Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Make Kombucha

I never intended to write a post on making kombucha.  There are so many out there on the internet already.  I've referred to them again and again, and they are great.

The thing is, I use different parts of them when I make kombucha. And lately I've been fielding so very many questions about how to brew this wonderful beverage that it seems easier to have one link to explain my own method.  Otherwise I've found myself sending people to various different sites, and writing out my variations, and it was getting to be cumbersome.

Basically, I'm writing this post in order to make my life easier.  Can't get much more honest than that!

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a traditional fermented beverage.  It's made with sweetened tea, cultured with something called a "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast" (SCOBY).  It's sometimes referred to as  kombucha "mushroom."  Think of it like a sourdough starter.  When you make kombucha, you add the scoby and a small amount of kombucha from a previous batch (or purchased from a health food store).  That's what triggers the fermentation.

Kombucha is the only thing in my home for which I buy and use white sugar.  The scoby "acts on sugar and tea to produce not only acetic and lactic acid but also small amounts of a potent detoxifying substance, glucuronic acid."  ("Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon, pg. 596)  It is a fizzy, energizing drink which actually works to detoxify the body, boosts the immune system, and is "a proven prophylactic against cancer and other degenerative diseases."  (same source)

Amazing, huh?  And it's delicious, too!

How To Get a Scoby?
People often ask where they can obtain a scoby.  There are three options.

First, if you can find someone locally who brews kombucha, you can get a scoby from them.  Scobies reproduce, so if a friend of yours has one, fantastic!

Second, you can order a kombucha starter kit from Cultures For Health.  This is a wonderful company from  Portland, Oregon.  Easy peasy.

Lastly, you can grow your own kombucha scoby.  All you need is a bottle of kombucha from the health food store.  I haven't tried this myself, but it certainly sounds simple enough.  However.  I recently became aware that since 2010 the kombucha sold commercially is different than it used to be.  If you choose to follow this method, make sure the kombucha you purchase to grow a scoby is organic, raw, and unflavored.  Here's a link with more information: "Growing a Kombucha Culture: Problems and Pitfalls Since the Reformulation."

Making Kombucha At Home

The method I follow, I found in the traditonal food "Bible," "Nourishing Tradtions."  I've mentioned it many, many times on this blog.  There are quite a few variations out there on the internet, but this is the method I use.

a large pot
gallon-size glass container with an open top
thin towel/cloth & rubber band
funnel (optional)
mason jars, or glass bottles (I love these flip-top ones from IKEA)

3 quarts filtered water
1 cup white sugar
4 tea bags of organic black tea (I substitute 1 heaping tablespoon looseleaf black tea in a 3" tea ball for the 4 tea bags)
1/2 c. kombucha from a previous culture
1 kombucha mushroom/SCOBY

In a large pot on the stove, boil the water.  Once it's boiling, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Remove from heat.  Add the tea.*  Let the tea cool completely, then remove the tea bags/ball.

*Optional: If you're concerned about caffeine, you can pre-steep the tea in boiling water for 45-60 seconds.  I have heard it said that the majority of the caffeine is released during that first minute or so.  Then just transfer the tea bags/ball into your pot of sweetened water.

Pour the cooled liquid into gallon-sized glass container.  Add the prepared kombucha culture, and with very clean hands, gently place the scoby/mushroom on top.  Then, cover with a thin towel and secure onto the container with a rubber band.

Cooled sweet tea with the culture and SCOBY  (unflavored, ready for the first ferment)

Tuck your covered jar away someplace fairly dark - a cupboard or pantry shelf works well.  (Note: If you're doing other fermenting projects with diferent cultures, store them separately.  They should be at least 5 feet apart, or the cultures could interfere with one another.)

Leave your tea alone 5 to 10 days (I usually do 7).  It depends largely on the temperature of your kitchen: in warmer seasons, your kombucha will brew more quickly than, say, wintertime.  Feel free to taste it periodically.  Ideally, it should be fairly sour and potentially fizzy, but one of the beautiful things about brewing your own is that you get to decide how fermented you'd like it to be.  The longer it ferments, the less sweet it will become, because the kombucha culture feeds on that white sugar.

When you're satisfied (I generally do a week, and rarely bother to taste test), it's time to transfer your finished kombucha to containers.**  You have several options here. One choice is regular old mason jars, or old kombucha bottles from the store.  Another option is flip-top bottles (see the link above under "Equipment").  This is great to add some extra fizziness to your beverage, and I think they're just plain attractive.

**Before you bottle, be sure to save some of the finished tea for your next batch!  I pour 1/2 c. into a jar and plop the scoby in with it, leaving it loosely covered a room temperature until I'm ready to brew again.   The scoby will reproduce, and you will be able to pass scobies on to your friends to that they, too can brew this "health elixir."  Alternately you can compost them, or simply trash them.  Just be sure to keep one (assuming you make one batch at a time) for yourself.

Your kombucha is ready to drink now (and refrigerate), or if you want you can add some flavor to it.  There are a myriad of choices in this area, but I'll share what we enjoy in my home.

Flavoring Kombucha

I usually end up flavoring the kombucha I make. (We do enjoy it plain too though.)  Here's how I do it.  I gather my flip-top bottles in  a row on the counter. The recipe above will use about 3 bottles (1 liter each), with a little extra space for comfort.

Now, the flavors I use:  concord grape juice, or berries cut into small pieces (strawberries, raspberries, marionberries, blackberries).  There are tons of other ways to flavor kombucha; feel free to experiment.

It doesn't take a lot to flavor your brew.  A layer about centimeter deep on the bottom of the bottle does it.  Then I use the funnel to pour my fermented tea into the bottle, leaving a minimum of 1 1/2 to 2 inches between the top of the liquid and the top of the bottle.  I close them and put them back into the pantry to ferment for a few more days.  Two days is usually about right for my taste.

WARNING: You must burp (open and close them) these bottles during this second time of fermentation.  How often?  Well, it depends on the temperature.  In the winter, I usually don't bother to burp them more than once or twice a day - morning and bedtime evening.  But when the weather becomes warm, they must be burped several times a day.  The warmer the temperature of the room, the more quickly they will ferment, and the sugars in the fruit/juice can create a lot of pressure.  Believe me; I've had to scrub strawberries off my ceiling in the past when I didn't release that pressure often enough.  My boys find it hilarious when one "explodes."  Me, not so much.

A note on the berries and other "floaties" - feel free to strain them out if you want, but we just drink them along with the rest of it.  They're good for you, but if they bother you, it's not a problem to remove them.

After your kombucha is finished, place it in the refrigerator. (It will continue to ferment in cold storage, but at a much slower rate. The longer it sits before you drink it, the more tart it will become.)


a triple batch of finished kombucha - grape flavored


Anonymous said...

Can't wait to try making this! I love your flip top bottles. I might just have to make a stop at IKEA!!

Hannah Schwartz said...

Great instructions! :) What do I do if I don't have any starting kombucha from a previous batch? Do I skip adding it? Buy some from the store?