So, raise your hand if the thought of a fermented beverage freaks you out a little (besides wine or beer of course). *raises hand*
Raise your hand if you’ve turned down one such pre-offered beverage in your recent history.
Raise your hand if you’re curious enough to make your own fermented beverage anyway, the name of which you can’t remember how to pronounce.
Excellent. Well, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.
Now that that’s out of the way, how do you actually say it?
Kombucha. (Com-boo-chaugh). Kombucha.
For a super quick run-down-explanation, it’s basically sweet tea that’s had a chance to ferment, much the same way yogurt or sourdough-bread starter ferments, and develop a tangy flavor with the added benefit of effervescent bubbles. Yay bubbles! For those of you who want a more in-depth look at the history and science behind this drink—and I’d encourage you to check it out—go here for that.
And now, on to the How.
How do you make the stuff? Recipe anyone? Or chemical process? Or??? Halp.
Yes. Color me confused too. I was intimidated. But curious. And we all know where that leads. But fear not! The whole thing is way less complicated than you think, and like a good board game, sometimes it’s easier to just start playing rather than reading the instruction manual. So consider this a “let’s play” tutorial in the Kombucha-making game of life.
What you will need:
• A SCOBY.
• At least 1/2 a cup of Kombucha (this acts as a starter for your tea).
• A LARGE glass container/jar/canister in which to brew your tea.
• A thin-weave cloth (like a tea towel), and a large rubber band.
• Organic green, black, or white tea. (6 bags per/gallon of tea).
• Fresh fruit to flavor your tea. (Peaches, strawberries, pears, apples, etc).
• A bottle funnel.
• Brew-quality bottles (about 7 bottles per gallon of tea. Brew-quality so as to avoid explosion during fermentation).
Let’s start with the SCOBY. What the heck is it, besides gross?
SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast, and that’s exactly what it is. It grows, like a mushroom does, but it’s not a fungus. It ‘eats’ the sugar you have put in the tea, but it’s not alive like a creature is alive. It’s what makes the beverage ferment, like the cultures in yogurt or sourdough starter. And yes, it looks totally disgusting. But once you get used to it, it’s really not so bad. Trust me. You actually get this odd sort of thrill seeing it grow and do its fermentation job in your Kombucha. Also, you can’t make Kombucha without it. So how do you get one? Well, you can get one from a friend (because each batch of Kombucha grows a new SCOBY and they add up quickly), or you can purchase one online, or you can grow your own, which is what I did.
If you want to grow your own, here’s a great tutorial on how to do that. Simple, people. Very simple. Otherwise, shoot me an email and I’ll share a SCOBY with you!
So now that you’ve got your SCOBY floating around in the 1/2 cup (or more) of starter Kombucha, you’re going to brew some tea and make your own batch.
In a large pot, boil water. I make up to a gallon of Kombucha at a time, so boil as much as your large glass canister/jar/container will hold. This is where the magic will happen. For each gallon of water, use six tea-bags (or the equivalent of loose-leaf tea*), and 1 cup of sugar. Refined or unrefined is fine.
Once the pot of water is boiling, add your tea or tea bags and sugar, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Then allow the tea to do its work until the pot of water has cooled to room temperature. This can take a while, so feel free to cover the pot and go about your business for the day.
* A note about the tea. You need to use black, green, or white. Herbal tea will not work as it does not have the necessary acidity. Also, it’s a good idea to go with unflavored black, green, or white tea, though as you can see in the picture above, I did not follow this advice, and the Kombucha still turned out great. Ultimately keep in mind that the flavor of your tea before you add fruit will be carried over to the fruit faze. So green mint tea with strawberries might be a bit odd, but green mint with pear? NOMNOM. Oh, the combinations are endless!
Once the pot of sweet tea has cooled to room temperature, pour it into your washed and dried glass canister/jar/container and add the Kombucha starter and SCOBY to the mix. Just pour it right in. As long as the tea has cooled, everything will work just fine. If the tea is too hot, it will burn and kill to SCOBY. Likewise, if you refrigerated the pot in an attempt to speed up the process, it will be too cold for the SCOBY and kill it. Patience is really the name of this game.
Cover the tea and its new SCOBY with a cloth—tea towels work great—and secure it with a rubber band so it is safe from fruit flies and other invaders (don’t use a cheese cloth for this reason—the mesh is too fine). And place the canister/jar/container in a place where it will not be disturbed or jostled. Our’s is a culture that likes to refrigerate everything, so this is going to feel weird. But just like sourdough starter, this stuff needs to sit out where the air is warm and it can grow.
And now you wait.
The size of your SCOBY will have a play on the duration of time needed to ferment the tea. And this is really a flavor-preference thing. If you have a large SCOBY it will take a week or so to have a nice flavor. More time if the SCOBY is little.
After a few days you will notice an opaque layer of film starting to form on the top of the liquid. Do a happy dance! Your SCOBY is doing its job and growing a baby. Careful not to jostle the canister at this point or it will disturb the newly-forming SCOBY and it will disintegrate to the bottom. The growing process will have to start all over again. It will grow thicker each day until it forms a firm kind of film or skin-like texture over the surface of the liquid. Go ahead and taste the tea at this time. If you like your Kombucha mild, you will probably be ready for the fruit faze of the process. If you like it stronger, go ahead and leave it to sit another week or so.
Once the Kombucha has fermented to your taste preference, you can either pour it into another container so your first jar is free to start a new batch of tea, or you can use the same jar and simply add fruit—just remove the SCOBY and about a cup or more of Kombucha as starter for the next batch.
Thus far I’ve made strawberry, pear, and peach flavored Kombucha, and peach is definitely my favorite. I simply cut nice ripe peach in lots of pieces and drop them into the tea. Let the fruit sit, (again with the jar covered), until the flavor is to your liking. No more than 24 hours though, as you don’t want your fruit to being to mold. Then remove the fruit and pour the flavored Kombucha into washed and dried bottles. You will notice the bubbles at this point in the process. Yay bubbles!
Choosing proper bottles is important as the Kombucha builds a lot of pressure in the final ferment. The last thing you need is exploding glass, so go with a bottle that would be used for brewing beer (you can order them from any number of online brewing companies, like this one, for example). Strain out your fruit if you’d rather not have floaties in your drink, or if you don’t care, leave the fruit in.
Leave about an inch-and-a-half head space between the liquid and the top of the bottle. Cap and set them back in your pantry, or wherever you’ve been keeping your Kombucha. Leave for a few days (four-to-six) before opening a bottle to test the fermentation level.
Funny story: My first batch of Kombucha got VERY bubbly because I let it ferment a little too long, and when I opened my first bottle on my kitchen counter, it leapt into the air, champagne style, and nearly hit the ceiling. By the time I recovered myself, all but about an inch of beverage was left in the bottle. The rest was all over me and the kitchen. Hash-tag bubble-level unlocked. So check your bottles after about five days and if it has the appropriate level of fizz, transfer the rest of your bottles to the refrigerator—this will slow down the fermentation process.
And that’s it!
If you have questions or concerns, or need a tip or two, email me or leave a comment! I’ll make sure and shoot you a reply.
Enjoy and happy Kombucha brewing!