By Anthony St. Clair

Whether you make kombucha at home or get it from area brewers, the fermented tea’s health benefits and tangy flavor make it an ideal replacement for juice or soda.

“I started drinking kombucha eight years ago,” says Kevin Warren, CEO of Eugene’s BNF Kombucha, which he founded in 2015. (“BNF” stands for a “billion new friends,” referring to the beneficial microbes in kombucha.) “I started feeling some of the health benefits, but I liked the taste and drank it as a soda replacement.”

Kombucha is full of beneficial organisms, minerals, and compounds, similar to other fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kefir. From its first recorded use in China in 221 BC, kombucha has been consumed throughout East Asia, Russia, and Eastern Europe. In the last couple of decades, Oregon has become the epicenter of a kombucha renaissance.

“Eugene is one of the highest per-capita cities in the country for drinking kombucha,” Warren says. “Portland is the highest, with 72 times the number of national kombucha drunk there.”

It’s no wonder BNF’s 14 flavors are finding a receptive home. From BNF’s 4,000-square-foot brewery and tasting room on Prairie Road, Warren, his business partner, and two full-time employees brew more than 2,600 gallons a month of kombucha and jun (a beverage similar to kombucha, but made with honey instead of sugar). BNF’s products are available throughout the Eugene-Springfield area and in Salem, Corvallis, and Florence.

Health benefits of kombucha & other fermented foods

Beneficial microbes are behind the seeming magic of fermentation. Helpful bacteria, yeast, and fungi alter the food’s chemical and physical structure. 

Kombucha’s benefits include B vitamins, minerals, antimicrobial organic acids, and antioxidants. A growing body of research shows that fermented foods can help people lower their cholesterol and blood sugar, decrease the risk of certain cancers, and help many of the body’s systems and processes function better, from digestion to pathogen resistance.

Kombucha’s health benefits were part of the draw for Warren to begin brewing kombucha. “My mom had a lot of digestive issues,” he says. “I wanted to help her.”

Tips for making kombucha at home

When making kombucha at home, Warren suggests you “keep it simple and go by taste.” Start by dissolving a cup of sugar or honey in three and a half cups of boiling water. Then steep eight black or green tea bags in the sweetened water. Once cooled, discard the tea bags and transfer the tea into a gallon glass jar. A cup of kombucha from a purchased bottle (raw, not pasteurized) provides the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) needed to transform the tea into kombucha. Many kombucha supplies (and other fermentation supplies) are available at the Home Fermenter.

“Make sure that start is really strong,” Warren says. “It’ll taste like vinegar. Don’t skimp on the start. Use a full cup. That’ll get it going and prevent competing microorganisms like mold from growing.”

Cover the jar with a cloth (such as a tea towel) and secure with a rubber band. Ferment at room temperature for seven to 10 days.

Initially, you may see some “white stuff on top,” Warren says. Don’t panic. “People think it’s mold, but it’s actually a SCOBY forming,” he explains. “That’ll form into a nice, translucent disk. Wait for a week to see if it’s mold or SCOBY.”

After a week, you can taste-test your kombucha to determine if it’s to your liking (the longer you brew it, the less sugary and more vinegary it tastes). When it’s ready, uncover the jar and remove the SCOBY. Add flavorings (such as spices, ginger, fruit, etc.) to the bottom of the jar. Infuse for two days, then decant into clean swing-top bottles.

The end result is a tangy, refreshing, carbonated fermented tea. And yes, kombucha also contains alcohol, a natural byproduct of fermentation. Commercial, non-alcoholic kombucha keeps the alcohol level under 0.5 percent by law. Homebrewed kombucha might contain up to 3 percent alcohol, but, to put that in perspective, a mild beer contains at least 4 percent.

Enjoy kombucha straight, or mix with your preferred fruit/veggie juice or sparkling mineral water. From there, start your next batch.

“Don’t re-use the same culture over and over again,” Warren says. “Use a clean culture. Every batch grows a new one.”  

BNF Kombucha and JunBrewery & Tasting Room, 2495 Prairie Rd., Unit A,

Home Fermenter, 123 Monroe St., Suite A, 541/485-6238,