Over the last decade, my kitchen has hosted a wide variety of cultures and home fermentation projects. Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, milk-and-water kefir, and fermented garlic paste have all lived (and thrived!) atop my counters. However, only one culture has found a permanent residence: kombucha. If you aren’t familiar with kombucha, it is a fermented tea beverage that has exploded in popularity over the last few years. Kombucha can now be easily found at nearly every co-op or grocery store, but if you drink as much as I do, store-bought bottles can get pricey fast. Fortunately, it’s easy, inexpensive, and fun to make at home! Plus, you can flavor your kombucha and adjust its acidity or sourness to your liking. The history of kombucha is long and somewhat murky, with Russia, Japan, China, and Korea all credited with its origin. The Chinese origin states that the beverage appeared in 221 BCE and was believed to be an elixir of immortality called "The Godly Tsche." Another story reports that the beverage was introduced to Japan in 441 CE by a Korean doctor named Kombu who used the revered tea to help soothe the emperor’s poor digestion.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria (commonly abbreviated to "SCOBY"; see learn more about what a SCOBY is below). It is a living culture containing microorganisms and nutrients. While the exact origin of kombucha and its benefits are unproven and disputed, there’s no denying that 'boocha is a delicious drink!
Makes 1 gallon (scale to fit the size of your fermentation vessel).
- 3/4 gallon of distilled, spring, or well water (chlorinated or treated water can harm the kombucha culture)
- 2 Tbsp. organic black or organic green loose-leaf tea
- 1 cup organic cane sugar
- Kombucha SCOBY
- 1-2 cups starter liquid (brewed kombucha reserved from a previously brewed batch)
- Glass or lead-free ceramic container
- A towel, handkerchief, or clean piece of cloth
- String or rubber band
- Large cotton tea net or mesh tea ball infuser
- Add tea to large mesh tea infuser.
- Bring water to a boil, then turn off heat.
- Add loose-leaf tea and organic sugar to boiling water.
- Remove from hot burner.
- Let tea steep to desired strength, then remove from liquid.
- Cover with lid.
- Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Pour liquid into fermentation vessel.
- Add SCOBY and starter liquid.
- Cover container with clean cloth, kitchen towel, or handkerchief and tie with string or rubber band.
- Taste kombucha periodically. Most batches will be ready in 7 to 14 days, but the temperature of your home and how sweet or sour you like it will vary your optimal fermentation time.
- When fermentation has reached your taste preference, carefully remove the SCOBY and place it in clean bowl.
- Reserve 1 to 2 cups kombucha to be used as starter liquid for your next batch. Store with SCOBY.
- Use a funnel to pour the fermented tea into bottles.
- Separate the new SCOBY from your original one. You can give the new SCOBY to a friend or start a “kombucha hotel” in a separate glass jar. Simply include some kombucha starter liquid to cover each SCOBY. Each time you brew a batch of kombucha, a new baby will grow to join your kombucha family!
- You may leave the kombucha unflavored or include any number of tasty additions. Experiment with organic fresh or dried fruit, berries, herbs, and spices.
- Kombucha will naturally have a slight fizziness. To increase the carbonation and level of tartness, leave the bottled kombucha on a counter top for several days after bottling. Keep bottles stored in refrigerator once fermentation is complete. Open with care.
SCOBY stands for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." Sometimes referred to as a "mother" or "mushroom," it's the otherworldly-looking, gelatinous substance that transforms tea into tangy, fizzy kombucha. As your kombucha ferments, the SCOBY will grow, creating an airproof seal at the top of your vessel. It's actually a living home for the bacteria and yeast that are a necessary part of the kombucha-making process.
To the new brewer, a kombucha SCOBY can have an unusual appearance, scent, and feel, but don’t let this discourage you! You’ll quickly grow accustomed to its odd looks and will get used to handling it.
The easiest way to acquire a SCOBY is from a friend with extra "babies." Most kombucha brewers have at least a SCOBY or two waiting for a new home. If you can’t find a SCOBY locally, you can purchase one online or grow a SCOBY from a plain unpasteurized bottle of store-bought kombucha.
What Kinds of Tea Work Best in Kombucha?
Our favorites for organic black tea include:
Excellent organic white and green tea options include:
- Ensure that the base tea is unflavored, as essential oils and flavorings can adversely affect the health of the culture.
- Always clean your hands, utensils, and anything that might touch your kombucha with hot water and distilled vinegar.
- Only use lead-free glass and ceramic for fermenting. Kombucha will absorb toxins out of the container in which it’s brewed.
- Make sure the cloth cover is breathable but with a tight enough weave to keep fruit flies, gnats, and other undesirable contaminants out.
- Experience has taught me that string is preferable to rubber bands to secure your cloth. When rubber bands get old and stretched out, they break, leaving your brew open to fruit flies and other unwanted creatures.
- Place your fermentation vessel in a cool place out of direct sunlight where it won’t be bumped or need to be moved.
- The mother SCOBY may sink or float on the top; both are okay. In 2 to 3 days, you may see a translucent, jelly-like mass floating on the top of your tea. This is a new SCOBY beginning to form. Leave it undisturbed so that the baby SCOBY can grow properly.
- If the kombucha SCOBY grows mold, throw the liquid and SCOBY into the compost and begin with fresh materials.
- Have fun and experiment! Kombucha is an acquired taste, and everyone likes it a little different. There are hundreds of recipes available, each one with its own ingredients and techniques.
- Store your kombucha away from your stove and other cooking appliances. The aroma, smoke, and flavor can all be imparted to your culture.
Looking to take your Fermented Tea to the next level?
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