Monday, March 14, 2011

Making Your Own Kombucha - Special Post from Guest Writer Brett Vandermolen

We had some wonderful responses to our posting about making kombucha culture from the bottle. There have been some amazing online conversations, mostly on Facebook, that have been educational and informative to all. Most of these conversations were led by our dear friend Brett Vandermolen who at this point has enough kombucha to send everybody who comes to this site a bottle! We asked him to write up a post for the blog, and he sent us this gem of an article. Totally puts my kombucha piece to shame! I especially enjoy the bit about how to bottle it for carbonation. Thanks Brett for sharing!!! - Clare

Before I delve too far into the subject, some of you might be wondering what is kombucha? Kombucha is a fermented tea with a unique taste and many health benefits. Making your own kombucha is relatively easy. Almost everything you need to make your kombucha can be bought at your local grocery store. There is however one thing you cannot get there, a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. Some people call it the Kombucha Mother, or Mushroom. There are two ways to get a SCOBY, finding one already grown (getting it from a friend, getting one from craigslist, etc…), or growing one yourself. There are benefits to both. If you get one from another person you’re going to save a lot of time (it takes about a month to grow one yourself). If you grow one yourself you’ll know it is of good quality and not made from inferior ingredients or from a weak culture. The other things you’ll need are: A glass jar or bowl, a cloth, a rubber band, pure water, tea, sugar, and some already brewed kombucha.

There are actually a lot of variables that involve all of the ingredients you need to brew kombucha. I've already talked a bit about the SCOBY, and I’ll talk more about how to grow one later, so I’ll start with the container. The container you make your kombucha in needs to be glass or ceramic. In my opinion glass is the best choice. Ceramic containers can leach things into the kombucha and make it toxic. Unleaded Glass Jars or containers are a sure thing. Whatever you do, don’t use a metal or plastic container, they’ll leach things into your brew or completely prevent the culture from growing all together. A wide mouth glass jar is your best choice. The SCOBY grows on the surface of the liquid and needs to be a healthy width and circumference. If you use a bottle necked glass jar or a bowl that’s too wide, the SCOBY might turn out to be either not wide enough or too thin. You’ll also need some sort of a cloth to cover the top of the vessel you’re brewing your kombucha in. An exchange of gas needs to occur in the brewing process because of the fermentation that is going on, so the top of your container cannot be completely sealed off, but can’t be left completely open either. If left completely open unwanted bacteria can enter your brew and ruin it by growing mold. Above I mentioned a rubber band. It’s a good choice as a way to get a good seal around the cloth covering your container. Of course, if you have some extra string or something lying around, why not use something you have for free. The water you use needs to be pure. Tap water contains chlorine that will kill the kombucha, so obviously it’s a bad choice. I personally buy jugs of purified water from the store. The tea you use needs to be an oil free black or green tea. Traditionally it was made with black tea, and the tannic acid from black tea helps the kombucha to grow as well. I personally do a mixture of black and green teas. You’ll also need to decide if you want your tea to be organic or not, mine is. Sugar is needed to provide the “food” for your SCOBY to eat. There is actually a big debate on what kind of sugar to use. Some people use raw and organic sugars for good reason, and some people use cheap processed sugar because the kombucha can “eat” it more easily. I use organic turbinado sugar. It’s still organic, but slightly processed making it easier for the kombucha to use. When all of the above listed things are in place you’ll also need to add one or two cups of already brewed kombucha to the mixture to make it properly acidic. This will create an environment where the kombucha can thrive and mold cannot grow.

Growing your own SCOBY does take some time and delay the brewing process, but its fun. You get to watch the process from the very beginning and have an added feeling of self-sufficiency. Here is how it’s done… First you need to select a high quality bottle of plain kombucha that has a fair amount of the yeasty filaments and sediment inside. In a saucepan boil one cup of water and dissolve two tablespoons of sugar into it. Next you’ll add one tea bag or one tablespoon of loose-leaf tea and allow some time for it to steep. When the mixture has cooled to room temperature remove the tea bags or leaves. Add this sweetened tea and your bottle of kombucha to a quart jar and cover it with a cloth sealed with a rubber band or string. Place this in a warm dark space and allow it some time to grow. In just a couple of days you’ll notice a thin film beginning to grow on the surface of the liquid. This is the beginning of the SCOBY. When it reaches a thickness of about an eighth of an inch its time to give it a boost. Next you’ll need to boil four cups of water, dissolve one third of a cup of sugar into it, and steep two tea bags. When this cools to room temp add it to a one-gallon glass jar (this will be your typical vessel size for the recipe I give, so it’ll be good to have one on hand). Dump the first kombucha mixture with the SCOBY and all into it, cover it and place it in a warm dark place. Over the next two weeks the SCOBY will thicken considerably. When it reaches a thickness between one quarter to one half inches it’ll be ready to brew your first batch of kombucha. Keep in mind that if at any point during this process mold appears you’ll need to discard everything and start over from the beginning. Mold will be green or white. Brown spots are just the yeast. If the mixture is properly acidic this shouldn't even be possible. This process takes about one month. The warmer the temperature the kombucha is stored in, the faster the process will be. I have a friend who uses a small “kombucha greenhouse” that keeps it at about ninety degrees and speeds up the process considerably.

Once you have a SCOBY, brewing the kombucha is relatively easy. First you’ll need to boil three quarts (12 cups) of water and dissolve one cup of sugar into it. Then you’ll need to steep four tea bags or four tablespoons of loose-leaf tea in it. When this cools to room temperature remove the tea leafs, pour it into a one-gallon glass jar, add one or two cups of finished kombucha tea, and place the SCOBY on top. It is okay if it sinks. Add a cloth onto the top of the jar and secure it with a rubber band. Place this in a warm dark place. After about one week to ten days it should be done brewing. You’ll notice a new SCOBY has grown on the surface of the liquid, so now you can brew two batches instead of just one. The new SCOBY may be stuck to the old one and you may need to separate them from each other in order to have two separate cultures. It’s important to keep in mind that everything needs to be sterile in this process, including your hands when touching the SCOBY. I wash every implement that’s involved in the brewing process and rinse it with boiling water, and wash my hands really well with soap and water. Don’t use hand sanitizer. This stays on your hands and will probably kill the kombucha and that would be really sad.

I would recommend when you’re starting to use a simple (not raw) sugar and black tea. This is what most major brands are made from and what your SCOBY will be used to. Once you’ve successfully made a batch or two you can begin experimenting with different teas, sugars, and flavors. Adding fruit juices, honey, or ginger are all popular and yummy ways to add the spice of life to your kombucha (variety) If you want your kombucha to have carbonation like the stuff you buy at the store, bottle it, cap it, and leave it at room temp for about three or five days. Since the liquid is still brewing when its left at room temp the gas exchange will still be happening. If you cap your bottles that gas is trapped inside and turns into your carbonation. After the three or five days you’ll want to put these bottles into your refrigerator to stop the carbonation process. If you leave them at room temp for too long when you go to open them they will explode and you and everything around you will smell like kombucha for a while. Some people store the finished product in quart glass jars and immediately place them in the refrigerator to keep them uncarbonated. I know some people who mix the kombucha with fruit juices at a 50/50 mixture and say its pretty tasty. Some people mix it with hot water and honey. Like I said earlier, EXPEREMENT, be creative, have fun, live, laugh, love, and share your kombucha with others. There are a lot of recipes for brewing kombucha other than the one I offered. There is also a lot of information out there on the health benefits of kombucha. I encourage you to go out there and research as much as you can. Good Luck.

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