Haven’t heard of kombucha? Run to your nearest Whole Foods and browse through their refrigerators full of flavors and brands. Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea that contains beneficial probiotics, and the tea is often double fermented with fruit juices.
My first sip of kombucha gave me pause – a little vinegary, slightly sweet and very fizzy. I wasn’t sure what to think. The second sip, I was hooked. I’m a girl who can skip the sugary sweetness of soda, but LOVES the fizz. In kombucha, the bacteria consumes the sugars as the tea brews, reducing the sweetness and the gases can be trapped to add carbonation.
My favorite brand is Humm Kombucha, founded right here in Bend, Oregon. They make lemon ginger, blueberry mint, coconut lime and the list goes on and on and on. We’re so fortunate in this town to fill our growlers with Humm Kombucha, and you can find their bottled versions in stores throughout the Northwest. But not everyone can access this delicious beverage on tap and the bottled version can get tough on the wallet at around $3 a bottle.
Home brew to the rescue! It’s really simple to brew good kombucha – a little gross to look at the slimy SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) aka “mother”, but soon you’ll treasure the “mother” as the pure gold blog of goo that she is.
Acquire a kombucha mother (SCOBY or mushroom) which should arrive floating in a bag of starter kombucha tea. For an inexpensive source, ask a friend for a baby from their mother or do a quick search on craigslist. If local sources don’t pan out, order online from Royal Kombucha. Their website also has in-depth tips on brewing kombucha, more than I will go into on this post.
Place your new kombucha mother and the starter tea in a clean glass container approximately a gallon in size and cover with a clean, thin dish towel, cheesecloth or napkin.
Boil 3 quarts filtered water (or I use water directly out of my filtered hot water tap). Steep 8 tea bags for approximately 10 minutes. Any variety of tea works, and I most often use plain old Lipton tea.
Remove tea bags and stir in 1 cup white sugar.
Allow tea to cool to room temp.
Add room temperature tea to your mother and starter. Re-cover with cloth and secure with a rubber band so the cloth does not touch the tea. Place in a dark, warm spot – I like to put my in-process kombucha on a heating pad set to medium in winter, low in summer and cover with another dish cloth to hold in the heat.
Check tea after several days. Your mother may be floating near the top, or resting on the bottom of the container. Regardless of where your mother sits, a new film should be forming on top of the tea – this is a baby kombucha growing. (If it is attached to the mother, you can eventually separate the two and have a new mother to brew a separate batch of tea.)
The tea may still taste too sweet – if so, re-cover and continue brewing as before, checking once per day. When the tea has developed a fermented taste and maybe even a slight carbonation, you can stop the fermentation process by bottling in Mason jars or a growler and move to the refrigerator. Save some of your tea to use with the mother to start a new batch of kombucha.
At this point, instead of refrigerating, I like to double ferment my kombucha with fruit juice. My favorite is using about 2 inches of Ryan’s Apple Cider in the bottom of a growler and then filling the growler within 1 inch of the top with kombucha. Seal the top tightly and set on the heating pad for 24 hours. When you open the container, the kombucha should be fizzy. If not, reseal and allow the kombucha to continue to ferment until you are happy with the taste and carbonation. Refrigerate after the second fermentation is complete.
Before drinking my kombucha, I usually pour through a small strainer to remove any small pieces of new SCOBY that have grown.
Is the mother/SCOBY still good?
The mother may get brown spots in color or have string like goo hanging off it, but should never mold or appear black. If it does, dispose of the mother and the tea. Using clean containers, washing hands when touching the mother or tea and keeping the brewing kombucha consistently warm helps prevent mold, which is why I like using the heating pad.
Starting subsequent batches
Use your original mother, or a baby SCOBY to start another batch of tea. Repeat the brewing process above, adding 2 to 2.5 cups of starter tea from a previous batch to the mother and new tea.
The more starter tea you add and the larger your mother grows, the sooner your tea will be ready. My first batches took a week to ten days to mature, while my tea now is finished in about 3 days using the 2 cups of starter tea and a mature SCOBY.
You can separate your mother from babies by gently pulling the layers apart (using clean hands). Also, you can cut the mother into pieces with a clean knife and one of the pieces will be enough to start it’s own batch.
Note: Kombucha is a fermented drink that contains a small amount of alcohol, research shows home brews are usually between .5% and 1.5%. Higher levels of alcohol are reached in third fermentations, often involving introduction of grains and not described in the instructions above.