Kombucha (A Fermented Tea Drink)
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink (fermented in the probiotic sense, not so much the alcoholic sense, but if that disappoints you, check out this kombucha margarita recipe). It’s fizzy and tart and can be as sweet (or unsweet) as you want it to be. I haven’t experimented much with flavorings yet, but I’ve heard of people essentially using it as a base for soda, and adding fruit, fruit juice, herbs (think peppermint) and ginger once it’s finished it’s first fermenting stage.
Kombucha is famed for it’s health qualities, including being very high in b vitamins and being so high in probiotics that you have to ease yourself into drinking it, so as to avoid an unpleasant die off effect. Once you’ve acquired a kombucha habit though, you may be a kombucha-er for life, judging by stories I’ve read of people making kombucha in small aquariums so as to have enough…
Kombucha had a lot of steps, so it can seem involved to a beginner, but it’s not particularly hard once you get your kombucha routine figured out. First I’ll lay out some of the basics to understanding kombucha, and then I’ll give you my recipe and procedure.
Kombucha is fermented by using a scoby, which is a kind of mushroom that resembles a dead jellyfish. (I think they’re really cool looking, but sometimes there’s a fine line between cool and gross.) You must have a scoby to make kombucha, but the good news is that if you have a friend who makes kombucha, they probably have scobys coming out their ears and will be happy to give you one to start you off. Otherwise you can find a place order a scoby online. (There are tutorials for growing a scoby from storebought kombucha, but it seems a reformulation a few years ago has made this option a much less reliable source for scobys.)
As with most ferments, the scoby needs to be fed, and has it’s own particular preferences for food. It thrives best on black tea (including the caffeine) and white sugar. Because a large part of the caffeine and sugar are used up by the scoby, the finished product is still low in caffeine and sugar.
Because I’m particularly sensitive to caffeine I like to dunk my tea bags in boiling water for 30 seconds or so before making kombucha out of them, to keep the caffeine levels as low as possible in the finished product. It’s also possible to make kombucha out of green tea or herbals teas, but other teas should either be mixed with black tea, or alternated with batches of full black tea in order to keep your scoby healthy.
I also have been using organic evaporated cane juice as the sugar for my kombucha, which is just a bit less processed than white sugar, and eliminates any concerns about GMO sugar beets. My scoby seems perfectly happy with this sugar so far.
Scobys also don’t like teas with oils, so ginger and peppermint and such generally need to be saved for flavoring the kobmucha after it’s fully brewed (in the secondary ferment). I have successfully made kombucha with half black tea and half peppermint tea, but the kombucha didn’t ferment as quickly as normal, and the scoby didn’t grow at all as it normally does, so it clearly wasn’t good for the scoby, especially for a long term plan. My standard mix is half black tea and half green tea.
Scobys can handle brief contact with metal, but metal does weaken them over time, so it’s best to use glass jars for fermenting and plastic or wooden utensils for handling the scoby.
It’s usually recommended to ferment the kombucha for 10 to 14 days, but my husband and I prefer I much sweeter, only slightly tart kombucha, so we often ferment ours for as little as 3 to 4 days. If you’re very new to kombucha, you may want to taste your brew every day to get an idea of how long you should ferment it to your own taste. (The tartness does sometimes mellow a bit after the second ferment, so if you’re afraid you’ve let it go a bit too long, it may still be fine.)
And, if you accidentally let it ferment for very long, you can use your very vinegary kombucha as a substitute for apple cider vinegar!
Scobys do sometimes stain from the tea, or get holes torn in them, and may be clear (a young scoby) or white (a mature scoby), all of which is perfectly normal and still healthy. However, if your scoby develops any signs of mold, it needs to be discarded immediately.
Healthiness Rating: Healthy
Aside from possible considerations of the amount of sugar and/or caffeine left in the kombucha if a shorter ferment time is used, this drink pegs the healthiness scale as a classic fermented/probiotic addition to one’s diet. People make some pretty extravagant claims of renewed health and energy after making kombucha a part of their daily lives, and even if those claims are only half true, I think kombucha pretty clearly makes an improvement in the overall health of those who drink it on a regular basis.
Yumminess Rating: Kinda Yummy
I might be able to get this upgraded to a completely husband approved ‘yummy’ status when I experiment more with flavorings, but as it is, kombucha is something that’s very well tolerated in our diets, and sometimes even enjoyed, just not often craved.
makes 1 gallon
1 scoby (for each fermenting container, no matter what the size)
2 cups kombucha (from last batch–can substitute a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar if necessary)
1 cup sugar (white sugar, or evaporated cane juice)
4 cups water + 10 cups water
8 tea bags or tsp of loose tea (black tea, or half black and half green or herbal)
Heat 4 cups water to boiling. Mix in sugar. Add tea and let steep until water is cold to make a very strong tea concentrate.
If you have a previous batch of kombucha, move it to the second ferment or bottling stage as you wait for the tea concentrate to cool.
Once your tea concentrate is cooled, add it to your fermenting jar or container along with the 2 cups of kombucha reserved from your last batch, the other 10 cups of water (or as needed to fill your container) and the scoby. Cover loosely to allow gases to escape as they are produced by the fermenting process and set aside for anywhere from 3 to 14 days or more, depending how you tart you like the finished product.
Pour off 2 cups of kombucha to add to your next batch. Set aside scoby on a clean plate or float in reserved kombucha. (This is a good time to check your scoby for any problems and remove the bottom layer if it’s getting too thick. “Too thick” is mostly measured by whether your kombucha is fermenting faster than you want it too.)
Pour the rest of the kombucha into mason jars, plastic bottles, or one large plastic jug. (Plastic makes it easier to tell when it’s fully carbonated when you’re just starting out.) If you want to add any flavorings, such as chopped ginger, fruit juice, peppermint tea bags, etc, now is the time to do that.
Tightly cap the bottles and let sit out overnight or until fully carbonated. (If using plastic bottles, until the plastic is hard and no longer soft or squeezable.) Refrigerate.