Kombucha

One of my more recent kitchen experiments has been fermenting kombucha tea. I should do a whole other post some time explaining the benefits of fermented foods. A main part of my health protocol right now towards intestinal healing (in conjunction with the GAPS diet) is consuming fermented foods a few times a day. Sauerkraut and beet kvass are my mainstays, but I’ve been trying to branch out, and kombucha is a new one for me. My sister-in-law has been suggesting it to me for over a year, and I finally took the plunge!

Kombucha tea is a tea fermented by a mushroom. Yep, a mushroom. The mushroom imparts all sorts of positive health aspects to the tea in the fermenting process, and you end up with a healthy probiotic drink with good strains of bacteria and yeast, good for the digestion and immune system. Kombucha has a tradition in Russian cuisine but has recently become a product of interest in the U.S. Most health food stores carry kombucha in the refrigerated section, but it’s pricey! Try $3.50 per 16 oz. bottle. Youch. It’s more like 40 cents/gallon to make, so this is definitely a culinary endeavour with large returns in savings :-).

To make kombucha you first need a mushroom, also called a “mother” or a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts). You can get one from someone local who is already culturing kombucha, or purchase one online (Cultures for Health is a good source), or you can grow one from ready-made kombucha. I chose to grow one, because it was the cheapest option open to me, as I couldn’t find someone local with a SCOBY. Here is one site with directions for growing your own mushroom, using a bottle of purchased kombucha.

Yesterday I took pictures while I brewed up a batch of kombucha, for those interested. These are more for purposes of interest than anything else. I am not an expert, having just begun this foray a few few weeks ago. This is one of those “look what weird fungus Susan is growing in her kitchen” posts ;-). I grow a lot of bacteria and fungus in my kitchen – not all bacteria and fungus is bad! This is one example.

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How to Make Kombucha Tea 

You will need:

a glass jar (I use 1/2 gallon, as 1 gallon are hard to come by)
a rubber band
cotton washcloth or coffee filter to fit over jar opening
a SCOBY
tea starter from previous batch
white sugar
black tea

Here is my previous batch of kombucha:

Notice the mushroom on top. It’s basically a big rubber-like disk that forms as the tea ferments. There are actually two mushrooms in there. The original SCOBY that I put in there to ferment, and the new SCOBY that formed as the tea fermented. They are sitting right on top of each other in this picture. I used the new SCOBY to ferment my new batch and I tossed the old one. I want to start fermenting two 1/2-gallons at a time, but I’m low on jars right now. When I get more jars, I plan to keep the old *and* new SCOBY, to start two different jars of tea fermenting. Alternately, I could save one of the SCOBYs to give to a friend. (If you’re local, let me know if you want a mushroom!)

Okay. First step to making a new batch of kombucha is getting non-chlorinated water. Chlorine kills things, including bacteria and yeast. It is possible to ferment in chlorinated water, but it’s very iffy and not ideal. You really don’t want to mess with it. I don’t have a filter, so I had two other options. Leaving out a jar of water for 24 hours allows the chlorine to evaporate, but I used the quickie method of boiling uncovered for 10 minutes:

Meanwhile, I got out a clean glass jar and poured in 1/2 cup sugar:

Yep, I’m using evil white sugar ;-). The interesting thing about kombucha is that white sugar really is the best choice. The SCOBY thrives on it and consumes close to all of it. If I ferment for 3 weeks, virtually all the sugar is gone (as well as the caffeine from the tea). So the 1/2 cup sugar per half gallon jar becomes very minuscule as it ferments, and virtually non-existent after 3 weeks. Most people ferment for more like 10 days, which depletes the sugar quite enough, while still making the kombucha tolerable to drink. 3 weeks is quite the pucker! It tastes kind of like drinking vinegar straight :-P. I’m trying for 2ish weeks right now, to get as little sugar content as possible, while making it still drinkable.

Next I poured a little of the hot water in the jar to dissolve the sugar, then poured in more hot water (it doesn’t need to be boiling, but it should be hot) to about 3/4 full – so to the 6 cup mark, in this case. Then I added 4 teabags of black tea:

Some people use green tea or other varieties of tea or even weirder options, like fermenting soft drinks with kombucha. You can experiment around, but it’s important to do some research on the safety of a particular option. The ph of the tea has to be a certain level for safety reasons. Black tea is a good standard choice, as long as it doesn’t have added oils, etc.

The tea needs to steep for at least 10 minutes, but you can also leave the bags in there much longer. The tea needs to cool gradually to room temperature (this took over an hour for me), and I just leave the bags in the whole time. I covered with a cloth to prevent attracting bugs.

After the tea cooled completely, I removed the tea bags.

In the picture above the old kombucha with the SCOBY is in the foreground, and the jar in the background is the new black tea I just brewed.

Then I removed that lovely mushroom:

Mmmm. Notice the other mushroom on the plate. That is the old mother. I will be using the new mother aka “the baby” for my new ferment.


And here is the SCOBY in the new jar of tea. I also added in 1 cup of kombucha tea from the previous batch, as a “starter”, and to balance the ph of the mixture. Vinegar is also an option to balance the ph, but kombucha will give a nicer flavor.

Then I covered the jar with a clean rag and rubber so the ferment can breathe, but will keep out dust and flies:

The old jar of tea, at right, I put in my fridge to consume.

The left jar, I set on top of my fridge to ferment:

Kombucha brew time is anywhere from 5-30 days or so. After 3 weeks it’s going to taste really vinegar-y. Most people like it around 10 days. You can very gently put a straw down in the brew and taste test every few days until you like it.

So there you have it. Now you know what fungus I have growing in my kitchen :-).

More organized directions:

Kombucha Tea

To make 1/2 gallon of kombucha you need:

4 tea bags
1 cup kombucha tea from previous batch
1/2 cup white sugar
1 SCOBY

Boil water uncovered for 10 minutes in a saucepan to dechlorinate. Dissolve sugar in some of the hot water in a half gallon glass jar. Add more of the hot water (does not need to be boiling) until the jar is about 3/4 full. Add tea bags and steep for at least 10 minutes or as long as it takes tea to cool to room temperature. Make sure to cover the jar with a cloth while the tea steeps. Remove tea bags before proceeding, after tea is cooled.

Add starter kombucha tea and SCOBY to jar with clean hands. Cover jar with cloth and secure with a rubberband. Allow to ferment at least 5 days and up to 30 days. 7-10 days is typical, but the longer it ferments, the less sugar it will have. Fermentation speed is dependent on temperature, so it will ferment quicker in the summer, for example. Ferment in a warm spot, such as the top of the fridge.

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