BreakingModern — Mmm, kombucha. That sort of tasty, very fizzy probiotic beverage we’ve all come to love — or just stare at in Whole Foods wondering greatly about its purpose and power. And why it’s so expensive. Well, I’m here to lay the health food drink on the table and to give you a thorough how to on the process of brewing your own batch.
Kombucha is fermented tea. Plain and simple. Hailing from Chinese tradition (they really knew their drinks), kombucha migrated into Russian and then German culture. While the probiotic aspects of the drink — created by fermentation and growth of bacteria and yeast — are real, any factual “medical”benefits are still under question. (That’s as much of a “cool drug, try it!” as a “be forewarned.” The FDA made me say it …)
The fermentation process (and any good kombucha) starts with a SCOBY. That’s an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. Yeah, tasty, and yeah, gross. The SCOBY is a living, pancake looking object. Squishy and hard, sort of like brain, sort of like fried tofu, the SCOBY is the key to the kombucha brew.
How to Brew
Because of my love for the drink, I was gifted a home-brew set. My jar, original teas, packets of sugar and SCOBY were all courtesy of Kombucha Brooklyn. The tea company has a simple how-to set up to get you brewing your own kombucha, and I pretty much took it from there. (Note: Most of my brew directions follow those described by KBBK, because they’re awesome and they work. Helpful hints and additions of my own abound, though, so read on!)
What you’ll need:
- Gallon Brewing Jar
- Green and Black Tea
- Organic Cane Sugar
- Thermometer (magnetic strip)
- Rubber Band
So, to start, you need a jar. A simple gallon jar works great, but if you plan to brew oodles of ‘buch go for two gallons. You can also get a jar with a spigot (it comes in handy when brewing a new batch), but you’ll want to make sure the glass is solid and untreated.
Next, you’ll need a mix of green and black tea. I recommend tea in bags, rather than loose leaf. Loose leaf may yield richer tea, but is messy and a pain for the process. For a gallon jar brew you’ll need roughly six teabags, half green and half black.
Do not use toasted or over-roasted teas. These will distort the fermentation process. If you like green or black tea more, you can swap out colors — but it will change the taste and color. Also, keep in mind, the higher quality tea the higher quality kombucha.
Bring a 1/4 gallon (convert size if you need to) of water to boil and, once roiling, turn off the burner. Throw in the tea bags and steep for roughly 20 minutes. You want the liquid to be dark amber. After steeping remove the bags and add one cup of organic cane sugar. This makes your kombucha slightly sweet, but it’s also the fuel for the SCOBY, so you need enough sugar for it to ferment properly.
Mix and mix until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is lukewarm. Then add another 1/3 gallon of cool water and stir. Empty into your gallon jar. At this point you’ll want to set a temperature gauge of some sort on your jar. Kombucha Brooklyn’s starter set gave me a sweet magnetic, adhesive temperature gauge that goes right on the jar, denoting the water temperature.
The kombucha needs to brew at a fairly warm temperature — between 72 and 80 degrees. I’ve brewed mine in colder climates, though, and it worked fine. Just try and store the brew in a fairly temperature controlled place, as constant changes will make the SCOBY change and react.
Once the water is below 90 degrees it’s time to add your SCOBY to the tea-filled jar. You can get a single SCOBY from a couple different places, but check your social channels and see if a friend has one. The more you brew the more your SCOBY grows and, eventually, it will reproduce. I usually compost my excess, but you might find an extra SCOBY from a friend to start your brew.
Plop that slimy little creature into your batch of tea — it has begun. You just started your first batch of ‘buch. Congratulations! Now, make sure to cover the lid with cheesecloth (you want it to breathe!) and secure with a rubber band. This way no dust particles get in.
Store the fermenting experiment in an easy place. Cupboards work great. You don’t want to keep it near other perishable food as it might acquire some bacteria — so the pasta drawer works perfectly. I actually kept mine on top of a bookshelf: It was the warmest spot in the house and miles away from any other living thing.
Wait two weeks, with minor taste tests throughout to determine just how vinegary it’s going to be, and then it’s time to harvest.
Harvesting the Batch
So, harvesting your fresh batch of kombucha is pretty much as exciting as it gets. “Free ‘buch!” you might scream.
You’ll notice something right away when you go to harvest. That SCOBY, the baby pancake-tofu surprise you dropped in a couple weeks ago, has gained some weight. It might be hanging loose like jellyfish tentacles down your jar. Or maybe it’s growing a second layer. This is a good sign. Your SCOBY will grow with every consecutive batch, and soon you’ll have a fully matured adult SCOBY (mama scoobs) who is used to your environment, powerful and full of probiotic magic.
I tend to brew my next batch of kombucha while I harvest my last batch. Get the funnel, wash your hands and prepare a clean bowl for your SCOBY to rest in. Pour a small amount (about a cup) of brewed kombucha out in the bowl, move the SCOBY (feels so weird) and then begin to funnel your batch into your growlers. These growlers work the best for me, so far.
Once you’ve drained the gallon jug of brewed kombucha you can begin the process of your next batch. Or, if you’re really on top of it, you’ve been steeping the tea and sugar this whole time and are just ready to go. Either way, you’ve done it! Place those growlers in the fridge and enjoy that probiotic deliciousness!
Raw kombucha is very tasty. Maybe too tasty. I love it, but some people don’t. The starter set from Kombucha Brooklyn provides baggies of dried fruit, which you throw in a growler for a few days to sweeten up the drink. Other interesting flavors that I’ve tried are crushed mint leaves, ginger root or raisins. Not all flavors will be good for the taste, so it’s best to experiment and see what you like.
When brewing and harvesting you want to maintain clean hands, surfaces and utensils. Remember, the SCOBY is a living organism that will absorb whatever you put it in. Don’t leave soap on anything. And, if you’re unsure of your SCOBY’s health, I’ve found the Holistic Squid to be most helpful.
Also, for those potential brewers, know that this is a roughly two-week cycle. It can get to be a lot of ‘butch. I’ve lapsed before in my brew duties, which essentially turns the batch bad, but as long as the SCOBY stays healthy you can always brew anew.
And, for the super brave, try stir-frying your extra SCOBY. Who knew you could eat the thing too! (I’ve actually only read about this, too squeamish to try myself. Let me know in the comments if this works!)
There you have it. Kombucha in a nutshell. Go wild.
For BMod, I’m Daniel Zweier.
All Images: Philippa Baker-Rabe