Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kombucha in the Making

Well, the day is finally here: Kombucha bottling day! It has been a long, arduous journey (alright, actually just two weeks).

Some of you may remember from past posts that I obtained a Kombucha, or SCOBY (aka Scobi Baby) starter from a friend in Madison....who obtained it from another friend...who obtained it from an Amish Lady, who gave her the recipe that follows.

This is probably the first thing that struck me about Kombucha, this mythical quality it seems to have, shrouded in hippy lore. Some people say it comes from Russia (tea kvass); others that it comes from gypsies, others still from the Chinese (the immortal health elixir), or of course, the Amish. These days, Kombucha isn't just a drink, its a symbol of a certain kind of nature-driven, probiotic lifestyle (which is ironic, since many of the same parents who I hear touting Kombucha are also obsessed with Purell).
I'm not really making Kombucha because I want to test it's health food properties. Although, it would certainly be intriguing. Kombucha is reported to do everything from reducing depression to fighting cancer. However, all research thus far on Kombucha has been based on anecdotal evidence and animal tests. To date, no human trials have been reported in any medical or health journal.  So, you will not, and probably should not, find any licensed physician recommending Kombucha for medicinal purposes anytime soon.

Also, as a note of caution, because of the manner in which Kombucha is made, there is a danger of "bad bacteria" growth. Incorrectly brewed Kombucha has the potential of leading to metabolic acidosis, which can be fatal. The evidence for this, however, also seems rather anecdotal. As thinking human beings, we can assume that most foods may pose a risk if consumed excessively, or if prepared improperly. This is true with Kombucha, as it is true with raw eggs and bagged grocery store spinach.

So, with a healthy dose of caution, and an open mind---lets get fermenting! 

Step One: Bring a gallon of distilled or filtered water just to a boil in a large pot, made from stainless steel or glass (not aluminum). Straight tap water is not recommended, because you want to start with as few impurities as possible.

Step Two: Add 1 cup granulated sugar, and stir until dissolved. Then, add 8 tea bags, or servings of loose tea. You want to chose PLAIN tea; no added dried flowers or fruity stuff. Just plain old green, black or rooibos tea. For my recipe, I chose to do half and half:

        Black Assam Tea
Organic Rooibos

Let this steep for 5-20 minutes--general consensus is a bit longer than you would steep tea normally. 20 minutes seems a bit far out on the spectrum to me, but if you forget to take it out at the exact right time, the point is that you'll probably be ok.

Step Three: Take the tea out, and cover the pot of sweet tea. Let this sit covered for 8 hours or overnight, until completely cooled.

Step Four: Pour the tea into a large jug with a wide mouth. Glass is preferable; I used a sun tea pitcher, which also has a pour spout that comes in very handy later.

Step Five: Add the SCOBY Baby. Most recipes recommend at this point that you wash your hands again and take off all metal jewelry, as the culture is very vulnerable at this point. Just pick up the baby gently, as slide it into the jug, pouring the tea starter in the container with it.

 Scoby Baby Starter

Step Six: Cover the top of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth, and secure with a rubber band. Do not seal with a tight fitting lid; it is important to let the Kombucha breathe; it is ALIVE!

Fermenting Kombucha

Now, you wait. Place the jug in a a cupboard or in a corner where it will not be disturbed. Leave it there for 2-2.5 weeks. Try to resist opening it up, because this will only endanger your culture.

The Scoby Baby, now your new Mother, may not sit on top of the tea; it may float to the bottom, of sit somewhere in the middle. This is fine. If you use a clear jug, you'll be able to see all the funky layers of the Mother.

As the Kombucha ferments, the culture will form a new layer on top of the jar. This will be your new baby, which you can pass on to friends!

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of filling my jug too full. The new baby began to grow right up to and through the cheesecloth. I attempted to peel it off the cheesecloth, but alas, it was too late.

The new baby attached and mixed with the cheesecloth to such an extent that there was no way to separate them.

With a heavy heart, I made the decision to abort my baby. Take that, google search engines!

Step Seven: Bottle your Kombucha! Alright, we're into the home stretch. If you would like to flavor you Kombucha, this is the time. I flavored half of it with half a container of frozen juice concentrate. It seems that lighter flavors work better, but who knows; add what you like!

I left the other half of the Kombucha plain (as you can always add flavor later) and bottled both into glass growler jugs from my favorite Madison brewery.

I sealed the jugs, then put them back in my cupboard to sit for another 5 days. When this is done, I'll refrigerate it and then it'll be ready to drink.

I still haven't tasted it, but I have high hopes! Mostly  to me, it just a fun food experiment.

On another note, if anyone out there would like a Scoby baby to make their own Kombucha, let me know. If I keep up with this, I'll be making a new one every few weeks!


  1. It sounds like fun. I 've never had Kombucha though, so I'm not sure what it tastes like.

  2. Josie gives a pretty accurate description below. Slightly sour, fizzy, smells a bit like honey---but I'll let you know what mine tastes like in a few days :)

  3. Foodie city? Southern California, South Florida?