Brewing a sustainable future through traditional beverages 

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Some things are just better when they’re homemade, like a batch of chocolate chip cookies or a crusty loaf of bread. But what about kombucha, herbal tea or ancient grain beer?

Pouring tea from a glass teapot into a cup on a wooden table.
Sip into Earth Day with homemade traditional brews from around the world for a greener future. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

As discussions about sustainability continue to reverberate around the globe, many Americans are embracing these traditional drinks as alternatives to mass-produced beverages. And while brewing drinks at home might initially seem like a challenge, you may be surprised at how easy — and rewarding — the results can be.

After all, people have been brewing these beverages at home for hundreds of years. Why not join the party?

Traditional beverages

Did you know that the can of beer sitting in your fridge is nearly 10,000 years old? Well, maybe not that specific beer can, although it can feel that way on fridge clean-out day. Beer, like many other traditional beverages, has a rich history stretching back thousands of years. According to the World History Encyclopedia, the ancient Chinese brewed beer as early as 7,000 BCE, and the roots of this practice may stretch back even earlier to Godin Tepe in modern-day Iran. 

Mead, an alcoholic beverage created from fermented honey and water, may be far older. In a 2006 presentation, Mark Beran of Medovina Meadery discussed the evidence dating mead back to 20,000 or even 40,000 BCE in Africa. Given that mind-boggling timeline, kombucha — first brewed around 220 BC in Northeast China, according to Forbes — feels like a relatively recent addition. But tea, the main ingredient in kombucha, was allegedly enjoyed as early as 2700 BCE, according to the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, people from different cultures around the world developed many of the drinks still cherished today. As Mexico Lore explains, modern-day hot chocolate can be traced back to Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Many traditional beverages held significant places within the cultures that developed them. An example is tepache. According to De La Calle Co, tepache was created by the Nahua people or the Mayans and was a sacred drink for the Mayans.

Environmental impact

In an unfortunate contrast to traditional methods, modern beverage production often occurs through unsustainable practices. According to a 2021 article published in Sustainability by two scholars from the University of Alicante, sustainable practices are usually defined “through the three overlapping principles of environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable production.”

Some modern companies that produce traditional beverages, such as Mother Kombucha, Bird & Blend Tea Ltd. and The Guayaki Yerba Mate Co. have demonstrated a deep commitment to sustainability. But all beverage manufacturers face challenges, as writer Sana Gogia pointed out in an article for FoodBev Media: namely, sourcing ingredients sustainably, using environmentally-friendly packaging and reducing carbon emissions during distribution.

Brewing beverages at home has the potential to avoid some of these pitfalls. It’s also cost-effective, customizable and a whole lot of fun. Angelica Kelly, who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to teaching the world how to brew kombucha, recently spoke to HuffPost about why she brews kombucha at home. “I love that I can control exactly what goes into it and tailor it exactly to my taste preferences, [such as] the sweetness level, the quality of the tea, the fruit flavors, the level of carbonation.”

Beverages you can brew at home

If you’ve got the brewing bug, here are some drinks you can try to create right from your own kitchen. You may be surprised at how many ingredients you already have at home.

Herbal teas, from delicate to dramatic

There’s so much more to the world of tea than just Earl Grey. In fact, you might need a guide just to keep track of all the different varieties out there. While you’re probably familiar with classic flavors like jasmine or English Breakfast, did you know that you can also make tea from blue lotus flowers

Depending on what region you live in, you might even be able to grow some herbal teas in your own garden or balcony. Chamomile, mint and lemon balm are all great choices for beginners. Other varieties, such as elderflowers, can be foraged in many parts of the world. Just make sure to read up on the plant first so that you don’t consume anything dangerous by mistake.

Mead: Just combine water, honey and yeast

When it comes to making mead, there are seemingly infinite recipes out there. But the most basic version simply requires honey, water and a fermentation agent such as yeast. Instead of buying honey from the store, consider embracing sustainability by connecting with local beekeepers.

Fizzy and fantastic kombucha

Take tea to the next level by fermenting it into kombucha. To make this fermented drink, you’ll need to create a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, also known as a SCOBY or a mother, from store-bought kombucha. You will then ferment your beverage twice: first, to create the kombucha, and second, to carbonate the drink. 

Once your drink has been carbonated to perfection, you can dress it up with added flavors; think ginger, fruit or honey. The process of making kombucha may take some patience, but it’s relatively hands-off and will reward you with a unique final product.

Cider, the liquid gold in your backyard

If you’re lucky enough to live near an apple tree, you may have what it takes to make delicious cider, as per the American Homebrewers Association. You’ll also need yeast to facilitate the fermentation process. Like other fermented drinks, there are many directions you can take for homemade cider: it can be still or sparkling and will have a different flavor profile depending on the apples you use.

The future of beverage sustainability

Of course, there are so many more drinks that you can brew in your own kitchen. Beer, tepache, limoncello, kvass and more are just a handful of the exciting beverages that can be created at home. Classics like lemonade or orange juice shouldn’t be overlooked, and neither should fermented options such as kefir and homemade root beer.

Whether you’re interested in brewing drinks at home to protect the planet’s future, or just because you’re curious about the process — or both — there’s a delicious and traditional fermented beverage out there for everyone. Cheers to that.

Kristen Wood is a photographer, writer, certified functional nutrition expert, herbalist and creator of Schisandra and Bergamot, a botanical blog. She is also the author of Vegetarian Family Cookbook, Fermented Hot Sauce Cookbook and Hot Sauce Cookbook for Beginners. Her work has been featured in various online and print publications, including Healthline, Willow and Sage Magazine, Martha Stewart, Elle, Yoga Journal and more.

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