In a culture as full of toxins, harmful chemicals, pollution and bad habits as ours, there probably is no such thing as a cure-all silver bullet to ensure optimal health. But, I think KristenM from the Food renegade blog nails it; Kombucha is best viewed as a promoter of health. My dear neighbor turned me onto kombucha a couple of years ago. The sweet, yet refreshingly tart and deliciously sparkly drink won me over instantly. She taught me how to make it, and I was on my way. Before long, I had a rotation of three gallon glass jars brewing in my kitchen – one with black, one with green, and one with jasmine tea. They are all good. Whatever your reasons for drinking it, I’m sure you agree that it is silly to pay $3 for a small bottle when you can make gallons of it at a similar cost. All you need to get started is a starter culture, also called a “mother” or a “SCOBY”. SCOBY stands for “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast”. It looks a little like a jelly fish, which to many is a bit of a turn-off. But fear not – this gelatinous mass is your friend, and will bring you much joy! And, in due time, it will bring your Kombucha convert-friends pleasure as well, as it kindly multiplies. Often, when I make a new batch, I peel off the pancake-like top layer for my next batch and give the bottom layer away to anyone who wants it. If there are no takers, it ends up on the compost.
Here is what you need:
– a clean gallon glass jar with a large opening.
- a SCOBY and enough mature kombucha tea to cover the bottom of the jar.
- 6-8 teabags or the equivalent loose tea leaves tied into cheese cloth. I read somewhere that herbal teas do not work, so I’ve never experimented with anything other than real tea leaves. As evident by the bottles sold, kombucha can easily be flavored with herbs and berries after it is finished, but I usually don’t bother because I love the taste just the way it is. The Jasmine Kombucha is especially perfumy. If you do want to find out how to flavor your Kombucha, this link provides some good tips.
- 1/2 gallon of water. Our tapwater is excellent, so I just use it straight out of the tap.
- 1 cup of granulated sugar. Some people use honey, which is probably fine too.
Make the new tea in a large pot, and bring tea, water and sugar to a boil. Boil the tea until the sugar has dissolved and let cool. If you mistakenly add it when it’s too warm, you will kill the yeast culture, so be sure to let the tea cool to at least room temperature. It may sound like this is a lot of sugar, and it is. But – the sugar is not for you. It is food for your new pet – the SCOBY. You will find that over the next few days, your concoction will go from being slippery sweet to tart and refreshing. The sugar merely enables the fermentation process. If you find that you left it sitting out to brew too long, and the kombucha became too sour – just add a little sugar, and it will adjust itself. Like just about any other living organism – food is essential to its mood!
I read somewhere that using metal utensils may have a corrosive effect. I also recall reading something to that effect when we got our French coffee press too, so I only use wooden or plastic spoons, and boil my tea in an enameled pot. That said, I don’t think it is essential to run out and invest in a Le Creuset to make this happen, but it’s good knowledge ot have if you happen to own one.
Once your tea has cooled – remove the cheese cloth/tea bags and pour the sweet tea carefully into the jar with the SCOBY and Kombucha. Gently fill up with cold water to the point just below where the jar narrows. The idea is to give the SCOBY as large a surface as possible to grow on. Leave the jar open but cover with a clean kitchen towel (preferably linen as its fibers generate less dust) to protect from contaminants. The SCOBY needs access to oxygen in order to ferment, which is why you don’t seal the jars.
Put your jar(s) in a dark place for a few days – usually about a week. If you don’t have a dark place, shield them from light with a bath towel. The amount of time it takes for you to get a finished batch of Kombucha depends on the temperature of where you are. I find the process to be quicker in summer than it is in winter. Taste it once in a while to find what works where you are. It is ready when it is slightly sweet, and a little tart. I like it best when it provides a little prickly fizz, like a soft drink.
Finally, a word of caution – the SCOBY can look pretty disgusting – at least before you get used to it. Its color, texture, the presence of bubbles, spots etc. can vary quite a bit depending on what tea you started with and other environmental factors. All of these are usually fine and are nothing to worry about. But watch out for mold – it will appear just as mold on bread will – green and fuzzy. If your SCOBY happens to actually get moldy, you should discard it and the tea immediately. In the two years I’ve made my own Kombucha, I have never had that happen – which doesn’t mean it won’t. But don’t let brown spots, irregular surfaces and “weird-looking” characteristics bother you. the whole thing is weird-looking! As long as it smells and tastes good, and there are no fuzzy spots, all is well! When the Kombucha tastes good, I usually put the jar in the fridge to stop, or at least slow down, the fermentation process. If you don’t, you will soon see that it grows a little more sour by each passing day. Whether you want to filter out the SCOBY and the stringy little bits of developing fungus is up to you – some do, but it is not necessary. More for visual appeal than anything else. If the mere memory grosses you out, remember this; Beer is also a fermented product and probably looked like this at some point. Which hasn’t stopped anyone yet, as far as I know… Enjoy, and have fun experimenting!