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Water Guide - Can I Brew Kombucha with Tap Water?

Ah, water – the unsung hero of kombucha brewing! You’re wondering if tap water can be your knight in shining armor for brewing that perfect batch of kombucha, aren’t you? Well, buckle up, booch buddies, because we’re diving into the watery depths of brewing science!

The Importance of Water in Brewing

Water isn’t just the universal solvent; it’s the lifeblood of your kombucha -- the main ingredient in every fizzy, tangy bottle of kombucha you’ve ever sipped. And guess what? Most of them started their journey as humble tap water from the local municipal supply, just like the one flowing from your faucet!

The Journey from Tap to Bottle

But here’s the catch – it’s not about where the water comes from; it’s about how it’s treated before it meets the tea leaves and the SCOBY. Intrigued yet? The short and sweet answer is, yes, you can absolutely craft brewery-quality kombucha with tap water. That’s the secret sauce of professional brewers around the globe!

The Environmental and Economic Angle

Before you rush to start your brew, remember, the brewing world is full of nuances. While reaching for distilled or bottled water might seem like the easy way out, think about the environmental footprint – all that plastic and the fuel for transportation. Not to mention, it can be a bit heavy on the wallet!

Brewing Like a Pro

So, if you’re aiming for that pro-brewer badge, it’s time to treat your water with the respect it deserves. We’re here to guide you through the ripples and waves of water treatment. But first, let’s understand why water quality is the cornerstone of a successful brew. And then, let’s unravel the mysteries of untreated tap water and why it might just throw a wrench in your brewing endeavors.

Stay tuned, fellow kombucha enthusiasts, as we explore the essence of water in brewing and how to turn ordinary tap water into the elixir of life for your kombucha!

Kombucha & Water Quality

Water isn’t just the base of your kombucha; it’s the canvas your masterpiece is painted on! Let’s dive into why water quality is a game-changer in kombucha production:

pH Level: The Balancing Act

The pH level of water is like the heartbeat of your kombucha. It influences the growth and metabolism of the lively bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY. Water that’s too acidic or too alkaline can throw a spanner in the works of fermentation. Different waters boast different pH levels, so it’s crucial to check the pH when you kickstart your brew, ensuring it begins its journey in the safe and proper range.

Chemical Contaminants: The Unwanted Guests

Chemical contaminants in water are like party crashers – they can wreak havoc! Chemicals like chlorine and chloramine are often added to tap water as microbial bouncers, but they don’t discriminate. They can show the exit door to the beneficial bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY, impacting the flavor and fizziness of your booch. The key? Opt for water that’s free from these unwanted guests or invite a water filtration system to the party to keep the contaminants at bay.

Microbial Contaminants: The Invisible Foes

Microbial contaminants are the unseen foes that can challenge the harmony of your brew. Water housing bacteria, fungi, or other microorganisms can bring unwanted elements into your kombucha, risking spoilage or even illness. The solution? Ensure your water is a safe haven, free from microbial invaders, or employ filtration or boiling as the knights in shining armor to safeguard your brew.

The Tale of Untreated Tap Water

Now that we’ve navigated the waters of quality, it’s time to turn the page to the chapter on untreated tap water. Why, you ask? Because understanding its quirks and quibbles is essential to unraveling why it can be a brewing conundrum. Stay with us as we uncover the mysteries and challenges of using untreated tap water in your kombucha brewing journey!

Kombucha and Tap Water

Water; it embarks on an epic journey, from natural sources to treatment plants, through pumps and intricate underground pathways, just to gush out of your tap. The Romans, the architects of ancient aqueducts, would tip their helmets to our modern water infrastructure. However, they might raise an eyebrow at the cocktail of chemicals and contaminants swirling in our water supply.

What’s in My Water?

Here at Raw Brewing Co., we like to categorize water contaminants into two buckets: those that definitely aren't good for kombucha, and those that probably aren't good for you! Let’s dive in.

Category 1: The Kombucha Party Crashers

  • Chlorine, Chloramine, and Sanitation By-products: Water is like a sponge, soaking up a myriad of contaminants on the way to the processing plant. It then undergoes a rigorous spa day to emerge clean, disinfected, and ready for distribution. But here’s the catch – it needs to maintain its pristine state until it flows from your faucet, right? Disinfectants are great at banishing harmful microorganisms, but they don’t play favorites – they’ll oust the good microbes in your kombucha too! Our goal is to foster a thriving microbial community, not stifle it. To cultivate a consistent, robust culture, it’s essential to evict these disinfectants from our brew water. While there’s a plethora of chemicals employed in the water disinfection gala (some with potential health risks), we’ll spotlight the two headliners: chlorine and chloramine.

    • Chlorine: This antiseptic is the bouncer at the club of municipal water supplies and pools. While it’s fairly benign to us humans, over time, it can sap the vitality of your culture, eventually necessitating a fresh SCOBY. But worry not – evicting chlorine is a breeze (more on that later)!

    • Chloramine: This alternative to chlorine is gaining popularity, now featuring in 35-40+% of municipal water supplies. It’s the offspring of chlorine and ammonia, forming a stable compound. Though not as potent as chlorine, its stability grants it longevity in the water, making it a tad trickier to eliminate.

  • Pathogens: Uninvited guests like bacteria, viruses, and parasites occasionally crash the municipal drinking water party. While we’ve come a long way since Roman aqueducts, these intruders still manage to slip through the cracks globally. The acidic ambiance of kombucha is likely to show viruses and parasites the door, but introducing foreign bacteria or yeast is like rolling out the red carpet for competition against the beneficial microbes in kombucha.

Category 2: The Unwanted Guests – Contaminants That Probably Aren't Good For You

  • Fluoride: Added to municipal water for a sparkling smile, fluoride has its share of critics who deem it toxic to humans. For kombucha, fluoride doesn’t seem to be a party pooper – tea leaves bring their own fluoride to the brew! However, if you prefer your kombucha fluoride-free, there are ways to show it the door.

  • Lead and Other Heavy Metals: Lead, the notorious heavy metal, can sneak into water through pipes and fixtures, causing a host of health issues. Surprisingly, even newer fixtures can harbor significant amounts of lead. Other unwelcome metals like mercury, cadmium, copper, and zinc also find their way into municipal water supplies.

  • Atrazine, Pesticides, and Nitrates: Atrazine, a hormone-disrupting pesticide, along with its peers, is a common find in water supplies, thanks to agricultural runoff. Nitrates, though natural, have become prevalent contaminants.

  • Arsenic, Vinyl Chloride, Perchlorate, Petrochemicals: Arsenic, once a widespread contaminant, has seen declining levels, but it’s still lurking around. Vinyl Chloride, a carcinogenic byproduct from PVC pipes, has been detected in several cities. Perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel and explosives, interferes with thyroid function and has been found in numerous states. And let’s not forget petrochemicals like trichlorobenzene!

  • Pharmaceuticals: It’s a pill-popping revelation! Prescription drugs enter our water when medications are flushed or excreted. They’ve been detected in almost every water supply and ecosystem. In one Florida study, a single fish tested positive for 17 prescription drugs! Read the study here.

Filtering Out the Unwanted

Now that we’ve met the unwelcome guests, let’s explore your options for ensuring your water is as pure as your brewing intentions.  Stay tuned as we unravel the mysteries of tap water and explore how to turn it into the perfect brewing companion!

Chloramine or Chlorine: What's Flowing in Your City?

Before we dive into your options, let’s figure out which disinfectant is running through your city’s pipes. Depending on your locale, 98% of the US water supply is treated with either chlorine or chloramine. But here’s the twist – some municipalities switch between the two, influenced by the quality of untreated water and the market cost of these chemicals. You can easily find this information on your utility’s website or with a quick phone call.

So, still keen on using tap water? We totally understand! Here at our brewery (and pretty much everywhere else), it’s the only practical choice. So, let’s weigh your options:

  1. Straight from the Tap: You can use tap water as it is, but be warned – this might lead to a weakening of your culture over time, and you might find yourself shopping for a new scoby a few times a year. However, this method is straightforward, and kombucha enthusiasts worldwide have had success with straight-up tap water.

  2. Purification: If you’re looking for a cleaner option, purification is the way to go. There are several methods available, but we’ll focus on the most common for home brewers: boiling, activated carbon filtration (activated charcoal), reverse osmosis filtration, and reverse osmosis filtration + UV sterilization.

Boiling Away Chlorine and Microbial Pathogens

Boiling water for 5-10 minutes will banish all the chlorine and annihilate any lurking pathogens; it’s generally the cheapest and easiest option. However, it’s a bit time-consuming and is ONLY effective against chlorine and microbial pathogens. While you can technically boil chloramine out of water, you’d likely be left with an empty pot before it’s all gone. So, boiling is a NO-GO for chloramine and other chemical contaminants. But, if you’re blessed with high-quality water that uses ONLY CHLORINE as a disinfectant, boiling could be a brew-tiful option for you and your booch!

Activated Carbon Filtration (Activated Charcoal)

Activated carbon filtration is a popular, budget-friendly intermediate option. Both chlorine and chloramine can largely be removed with this method, but it’s essential to note that not all activated carbon filters are up to the task of removing chloramine. For example, Brita doesn’t claim that its filters can remove chloramine. This is because chloramine, being relatively stable compared to chlorine, requires a more reactive media (the activated carbon) and a longer contact time for effective removal. But, using a Brita is definitely better than nothing!

However, activated carbon filters will NOT eliminate microbial contaminants like bacteria, mold spores, and viruses. They also won’t remove minerals like calcium and magnesium, fluoride, nitrates, and several other compounds. On the bright side, a high-quality activated carbon filter can clear out organic compounds affecting color, odor, and taste, reduce pesticides, some petrochemicals, and some pharmaceuticals.

Every water treatment method has its limitations. Most commercial beverage operations employ a combination of treatment processes to effectively purify water. There are various types of activated carbon and carbon filters available, each designed to remove different contaminants, but none can remove all types with maximum efficiency. Not all filters are created equal, so if you decide to rely solely on a carbon filter, it’s crucial to scrutinize the manufacturer's claims to pick the right one. The key question for your brew is, does it remove chloramine?

And here’s a heads-up: using a charcoal water filter can have side effects if the filter becomes saturated with organic contaminants or hasn’t been used in 5+ days. The filter can turn into a buffet for bacteria. While this may not harm you, it could certainly impact the quality of your brew. For this reason, we’re not huge fans of using activated carbon filters alone, but they’re undeniably a step up from plain, unfiltered tap water.

Reverse Osmosis Filtration

Reverse Osmosis (RO) is a sophisticated water treatment method and is generally regarded as the gold standard of water filtration. This method is also highly affordable for home brewers, with low-capacity countertop units starting at around $150. And here’s an interesting fact—RO almost always begins with carbon filtration!

The distinction between RO and carbon filtration lies in the additional processing step that RO incorporates. The water passes through a high-quality reverse osmosis membrane with pores so small that only water molecules can get through. While activated carbon filtration is adept at reducing or eliminating contaminants like chlorine, sediment, organic volatiles, bad taste, and odor, RO membranes can filter out bacteria, viruses, spores, parasites, heavy metals, fluoride, pesticides, petrochemicals, and almost everything else. Refer to the chart below for a comparison of their capabilities.

RO water is our choice (and that of nearly every other commercial brewery) for brewing. As the gold standard, it’s what we recommend for the serious home brewer aiming for consistent, brewery-quality kombucha every time.

Reverse Osmosis Filtration + UV Sterilization

UV light sterilization is an incredibly eco-friendly method to eliminate bacteria, mold, fungi, and viruses without resorting to harmful chemicals—it doesn’t produce any corrosive or disinfection by-products. If RO is the gold standard, combining RO with UV sterilization is like upgrading to a diamond-encrusted version.

Remember, no water filtration system is perfect, and the same applies to reverse osmosis, which filters out approximately 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, mold, fungi, etc. RO water meets the standards for almost any application, but here at the brewery, we like to go the extra mile. UV sterilization also eradicates 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungi, elevating our protection level to 99.9999%. It doesn’t get much better than that!

While RO is more than sufficient for home brewers, many readily available systems also incorporate UV sterilization, and we wholeheartedly endorse this addition! So there you have it, booch enthusiasts. Ready, set, brew!

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