Kombucha Revisited.

IMG_0927Since I last wrote about the strange and wonderful art of brewing kombucha I’ve switched brewing methods. I switched from container brewing to a continuous brew system. I like the continuous brew system better for a few reasons: we drink a lot of kombucha in this house, so the container brewing actually occupied more space because I needed to brew at least two jars at once; continuous brew allows you to hit all of the enzymatic sweet spots during the brewing process whereas if you let a container brew go for 30 days, you basically have vinegar; Hamling can access the kombucha on his own which encourages him to drink it more often; the process itself is much easier.

Continuous brew kombucha needs the same ratios of tea, water and sugar. So, for 64 ounces of kombucha you need 1/2 cup sugar and 4-6 bags of tea. I’ve split the tea and sugar (sucanat) into two jars so that I can use cooler water to dissolve the sugar while the tea is brewing. I do this in an effort to leave the minerals in the sucanat as undisturbed as possible, it’s really just a preference thing.

All you do is brew the sweet tea, take out the tea bags or strain your tea leaves out, allow the tea to cool and then pour it over what’s left in the continuous brew container. Easy-peasy.

To maintain the brew I take everything out to clean the glass jar about twice a year, or as needed depending on the amount of yeast that settles on the bottom. Also, the SCOBY can get adventurous and start growing in the spigot. When it blocks the spigot enough to be annoying (and I can’t get it out with just a toothpick), I’ll clean it out.

Make sure to always keep a thin cloth (like muslin, or even a coffee filter) secured over your SCOBY home to keep fruit flies and debris out. It’s important to use a cloth rather than a lid so that the SCOBY can breathe.

In the End…

I had a ton of ideas for what to write about this week. Time ran away from me and I didn’t have time to really sit down and write something that wasn’t rushed. Recipe posts are pretty easy, but I don’t have any pictures to accompany them yet, so that’s out. I was going to write about Hamlette’s birth, but that’s going to take a little bit of time.

I was productive though. I made an art for a good friend of mine, who is also Hamlette’s god-mother, to celebrate her birthday and the book she just published:

I learned that those La Croix sparkling waters make excellent mixers for kombucha. It works really well if your kombucha has fermented a bit too long: you can’t taste the sourness at all!

I also learned that going on a picnic is an excellent way to spend an afternoon thanks to my best friend. I will be going on more picnics this summer for sure!

My awesome mother-in-law took measurements of our front lawn in preparation for terracing. I’ll be happy to have a front-yard garden. I’m busy researching landscaping ideas for edibles as well as what kind of bricks to use and ideas for where the yard meets the driveway. Our driveway is sloped with the yard right now, so it will be an interesting problem to fix. I’ll figure something out, though.

It’s supposed to snow a lot this weekend, so I guess I’ll get time to work on it while I’m stuck inside.

Do you have anything big planned for the summer?

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!

Kombucha and Water Kefir.

Fermentation and civilization are inseparable.
-John Ciardi, American Poet (1916-86)

Hibiscus kombucha and lemon water kefir.

Hibiscus kombucha and lemon water kefir.

I’ve been making water kefir, and now kombucha for a little over a year. I like to refer to my kombucha SCOBYs as my jellyfish pets, which may be something you only understand if you’ve handled a SCOBY yourself. So, what is a SCOBY?

S.C.O.B.Y. stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. A SCOBY is what ferments the sweet tea into kombucha. It doesn’t look very appetizing, and is a big turn-off to a lot of people (including me) looking to brew their own kombucha at home. I got a SCOBY from a friend of mine. Had she not given me one, I probably wouldn’t have started brewing on my own. I knew that water kefir helped me a lot, so I thought kombucha might be equally as beneficial so I overcame my initial squeamishness and started brewing at home. It is one of the best decisions I’ve made for my health.

There are quite a lot of claimed benefits to drinking kombucha daily if you read about it on the Googles. What sold me the most was the claim that it supports your liver function, helps with candida albicans overgrowth, and aids in repairing your gut wall. When I first started brewing kombucha I had liver stress, candida albicans overgrowth, and a high probability of leaky gut – I found this out using Live Blood Analysis(LBA), which is somewhat controversial. So I figured I’d give it a shot to see what would happen. Once I started drinking it my LBAs slowly began to show more healthy blood than not. Kombucha wasn’t the only factor in this, but it was a large player.

So, what is the official analysis of what’s in kombucha? Well, this site has a pretty good rundown. The thing you must keep in mind is that every SCOBY is slightly different depending on the kind of tea and sugar it’s eating and other environmental factors like airborne yeasts and temperatures.

Kombucha is fairly hardy, only needing to be fed every 30 days, so it’s pretty low-maintenance. Part of the draw for me was the low level of care. It’s essentially an hour of active work every 8 to 15 days depending on how long you want the fermentation to last. You can also do a continuous brew where you place your sweet tea and SCOBY in a glass drink dispenser with a spout and just add more tea as needed, or on a certain schedule. I really want to start a continuous ferment, but I haven’t found a good drink dispenser yet.

What about water kefir? Water kefir has a higher probiotic count than kombucha but this is, again, subject to some variation depending on what you feed it. Water kefir is similar to kombucha in that what ferments the sugars to create the drink is a culture of bacteria and yeast. Kefir grains are basically the SCOBY in the kefir world. The name is a little misleading because there are no grains in water kefir. You can eat the grains for a good probiotic boost (I’ve never tried that with kombucha SCOBYs, because…well…ew) in addition to drinking the water kefir.

Since I’ve started drinking kombucha and water kefir my overall health has improved. I can tell when I haven’t been drinking water kefir or, to a lesser extent, kombucha. I start getting brain fog and a little grumpy. This is probably a sign that my digestion still isn’t up to snuff, but it’s a work in progress.

Overall, these two drinks are something that I will continue doing for the health of my family. Both of them are easily flavored during a second ferment, so the possibilities are pretty much endless. This is a plus because you’ll never have to get bored of drinking the same old thing all the time.

Cultures for Health has a great rundown on the differences of water kefir and kombucha that is really interesting to read.

Next week I will post about how to brew kombucha and the following week will be water kefir. See you then!