Brewing Kombucha

IMG_0656 The hardest thing to reconcile about the whole kombucha process is the SCOBY. For me anyway. I mean, it’s a gelatinous blob that sits on top of the tea and eats the sugar for crying out loud. I once picked up a jellyfish on accident on vacation. I didn’t hold it for very long, but I can tell you -with a large degree of certainty- that kombucha SCOBYs feel exactly like a jellyfish.

They don’t look amazing either. The picture on the left is my gallon jar SCOBY home. You can see the big fat SCOBY on the bottom and a thinner one on top. Don’t they look delicious?

I will admit that I have tried a piece of dehydrated SCOBY. I dehydrated an extra 3 SCOBYs just for kicks to see if our princess dog would eat them as treats. That was a definite no-go, and curiosity got the better of me. So I took a bite. Okay, so I took 2 (or 3) bites. It wasn’t bad. Not my favorite thing in the world, but not terrible either. The texture was very similar to fruit-by-the-foot actually. I was pleasantly surprised; there was mild sweetness and hardly any of the kombucha’s characteristic vinegary tang.

Have I lost you? Because a year ago I would have lost myself.

For those of you intrepid readers who stuck around (thank you!) let me get back on track:

The brewing process of kombucha is very simple. It’s identical to brewing sweet tea. If you’re not from the south, and you’re also not sure what sweet tea is, sweet tea is basically iced tea brewed in sugar water. The total active time I spend is probably less than an hour. I split it up, so it’s hard to keep track. What usually ends up happening is I brew the sweet tea in the morning, then sometime in the late afternoon/evening (depending on if I forgot about it) I resume the process.

Things you’ll need for brewing:

  1. IMG_0657Glass jars
  2. Glass bottles
  3. Muslin cloth
  4. Canning jar rings or rubber bands
  5. Fine mesh strainer
  6. Large soup pot
  7. 4 bags of tea per 64 oz. or 1 bag of tea formulated for brewing iced tea. You can use green, black, or rooibos tea.
  8. 1/2 cup sugar per 64 oz.
  9. Filtered water
  10. Clean hands

To brew:

  1. Measure half of the total water you’ll need into the soup pot. If you’re brewing a 64 oz. batch use 32 oz. of water. I just fill my 64 oz. jar once halfway and once full (for the gallon).
  2. Bring the water to a rolling boil and turn off the heat.
  3. Add the sugar in proportion to the amount of kombucha you’re making and stir. I use 1 1/2 cups, or enough for three 64 oz. batches.
  4. Add the tea and let steep per the directions on the teabag packages. Usually no more than 5 minutes.
  5. Allow the pot of sweet tea to cool to room temperature. This is when I usually walk away and forget about it.
  6. Once the tea is cool strain your existing batch of kombucha, putting the SCOBY(s) in a glass or ceramic bowl as soon as possible. The less contact with metal the better. Save 1 cup of the kombucha per 64 oz. to give the new batch the correct acidity.
  7. Set aside the previous batch of kombucha for bottling.
  8. Fill your clean jars halfway with the sweet tea and halfway with filtered water and set a SCOBY on top. Sometimes I put two into the new batch, sometimes I discard my extras by “planting” them or just putting them down the garbage disposal.
  9. Make sure the jar lips are dry then put the muslin over the jar mouth and fasten with your canning ring or rubber band.
  10. Put the new batch of kombutcha in a moderately dark, warm place. Mine sits on top of our fridge with a wine box in front of it.
  11. Allow to ferment for 8-15 days. The longer you let it go, the more sour it will be. The amount of time you’ll need for fermentation will vary based on the climate and season.
  12. Pour the last batch of kombucha into bottles. I cut mine 50/50 with hibiscus tea at this point, but you can flavor yours however you like.
  13. Allow the bottled kombucha to brew for another 12-48 hours (optional).

 

It’s important to use organic ingredients whenever possible because the SCOBY is a living organism. It eats what you feed it, so using pesticide-laden tea or GMO sugar might not be the best idea. I use sucanat to brew both kombucha and water kefir and I find it works very well, but I know people who use organic cane sugar with great results. The practitioner who was helping me with my Live Blood Analysis said that she noticed more candida in people who brewed with white sugar vs. people who brewed with sucanat, so if you’re struggling with a candida albicans overgrowth I highly recommend using sucanat. It’s reasonably priced in the bulk section of Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage.

The reason I cut my kombucha with hibiscus is threefold. First, hibiscus tea is supposed to be great for you. Second, my kombucha was getting me tipsy every day so I needed to dilute it after troubleshooting it a little. Third, doing this cuts the caffeine content.

Using a combination of teas for the sweet tea base is helpful as well. It produces a smoother flavor in the finished batch. I tried using all black tea and I wasn’t terribly pleased with the outcome. Through experimenting with all sorts of different combinations I’ve landed on a mix of green and black, and sometimes rooibos (depending on how concerned I am with caffeine) that has a nice flavor. It’s really up to your tastes what combination of teas you use.

Bonus: since I’ve started brewing kombucha, my garbage disposal hasn’t smelled rotten. I let the extra SCOBY sit in there for a while before running it and that seems to help.

It seems complicated on paper/screen, but it’s really quite simple. If it was too complicated I don’t think I’d be keeping at it because I’m pretty lazy.

Don’t have a SCOBY? No problem! You can grow one as long as you can find a raw, ubnflavored kombucha at the store. Be careful; there was an incident in 2010 where the alcohol content in some of the kombuchas went above the allowed limit. To solve this a few brands started pasteurizing their kombucha before bottling. This pretty much takes away the benefits of drinking kombucha, unless you just drink it for flavor.
So to grow a new SCOBY follow the directions above, pouring the bottle of store-bought unflavored kombucha into the sweet tea and allowing it to ferment until a thick new SCOBY forms. Then continue as normal!

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