Ferment Friday no. 3: Kombucha

August 24, 2012 · 7 comments

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I have converted my family into a tribe of kombucha-lovers.

Well, all of them except the tallest one. He claims to be wary of the scoby. I can’t imagine why, it’s not creepy at all — I only get warm fuzzies when looking at it.

But, wait. Did I lose you at scoby?

The word, or the photo?

Ok, so let’s just pretend you didn’t see that, and back up a bit.

Kombucha is a cultured tea beverage. A culture, or SCoBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria & Yeast) is used to ferment sweetened black tea (green tea and yerba mate can also be used, but caffeine and sugar are both necessary to feed the yeast). The culture forms a “mat,” or in the words of my kids, “that ewwww! creepy thing that OH MY GOSH YOU’RE TOUCHING IT eeewww!! sits in the tea.”

The drink has been around for thousands of years (via China and Russia), and is known for its detoxing properties and probiotic benefits. It’s slightly fizzy, and has a pleasant sweet-tart flavor (most sugar is converted during culturing, and from what I’ve read the caffeine is also greatly reduced in the finished tea). You can buy commercially-produced kombucha for about $3-$4 per 16-oz bottle — or, you can make it at home for about $1/gallon.

…..aaaaaaannd in case you don’t want to do the quick math on that: that’s about TWENTY-EIGHT DOLLARS versus ONE DOLLAR. My kind of savings.

What do you need to make kombucha at home? You need organic tea, organic sugar, filtered water, a gallon jar, and a scoby.

I bought a scoby online a couple years ago from a very reputable source. I then set out to make my kombucha in the dead of winter. This plan? Bad. Idea. Jeans.

Kombucha likes warmth. In fact, this winter, I might invest in a little electric warming mat for my kombucha jar (thought about trying to rig this thing to do it, it’s cheaper than the official ones). So, lesson #1: if you’re buying a scoby online, I recommend starting it before the cold of winter sets in.

The very best way to get a scoby is to find a friend who’s making kombucha. The scoby’s multiply, or add new layers, as they culture. You can just separate the layers and give them to a friend to start a new batch. The scoby I have now was given to me by a friend in my culture club — and it makes the best kombucha I’ve ever tasted.

If you’re concerned about home-brewing safety, as I am — simply invest in pH strips or a pH meter. Kombucha is safe to drink at a pH of 3-4 (3 is ideal), which is the right acidity to prevent extra bacterial growth but not so acidic to hurt our tummies.

In case I’ve not sung the praises of kombucha enough:  this is, by far, the lowest-maintenance cultured product that I make at home. It only requires making a gallon of sweet tea every 1-2 weeks (depending on how fast your tea is culturing) and bottling the finished tea.

Still unsure? Go by the health food store and buy a few jars of GT’s plain kombucha (only drink about 1/3 of a jar per day). You’ll be hooked in a week, back here, desperate for information on how to make your own.

Mark. My. Words.

(This, from the woman who still hasn’t gotten her unbelievably stubborn husband to drink it. My next plan includes resorting to incessant mockery, for his “fear” of “icky things.”)

Kombucha Tea

If you are fortunate enough to acquire a scoby mat from a friend, it should be kept in about a 1/4 cup of its own source kombucha tea (and refrigerated) until ready to use. Add this liquid with the scoby to the first batch. If purchasing a scoby online, follow the directions included, as it will likely need to be re-hydrated before use.

When making subsequent batches of kombucha, simply remove the scoby and 1/4 cup of sludgy kombucha (from the bottom of the previous jar) to a clean bowl until the jar is filled with new, fresh tea -- then add both scoby and liquid to the new batch.

It is important to use filtered water. If you don't have a good filter (an active refrigerator filter should work), you must boil and cool your water to help reduce chlorine content (chlorine fights with good bacteria).

Ingredients

  • a SCOBY mat (from a trusted online source or a friend with good kombucha tea)
  • 1/4 cup loose organic black tea (or 4 small tea bags), not decaffeinated
  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • filtered water
  • a one-gallon jar, plus a large bowl for brewing tea
  • pH strips or meter, to test final culture

Instructions

  1. Bring 8 cups of filtered water to a boil. In a 2-qt. glass bowl or jar, combine the cup of sugar and loose tea (you can put the tea into an empty tea bag or simply add it loose and strain it after brewing). Pour the boiling water into the bowl, and stir to make sure the sugar dissolves. Let tea brew, cooling to room temperature.
  2. Transfer the cooled tea to a gallon-sized jar, and add fresh filtered water to make a gallon.
  3. With clean hands, carefully transfer the scoby, along with 1/4 cup of kombucha from a previous batch, to the fresh tea.
  4. Cover the jar with a thin towel, paper towel, or coffee filter. Secure with a rubber band, and mark the date on the jar.
  5. Let the jar sit in a dark, warm place -- such as an upper cabinet near an oven. In warmer months, the tea will culture in about 7 days -- in cooler months, up to two weeks. Test the pH of the kombucha using strips or a meter after 7 days -- the ideal pH is 3.0 (let ferment longer if the pH is too high).
  6. When kombucha is ready, transfer to bottles or jars and refrigerate. Refrigeration will halt the culturing process, so the kombucha will not continue to sour. Consume within 2 weeks once bottled.
  7. After bottling, start a fresh batch of tea to culture. While tea is brewing, transfer the scoby and 1/4 cup remaining kombucha from the previous batch to a clean bowl. Wash the gallon jar, and repeat the process.
http://katymcarter.com/2012/08/ferment-friday-no-3-kombucha/

 

 

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{ 6 comments }

bethanyrx August 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm

This has been on my to-do list for MONTHS. The whole finishing-a-house-and-moving-into-one-with-active-demo got in the way, of course, but I think I’m finally ready!

And, since I believe that you and I have begun traveling in ever-tightening circles (neighborhood, mutual friends), yet not quite meeting face-to-face, that we should make a date and you could perhaps share some of your scoby with me? ;)

~B

katy August 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Absolutely! I need a few batches to let mine double again — my current extra layers are spoken for. A great excuse to meet ; )

I’ll email you in a few, once my mama has a new baby…

Laurel August 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm

You don’t need to get a scoby from someone else. You can grow your own very easily. Just buy a bottle of kombucha from the health food store, pour it into a quart jar at home and cover the jar with a piece of cloth and keep in a darkish place. Within a few days a baby scoby will be visible floating on top. After a couple weeks, add some more sweet tea and pretty soon you’re in business brewing your own.

We do continuous brewing since my DH is so crazy about his bucha. In fact I’ve gotten him to take over the responsibility of feeding the beast fresh sweet tea.

katy August 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Laurel — I’m so glad you left this comment! I’d heard of people growing their own scobies, but haven’t known anyone personally who did it and haven’t tried it. Great instructions — and a great way to save money if you can’t get one from a friend.

I keep an eye out at thrift stores, for one of those old sun-tea dispensers, to start a continuous-brew. This might work even better in cooler months, to keep the brew and scoby healthy and strong.

Kiran @ KiranTarun.com August 27, 2012 at 1:14 am

I’m always intrigued about brewing kombucha’s. Great tips and recipe :)

Jennie Rader September 19, 2012 at 10:20 am

Katy,

Obviously, Im super behind on reading blogs! Great post and so glad the little scoby baby is growing up in a good home:) Also, Ive always read not to use any metal at all with the cultures, but boy I cant remember why.

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