My two-year old and I are making a big ole stir in the kitchen – a room that I had, prior to parenthood, just made a faint appearance in occasionally. We’re making a lot of our own foods in an effort to cut costs, eat more healthfully and as a part of our adventure into homesteading – becoming more self-reliant and environmentally-friendly through projects based in and around the home. One of our favorite projects has been making Kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented drink made from freshly brewed tea, sugar, a starter culture called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) and some tea from a previous batch of Kombucha. I bet that most of you are reading this because you currently buy Kombucha and you are interested in making it yourself. If not, stop reading, and go buy a bottle from the store to familiarize yourself. There are many health claims that have been made about Kombucha, but the best one, I think, is that it contains helpful bacteria that can aid in digestion and boost your immune system. Another thing that I like is that it can also replace drinks in your home that you want to cut back on, like sodas or alcohol. You can also clean with it, water your plants with it, and more. The economic excitement is that for less than the cost of one single serving drink at the grocery store, I can brew a gallon of Kombucha. I like to brew a gallon at a time because I can drink about a glass a day and the entire batch lasts roughly the same amount of time that it takes to make more – about a week – thus I have a continual supply around. Before making it myself, I bought it in the grocery store. I first tried Kombucha, honestly, because it sounded exotic and there were some convincing health benefits that the makers of it touted on the bottle (“I cured my mother of cancer by giving her this drink every day,” or something along those lines), but I kept buying it because drinking it made me feel really good – a little more energetic while at the same time a little more relaxed and it soothed my stomach. Plus, it was exciting from the moment you pulled it off the shelf, because you were worried it could explode from all the built up pressure inside the bottle (and it did explode on me when I opened it almost every time!). I remember the drama it caused whenever it traveled down the conveyor belt at checkout, “OH NO it’s one of those drinks please stand back everyone, these things explode” the cashier would say. *Note: I haven’t had any explosions while making it at home, just yummy bubbly goodness and the occasional overly enthusiastic uncapping of the 2nd ferment. The basic concept is that you will feed your SCOBY with a nutrient-rich solution of sugar and tea in water, and it will grow and create your Kombucha tea and a brand new SCOBY. Here is a simple way to get started (there are many variations, but this is how I started)
DIY Homemade Kombucha
- 1 Large glass jar for the fermenting (I use a gallon glass jar with a wide mouth)
- Piece of cotton cloth to cover the top of the large glass jar and a rubber band
- A few smaller glass jars with lids or another large glass jar with a lid for the flavoring (2nd ferment) or storing of the Kombucha. Note: I like using flip top glass bottles like Grolsch beer bottles.
- 4 black and 2 green tea bags (I use organic)
- 1 cup sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
- Plastic strainer (not metal)
- Spoon (not metal)
- Teapot (or something to brew tea in)
- Spring, distilled, reverse osmosis water (water with chlorine, chloramines, fluoride, as well as water that is ionized can damage your SCOBY)
- SCOBY – Ask a friend that makes Kombucha to give or sell you one of theirs, or order a SCOBY
- 1 cup previously fermented Kombucha tea – this usually comes with your SCOBY.
*Note: Before ordering your SCOBY, you want to make sure you have the tools and ingredients ready and assembled so that you’re ready to brew when your SCOBY arrives in the mail (it’s a living thing and needs to be fed).
1. Assemble all your tools and ingredients.
2. Cleanliness is important because you don’t want to damage your SCOBY or yourself by introducing harmful bacteria to it, so make sure everything is washed well, including your hands. If you use anti-bacterial soap, be sure to rinse everything really well.
3. When you get your SCOBY, follow the instructions on preparing it (sometimes they come in the mail dehydrated and you have to rehydrate, or (like mine) it may be floating full and raring to go in some of it’s own beautiful tea in a sealed plastic baggie).
4. Brew some tea! Boil 4 cups of your water and steep the tea bags for 20 minutes. Add your sugar while the water is hot because it’ll dissolve more easily. Let the water cool somewhat.
5. Add about ½ gallon of water to your large jar and poor the cooled tea/sugar solution in after that (if it’s too hot it could crack your jar). Add a little more cool water to your solution to bring the liquid in your jar to about 3/4 full (you want to leave enough room for your cup of previously made Kombucha and your SCOBY). I put the jar in the fridge after I add the tea/sugar to let it cool off before I add the SCOBY. I bring it out once it is room temperature, specifically, below 90 degrees.
6. Add the SCOBY and fermentation liquid and cover with a tightly woven but breathable clean cloth (I use a kitchen towel) and seal the cloth to the jar with a rubber band. This helps to keep out harmful bacteria and bugs.
7. Let it sit for five days in a spot that is out of full sun and away from compost, trash or other fermenting projects. Try not to move the jar for these days so the new culture can form properly at the top of the jar. The new culture will look milky whitish.
8. After five days, taste it to see what you think. You can use a straw or stick a clean spoon in there under the SCOBY to taste the liquid. The longer you let it sit, the less sugary it becomes and the more it starts to taste like vinegar. I like to let mine sit for seven days or so because I like it to have as little sugar as possible before it turns to vinegar; however, sometimes it needs to go longer.
9. When it gets to a good sugar level for your taste preferences, with clean hands, take the SCOBY out (you should have two now, or a larger original SCOBY) and put them in a clean container with a cup or more of the Kombucha tea and cover that. You can use this to create your next batch, which I start right then.
10. After you remove the SCOBY, you can consume your Kombucha. At this point it’s plain, simple and not bubbly. You can strain it to “improve” the texture by filtering out the stringy or gooey parts.. You can let it sit in bottle or jar with an airtight lid for a couple of days to get bubblier. My choice is to flavor it with some fruit or juice, or whatever I have around for a couple of days…
The 2nd Fermentation:
Optional but SO worth it!
If you want the Kombucha to be bubblier, let it sit, sans SCOBY, with an airtight lid for a couple of days outside the fridge.
A good ratio for adding juice is 20% juice to 80% Kombucha. You can also add small fruit chunks to the Kombucha, but let it sit for less time (24 hours) and then strain the fruit out before drinking. Our favorite things to add to the 2nd fermentation are dried elderberries, ginger, vanilla and lemon. Not necessarily in that order or combined in any particular way. Dried elderberries add amazing color to your batch (watch the gradations in color as the elderberries reconstitute in your Kombucha) ginger adds spice, vanilla adds great flavor as well as aroma, and lemon makes for a fizzy lemonade type beverage. You can get creative.
So there you have it. If you let the SCOBY sit in the first ferment for a long time (2+weeks, usually) you end up with vinegar (and a hungry SCOBY), but you can get away with letting it sit there for a long while without killing your SCOBY. If I forget about my Kombucha and it turns to vinegar, I use that for salad dressings and cooking as well as for cleaning. And lastly, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know what could possibly go wrong and what you should look out for safety-wise. With my first attempt, I thought the dark brown root-like stringiness under and in my SCOBY was mold, but it turns out, through an intense Internet search, that it wasn’t bad stuff but good stuff (yeast). So my first instinct to ditch the whole thing was wrong. From what I have read, the culture, along with the acidity level of your properly prepared Kombucha makes it the wrong environment for bacteria to survive. However, it can still occur and especially here in Florida with our high humidity and mold content in the air, it’s important to use good judgment. Ditch any batch (including the SCOBY) if it looks, tastes or smells off. Be on the lookout for mold – it is usually fuzzy and can be green, black, white, orange, or red. There’s also something up if you have a batch where the SCOBY isn’t growing or the sugar level isn’t changing (taste test the sugar tea ratio before adding the SCOBY so you know what it shouldn’t taste like after it was supposed to be fermenting). And now that you have been made nervous about mold risk, or importantly cautious and aware, also keep in mind that the Kombucha is an ancient beverage that has been enjoyed for thousands of years, by millions of people.
*If you are feeling overwhelmed with collecting your own tools or ingredients, you can start out with a kit from Kombucha Brooklyn.
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