Probably you’ve read about kombucha, seen it at the health food store or had this delicious beverage by now. It’s an expensive drink – just under $4 for 16 oz. Maybe you’re wondering what kombucha is and why you should drink it. One year ago, I never considered brewing it – our whole family was slow to discover it, I guess. Why not brew our own, we asked (once we were introduced), and enjoy the fizzy zing on the cheap? Our married son makes it in his new home now, too, so the tradition is carrying on.
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 health 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 content. Kombucha usually ferments in anywhere from 2-4 weeks (we like 15-20 days best), but there definitely is a ‘sweet spot’ during the process of fermentation that produces the best tasting drink. And wonderful it is!
When I made kombucha with my new SCOBY (a.k.a. “mother” or “mushroom” because of its ability to reproduce) from a friend, I was very careful to have everything practically sterile. Now it’s just my normal clean. Always have clean hands, jars, bowls, and instruments when handling kombucha. When washing your hands, rinse them well, especially if you use anti-bacterial soap.
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 unusual-ness of it and marvel at the wonderful things God placed in our creation for our benefit and enjoyment.
The mushroom or SCOBY is a powerful ‘good’ bacterial culture, and once it’s established it doesn’t let bad bacteria grow, but it’s always possible for it to be weakened or infected with something toxic or foreign. The smell should be clean and a bit vinegary, not rotten or foul in any way. SCOBYs can look very different from one another and still be healthy. Though I have not had this happen and don’t know of anyone who has, if there is mold growing on it, throw it away and start over.
I like to brew kombucha 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.
Easy Directions To Make 1 Gallon of Kombucha
1.) In 2-3 cups of boiling water, steep 5 bags of black tea. Use roughly 2 TBSP. if using loose black tea. Steep for only 10-12 minutes. The tea will be very strong.
2.) Add 1 cup of sugar while it’s still hot, so it dissolves fully.
3.) Pour the hot tea and dissolved sugar into your gallon container. Top up the container to 3/4-full with filtered water to dilute the tea.
While the tea is cooling, keep the SCOBY from the previous batch covered in a glass or ceramic dish (as in picture below).
4.) Let the sweet tea cool down until it’s just warm to the touch. Now you can add back your your starter SCOBY.
5.) Add 1-2 cups of mature store-bought kombucha OR 1-2 cups mature kombucha from a previous brewing. A good rule of thumb is to retain about 10 percent of your mature kombucha liquid to help inoculate the next batch.
7.) Top off the jar with water leaving 1 1/2 – 2″ or so head space.
The SCOBY will eventually float to the top of the jar, and over the course of the next week it may double in thickness. You can see the new SCOBY baby forming under the top layer (below).
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 or compost. It is pretty tough but separates easily.
Keep your jar covered using a plastic wrap and a large rubber band to keep dust out and to prevent it from evaporating. 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 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 (30 days) it may begin to get strong and slightly vinegary. One reason I’m not concerned about the sugar is that it is mostly used up to feed the process of fermentation. We think it tastes a bit like an effervescent ginger-ale.
We take it chilled with a meal and limit our daily amount to 4-5 ounces daily so we don’t go through it so fast. Being fermented (like sauerkraut, sourdough, or real fermented pickles), it is a good probiotic and a little goes a long way.
Flavoring With Fruit
Try experimenting with different ways you can flavor your kombucha. Just throw in a handful of your favorite fruit, slightly crushed, to let out the juices. This summer we tried raspberries, cherries, blueberries and peaches!
Outside of York, England, we had an amazing ‘fruit compote’ 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 tart cherries, pears, and apricots soaking them in kombucha for a week. Maybe it will be a success, and I will share it with you.
Update: I did it! What a taste treat over granola or vanilla ice cream! I’ll post what I did one day.
I encourage you to try making your own kombucha. 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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