The number one question we are most commonly asked is what’s the difference between kombucha and jun. The answer can be straightforward but there’s so much more to it!
Kombucha can date back its origin to as early as the 3rd century CE in the ancient Chinese text, “The Records of the Three Kingdoms.” It’s known there as “hong cha jun”, which translates to ‘black tea mushroom’. Over the many centuries since then, it has spread around the world. In America, it has recently seen a resurgence in popularity, especially in the last two decades.
I know what you’re thinking, how did we get the name ‘kombucha’ from ‘hong cha jun’? We didn’t. Current etymology suggests that kombucha is a misapplied loanword from the Japanese term ‘konbu-cha’, which refers to a non-fermented kelp-based tea that also had a thick gooey layer on top of it.
Like its Chinese translation suggests, kombucha is made with black tea, sugar, and a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’. While there are certain species that are consistent in SCOBYs, (such as Sacchromyces yeast species and Gluconobacter and Acetobacter bacteria species) every SCOBY is unique in its microbial composition. While there’s some variation from generation to generation (aka each time a batch is brewed), it’s pretty subtle if its grown in similar and sanitary conditions over time.
Jun (pronounced ‘juhn’ in English and ‘joon’ in Chinese) is another fermented tea drink just like kombucha. Its origins are rather murky at best, some attributing its origin to Tibetan monks where others state it’s a modern development from kombucha enthusiasts. The key differences are that jun is made with green tea instead of black and sweetened with honey instead of sugar.
Both beverages involve fermentation by way of a SCOBY. The microbial species present in jun SCOBYs are different from those in kombucha SCOBYs, as they are specialized in consuming the different types of sugars that are in honey compared to cane sugar. Honey is largely composed of the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, with smaller amounts of oligosaccharides. Cane sugar contains the disaccharide sucrose, which can be broken down into fructose and glucose with the help of an enzyme or other reaction. Since the sugars are in a simpler form in honey, this reduces the amount of time needed to ferment jun compared to kombucha. Jun takes between 5-7 days to ferment whereas kombucha can take 2-3 weeks.
There can be a distinct flavor difference at the end of fermentation between kombucha and jun. Honey tastes sweeter to human tongues than regular table sugar, so jun often tastes sweeter than kombucha. The use of green tea in jun also gives it a lighter flavor, which is why some call it the ‘champagne of kombucha’!
Though they share a common history, kombucha and jun are distinct and unique beverages. The differences are important when it comes to the end result, but they are both delicious and good for digestive health.