Beginner’s Guide To Kombucha ~Make Your Own
Probably you’ve heard of kombucha somewhere online, seen it for sale at the health food store, or had a glass of this wonderful (and expensive) beverage. Maybe you are wondering what it really is and why you should drink it. One year ago, I thought I would never be making it, but I hadn’t properly experienced it then, either!
Kombucha is a fermented tea that has value both as a medicinal drink and a refreshing one. According to Wikipedia, “Kombucha originated in Northeast China or Manchuria and later spread to Russia and the rest of the world.”
Some believe that Kombucha has been around for centuries, probably a few millenia. Here are a couple of different stories about how Kombucha came into being. It has been extensively studied and applied for several medical uses in Russia, Germany, and China. Here are some purported benefits.
It is typically made with black tea that is sweetened with sugar and has a SCOBY ( an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) placed in the tea. The SCOBY is the culture that makes the tea ferment and give it its good bacteria. Kombucha usually ferments in anywhere from 1-4 weeks (we like 6-9 days best), but there definitely is a ‘sweet spot’ during the process of fermentation that produces the best tasting drink. And wonderful it is!
I kept hearing how great it tastes and how good it is for us, so when a friend offered us a SCOBY, I knew I wanted to try it. These are some photos I took of the process once I had repeated success. If you regularly purchase this wonderful effervescent drink, save yourself a small fortune and make it yourself.
When I made kombucha with our new SCOBY (a.k.a. “mother” because of its ability to reproduce, or “mushroom” because of its appearance) for the first time, I was very careful to have everything practically sterile, but I soon became much more relaxed about sterility. Now my confidence in the ability of kombucha to thrive has grown, and I know you can do it, too.
A funny thing is that I just LOVE the living SCOBY. It isn’t gross or icky at all; I am rather awed by the beauty of it and marvel at the wonderful things God placed in our creation just for our benefit and delight!
Things you want to be careful of are: Always have clean hands, jars, bowls, and instruments when handling kombucha. When washing your hands, rinse them very well, especially if you use anti-bacterial soap.
The mushroom or SCOBY is a powerful culture, and once it’s established it doesn’t let much else grow, but it’s always possible for it to be weakened or infected with something foreign. Pay attention to the smell, which should be clean and a bit vinegary, not rotten or foul in any way. The SCOBY itself can look very different and still be healthy. Though I have not had this happen, if you have actual mold growing on it, it would be wise to throw it away and start over.
I like to grow mine in a one gallon re-purposed glass pickle jar. It’s best to keep the kombucha away from plastic or metal for storage, though it’s fine to use stainless steel to make the tea in or a plastic funnel for bottling. The strong acid of the kombucha will oxidize metal with prolonged contact, and leech nasty stuff out of plastic containers. A nice ceramic crock would also be great if you have one.
The process is an easy one:
Make a sweet tea using 2-3 quarts of water (for a gallon container), roughly 2 TBSP. of loose black tea (probably equal to 5 teabags) and 1 cup of sugar. Bulk organic teas are available at great prices from the Bulk Herb Store or your local health food store.
While the tea is cooling, I keep the scoby from the previous batch covered in a glass or ceramic dish (as in picture above). Make sure your sugar is dissolved while hot.
The sweet tea needs to cool down until it’s just warm to the touch, and then you can combine it with your starter scoby and a cup or two of the mature kombucha in your big jar or crock. A good rule of thumb is to retain about 10 percent of your mature kombucha liquid to help inoculate the next batch. Top off the jar with water leaving ~ 2″ head space.
The scoby will float to the top of the jar, and over the course of the next week it will probably double in thickness. You can see the new baby below, forming the second layer.
You can let your scoby get pretty thick; I take mine apart about once a month, either sharing the extra scoby with friends or chop it up for your chickens. It is pretty tough and separates easily.
Keep your jar covered using a pretty cloth and a large rubber band to keep dust and flying things out. Store the jar out of direct light; I keep mine in a dark cabinet. The warmer the room is kept, the faster it will culture or mature.
You might try your kombucha after 7-10 days to see if you like the flavor. Too early and it will be too sweet, but if you let it go too long it will be very strong and vinegary. One reason I’m not concerned about the sugar is that it is used up in the process of fermentation, so we don’t drink it. We think it tastes a bit like a effervescent ginger ale.
We take it with a meal and limit our daily amount to 2-3 ounces daily, which is not a lot. Being fermented (like sauerkraut, sourdough, or real fermented pickles), it is a good probiotic and a little goes a long way.
I’ve read some people like to bottle their kombucha (with tightly capped wire bale caps), store it at room temperature for 24 hours until it’s fizzy, and then store it in the fridge so they can drink it cool. Storing it in the fridge keeps it from fermenting any further. If you don’t have a lot of fridge space, you can simply bottle it and stick it in a dark, cool kitchen cabinet. Once it is ready, I store a big bottle in the fridge so we can drink it chilled, but the rest would keep in a cupboard just fine for many weeks. In the fridge I’m sure it would last indefinitely.
Try experimenting with different ways you can flavor your kombucha. This summer, we tried raspberries, and it was particularly delicious!
In England, we had an amazing dish of slightly fermented fruits served with fresh homemade granola and yogurt for breakfast. Next summer, I am going to try to duplicate the fruit compote using fresh peaches, red raspberries, pears, plums, and apricots soaking them in kombucha for a week. Maybe it will be a success, and I will share it with you.
Try kombucha. If you find the right length of fermentation time, you will end up with a drink that is not only good for you, but light and bubbly and a pleasure to drink!
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