You’ve probably heard of kombucha, which is essentially a fermented sweetened tea. Our farmer’s market sells small, locally made bottles, and natural foods stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Market generally have single-serving bottles, usually costing about $4 to $5. Kombucha is definitely an acquired taste, but Sylvia and I have acquired a taste for it, and I’m now making it at home for about $1 a gallon. It takes probably ten minutes of hands-on time to get that gallon. The live cultures in kombucha, like in yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other living fermented foods carry beneficial bacteria that your body needs and that many of us don’t get in our ultra-pasturized, antibacterial world. Intrigued? Let’s brew some kombucha!
A few basics. Just like you can’t make soap without lye, you can’t make kombucha without a scoby, also referred to as a kombucha mushroom. Scoby is short for Symbiotic Culture of Bacterial and Yeast (I had to look that up), and it’s a little funky looking. Let’s get that out of the way: It’s funky looking. To start making kombucha, you need some kombucha and a scoby, which is where having a kombucha-brewing friend comes in, because every batch of kombucha produces a new scoby, so anyone who has been brewing this for a bit is likely drowning in scobys.
Truthfully, while I’m a kombucha-brewing fool now, it took me three tries to get this down. First, I started with a dehydrated scoby and followed the instructions for rehydrating and brewing a first batch. The first batch was fine, but the scoby never really took. Then a friend gave me a scoby and some starter tea, and this never took either; in fact, it grew mold, which is incredibly rare and necessitates throwing out the whole thing. The third time, I ordered a hydrated scoby, packed with starter tea, from here, and it worked like a charm.
I keep a big glass gallon container of brewing kombucha on my kitchen counter all the time. When a batch of kombucha is ready, I bottle most of the brewed kombucha, leaving some for the next batch, and add more sweetened tea to the container. That’s it. Here’s how.
First, I make the sweetened tea that will become kombucha. For my gallon container, I use two half-gallon jars. I add 1/2 cup sugar to each jar.
Then I add about six cups of boiling water to each jar and stir until the sugar dissolves. The sugar is necessary for the yeast to eat; you can’t make kombucha without a scoby and sugar.
After that, I add four tea bags to each jar. Sometimes I use green tea (jasmine green when I’m feeling extra fancy), sometimes just black. You can use pretty cheap tea here; no need to pull out the Yorkshire Gold. Lightly cover the containers — I use upside-down coffee filters — and let the tea steep in the boiling water until it comes to room temperature. I typically make this in the morning and let it cool all day, or make it in the evening and let it cool overnight. You never want to add hot tea to the scoby or it could lose its magical powers.
When the tea is cooled, remove (compost!) the tea bags. Now you’re going to bottle the last batch of kombucha; it’s ready for drinking.
Here’s something that’s pretty nifty about kombucha: Every time you make it, the batch makes another scoby. And the scoby grows to the circumference of the container. So here’s what the top of the container looked like when took off the cloth napkin that was covering it:
If I’d only started with one scoby, I’d have this new scoby and the original scoby. So I could compost or give a friend the extra. In this case, I offered some scobys to friends, so I have a ton of them in my kurrent kombucha, but they have friends’ names written on them. (Scoby shout-out to Lindsay, Stephanie, Johnna, and Tracy!)
So I remove this pile of scobys from the container and remove and bottle about 3/4 of the kombucha, leaving the remaining 1/4 to start the next batch. Because I’m holding these scobys for friends, I kept all of them for the kombucha. At other times, I’ve composted all but one or two.
I bottle my kombucha in screw-top wine bottles (Simple Life Pinot Noir is currently my favorite, in case you’re curious), refrigerate it, and Sylvia and I drink it until the next batch is ready.
To finish the new batch of kombucha, I pour the tea I’d brewed and cooled into the container, add back the scobys, put a covering back on, and forget about it for a week or two. Regarding the covering, you don’t want your kombucha airtight, but you do want it covered to keep out bugs and such. So I cover it with a cloth napkin held on with a rubber band.
A kouple of other kombucha tips to pass on:
- The kombucha contains live bacteria and yeast cultures. In fact, if you left a bottle of brewed kombucha at room temperature, it would grow a scoby from these cultures. This means that there are little… I don’t know… threads in the brewed kombucha, and these get more pronounced the longer you keep the bottled kombucha. I let these settle as much as possible before I pour a glass of kombucha, but drinking them certainly won’t hurt you.
- I know people who are very comfortable with fermented foods, but kombucha scares the bejeezus out of them. To each his own. Just know that if you have a good kombucha go bad, it isn’t going to be subtle about it. Here are some examples of moldy scobys. See? Not subtle.
- I like my kombucha plain, but Sylvia prefers hers with some fruit juice. We usually go about three or four parts kombucha to one part juice.
- I read about a neat way to make fizzy, fruity kombucha on this post at Nourishing Days. I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to.
- During this gardening fruit-flypalooza season, I’ve been making eco-friendly fruit fly traps by filling a bowl half with water, half with kombucha, and adding a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid (to trap those buggers when they go for a drink of kombucha). I took a picture of a bowl with a zillion fruit flies drowned in it after a day or so, but thought better about posting. Just know it’s effective.
- If you have any kombucha kuestions, KombuchaKamp.com is an amazing, enthusiastic resource for all things kombucha.