraines. If you’ve never had one, they’re like an ‘ice-cream headache’ or ‘brain-freeze’ (when you eat ice cream and get a sharp stabbing pain behind your eyes), but can last up to a week, accompanied with severe nausea/vomiting. As much as I LOVE a good cup of coffee, it’s just not worth it.

    • Amber

      I have a terrible reaction to caffeine. Hence why I am on this site looking for a caffeine free alternative. I get heart palpitations, hot sweats and feel awful from a cup of green tea, a couple swigs of coffee, or even a from chocolate. This only came on in my twenties.

  3. Raven Byron Hyde via Facebook

    Excellent timing…we were just discussing this issue! You are driving a movement here!

  4. Just trying to do my part – people want to know – I’ve got to speak up! =)

  5. Ant

    Caffeine is technically a drug & it alters various physiology. Also note that caffeine affects the liver. The “sugar” hit people get from having a coffee (& cake), even if they don’t have sugar with it, is the release of sugar by liver from the caffeine. I was told this by my naturopath a while back. Hence, that is why diabetics (T1 & 2) are told not to have caffeine, even green tea, due to this sugar spike effect. Its not that people “fear” caffeine, it affects you in many ways, even with healthy people. If you come off having it, most get a headache. That is clearly a cellular detox effect. I simply try to avoid caffeine, so my latest brew is an oolong tea batch, cant wait. From my research it is lowest in caffeine & a pure tea, so should be ok.

  6. Oolong is a popular tea base for many of the commercial brewers. Its also the tea most commonly served in Chinese restaurants. How did your batch turn out Ant?

  7. Pat

    I’m just beggining to make Kombucha again, but years ago I used Kukicha twig tea, which has much less caffeine, and it worked fine.

    • Thanks for the tip Pat!

    • jak

      i made my first batch with twig tea (organic african nectar) last month ’cause we didn’t want any caffeine as our little kids drink some – we now have a ton of SCOBY!

      cool site! thanks for doin’ it

  8. Ruth

    My heart cannot handle caffeine. Even small amounts of caffeine give me heart palpitations or a highly elevated heart rate. Thanks for the tips. I will try it with herbal tea and use the caffinated tea every fourth time. My family can drink the caffinated batch.

  9. sam kaffine

    AWESOME – thanks SO much for the info, Hannah – I recommend you to everyone I talk to about my new obsession. Thanks for supplying me with the knowledge and confidence to supplement my diet with a healthful and delicious beverage!!

  10. brian

    I’m not sure when this blog was written, but I wanted to comment on the decaf matter. I am also very, very sensitive to caffeine. I can get a headache from half a cup of green tea, I also love kombucha, so I am very motivated to find the solution to this issue.
    Twinings is one company that uses water and CO2 to decaf their tea. They say that is does not leave a residue and leaves 95% of the polyphenols and flavor qualities of the tea.
    I just tasted a batch of kombucha I made with their english breakfast decaf, after 4 weeks it is excellent and ready for bottling. (I often do a secondary fermentation with fruit juice, I like the carbonation and flavor this provides.)
    If anyone has any more info on the decaf situation, please post!

    • We’d be curious to hear how your culture fares over time without caffeine. Do keep us posted!

  11. Winter

    Thanks for this info on brewing decaf kombucha!! I am one of those unfortunate people who gets severe migraines when I consume caffeine! I really want the benefits of drinking Kombucha, and am excited to try brewing my own!

  12. Enid

    I’m new kombucha lover, I just make my first kombucha tea, but I didn’t know about decaf process and use decaf green tea for my culture.
    Did anyone brewing decaf kombucha? Please help me, I don’t want to kill my SCOBY!

    • One batch will not likely kill your SCOBY, but over time, it could atrophy. Switch to regular tea for your next batch and keep on a’brewin!

  13. Noah Pardo-Friedman

    I’ve yet to find definitive evidence that kombucha has less caffeine than the tea with which it was made. Not that I believe this not to be the case; I don’t know for sure one way or another, as I’ve read conflicting opinions on the topic, but neither side has ever presented hard evidence to back up their claim. My hunch is that, since the SCOBY feeds on sugar, it shouldn’t have an effect on the caffeine content of the finished product, but I’m open to evidence that’s been collected to the contrary (or in confirmation, for that matter)–can anyone provide some?

  14. Ilona

    I think that kombucha has less caffeine simply because of the tea to water ratio: allowing for recipe variations, there is a large difference between them. A typical kombucha recipe may call for four tea bags to three quarts of water versus the one bag to one cup of water that one might use for tea. A cup (eight ounces) is a quarter of a quart (thirty-two ounces), so a brewer would need to use twelve bags of tea when making kombucha in order to end up with the same amount of caffeine as is contained in tea.

    • Yes – that is an astute observation. The amount of tea used for 1 gallon is far less than the ratio of 1 tea bag to 1 tea cup.

  15. Mary

    I recently heard of making Coffee Kombucha…you use brewed coffee in replacement of the brewed tea. Have you heard of this? Will it work? Is it good? I like coffee and was curious. Thanks.

  16. Meg

    My heart is pounding as I type this after having a glass of Kombucha with breakfast. I’ve been making my own Kombucha and love it, BUT the caffeine is really making my heart pound. I will try the recommendations to reduce the caffeine and truly hope it works because I LOVE Kombucha!

    • Try diluting it in water to see if that is easier on your body. Trust YOUR Gut!

  17. Karri

    If I use the “steep and dump” method do I still need to do a full caffiene batch every fourth time?

    • Depends on how your culture growth is coming along. If you have thin & weak SCOBYs, then yes – they need nutrition. If the SCOBYs are healthy & thriving, then you are good!

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Continuous Brew mini-FAQ

How does it work?

By changing the starting ratio from…
1 Part KT:9 Parts Starter (orignial method)
to
3 Parts KT:1 PART Starter Liquid (CB method)
…the brewing cycle is dramatically reduced (just 1-2 days to complete).

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Your colony of bacteria and yeast will be hungry and will very quickly process the small amount of sugar into mature KT.

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I don’t want to take on more work.

Actually, CB results in less work.  One example: a more streamlined bottling experience, without the need to lift your brewing vessel, clean it every week or deal with the mess afterwards.

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I can customize the flavor?

Sure, just drain mature KT and add starter liquid to taste.  Or for bottles, flavor as desired – no funnel, no mess!

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It’s actually healthier?

So says Michael Roussin and experts worldwide.

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Will I have too much Kombucha?

Not at all.  Having it on tap will change your perspective.  Plus, you’ll find friends, family and neighbors eyeing your Kombucha set-up with envy and maybe even helping themselves to a fresh glass.

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Yes.  With a straight face.  It is.

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