I stumbled across the word “kombucha” while looking at online reviews for a small pub that I wanted to check out. They reportedly have it “on tap” and I was intrigued– what was it? Some type of cider or beer? Was it like hop tea?
What it is, is fermented black tea, invented by (obviously) ancient Chinese people 5000 years ago. Apparently it has been commercially bottled and available in the US since the 90’s. I had never heard of it, and I’ve grown my own kefir and made my own yogurt. I’m guessing kombucha was largely the domain of hippies and health nuts back in the day, but it seems to have been noticed by hipsters of late, which has propelled it into the mainstream (at least in Portland, where the hipsters will no doubt now decide that because SUBURBAN DIY’ers from Salem have discovered it, it’s “OVER”.)
Kombucha is purported to have many health benefits such as:
- Improved Digestion
- Weight Loss
- Increased Energy
- Cleansing and Detoxification
- Immune Support
- Reduced Joint Pain
- Cancer Prevention
These claims are (of course) unsubstantiated by the medical community, at least in the US. However, I KNOW echinacea will help me get over a cold faster than not taking it, which is also not scientifically proven, so make up your own mind about it. Ya never know.
Then I remembered seeing some bottled kombucha beverages in my local Fred Meyer natural food area, both refrigerated and room temp. So I purchased a selection to sample. Let me add that this product is not cheap, it goes for about $3 per 12 to 16oz bottle.
As a proper DIYer, I quickly asserted that I CAN MAKE THAT. So here’s what I did.
- Went on-the-line
Quickly discovered a number of kombucha making resources. Some sites offer “kits” and others describe how it is it to gather your own humble materials and put your own kit together.
2. Decided to make my own kit.
I purchased a 1-gallon glass jar ($11) and a bottle of raw, unpasteurized, unflavored bottled kombucha. The other materials I already had: canning jars and high quality cheese cloth.
3. Went for it.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1-gallon glass jar, with a somewhat wide mouth
- 2-qt glass jar (for first batch)
- canning jars or bottles (bottles are more expensive, I already own dozens of jars) with lids
- Good cheese cloth, or a thin cotton dish towel, or paper towels
- Black tea- I used 4 “family size” bags meant for iced tea making, any brand. I’ve used generic and Lipton. If you already have loose tea supplies feel free to use these.
- 1 16oz bottle of raw kombucha
- 1 cup white sugar
First Batch (this is how will you will start your SCOBY)
Boil sugar in some water, it doesn’t matter how much. Once sugar is dissolved remove from heat and immediate add 2 large tea bags (or equivalent loose tea/small bags- enough to make 1 1/2 qt of tea). Let steep for about an hour (or several hours).
Let cool– very important. Hot water will kill your bacteria and yeast.
Pour pre-bottled kombucha (room temp) into 2-quart glass jar, add cooled tea. Cover jar with cheese cloth fastened with a rubber band. Keep in a relatively warm area (70-75 degrees is good) for 7-14 days.
If you’ve done it properly (and it’s hard to screw up), you will see the SCOBY forming in about 4-5 days. At first the surface will have a milky film, this is good. Then at about 5 days you’ll see floating stuff and think, “Oh crap! is that mold??” It probably isn’t; certain areas of the SCOBY may be dark, this is normal.
Keep checking. Eventually, you’ll get something that looks like this
When you do, it’s time to brew your second batch, which is the one you will actually sip and enjoy.
With clean hands, carefully remove SCOBY from floating on top of jar. It will be firm, don’t worry. Set aside. Discard all but two cups of the first batch of tea. You can drink it but it’s very tart and I already tried it. I’m going with NO.
Prepare tea & sugar like the first batch only use 4 tea bags (steep and let cool) then add to the reserved liquid from first batch. Add enough water to bring the total volume to one gallon, leaving at least one inch of air space. Add SCOBY, cover with cheese cloth. Wait another week. Taste kombucha after about 5 days and check it for tartness, sweetness, fizziness. when you are satisfied, it’s time to bottle.
You will of course reserve two cups of the tea for your next batch, so yield should be about 3 1/2 quarts. I poured mine into 3 quart size and one pint size canning jars. At this point, should you desire additional fizz, you can afix lids and store in a dark warm area for a few more days, leaving 1″ head room for carbonation. I felt my batch was sufficiently fizzy so I added fresh peach slices and stored in the fridge for immediate consumption.
Here’s a link to some kombucha recipes and more instructions. They also have several suggestions regarding bottling if you are going to double ferment for more fizziness.