Known as ‘booch’ among fans of the sweet and sour drink, kombucha’s popularity is undeniable. With an expected growth trend of $5 billion by 2025, this probiotic-rich fermented sweetened black or green tea is one of the fastest growing beverages.
Following the hype of kombucha, many business owners are clamoring to make it accessible for their customers, and for home brewers who want to add it to their collection. If you are thinking of testing out the hype of kombucha, it’s important to understand what it’s made of, and why it’s better on tap.
What is Kombucha?
Although kombucha recently gained a lot of attention in the United States, it has been a staple drink in Northeast China for almost 2,000 years. It was known as the ‘Tea of Immortality’, a healing elixir that was known to treat emperors thousands of years ago.
Kombucha is a sweetened black or green tea made through a fermentation process involving yeast, sugar, and added juices or spices to enhance the taste. This drink is perfect for creative types, as you have the option to add various ingredients: blueberry vanilla, citrus cayenne, strawberry basil or raspberry lime.
Similarities and Important Differences Between Kombucha on Tap and Beer on Tap
Kombucha is a fermented product, therefore carbonated, and very similar to beer. Thus, when dispensing kombucha from a kegerator or other short direct draw system, CO2 will normally be the pressure source for propelling product through system while maintaining the recipe of carbonation.
Kombucha on Tap vs Kombucha in Bottle
As business owners want to make this drink accessible for their customers, it is common to spot kombucha in grocery aisles, usually in single-serve glass bottles or aluminum cans. However due to the trend, many brewers landed a better method in storing and serving this unique beverage: kegging and serving kombucha on tap.
Benefits of Kombucha on Tap
- Sustainable: Storing kombucha on tap means less waste for glass bottles and aluminum cans. Kegs and beverage tanks can be reused! It’s a win-win for everybody. Healthy for the environment and healthy for your body.
- Taste sampling: Kombucha on tap gives you the option to provide product samples for your customers. It allows you to let customers have a taste of your product, helping them decide what to purchase.
How to Put Kombucha on Tap
Like beer, kombucha is a carbonated drink, so it would typically be dispensed from a keg using CO2. Due to the acidic nature of kombucha, all metal components in the dispense system must be type 304 stainless. This is identical to what is mandated for dispensing wine from kegs.
How to Dispense Kombucha
This is it. Your kombucha is carbonated and it is ready to hook up to a draft system. The basic equipment you will need are as follows:
- Draft Lines and Connectors: In assembling a balanced kegging system, you will need to use the proper length and inner diameter of your beverage line, normally five feet of 3/16” inside diameter tubing. The type of keg style you have will dictate what connectors you will need. Depending on the beverage distributor, or the type of product purchased, kombucha may come in a standard beer-style keg, or a ball-lock canister (also known as a Cornelius or Corny keg). Standard kegs would require a "D" style coupler, and a Cornelius keg would require ball-lock connections.
- CO2 Tank and Regulator: Whether you are serving beer or kombucha, CO2 serves two functions. It propels the products out of keg and through the lines then out the faucet. And with the correct amount of CO2, protects the recipe of carbonation, which gives beer and kombucha its fizz. Use identical CO2 tanks, regulators and pressure lines as with beer and normally apply between 12 to 15 PSIG (pounds per square inch gauge). With higher carbonated kombuchas, PSIG may need to be higher for successful dispensing. If this is the case, don’t forget to apply restriction to control the flow speed coming out to the faucet.
- Draft Faucets: Quality draft faucets can make or break your kombucha on tap experience. The acidic nature of kombucha will break down a plated brass faucet in no time. A metallic off taste will occur. Always utilize 304-grade stainless steel faucets.
Temperature plays a role in storing and serving kombucha. Make sure kombucha kegs are stored at 38 degrees and maintain temperature all the way to the faucet. This will control the carbonation in the drink and ensure the kombucha does not pour too foamy.
Some Variables to Consider About Storing Kombucha on Tap
Just like all things, kegging kombucha comes with regulations. But don’t fret. These requirements exist to help you create the best drink that your customers expect from you and your business.
What is the KBI and Why Is It Important?
Kombucha Brewers International (KBI), a non-profit trade association with global membership, has recently acquired definition from NSF on dispensing requirements for kombucha. Great news - NSF states that it can be dispensed through same systems utilized for beer. Although KBI went a step further. Due to the acidic nature of kombucha, all metal components in the dispense system must be 304-grade stainless steel, identical to what is mandated for dispensing wine from kegs.
Cleaning Maintenance for Kombucha
The same alkaline cleaners that are used for beer system cleaning and maintenance should also be used for kombucha systems. There are naturally occurring enzymes in kombucha that deter biological growth in a draft system. Therefore, the KBI recommends cleaning once a month (rather every two weeks, as you would with beer), and acidic beer line cleaner does not need to be used.
Cornelius Kegs and Kombucha
Cornelius kegs are commonplace with kombucha startups, however not recommended by KBI. Scoby growth is a big problem with Cornelius kegs, as ball lock kegs have small orifices.
While Cornelius kegs are relatively easy to disassemble and clean, kombucha presents a few unique challenges. These kegs were originally designed to distribute products which typically do not have issues with sediment or solid materials. Even under refrigerated conditions, living kombucha continues to ferment, creating sediment and bacteria strains. These solid materials have the potential to clog the dip tubes and poppets.
While there are several devices on the market for cleaning Cornelius kegs, they are mostly intended for home brew beer products and they do not have the ability to flush out all of the solid materials.
When a clog occurs while product is being dispensed, the keg may need to be depressurized and disassembled to remove the debris. Opening a keg of finished product to clear a clog presents numerous sanitary issues which could result in the disposal of the remaining product. KBI's stance is any kombucha brewer should use Sankey kegs.
An issue that KBI is addressing is to standardize and tighten the specifications on the kombuchas’ carbonation level. At times one batch of a kombucha brand’s carbonation may be different than the next keg shipment. This creates dispensing issues with systems at retail as it will result in foam. Our recommended methods of maintaining carbonation are to either add restriction by increasing the line length from keg to tower or to use restrictor kits resulting in a slower flow.
KBI is continually on a quest for quality regardless of package utilized for kombucha. Their Draft Standards Committee is continually working to provide the standardization and best practices for kombucha dispense.
Is It Better to Serve Kombucha on Tap? The Answer Is Yes
All things considered, the best way to serve kombucha is on tap. It’s easier to process, economical, and it encourages bonding between you and your customers. Some offices are also starting to serve kombucha on tap to their workplace to energize their employees and to communicate appreciation for their hard work.
If you are a fan of kombucha, we recommend going with kegs instead of bottles. You can save more time with the process, and you can worry less about sanitation.
Experience the flavorful drink of kombucha on tap and contact us today!