Maybe you’ve seen it at Central Market. It’s over there in the cold beverage section, between the triple hemp filtered vegan beet cider and the cold-pressed organic essence of kale juice. Maybe you’ve even tried it despite the UFO (unidentified floating object) down there near the bottom. And maybe, having tried it, you liked it. Maybe you loved it. Maybe you loved it a little too much and you’ve gotten yourself addicted like I did. Maybe you sneak into Central Market on your way to work or to pick up the kids and buy a bottle (with cash of course) and drink it from a paper sack that you then ditch in your neighbors’ recycling bin, receipt and all, so your spouse doesn’t know you bought another $4 bottle of Kombucha.
There, I said it. My secret’s out. My name is Billy Bob and I am powerless over kombucha. My journey started last year when I snagged a bottle to go with my salad one day for lunch. I’d heard about kombucha but never tried it and didn’t really know what it is. And despite the UFO, I decided I’d give it a try. Well, one sip and I was hooked. The next day I wanted to go back and try a different flavor and then other brands. Then I was on the internet late at night while everyone slept looking at kombucha pictures and videos. It got to where I needed my daily fix. The problem is at $3-$4 a pop kombucha is rooted firmly in the same category of extravagance as the daily Starbuck’s addiction responsible financial planners warn you against.
So, what exactly is kombucha, you might ask? Well, simply put, it’s fermented tea. It’s found in many cultures and has been around for ages. It’s sort of tangy and sort of sweet. It’s fizzy and delicious. Why drink it, you might task? Other than its really tasty it has many health benefits. Kombucha contains high levels of antioxidants, b-vitamins, and probiotics. It’s great for liver and pancreas function, increased energy, improved mood, and helps with digestion. What’s with the UFO you mentioned? Since it’s a fermented drink that is usually bottled in its unfiltered state you occasionally get a chunk of yeast in your bottle. No worries though. It goes down nice and smooth.
With all the pros you can see how I became obsessed but I didn’t want to spend $40 a week on it. But what to do? I had to have it. So, I started researching how to make it myself, because I love that sort of thing, and I quickly realized it’s not that complicated. I mean it’s only fermented sweet tea after all, how hard could it be? As it turns out it’s not hard at all, but the process is very specific. You have to follow the directions very carefully as there are a few things that can go wrong. We’ll get to that in a bit. First though, for all you kombucha addicts and adventurous neophytes out there, I am going to teach you how to make kombucha.
You’re going to need a few things.
- A vessel in which to brew your kombucha. There are some recipes out there for brewing quart or liter batches. Don’t waste your time. Every batch you make is going to take at least a week. A quart of Kombucha is going to last you about 14 seconds and then you’re going to have to wait another week for a thimble full of the “booch”. Not worth it. Get yourself a 2 Gallon jug with a built in spigot and don’t look back. The jug should be made of glass and the spigot should be made of plastic. Apparently you don’t want your kombucha coming into contact with metal, but mostly because it is acidic and will cause the metal to erode. Though I can’t imagine that would happen very quickly.
- You are going to need a SCOBY. A what? That’s SCOBY; a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. This is the bit that gives many people pause but trust me on this; you will grow to love your SCOBY. At first you will see it and you will be repulsed because it looks exactly like a giant lugie. I know. Gross, right? BUT, the SCOBY is the key to kombucha, and once you have a healthy established SCOBY you will look upon it with quiet admiration. You will see pictures of inferior SCOBYs and you will sneer in their general direction. Occasionally, you will get SCOBY envy but you will love your SCOBY because it’s yours. There are, as far as I can tell, three methods for the getting of a SCOBY. 1. You can buy one from Amazon that comes with some starter liquid. 2. You can ask a kombucha brewing friend if they can grow one for you. 3. You can grow one yourself. I went with method 3 because I like to make things more difficult than they need to be. Growing a SCOBY is outside the scope of this article but if you don’t want to buy a SCOBY, you can contact me and I will teach you how to grow one. Or if you’re really nice maybe I’ll just give you one.
- You will need some white sugar.
- You will need some black tea. You can use green tea, but black tea is what I use. You can use loose tea or tea bags. I personally use PG Tips and have had great success.
- You will need some starter Kombucha. If you buy your SCOBY it will generally come with some starter liquid. If your kombucha buddy gives you one they can give you some starter liquid too. Or you can simply buy a bottle of commercial kombucha and use that.
That’s it. Once you have your gear collected you are ready to start brewing. We’re going to start with one gallon and you can use this recipe to scale up to two as needed. You did buy the 2 gallon jug, right? I am currently brewing 4 gallons in two 2 gallon vessels and this is the basic recipe I use.
- Prepare the sweet tea. Use 2 tablespoons of loose tea, 2 family size tea bags or 8 small bags per gallon of water. Add 1 cup of regular sugar per gallon. Do not use honey!
- Let tea cool to room temperature. This will take several hours but it is very important as it can kill your SCOBY if it’s too hot.
- Once tea is completely cool, pour into your jug, leaving some room at the top. Pour in 2 Cups of starter liquid.
- With very clean hands, gently place the SCOBY at the top of the jar of tea. It may float, it may sink. Don’t worry about it.
- Cover the jar with two layers of paper towels and rubber band tightly so the brew can breathe and flies can’t get in
- Put the jar in a warm (70-75 degrees) dark place like a pantry or closet.
- Let it ferment for 7 days, then you can taste test the kombucha to see if it is done. It should taste tart but still very slightly sweet also. If it’s too sweet let it ferment another day and try it again.
- Once you like the taste the kombucha is ready for bottling. At this point you can add in some chopped or strained pureed fruit or berries. I like ginger flavored kombucha but unflavored is really my favorite. For bottling we use a variety of bottles with plastic lids (no metal remember). If you want to do continuous brewing be sure to retain about three cups of your batch to use as starter of the next batch.
- After bottling allow the jars to sit for 1 to 3 days on the counter or in the closet as the kombucha undergoes a secondary fermentation and picks up the flavors of the fruit you added. Once bottled the kombucha will begin to get really fizzy. You may need to burp the bottles occasionally to release a bit of pressure.
- At this point put your bottles in the refrigerator where the temperature will stall the fermentation process and you will have cold, delicious, fizzy kombucha ready to go.
We do continuous brewing which means we start a new batch as soon as we have bottled our current one. We use liquid from the previous batch to get it started. If you are going to do this be sure to only handle your SCOBY with very clean hands as you don’t want to introduce anything that could cause mold to grow. If you do see mold growing on your SCOBY you have to scrap the whole thing and start over. If you’re vigilant though you shouldn’t have any problems. When handling my SCOBY I wash with soap and rinse with very hot water and then rinse again with a little bit of vinegar. Take care of your SCOBY and it will take care of you.
If you haven’t tried kombucha you need to. Now. It’s delicious and refreshing and good for you. If you love kombucha but you don’t love the price tag of the store bought stuff, or if you just like doing things yourself, I highly recommend brewing your own. It’s fun and rewarding. Oh, and by the way our kids love it too.