Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Getting Started with Kombucha

It's new. It's trendy! It's good for you! Well, as the song goes, two out three ain't bad. It is trendy now and it is good for you, but what is it? Kombucha is basically, fermented sweet tea. It is made in much the same way as fine, traditional vinegars are made. It is probably one of the easiest fermented foods you can make. It is easy to consume and all of the probiotics are great for digestive and overall health. It has been recorded to have
been made as early as 221 BC in China, but has been popular in Eastern Europe, China, Russia and Japan for centuries
One of my continuous batches.
Note the VERY large mother. When it gets this much,
you will need to remove all but a small portion of it.

How do you make it? First make a batch of fresh, sweet tea, like we do here down South. This is made from real tea leaves, not a sugary tea mix. I make a gallon batch of tea at a time. Take 1 ounce of tea, which you can find in a 1 ounce tea bag or use 4-6 small tea bags. After the tea has steeped for 15-30 minutes, depending on how strong you want this tea, remove the bag and add sugar. I usually add 1 ½ -2 cups of sugar. Stir and you have sweet tea. Once this tea has become room temperature, you can add what is called a mother or SCOBY (which is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). This gelatinous blob is not the most attractive looking thing but it is a culture of anywhere from 20-30 different bacterias and yeasts, depending on where you get it. This living blob loves the sugar in the tea and after you place it in the tea and allow it to ferment on the counter for a week, you will see a thin film form on the surface of the tea. This is perfectly normal and desired. It means your scoby is working. Give it another week and the film will get a bit thicker and float on the surface of the tea. Usually after 2 weeks of fermenting, it is good to drink. After 2 weeks, it will still have a slight sweetness to it and be more pleasant to drink straight up. The longer you allow it to ferment, the more acidic it will become. I use a 2.5 gallon glass dispenser with a spigot at the bottom so I can draw off as much as I want right from the kombucha as it ferments. As the level of tea decreases, I add more room temperature sweet tea. Usually the mother will rise to the top and new layer will form on the surface and become part of the old mother. Eventually, you will need to remove some of the excess mother or it will take over your dispenser. No need to worry, because you only need a small amount of scoby to keep it going as it continues to grow more.

So what do you do with this newly fermented tea? Drink it! I usually add some to a glass of juice because although some people like it straight up, the older the batch gets, the stronger it tastes. These cultures are actually making vinegar, acetic acid, which in itself is good for health, but the added cultures give it a real kick to gut health. Some people add the kombucha to fruit juice and bottle it to make a healthy refreshing soda. When bottled, the kobucha will self carbonate like a fine champagne or beer. Just be careful you only add 20% juice or there will be too much sugar and your bottles will explode. This is one reason why I opt for the continuous batch method.

Kombucha has, generally, 1/3 the amount of caffeine as the original tea you started with, so the amount is fairly low. It also does have a small amount of alcohol, but this is usually no more than .5%, so you would have to drink 6-8, 12 oz. bottles just to get a slight buzz and I don't know anyone that wants to drink that much kombucha for a buzz.

So how do you start? Find a scoby from someone. I have found these from friends that brew their own and also on places like Craigslist. Since it always makes more mother, anyone that brews it is always looking to find somewhere to get rid of the excess. You can also find it on Amazon in dehydrated form, but this will take a bit longer to make a good batch, as the scoby takes time to rehydrate and get all the cultures active. If you are local or want to me to mail order you a mother, please email me your info and we can work it out.

There are many more resources online with more detailed explanations of everything kombucha, but this has been a good primer to get you started. So why pay $3 for a small bottle when you can brew your own for pennies?

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