Kombucha is an exotic and mysterious drink that has been steadily gaining popularity. As a big fan of it myself, I wanted to know how kombucha is made and decided to take the leap from buying the bottled variety in stores to crafting my own brew at home. Home brewed kombucha is known to be more potent than the bottled variety, providing excellent health benefits for those who drink it. What is kombucha and why is it so popular? It’s basically a slightly fizzy, fermented tea that is full of health benefits that anyone can enjoy.
Kombucha is made by using a base of sweetened tea and around, rubbery disc called a SCOBY. The SCOBY acronym represents a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast and is often referred to as the “mother” because, as the tea ferments, a second SCOBY forms. Symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast?? Eeek and yes!!! It sounds completely unappealing and almost like a science experiment gone wrong, however, a SCOBY is your best friend when you treat it well because it, in turn, will treat you well. All the beneficial bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY are excellent for improving an individual’s gut health in a manner similar to that of probiotics, and WE ALL KNOW that a healthy gut leads to a healthy body and a happy life. Read on if you’d like a happy gut AND a happy life…
Brewing kombucha is easy but first you’ll need a SCOBY. My suggestion is to ask a friend or neighbor if she or he has an extra SCOBY. Home brewers often have extras they are happy to give to a friend. Ordering online is also an option. You’ll also need tea, filtered water, sugar, distilled white vinegar, a coffee filter and a rubber band. If you would like to flavor your brew, you’ll want to pick up some fruit such as mango, blueberry, or raspberry or my personal favorite, fresh ginger.
Caring for a SCOBYis simple: 1) give it a comfy home. What constitutes a comfortable home for a SCOBY?A combination of freshly brewed organic tea and filtered (or distilled) water. If you don’t have organic tea, standard tea will work also, however, if you want to maximize the health benefits of your super brew choose organic. What does a SCOBY eat? Sugar! Yes, your SCOBY loves sugar and needs sugar to sustain itself.In fact, during the fermentation processbacteria and yeast in the culture break down most of the sugar, leavingtea less sweet than when it is first brewed. Finally, choose a glass jar with a 64 oz. capacity or larger and a mouth wide enough to accommodate a round disc. Some examples of suitable vessels are large, wide-mouth mason jars, large, used pickle jars found at the deli counter and, in a pinch, a glass pitcher. I’ve even used a trifle bowl to brew but, beware, the wider the jar the wider your SCOBY will grow!
Part of the fun of making kombucha is learning what works to make your brew exactly how you like it. The fermentation process takes anywhere from 10 days to one month depending on variables such as temperature in your home, ph balance of the tea, etc…Generally, a warm environment allows the fermentation process to work and a cool environment will slow it down or stop it entirely. pH balance should be somewhere around 3 or 4, or the red/orange color on a pHpaper strip. The longer you allow the fermentation process, the less sweet the kombucha will be.
Now for the process. When you receive a SCOBY it usually includes some potent starter tea which is loaded withall that beneficial bacteria and would be used in conjunction with brewed sweet tea. If no starter tea is included, that’s when white distilled vinegar saves the day. White vinegar provides the acidity that will help achieve the proper pH balance and ward off mold.This is how I started my very first brew, using very little to no starter tea:
Steep 6 tea bags in 8 cups of hot water, add ¾ cup of sugar and allow to cool to room temperature, anywhere between 68 and 84 degrees.
Add ½ cup of white distilled vinegar and the cooled sweet tea to your vessel of choice and mix well.
Test pH to ensure proper balance is achieved, below 4.
Add your SCOBY.
Cover the vessel with a coffee filter and secure with a rubber band around the neck of the jar. The filter allows air to circulate around the SCOBY and tea while protecting it from dust, food particles, mold spores,etc...
Never use a metal lid when brewing for two reasons: metal can leech into the brew and contaminate the tea. It also blocks the circulation of air, which will ultimately kill your prized SCOBY.
Let the fermentation process work for around two weeks. At that point you can begin tasting a tiny bit of brew to determine how sweet you’d like it. I like to brew mine closer to three weeks or a little longer.
When the brew is to your liking, pour it into bottles that can withstand pressure from carbonationusing a cheesecloth over afunnel. We use Grolsch bottles, which are designed to withstand pressure. The cheesecloth will remove any sediment, yeast, or funky looking blobs that may be in the brew. Be sure to set aside some of the brew to serve as a starter for the next batch.
If you’d like a little more fizziness, pour unfiltered brew into the Grolsch bottles and allow to sit near a warm place for up to one week, give or take. This is called second fermentation. If you are not using Grolsch bottles be sure to open them at least once a day to allow some pressure to escape. This is called burping – your kombucha is your baby, after all.
When the second fermentation kombucha is to your liking, use the cheesecloth to filter it and transfer into Grolsch bottles that contain flavoring of your choice such as fruit or ginger. The sugar in fruit may cause more pressure from carbonation so only a small amount of fruit is recommended.
Refrigerate and enjoy!
Kombucha is a great health-enhancing drink that is fun to brew at home. Every time I brew the formation of the second SCOBY is its own unique process. Expect to notice an often funky and at times scary transformation as the fermentation process is under way. Most of the time it is safe to drink no matter how freakish the SCOBY looks, however, do keep an eye out for mold which occurs very rarely. Mold can be green, white, or black BUT it will be found at the top of the SCOBY and will look fuzzy. Dark brown or black spots that are not fuzzy and are not on top of the SCOBY are not mold.
What to do with your baby SCOBY? Save the mother and new SCOBY to brew more batches!! Extra SCOBYSare also a great opportunity to give to friends or family members who undoubtedly will enjoy brewing their own kombucha. What is your favorite flavor of kombucha? Comment below and if you love sharing in your discoveries as other brewers do, post your home-brew kombucha pics!
Ingredients for kombucha:
6 tea bags
½ cup white distilled vinegar
¾ cup sugar
8 cups of water
1 wide-mouthed jar, 64 oz capacity or larger
1 coffee filter
Cheesecloth for filtering