I am a lover of food. Plain and simple. I always have a hard time remembering what I absolutely dislike, in terms of flavor and texture, because those items seem so few and far between. As I sit here typing this, the only standout that comes to mind is krill (yes, I said krill). Though I consider myself quite open-minded when encountering new and exotic dishes or experiences, I can’t always keep my skepticism at bay. My introduction to kombucha was certainly an example of this.
A drink that tastes like vinegar with stringy, brown floaty things in it? Oh, it’s just yeast? Hmmm. Don’t know about that.
Of course, a few gulps were all I needed to become hooked. Sweet and tangy fermented effervescence! Is that GINGER I taste? Ohhh my.
The name-brand raw stuff is convenient but pretty pricey, so I decided to make some myself. But first, a brewer needs a “mother,” the enabler of fermentation, also known as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast).
Again, soooo appetizing, I know. Rest assured, this is how the magic happens. You will notice that with about every batch of kombucha, your mother will grow a “baby” on top (it kind of cleaves off, or forms by itself on the surface of the liquid). If formed together, gently separate the two and you can a) start two batches of kombucha at once or b) give your mother to a friend so they can brew, too. This process of the mother growing a baby will continue; unneeded mothers can be composted or fed to chickens, if you got ‘em.
Grow Your Own SCOBY
- 1 16 oz bottle of plain, raw kombucha (available in most natural or whole foods stores)
- 1 cup room-temperature green, black tea, or herbal tea (no tea with oils, such as Earl Grey)
- 1 tbsp sugar (stir into the cup of unfermented tea)
- 1 clean glass jar (standard quart jar works well)
- 1 clean, lint-free towel, cloth, or coffee filter to cover the jar (allows air in, keeps bugs/dust out)
- a canning ring or rubber band to secure the cover
Pour all of the ingredients into the jar, stir, and cover with the towel, cloth, or coffee filter; secure the cover with the ring or band. Place the jar in a warm but dark location for best results. Continue to check on your SCOBY for growth and mold, which will look just like bread mold: greenish/brownish with fuzz. Mold is bad; the SCOBY and tea should be thrown out and you must start again to avoid contamination. However, some browning, bubbling, and yeast culture chains (the brown, stringy blobs often seen at the bottom of commercial raw kombucha) are absolutely normal, so don’t freak and toss it!
For your viewing pleasure: SCOBY Growth Documentation:
When your SCOBY is about a third of an inch thick, you’re ready to brew. Mine took somewhere between 3-4 weeks… in New England… in December… in a house built in 1896… if you catch my drift (or draft). A warmer house will likely yield a mature SCOBY in less time, so take a peek every few days.
Brew Your Own Kombucha
Makes about 2 quarts (64 oz) of ready-to-drink brew (if reserving 8 oz for a new batch)
- 1 mature SCOBY
- 1 cup (8 oz) of SCOBY growing liquid or finished raw kombucha
- 2 quarts of unchlorinated water (I used distilled)
- 1/4 cup sugar (this is what “feeds” the SCOBY; the sugar content of the final brew is quite low)
- 4-6 bags of green, black, or herbal tea (again, no tea with oils)
- A clean, glass vessel that can hold 2 quarts
- 1 clean, lint-free towel, cloth, or coffee filter to cover the jar
- a canning ring or rubber band to secure the cover
NOTE: Please wash your hands before handling the SCOBY! Or putting up anything, for that matter.
Bring the water to a boil; pour it and the sugar into the glass vessel and stir to dissolve sugar. Add the tea bags and allow to steep for at least 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags and let the liquid cool to room temperature (this is CRITICAL so that you do not KILL your SCOBY!). Pour the SCOBY growing liquid or finished kombucha into the jar; put the mature SCOBY into the tea, so that it is submerged, and cover with the towel, cloth, or filter, and secure it with the canning ring or rubber band. Place the jar in a warm but dark place and allow the mixture to ferment.
Just how long, you ask? Until the kombucha tang is to your liking (the ol’ “finger-on-a-straw” technique works well when sampling the tea, or a clean stainless steel spoon or ladle). Again, a warmer house usually means a shorter fermenting period, so it is a good idea to test the kombucha about 4-5 days after starting the batch, and every day after that until you have achieved your desired tang. If you wait too long, it will become too vinegary.
When it’s ready, gently remove the SCOBY and place it in a clean glass bowl or jar; cover it with at least 1 cup of your freshly-fermented kombucha to prevent it from drying out and so that you are ready to brew a new batch (you can store it in the fridge for a little bit if you aren’t starting a new batch immediately, but be warned: keeping it in there too long WILL KILL IT). Pour the remaining kombucha into sturdy glass jars or bottles (swing top growlers work well and look cool, if your can afford them), leaving a half-inch or so of headspace for the second fermentation; secure the lids and store in the refrigerator. The kombucha will become slightly effervescent in just a couple of days, so be sure not to shake it.
For flavored kombucha, feel free to throw some additional ingredients into your already-fermented tea: whole or pureed berries, sliced ginger (peeled) or citrus (flesh and/or zest), exotic fruits like mango, pineapple, or papaya, lavender or other edible flowers, or whatever else you think would make your brew super-delish.
Now go get your brew on. Mr. Katz would be so proud.