What is Kombucha?
In the world of fermented food and drinks, this one is quite possibly at the top of the list. Slightly sweet, slightly sour, and a little bit fizzy, you will love Kombucha!
Kombucha is a fermented tea that has value both as a prebiotic, probiotic and refreshing drink. You’ve probably seen bottles of Kombucha at your local health food store or even the supermarket, but it is usually very pricy!
This drink originated in Northeast China or Manchuria and later spread to Russia and the rest of the world. Some believe that Kombucha has been around for centuries, probably a few millenia. It has been extensively studied and applied for several medical uses in Russia, Germany, and China.
It is typically made with black tea that is sweetened with sugar and has a SCOBY (an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) placed in the tea. The SCOBY is the culture that makes the tea ferment and give it its good bacteria content. Kombucha usually ferments in anywhere from 2-4 weeks, but there definitely is a ‘sweet spot’ during the process of fermentation that produces the best tasting drink.
Through the miracle of fermentation, sweet tea becomes a beverage that’s loaded with:
- B vitamins
- beneficial acids, like acetic acid and glucaronic acid
Even though you need to use sugar to produce Kombucha, this drink has very little (if any) sugar left once it’s finished brewing. The longer you let it ferment, the more sour (less sweet) it becomes. It’s also naturally fizzy, thanks to the carbon dioxide that the bacteria and yeasts let off as they “eat” the sweetener. Very insteresting, right?
Benefits of Kombucha
Kombucha tastes delicious, yet it is also a traditional superfood with benefits like:
- Improving digestion
- Repopulating the gut with healthy bacteria and yeasts
- Strengthening the immune system
- Reducing oxidative stress on cells
- Improving liver detox
- Improving mental health, thanks to its concentration of B vitamins and gut-healing abilities
- Satisfying cravings for carbonated beverages
When making kombucha with a new SCOBY, you should be careful to have everything practically sterile. Always have clean hands, jars, bowls, and instruments when handling kombucha. When washing your hands, rinse them well, especially if you use anti-bacterial soap.
The mushroom or SCOBY is a powerful ‘good’ bacterial culture, and once it’s established it doesn’t let bad bacteria grow, but it’s always possible for it to be weakened or infected with something toxic or foreign. The smell should be clean and a bit vinegary, not rotten or foul in any way. SCOBYs can look very different from one another and still be healthy. If there is ever something growing on it, throw it away and start over.
How to Brew your Own Kombucha
Things you’ll need:
- 5 bags of organic black tea – Many of our favorite teas are contaminated with chemicals and pesticides so be careful with the one you choose. Also, you may use decaffeinated tea if you prefer, although, like the sweetener, most of the caffeine is consumed during fermentation. You can also mix and match 2 or more teas to create custom blends.
- 1 cup of sugar – Organic raw cane sugar or evaporated cane juice has been the preferred sweetener for generations of home kombucha brewers. However, you can just stick to your common white sugar.
- 1 SCOBY and 1-2 cups of finished Kombucha – It’s wonderful (and the least expensive option) if you can get a SCOBY and starter Kombucha from a friend!
- A glass jar – you should brew kombucha in a glass jar and keep the kombucha away from plastic or metal for storage. The strong acid of the kombucha will oxidize metal with prolonged contact and leech nasty stuff out of plastic containers.
- In 2-3 cups of boiling water, steep 5 bags of organic black tea. Use roughly 2 TBSP if using loose tea. Steep for only 10-12 minutes. The tea will be very strong.
- Add 1 cup of sugar while it’s still hot, so it dissolves fully.
- Pour the hot tea and dissolved sugar into your gallon glass container. Top up the container to 3/4-full with filtered water to dilute the tea. While the tea is cooling, keep the SCOBY from the previous batch covered in a glass or ceramic dish.
- Let the sweet tea cool down until it’s just warm to the touch. Now you can add back your your starter SCOBY.
- Add 1-2 cups of mature store-bought kombucha OR 1-2 cups mature kombucha from a previous brewing. A good rule of thumb is to retain about 10 percent of your mature kombucha liquid to help inoculate the next batch.
- Top off the jar with water leaving 1 1/2 – 2″ or so head space. The SCOBY will eventually float to the top of the jar, and over the course of the next week it may double in thickness. You can see the new SCOBY baby forming under the top layer. Let your SCOBY get pretty thick.
- Take it apart by firmly pulling it about once a month, and share the extra SCOBY with friends. It is pretty tough but separates easily.
- Keep your jar covered using a plastic wrap and a large rubber band to keep dust out and to prevent it from evaporating. Store the jar out of direct light; I keep mine in a dark cabinet. The warmer the room is kept, the faster it will culture or mature.
How long does it take?
You might try your kombucha after 10 days to see if it is getting ready. Too early, and it will be too sweet, but if you let it go too long (30 days), it may begin to get strong and slightly vinegary.
One reason I’m not concerned about the sugar is that it is mostly used up to feed the process of fermentation. We think it tastes a bit like an effervescent ginger-ale.
Flavoring With Fruit
You can flavor your kombucha with your favorite fruits (raspberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches, etc.). To flavor your kombucha, you need to bottle it (aka second ferment).
In order to bottle it, you’ll you need are glass swing-top bottles and fruits and/or spices of your choice. Simply place 1/4 cup fresh or frozen fruits into the bottoms of the glass bottles. Then, fill with finished Kombucha, close, and set in a warm place for 1 to 3 days.