Adventures in fermentation – making kombucha tea at home

The other day, we were roaming through the aisles of Blue Water Natural Foods in Alpine when a small package on the shelf caught my eye. “Real Kombucha You Make At Home.” It was a starter culture in a box.

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Kombucha is a drink made of green or black tea that has been fermented with sugar, and in the fermentation process, is turned into a big batch of probiotic goodness. Probiotic bacteria is healthful in that it lines your digestive tract, supports your immune system and can help fight infection and illness. Kombucha tea has been a well-loved health tonic for about 2,000 years.

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Organic green tea bags with sugar.

The sugar and tea combination is fermented by a bacteria called, “SCOBY,” which means “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” SCOBY is a much easier way to talk about it. It resembles a mushroom, but it’s not. Most of the sugar is consumed by the SCOBY during fermentation, so there’s very little left in the tea by the time you drink it.

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Above, a selfie with my very first SCOBY. At right, a few years and many SCOBY later…

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I started making Kombucha at home about five years ago. When we discovered the health benefits (and a couple flavors of the fizzy, tart beverage that we really liked), it became somewhat financially painful to keep two teenage girls (as well as myself) in the habit of daily drinking when it cost about $3 per bottle.

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My kombucha crocks – they had their designated corner of the kitchen counter for years before we moved.

I soon found that for the same cost as one pint of store bought kombucha, I could make at least 12 pints at home. I had the girls save all of their store-bought kombucha bottles, bought an unflavored bottle of the fizzy stuff and used it to start growing my own batch of bacteria and yeast.

I totally lucked out one day and found a dozen or so Grolsch beer bottles at an antique store… the ones with the top on them (brown bottles pictured below) and I grabbed all of them. I had been using leftover glass mineral water bottles, but the screw tops were no longer holding a seal. The Grolsch bottles were perfect. The Trader Joe’s Ginger Ale bottles were just as fantastic for kombucha.

 

After growing that initial culture, I had a new batch ready every two weeks, for about a year. And then one busy month, life happened. I totally forgot about the batch of home-brewed probiotics sitting patiently in my unglazed crockery on the kitchen counter, waiting to be decanted into glass bottles and jars for a second fermentation with fruit, and ended up with a whole bunch of homemade vinegar. It took us a long time to use up all that probiotic homemade vinegar.

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Too much fizz was due to over-fermentation on the second ferment – it was very tangy, and not too drinkable… I called that batch, “12 Pints of Failure.”

Above, blueberry before the second ferment, and about five days later. LOVE.

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This was perfect, in my humble opinion.

Over the course of several years, I made so much home-brewed kombucha that I was giving away SCOBY to anyone that didn’t say, “NO!” when I offered. My brew was so happy and created a new SCOBY with each batch. I ended up with more SCOBY than I could give away, and dried some to give our dogs as chew toys. I’d read that chew toys and compost were great uses of extra SCOBY, and after sniffing the vinegar-scented “treat”, our dogs verified that the compost pile was the best place for them.

Above left, baby SCOBY in a jar. Above right, two very plump and happy SCOBY = the brown stuff is yeast and that’s what makes the magic happen!

Here’s a great recipe that will set you on the path to discovering you can create any flavor kombucha you want in the comfort of your own home. Especially popular in our home were strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, peach and grape (as in grape juice, not actual grapes, unless you can get your hands on Concord grapes). Citrus fruits didn’t work well for me, but if you use thawed juice concentrate, it should be fine.

 

How to Make Kombucha at Home

Equipment:

1 large glass or metal jar (2 quart or larger) with a wide opening (no plastic, and no glazed crockery)

1 large piece of cloth or dish towel (to secure around to of large glass or metal jar with a rubber band – don’t use cheesecloth, it’ll let particulates in)

1 SCOBY disk (you can buy this in a package from health food stores or online, get one from a kombucha-brewing friend, or grow one yourself)

 

8 cups of water

½ cup organic cane sugar

4 organic black tea or green tea bags – your preference

1 cup pre-made kombucha (only unpasteurized has the necessary live cultures)

 

Bring water to a boil in a big pot on the stovetop. Once boiling, remove from heat and add teabags and sugar and stir it up until the sugar is dissolved.

 

Allow the tea to steep for about 15 minutes in the pot, then remove and discard the bags.

 

Let the pot of tea cool to room temperature (about an hour). Once it’s cooled, pour it in your large glass or metal jar, and drop in your SCOBY and one cup of the pre-made kombucha. (Always reserve at least one cup of your premade kombucha for your next batch, or to keep any baby SCOBYs in, in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. I kept mason jars with a SCOBY and filled with the tea mixture in the fridge).

 

Cover it with the thin kitchen towel/cloth, secured with a rubber band or other tie.

 

Put it somewhere safe and out of the way and forget about it for about seven days. On the seventh day, take a taste – you’ll want it to ferment for 7-10 days – less time makes for a weaker, less-sour kombucha, and longer time will give it more taste.

 

Once you find a taste you like, pour it into your smaller glass bottles, jars or whatever glass bottle can fit in your fridge (with fruit of your choice in the bottles), and let it sit for at least 24 hours to complete the fermentation. The longer you let it sit, the fizzier it will get. I found that another 3-5 days sitting with fruit got the amount of fizz I liked.

 

How to grow a SCOBY:

Boil 7 cups of water and remove from heat. Stir in ½ cup sugar. Add 4 teabags and steep until cooled to room temperature. Combine the room temperature sweet tea (bags discarded) with one cup of store bought unflavored kombucha, and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of tightly-woven cloth, coffee filters or paper towels secured with a rubber band. Place the jar in a quiet, dark place that’s about 70 degrees. After the first few days, bubbles with start forming on the surface, then turn into a film, then turn solid and opaque… when it’s about ¼” thick, it’s ready to use!

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My very first SCOBY, before I put it to work.

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

 

 

 

 

 

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