Its March 1st! Does that mean it can be spring yet? Apparently, not in the U.S, as the temperatures are 15-20 degrees below their typical averages for this time of year in most places. Excellent. I'm not sure about you guys, but I'm getting some serious winter blues. BUT spending a lot of time inside means that I've done a lot of recipe experiments lately, so hopefully I'll get those up on here soon. But in the meantime….
Mushroom Tea, Fungus Tea, Champagne of Life. In France they call is the Champignon Miracle, or Miracle Mushroom, in Germany, its named Zaubersaft, or literally “magic juice”.
You’ve heard of it too: Kombucha! Kombucha is definitely the trendy drink these days, and its quickly pushing those juicers aside and sliding right into a permanent place in the kitchens of foodies and health nuts alike. Thanks to the fermentation process required to make Kombucha, the drink is filled with gut flora boosting probiotics, and acts as a natural energizer. Kombucha is said to clear up skin, enhance liver function, boost immunity, increase metabolism, decrease inflammation….and the list goes on and on and on. (For even more health benefits, do a quick Google search- you’re be amazed.)
Kombucha is probably the recipe I get asked about most, and I am more than happy to share my experiences, advice, extra SCOBYs, and even give lessons if you’re in the area about making this fun, fizzy drink….but I can’t take all the credit for establishing my home brew methods.
Thanks to some ingenuity and lots of time spent researching by my boyfriend, I am happy to report that we have been home brewing our own batches of Kombucha for almost 6 months now. We’ve experimented with lots of flavors, played around with fermentation times, and saved tons of money in the process. Kombucha here in DC regularly runs from $3-$4 for a 12 oz. bottle. Now, we brew 2.5 gallon batches for about $2.50….. total.
Once you gather all the tools you need and run through making a batch just one time, you’ll be a pro, I promise. The hardest part about brewing is obtaining everything you need to start. (Oh, and waiting for your Kombucha to ferment!)
Here is everything you need to get started:
- One large glass container for brewing (I use 2.5 gallons), preferably with a nonmetal spigot for easier pouring/bottling
- Large wooden spoon
- Rubber band
- Large pot for boiling water (capable of holding 2 gallons)
- 10, 12 Oz glass bottles with lids
Food items: (recipe based on 2.5 gallon brewing container)
- 10 bags of organic black or green unflavored tea (Can use loose leaves if you prefer)
- Live SCOBY culture
- 1 cup of plain white sugar + 2 tbsp. sugar
- 2 gallons of water
- ¼ cup distilled vinegar one time only
- Small fruit pieces, fruit juice, or other items of your choice for flavoring optional
Before I go any further, you may be asking yourself “What on Earth is a SCOBY??” A SCOBY, or Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, is the flat pancake-like living culture that ferments your tea, creates the vinegary flavor, and adds all the health benefits to your brew. The first SCOBY you have is called the “mother”, and as you brew more and more batches, it will reproduce more layers that will eventually separate. These are called the SCOBY babies. Once you have several, you can give them away, start brewing even more Kombucha in separate containers, or just throw them out. (I’ve heard that they’re great fertilizers for plants, but haven’t actually tried that one.)
You can obtain live SCOBY cultures from places like craigslist or online sellers (like Amazon or Cultures of Health), but the best way to get one is through someone you know. (Chances are, if you start asking around, you’ll find someone who knows someone who has some extra SCOBYs.)
If you like your Kombucha to be fizzy or flavored, a second fermentation step is necessary. If you don’t, your Kombucha can be enjoyed after only the first fermentation step- I’ve included both so you can choose!
Makes about 2 gallons of Kombucha
- Bring 2 gallons of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Immediately turn off the heat, and add your bags of tea. Let steep and then remove. (You can use loose-leaf tea as well, but make sure that all the tealeaves are contained.)
- Add sugar and stir well.
- Let the water cool to room temperature. If the tea is hot, or even too cold, it can hurt the SCOBY.
- Once at room temperature, add your sugary brewed tea to your brewing container.
- Add ¼ cup of vinegar and stir. You only need to add vinegar the first time you use your SCOBY! If you continue to make more batches, skip this step and do not add more vinegar.
- Add your SCOBY to your tea and stir a few times.
- Put cheesecloth over the top of your container and secure with a rubber band. You do not want anything to fall into your tea while it is fermenting!
- Keep your Kombucha in a warm place out of direct sunlight and let brew for 7-30 days. The longer you let your Kombucha brew, the stronger it will taste!
- Once you’ve let your Kombucha brew you can enjoy right away, or move into the second fermentation process!
- If you would like to continually brew Kombucha, make sure to leave a little less than ¼ of the fermented Kombucha in your brewing container with your SCOBY. This jumpstarts your next batch, keeps your SCOBY alive, and eliminates the need for more vinegar in future batches.
- This step adds flavor or more fizz due to the build-up of gases!
- Add fruit pieces or add a small amount of juice into your glass bottles. Below, I’ve made a list of flavors I’ve used in the past, but you can add almost anything to Kombucha.
- Add your fermented Kombucha to your bottles, but do not fill all the way to the top. Leave a few inches of air in each bottle.
- Add ½ tsp. sugar to each bottle.
- Cap the bottles, shake gently, and then store in a warm place. Let the bottles ferment with their lids on for another 3-5 days.
- Once you’re ready to enjoy your flavored Kombucha, be careful when opening the bottles! They could become very fizzy and overflow. After a maximum of 5 days, put the finished Kombucha in the fridge. This stops the fermentation and prevents too much build-up of gases. (You don’t want them to explode. J)
- You may eat the fruit you used to flavor your Kombucha if you like….or you can strain anything out for a smooth texture.
That’s it- you’re done! (Wasn’t it easier than you thought?) Cheers!
Here are some helpful Kombucha tips:
- Brown stringy things hanging down from your SCOBY are totally normal. This is just yeast, and is actually the sign of a healthy culture.
- Bubbles are also normal. Don’t worry, this is the Kombucha magic.
- Your SCOBY may float up to the top of your container or may move around from time to time. This is nothing to worry about.
- Your SCOBY may have light brown or tan spots, which is normal. Black, green, or fuzzy spots on your SCOBY are NOT normal and means that your batch is contaminated. This means that you need to throw out everything (Including your SCOBY) and sterilize your brewing container before trying another batch.
- Foul smelling Kombucha is never normal. Vinegary smelling Kombucha is normal.
- If you choose to sanitize your brewing equipment, do not use harsh chemical. These can leave residue on your brewing equipment and can hurt the SCOBY.
- Keeping your Kombucha in a warm place speeds the fermentation process, just like keeping the Kombucha in a cooler environment will slow down the fermentation process. Never put your SCOBY in the refrigerator. If you would like to stop your Kombucha from fermenting, you can put the Kombucha in the fridge, but take the SCOBY out beforehand.
- If you prefer a stronger Kombucha taste, let it ferment for longer, but no more than 30 days. You can also make the tea stronger by using more tea bags when first preparing your tea.
- If you prefer your Kombucha sweeter, add more sugar during the first fermentation. However, if you do this, you will have residual sugar left over when you drink it, which means that you will be consuming refined sugar. (And calories.)
- Do not let metal come in contact with your Kombucha. Most sources I’ve seen say that metal can be dangerous in brewing, though I haven’t been able to determine the exact reason as to why.
- Always use glass when brewing or bottling. Since Kombucha is acidic, it can break down plastic and cause harmful chemicals to leach into your tea. Ceramic may also contain lead. Not good.
- Your SCOBY can only live when it is given the food it needs, which is sugar.
- Your Kombucha might start forming jelly-like blobs or substances at any time during the process. These are normal, and actually safe to ingest, but just remove them if they gross you out.
- A resource I love for Kombucha (and anything else fermented) is the book “Fermented” by Jill Ciciarelli. She has great Kombucha tips, an extensive list of references and resources, and has a way to ferment just about anything.
One more note (last thing, I promise!), here’s a list of Kombucha flavors I liked:
- Berry blend: raspberry + strawberry + blueberry
- Ginger lemon
- Raspberry ginger
- Grape strawberry
- Parsley Jalapeno
- Pineapple- Strawberry
- Pina Colada: unsweetened coconut flakes +pineapple