Last year in March, I was introduced to Kombucha. I was in Miami at a farmer's market and being drawn to cool bottles, there was a table that was selling this stuff. I had no idea what it was, but I liked the bottle (I'm such a girl). I tried a sample and decided it was worth the $6.99 to drink this kombucha stuff and have a cool bottle to save.
After I got back from my trip, I decided to research more about kombucha. I'm one of those people who will do research for fun. I learned that it was an ancient probiotic drink. As someone who is gluten sensitive, I blame antibiotics for my affliction, helping all of my good gut bacteria seemed like a good idea. Plus, I like the way kombucha tastes.
I was buying kombucha at the store for a while, but that got really expensive at about $3.69 a bottle. They say you want to drink a bottle per day. My sister suggested that we start making our own kombucha. I was afraid to do it at first, but soon, I found out that it's as easy as making tea.. with some extra stuff.
I have only been making continuous brew kombucha a few times and so far I like it better than batch brew kombucha. The difference is that with continuous, you don't clean the vessel or remove the starter tea every time you make a new brew. And using a spigot to pour my brew into bottles for the second ferment (that's when you get the fizzies).
If you're a newbie to kombucha, you'll probably be wondering, 'What the heck is that floating in that jar?' That would be a SCOBY, which is what ferments your tea into the live probiotic culture goodness you'll be drinking in a few days. It stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. You're probably still like 'What the???' All I know is that the blobby thing is just bacteria and yeast, in a good way.
You'll want to get one for yourself if you're planning on making your own kombucha. If you're lucky, you might be able to get one from a friend. I wasn't so lucky, so I ordered mine from a seller on Amazon. Usually, they come with directions and starter tea. Starter tea is actually leftover tea from a last batch. So, you're like 'how am I supposed to get starter tea?' Fret not, if you don't have any, you can use white distilled vinegar. The starter or vinegar are used to keep the pH low. Harmful micro-organisms can't survive in an environment with the pH at 3.6 or lower.
When brewing kombucha, you want to make sure it's black or green tea and not any teas that might have oils like Earl Grey (the bergamot). I stick to kombucha blends (already prepared for ideal kombucha), darjeeling tea, assam tea or plain black tea. Once you have a few SCOBYs going (they make babies!) you can experiment with other teas like yerba mate, green tea, roibos or even hibiscus (I'm looking forward to that). Here, I'm using darjeeling that I found in my local Indian market.
First, boil distilled or purified water. The rule is to use water that is free from any impurities, sediment, chlorine and such. We don't want anything that might harm our awesome SCOBY.
As the water is boiling, you'll want to add sugar. I like to use organic cane sugar and buy it in bulk because you end up using a lot in your brew. Don't worry, the sugar is to feed the SCOBY, not you. I'm making my kombucha by the gallon and that takes 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups depending on whose recipe you follow. This time around, I used 1 1/2 cups of sugar.
Add hot water and stir to let the sugar dissolve completely. Even though I'm making a gallon of kombucha, I'm making 6 cups of strong tea. I'll add more water to the gallon vessel later.
After the sugar has completely dissolved, add your tea bags and let it steep. The longer you let it steep, the stronger your tea will be. I used 2 tablespoons of loose darjeeling tea blended with the kombucha loose tea. Until I get reusable tea bags, I've been making tea bags with coffee filters and baker's twine.
A trick I learned to make this easier, because waiting for the tea to cool down feels like it takes forever, is to make the tea first thing in the morning and then let it sit while I'm at the office. When I get home in the evening, the tea has been cooled to room temperature. Remember, your SCOBY is a living thing and you don't want to kill it with hot water.
It's time to remove the SCOBY and set it aside as we add our tea and water to the gallon vessel. You always want to have clean hands and a clean container for your SCOBY. I wash my hands with dish soap and sometimes I add a little white distilled vinegar to my hands to be on the safe side. I also make sure my plate is clean. You can let your SCOBY just hang out while you finish up the tea.
Pour your strong tea into the gallon vessel and then add more water, to make about 12-13 cups of water. If you're just starting out, you'll be using less. When I first started brewing my own tea, I'd refer to the Cultures for Health website. They have some great information and videos to help you out. You can also join different Facebook groups about kombucha making.
Not everyone does this, but I always check the pH level of my tea before adding the SCOBY. You can get a winemaking tester kit online. I got this one with the kombucha starter kit from Cultures for Healthy. I got their dehydrated SCOBY, which worked fine, but since I'm impatient, I felt it took too long to rehydrate it and make brews. Using a fresh SCOBY is so much better.
A pH of 4.0 or less is safe, but the lower the better. I had about 3-4 cups of starter tea in my vessel, although you can use 2 cups of starter when making a gallon of tea. The pH is important because you don't want any harmful micro-organisms growing in your kombucha tea. You only want the probiotics in there.
Our tea is ready for the SCOBY. Some interesting things about SCOBYs. They grow. Every batch you make, they get bigger and grow a baby SCOBY, so you'll want to learn about starting a SCOBY hotel. This guy is ready to be separated, you can see how thick it is. I kept it thick so it can ferment the tea faster.
As you start to collect extra SCOBYs, you can use the extras to experiment with other tea blends. You can save them in case anything ever happens to your mother SCOBY. You can give them away to friends who also want to start making their own booch.
As your tea is fermenting, cover it with a tightly woven cloth and affix it tightly with a rubber band. This keeps any bugs from flying into your tea. You also want to allow air to exit the vessel. As the tea is fermenting, carbonation will build up and you want it to be able to escape easily.
Let it sit for a few days before you start tasting it. I let it sit for a week so that it's nice and vinegary. The length of time it takes to brew depends on the temperature of your space. The warmer it is, the faster it will ferment. It will be ready according to your tastes.
A few important things about starting your own kombucha.