A Kombucha How-to
Something I have been making for a few months is Kombucha. When I first heard of fermented tea, I must say I was less than enthusiastic. But since I encourage my kids to try things before making an opinion, I decided to give it a go. And you know what? It was delicious! Nice and bubbly with a good flavor. Not like tea at all (which is great since I don’t care for tea…).
‘What is Kombucha?’ Well, it is a fermented tea. It requires a sweetened, caffeinated tea and a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). And time. Just in case you’re curious, even though its fermented, the alcohol content is supposed to be less than 1%. I’ve yet to get an alcohol hydrometer to test mine, but the chemist in me really wants to!
‘Why Kombucha?’ you may ask. Well, it is chock full of goodness. My aim here is to show you how I make it, not to tell you all the ways it’s good for you. I don’t have all the research or anything anyway. You can google benefits and find all sorts of good information. I know it has lots of B vitamins (I can tell, since I get a nice niacin flush every time I drink it), it’s good for detox (so limit your intake while pregnant and nursing), it’s good for gut health due to all the probiotics, it’s a much healthier alternative to soda, and probably lots more. Plus it tastes good (if you do it right, ha!). It will turn to vinegar if you let it ferment too long.
‘So how do I get started?’ Good question. Here’s what you’ll need:
Water-please use filtered at the very minimum. The chemicals in tap water will harm and even kill your SCOBY. I wish I had a better filter, but I use the filtered fridge water since that’s what I have. Another alternative would be to boil the water to release the chlorine gasses or let it sit out for a couple of days to let them naturally evaporate.
Tea-I’ve heard you can use black or green or a combination of both. Last time I used a combination it tasted funny. I use black tea. It needs to be a caffeinated tea, which has something to do with the metabolism of the SCOBY. Never use Earl Grey, the oils from the Bergamot will harm the SCOBY. And with everything, organic is better, but I know people make it successfully with plain old Lipton. I used to use Central Market black tea, but as we have no HEB outside of Texas, I have settled for Tazo Awake.
Sugar-it must be real white sugar. No substitute will work. The SCOBY eats the sugar. Honey has antimicrobial properties which will harm the SCOBY, though we have used it successfully in a second ferment (I’ll get to that later). I use organic evaporated cane juice.
A container of your chosen size- always use glass! Never put the SCOBY in metal or plastic. Not completely sure why, just don’t do it! I usually make one gallon batches, but have made 1/2 gallon batches. Glass cookie jars work great.
A cover for your container- the fermentation is an aerobic process, but little buggies love Kombucha too, so we need a cover that air can get in, but bugs can’t. I use a piece of a T-shirt with a rubber band to hold it on. Others have used coffee filters, and I’m sure even a paper towel will work.
And most importantly a SCOBY! I was fortunate to have a friend give me one, which is the easiest and preferred method. But you can also make your own if you have access to organic, raw (unflavored) Kombucha from a store. Let it come to room temperature and cover it with the same material you will use to cover your brews. Wait until a SCOBY forms at the top. It may take a week or more depending on the temperature of your home. You will also want to retain some of the liquid to put in your new batch. You can also order a starter online, but I have no experience with this.
Ok, let’s get started!
First, brew your tea. I bring my water to a boil and stir in the sugar to dissolve it. The ratio is 1 cup:1 gallon of brew. Then I turn off the heat, add my tea bags (I use 6 bags for a gallon), and let it steep. I usually leave the bags in until the water comes to room temperature. You CANNOT add hot tea to the Kombucha…it will harm the precious SCOBY.
Once your mix is cool, add it to your clean container. Oh, one thing I forgot to mention…soap residues can also harm the SCOBY, so make sure there are none in your container! I usually add in my reserved Kombucha from my starter or previous batch and then fill the rest of the container with water, leaving a bit of room at the top for Mr. SCOBY so he isn’t too cramped.
Then, place your SCOBY on top and cover. It’s ok if your SCOBY doesn’t float…it will eventually rise to the top.
Place your container in a dark spot and then wait! I usually wait a week, but if its warm, it will be done sooner rather than later. If you plan to do a second ferment, you could leave it longer as you’ll be replacing some of the sugar anyway. The longer you let it ‘brew’, the less sugar it will have…it will eventually turn to vinegar.
Ok, we waited…now to bottle!
The easiest way I’ve found to bottle it is to put it into quart jars. Don’t forget to reserve approximately 10% of your brew for the next batch.
You’ll also notice your SCOBY will have a new layer. It is the gift that keeps on giving! Each time you make a new batch, you’ll get a ‘baby’. I usually leave at least a couple in my batches, but you can keep one to make a second alternating batch (because a gallon isn’t much for a week if you drink a lot!), compost the extras, or even better, give the gift to someone new!
I also have many store-bought Kombucha jars that I could use for bottling, but I find it tedious to use the funnel every time to get it in there much of the time.
At this point, you can do a second ferment if you wish. This can add some sweetness and flavor if you desire. There are some cool recipes out there, or make up your own! Add your flavor and close. Then let it sit for another 3-4 days on the counter. If you’d like it plain, just put it in the fridge and enjoy!