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Kombucha

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Recipes posted a year ago:

Kombucha is an ancient beverage made of sweetened tea that has been fermented by a starter of beneficial bacteria and yeast known as a “SCOBY.”  This fermentation consumes the majority of the sugars in the sweetened tea (as well as many other compounds contained in the tea itself) and leaves behind acetic and gluconic acid, a variety of vitamins (most notably B-vitamins), and probiotics that are beneficial for your digestive system.  On top of all that, kombucha has a touch of carbonation for a mild effervescence and a mild sweetness that makes it tasty and refreshing.

Kombucha_SCOBYGather Up (and continue reading below for more information on each item):

  • 1 kombucha SCOBY
  • 1/2 cup starter kombucha/tea (this should be with the SCOBY)
  • 1/2 cup organic evaporated cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp loose tea, or 4 tea bags
  • 6 1/2 cups clean water (approx)

Kombucha_4You’ll also need:

  • 1/2 gallon mason jar or porcelain crock (nothing metal or plastic)
  • some glass bottles for storing after fermentation
  • a bottle capper and crimp-caps (or get swing-top bottles)

First off, you need to get your hands on a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which will look something like a leathery pancake.  Known also by names such as mushroom or mother, this is the blend of living things that will be going to work on your sweetened tea and turning it into the finished product.  You can order one from a variety of online sources or get one from a friend or family member that is already making kombucha.  They will usually have plenty to share (SCOBY’s, that is).

The next item you need is about 1/2 cup of starter kombucha/tea.  This should come with your SCOBY, and is important to provide the SCOBY with a head start on getting to work fermenting before anything else has a chance to do so (with unintended results).  If you’re worried you don’t have enough, you can add a little extra store-bought raw kombucha – but try to use an unflavored variety.

When it comes to sugar for your kombucha, this is one place where we will advocate using the cleanest processed white sugar you can get your hands on (while still trying to go for something organic and/or GMO and pesticide free).  The reason is that the SCOBY has an easier time consuming processed simple white sugar that it does trying to break down more complex sugars that contain other ingredients such as molasses.  Further, the compounds that are in more complex sugars, when metabolized by the SCOBY, tend to lead to off flavors and a slow or incomplete fermentation.  Finally, honey is not recommended because it inherently has anti-bacterial properties that will impact the health and balance of your SCOBY.

If you’re worried about getting too much refined sugar in your diet from drinking kombucha – don’t be.  The end product will have most of it fermented out (in the ball park of 2 grams of sugar per cup in the finished kombucha, compared to ~30 grams per cup in fresh apple juice).  If you’re already following a lifestyle like we advocate here on our site, then drinking this will be much more beneficial than detrimental to you.

For the tea, you need something that contains “real” tea (i.e. made with the leaves of the tea plant camellia sinensis).  That means black, Oolong, green, red, or white teas.  If using red or white tea (or even green tea), it is recommended to make at least 1/4 of the mixture either black or Oolong to make sure the SCOBY has all of the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and make good kombucha.  Also, avoid using any herbal teas that have high oil contents (peppermint, ginger, spices, chamomile) – these can be added after fermentation if you like for flavoring, but can be detrimental to the kombucha during fermentation.

Finally, your water should be filtered and non-chlorinated.  Your goal is to promote the organisms in the SCOBY to eat up all the sugar and nutrients in the tea, and leave behind a powerful blend of vitamins, probiotics, acids, esters, and just a little carbonation.  Chlorinated water is treated to do just the opposite – stop things from growing.  It will also leave behind chemical compounds and off flavors even if the kombucha does ferment, so avoid it or boil it fully before using.

Kombucha_2Now that we’ve covered the basics in a little more depth, the process is really very simple:

Start out by boiling 3 cups of water.  Place the tea in a large heat-safe glass or porcelain bowl (we have an 8-cup measuring bowl with spout that is very handy).  When the water is hot, pour it over the tea and let steep for about twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, place the sugar in the bottom of a 1/2-gallon mason jar.  You should have the SCOBY and starter tea nearby and ready as well, but leave them in their original container for now.  After the tea has steeped, carefully pour it into the mason jar.  If you are using loose tea, be sure to strain it or otherwise be careful not to let it get into the jar, as tea sediment isn’t all that desirable in the final product.  Stir the mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved, then add an additional 3 cups of cold water to the jar.

Check the temperature of the tea, and if it is below 80 degrees, you can proceed. If not, let it sit (covered) until it has cooled to room temperature.  When cooled, carefully add the SCOBY and the starter tea to the mason jar (don’t use metal tongs as I did as the SCOBY may react with it, use a wooden spoon instead).  Top with a little additional water to just below the neck.  Cover the jar with a paper towel or coffee filter kept in place with a jar ring or a rubber band.  Set it in a dark place where it will stay at room temperature (70~80 degrees) but undisturbed for at least 7 days.

After 7 days, you can take a sample (we pull the top off and dip in a spoon).  If too sweet, continue to let it go a few days, then re-sample until it has the desired balance of sweetness and acidity (Karen likes it more on the sweet side, while I like it much more acidic).

Kombucha_3The final step is to transfer the finished kombucha into bottles. We use standard 12-ounce beer bottles and caps from the local homebrew supply store (an alternative are the swing-top style that are a little larger), and will get four full bottles out of a 1/2-gallon batch of kombucha with enough starter left over for the next batch.

Transfer all but one-half cup of the kombucha to the cleaned bottles and seal them up, then leave at room temperature for an additional couple of days to give it a chance to carbonate a little.  This is also the time you could add any other flavorings you like, such as fresh fruit juices, herbs or spices, or fresh herbal teas.  Finally, store them in the refrigerator to keep things from getting overly carbonated (though we never seem to have a problem with them being consumed long before we would worry about them being over-carbonated).

This is a great time to start a new batch with the reserved one-half cup of tea and the SCOBY.  If you don’t have time to make the tea, just put the SCOBY in a jar with the tea, seal as mentioned above, and make the kombucha when you have time.

After a batch or two, you will notice your SCOBY may develop distinct layers that may separate from each other.  These are new SCOBY’s, which you can use to start additional batches, or give to new friends to start their own kombucha.  Just make sure to give them away with enough starter tea from the previous batch to completely cover the SCOBY (in a pint mason jar works well, with about 1/2 cup kombucha) and to use for the next batch.

Kombucha
 
Author:
Recipe type: Beverage
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 kombucha SCOBY
  • ½ cup starter kombucha/tea (this should be with the SCOBY)
  • ½ cup organic evaporated cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp loose tea, or 4 tea bags
  • 6½ cups clean water (approximately)
Instructions
  1. Start out by boiling 3 cups of water.
  2. Place the tea in a large heat-safe glass or porcelain bowl.
  3. When the water is hot, pour it over the tea and let steep for about twenty minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, place the sugar in the bottom of a ½-gallon mason jar.
  5. After the tea has steeped, carefully pour it into the mason jar. If you are using loose tea, be sure to strain it or otherwise be careful not to let it get into the jar, as tea sediment isn’t all that desirable in the final product.
  6. Stir the mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved, then add an additional 3 cups of cold water to the jar.
  7. Check the temperature of the tea, and if it is below 80 degrees, you can proceed. If not, let it sit (covered) until it has cooled to room temperature.
  8. When cooled, carefully add the SCOBY and the starter tea to the mason jar (use a wooden spoon to transfer the SCOBY. Don't use anything metal).
  9. Top with a little additional water to just below the neck.
  10. Cover the jar with a paper towel or coffee filter kept in place with a jar ring or a rubber band.
  11. Set it in a dark place where it will stay at room temperature (70~80 degrees) but undisturbed for at least 7 days.
  12. After 7 days, you can take a sample.
  13. If too sweet, continue to let it go a few days, then re-sample until it has the desired balance of sweetness and acidity.
  14. Transfer all but one-half cup of the kombucha to cleaned bottles and seal them up, then leave at room temperature for an additional couple of days to give it a chance to carbonate a litte more.
  15. Store in the refrigerator to keep things from getting overly carbonated.
  16. This is a great time to start a new batch with the reserved one-half cup of tea and the SCOBY. If you don't have time to make the tea, just put the SCOBY in a jar with the tea, seal as mentioned above, and make the kombucha when you have time.
Notes
For larger batches, figure 1 cup of sugar per gallon of fresh tea added to the container. You can use a 2-1/2 gallon ceramic "water cooler" to maintain a continuous brew system by adding tea and sugar at regular intervals after harvesting kombucha from the container.

 

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