Kombucha

I’m a huge kombucha fan.  I’ve always liked anything crisp, bubbly, and tart.  A few years ago when I was trying to fix up some 14 food intolerances, kombucha was one of my best tools to recovery.

Making your own kombucha is pretty easy.  If you know someone who makes their own, you just need them to give you a layer of their SCOBY and about two cups of raw ‘buch.  Even if you don’t, with a little patience and a bottle of store bought kombucha, you can still get rolling.

My friend Heather (owner of Theo, whose cat beer comes up next) is a kombucha brewer, and on our first opportunity to hang out this year, she brought me a nice SCOBY peeling in a jar of raw kombucha.

Kombucha ferments through a combination of several bacterias and yeasts.  It produces just a little bit of alcohol, some CO2, acids, and develops a number of different amino acids and vitamins along the way.  At consumption it’s full of all these things and also beneficial probiotics.  Many of these live free in the raw kombucha, and some live in the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) which floats in a thick rubbery mass at the top.

The basic recipe for kombucha is:

  • 14 cups black tea
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 8 tea bags or 2 tablespoons black tea, though green or other leaf teas may work

Which is added to two cups kombucha and the SCOBY.  In most batches the SCOBY will continue to float, but if the temperature of the incoming tea isn’t the same as the SCOBY, or the SCOBY is too dense and doesn’t have enough bubbles in or under it to support it, it will sink, then a new SCOBY will form.

If you don’t have a SCOBY, drink most of a bottle of kombucha, leaving about two ounces, and trying to retain as much of the weird floaty stuff as you can.  Add this to a pint of sweet tea, then step that up to a quart once it has formed a bit of pellice on top, and then up to the gallon once you have a mini-SCOBY about 1/8 inch thick.

Heather’s SCOBY sunk when I put the jar together and I tried a few times to float it without success.  I gave up, and after a few days, a thin film began to trap the bubbles, and after two weeks a visible SCOBY had set up and the first batch was ready for bottling.

 

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To make a batch of kombucha, you have two options: full batch, or continuous brew.  A full batch will take 7-14 days.  You can steal sips from the side of the SCOBY by pouring carefully, or sneaking them out with a straw.  Once it has reached the balance of sweet and tart that you want, remove the SCOBY, and pour the tea off into jars, bottles, or another receptacle, reserving two cups.  Add the new sweet tea to the jar, and try to place the SCOBY back on top. If it sinks, that’s okay, a new SCOBY will grow on top and at your next refresher you can give one to a friend.  In a continuous brew system, you just pull out a bit at a time and replace it.  This is easier if you have a sun tea or other jar with a spigot, otherwise you’ll have to gently pour it off the side.  If the SCOBY is still thin, it will also require great care when replacing sweet tea, so it’s helpful to gently pour the new tea down the side of the jar.  Once the SCOBY is thicker, it should be pretty resilient, and the tea can be poured on top of it a cup at a time.

There seem to be conflicting arguments for and against continuous brewing.  Arguments for are usually in regards to convenience, and that there are amino acids and B vitamins that only synthesize after longer amounts of fermenting, and so could only be produced in continuous brew without being too acidic to drink.  Arguments against are that in time, the yeasts and bacteria that have evolved have become so efficient that they convert the tea into acetic acids very quickly, leading it to have a more vinegar + tea flavor than a complex KT flavor.

I’m not sure I agree with the science behind either, so I’m still pretty torn. I’ve adopted a sort of middle-ground strategy, pulling off two liters at a time and replacing it.

If you bottle kombucha when it’s slightly too sweet, it’ll continue to ferment for a few days in the bottle, the CO2 getting caught inside, and will come out with a bit of bubbles.

Continuous brew also ferments faster, so currently I’ve found the best approach for my ‘buch is to ferment for four days, bottle two one-liter swing top bottles (adding fruit or other flavorings), and let it sit at room temperature for four days.  At that point I put it in the fridge to chill down and to halt further fermenting.

 

Kombucha so far has been totally delicious, and easy.

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