Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kombucha Culture from the Bottle

Whenever I get settled in to a new place I start up a new batch of kombucha. If you don't know what kombucha is, the short answer is that it is a fermented tea that is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The long answer includes that it came from Russia, includes many beneficial probiotics and acids, is meant to be very healthy for the digestive system, and is outlined in way too many words on wikipedia.

I usually find someone I know who has a scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) so that I can get myself started. That usually requires I spend some time meeting people and finding someone who actually brews kombucha, OR putting up some kind of cute ad at the local food co-op. Now I love getting to know health-conscious hippie types as much as the next granola foodie, but I really wanted to get my culture rolling lest it take me months to get the show on the road.

So instead of hunting down my own viscous little colony I am trying something suggested by my friend - starting my kombucha from a commercially bottled brand. It will take longer to get going, but should produce the same results as using a scoby.

I chose to use High Country Kombucha Original because it is one of my favorites. It is also one of the few commercially bottled kombucha brands that I can find without juices added. I spoke with a friend who has started her culture from this brand, and she suggested the following recipe:

1 bottle of Original High Country Kombucha (or another plain variety)
3-4 liters of water
2-3 tablespoons of organic black tea
1 cup of raw sugar

Set out the bottle of kombucha to reach room temperature. Boil the water and pour into a sterilized stainless steel or glass (no plastic!) container. Steep the tea in the water until the desired strength and then remove. Pour in the sugar and let it dissolve. Let the sweetened tea sit out until it reaches room temperature, then pour in the bottled kombucha. Cover your container with a clean cloth and place somewhere warm where there is no direct sunlight. The kombucha should start to culture as soon as you
put it in, but be patient with the results as this method can take up to a month.

There are many ways you can drink kombucha. Some people start a new batch when it gets to their desired level of fermentation, and put the finished product in the fridge. Others will engage in a more continuous fermentation, adding more ingredients and pulling out kombucha as needed. Some people drink it straight at room temperature, others like to chill it. You can also add it to juice or sweeten it with a little sugar (but do so just before you are going to drink it, if you put sugar in it and put it away you will restart fermentation).

When Jason and I were in New Zealand we stayed with a couple who were homesteading and teaching wwoofers to build cob houses. Every morning we met in the kitchen and stood around the wood-fired cookstove with wine glasses filled with kombucha, hot water, and blackcurrant syrup. We toasted the start of each day before settling in for a delicious breakfast of pog.

Beyond the health benefits of kombucha I definitely cling to this bit of nostalgia when I partake in kombucha today. I drink kombucha for health, for comfort, for taste, and for fun. I have no intention of telling you that you SHOULD drink it, but I recommend it if you like sour flavors and believe in the benefit of consuming fermented foods.

I will let you know how my commercially-bottled culture turns out!

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