Kombucha

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Brewing kombucha has boomed in popularity in the last decade. I figured I’d add to the collection of online resources and tutorials.

I first started brewing either in 2009 or 2010, and I’m still using the same strain of cultures that I started with. My SCOBYs have gone everywhere I have gone; they are members of the family. I’ve transitioned from black tea to green tea back to black tea. I used to brew it so strong and sour that nobody who tried it would drink it again. Yeah, I was a little neurotic about sugar content. This was bad for my hubby, because even though I have since refined my methods and results, he only just recently tried it again, and only because I made it extra sweet and fizzy with lots of fresh strawberries on the second ferment. However, he drinks a small glass of it daily now because it controls his gout.

I’m not going to review all the health benefits and detailed whys and wherefores of what kombucha is and why you should drink it. If you are new to traditionally fermented, living foods, remember these universal rules for all of them, kombucha included:

  • Don’t use metal to prepare the food or beverage (unless you boil your water in a stainless steel saucepan).
  • Use only organic/unrefined foods; clean, filtered water; and sterile fermenting equipment/containers.
  • Living, probiotic-rich foods are affected by the environment; don’t be surprised if they do not behave consistently.

So here is my process. I do this on average about once every two weeks.

1. Get about 4 C of filtered water boiling in a glass or stainless steel container. This glass kettle was my Christmas gift to my (unfermented) tea connoisseur hubby.

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2. Assemble your ingredients. On the left is my big vat of finished kombucha that I’m going to bottle while the water heats up. In the middle are my five organic black tea bags (I buy a big box at Sprouts), ready for their hot bath in my Pyrex measuring cup. Also present is 1 C of organic cane sugar.

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3. While waiting for the water to boil, I first ladle out maybe 2 C of finished kombucha from the top of the undisturbed liquid and set aside in my smaller Pyrex measuring cup. The most probiotic-rich part of the drink floats to the top while the more yeasty parts sink to the bottom. Reserving the top liquid for starting the next batch keeps the bacteria-yeast ratio at a good place.

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4. I have my (reused) clean, open bottles all lined up and ready to go here. Yes, I have an addiction. You could pour the kombucha into your bottles as it is and put them straight into the fridge for drinking. But my family likes our kombucha flavored with fruit, so I do a second, shorter ferment with fruit added in smaller batches. The three bottles on the left have fresh raspberries and lemon slices, while the three on the left have fresh blackberries inside. You only need a few pieces of fruit per bottle. I ladle all the kombucha evenly into the bottles, filling them all the way up, and then screwing the lid on tightly.

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5. Then they all hang out in my pantry for a couple days to be infused with the fruit and to get fizzy. After a day or two, they’ll go to the fridge and we drink as needed. The liquid at the very bottom of my fermenting jar doesn’t usually get bottled because it’s so yeasty. It is probably best to discard it or find another use for it after every batch; that will keep your big batch from getting too yeasty — too much yeast and too little bacteria will make your kombucha flat and cloudy (unpleasant to drink) and can perpetuate internal yeast issues (which the majority of us have). You’ll also need to find a place for one of the two SCOBYs in the jar. I usually keep the prettier one; our dog likes to eat the other.

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6. By now the water should be boiling, so pour it into the Pyrex dish with the sugar and tea bags. Stir and let steep for several minutes. Remove the tea bags and let sit until it is cooled enough to keep your finger dipped in. If you use a bigger dish or bowl, you could add cold filtered water or filtered-water ice cubes to it and speed up the process. Pour this concentrated tea and the kombucha you set aside into the big jar. Fill up with an additional 2 quarts (approximately) of room-temperature filtered water and gently mix it all up.

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7. Cover with your towel, secure with a rubber band, and put the jar in a dark place where it won’t be disturbed. Let sit for at least a week. When you see a new SCOBY growing with bubbles forming underneath it, that’s your sign of success. Start tasting it when the new SCOBY pancake is about 1/4″ thick. When it’s tart and fizzy with just a hint of sweetness left over, it’s ready to bottle.
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You can always delay the bottling at the beginning, which would mean boiling the water and steeping the tea before doing anything else. Then, to maximize the hands-on time you’re spending on this, you’d bottle the finished batch while the concentrated tea cools down. For me it just depends on what other demands need to be met in the moment.

Our favorite flavor so far is strawberry. You can use frozen fruit too, which saves money and gives you more options out of season. Enjoy!

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