Making Kombucha at Home
I don’t remember when I started reaching for Kombucha drinks in the store, but it’s been a good long while. Although it’s an acquired taste, I now love it. Fizzy, tart (a little or a lot), and sometimes containing strands of the original bacteria and yeast starter, it’s the only soda I drink now. Store-bought Kombucha drinks are expensive, ranging from $3-5 dollars a bottle, which is why I decide to learn how to make it at home.
So, what the heck is it anyway, you ask? It’s a fermented sweetened black tea, or a probiotic tonic, made with a SCOBY, or a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Drinking even a couple of ounces of Kombucha a day adds a big dose of healthy bacteria to one’s gut, plus amino acids and vitamins. That’s the main attribute of Kombucha when it comes down to it. (You can read more about the ancient origins of Kombucha and the purported health benefits here.)
Not to dissuade you from buying the delicious store-bought versions like the Capitol Kombucha featured above, but you can get a batch going at home really easily and for less than $5. Then, through the continuous brew method, you can yield as much or little of the drink that you want, and never shell out cash for it again.
I learned how to brew Kombucha from home from a neighbor who has been brewing the tea successfully for months, and from taking April Scripp’s traditional food workshop on fermentation and probiotic tonics. (April runs the Vintage Gourmet in Del Ray, specializing in “traditional wisdom for the modern kitchen.” She’s been holding hands-on workshops lately on fermentation and has one coming up on cultured dairy.)
The way I got started was to put out a request on our DIY Del Ray FaceBook page to someone in town who would be willing to give me a piece of their SCOBY. I heard back immediately from Christine, who offered to split up one of her “mothers,” the colloquial name given to the pancake-like SCOBY that forms in the tea culture. (Some erroneously call it a mushroom but it’s not fungi by any means.)
Before Christine came over, I cleaned out a glass jar and brewed a strong pot of black tea in filtered water. Then, I added sugar to the tea, and let the tea cool completely. The ratio of water to tea to sugar is 1 quart of water to 2-3 tea bags to 1/4 cup of sugar.
Christine plopped one of her healthy SCOBY’s into my jar and added about a cup of her Kombucha to act as a starter.
She then poured in the black tea and sugar mixture, and a bit more filtered water.
We placed some cheese cloth over the jar, and secured it with a rubber band. You want air to circulate into the jar but you don’t want any contamination and you want to deter fruit flies. April recommended using coffee filters as another option.
I set the jar off to the side of the counter where it could sit in peace, away from direct sunlight, and ferment away.
A week later, I noticed another SCOBY had grown in the jar, which meant the process was working. I learned in my workshop with April how to test the pH to determine the status of the tea. To drink, it should measure about 3, which is pretty darn acidic, akin to a lemon. If you declare it finished too soon, the tea may still be more alkaline (and sugary) than acidic, and thus less beneficial health-wise. (You can buy pH test strips at your local drugstore.) You can also do a low-tech test by drawing up some of the liquid with a straw and tasting it.
I poured out my brewed Kombucha into a clean mason jar and set it out on the counter for the secondary fermentation which causes carbonation and makes the drink “effervescent.” In a few days, my Kombucha had carbonated nicely.
I drank some of it and put the rest in the frig. It will stay fresh for months. Meanwhile, my neighbor Elin became the happy recipient of one of my SCOBY “babies”. See the little guy forming below the one on top?
She brought a jar over and we began the tea brewing process again.
A week and a half later, we had even more of the delicious tonic to enjoy. (Since the weather is getting cooler, the fermentation process is taking a bit longer than a week.) Just like the yogurt I make at home, I put a note on my latest “science project” so my family doesn’t mess it up.
With the second batch I had made, I poured more tea and sugar into it, and let the Kombucha process begin anew. This is the continuous brew method. Evidently, I will get a thicker and thicker SCOBY if all goes well. I can split it up to give to friends or put extra in the compost bin. But the Kombucha should keep on giving and giving.
You can flavor your Kombucha as well. Before you pour if into the jars, just add some fruit or juice, or perhaps ginger.
For more information about the Kombucha process, as well as tips on how to avoid contaminating your brew, and when to know when things are amiss, you can find a tons of information through a Google search. I like the Cultures for Health site, which has great information, and also offers a starter package in case you want to brew the tea at home can’t find a SCOBY donor near you.