Kombucha was the first living food I attempted to make in my kitchen-lab, and it is still my favorite of all my living foods. This might be because at one point in my life I vowed to give up all soft drinks in an effort to reduce my caloric intake with what I considered to be a minimal sacrifice. Now that I have found a tasty soft beverage that has a huge list of health benefits, I have an excuse to drink something other than plain water again- woo hoo!
WHAT IS IT?
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage, full of healthy probiotics and often infused with fruit flavoring. It tastes like cold tea with a balance of sweet and tart flavors and a slight vinegar-like kick (the flavor profile can vary greatly- and is very controllable for those who brew their own). You can buy kombucha in most of the larger grocery stores, usually in the refrigerated beverage section or in the produce area. If you've never tried it before, of course you should buy a bottle or two to make sure you like it before making the decision to brew your own. However, don't forget to read the label. The ingredients and flavor can vary significantly from one manufacturer to the next. I actually didn't like the first brand I tried because it had a very distinct vinegar taste. I checked the label and sure enough, apple cider vinegar was one of the ingredients, along with a bunch of other stuff.
When I make my kombucha, I know exactly what's going into it: organic tea, spring water, and organic sugar. What comes out once the fermentation process is complete, is even better than what went in. Much of the sugar is transformed into various, healthful organic acids. The actual amount of sugar in the finished beverage will vary depending on the length of fermentation. With the recipe I provide, the unfermented tea starts out with 12 grams of sugar per cup. I tap my kombucha when it has developed a nice sour tang but still has a little bit of sweetness so my very unscientific assessment is that my finished "booch" has about 6 grams of sugar per cup.
It's been reported that chemical analysis has found kombucha to contain vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, and C, 14 amino acids, enzymes, phenols, and minerals, to name only a few. (Of course, opinions vary and this information is debated by many. For all you science geeks out there who want the gory details, check out this amazing resource). And most of the time I'll do a second fermentation to infuse it with my favorite flavors like ginger and lemon. To someone who has never done this themselves, it may sound a little daunting but trust me, it is probably the simplest recipe I make in my kitchen.
THE BREWING PROCESS, SIMPLIFIED
As I mentioned above, at it's most basic level kombucha requires 3 ingredients + a SCOBY (which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast- more on that in a bit). The specific ingredients I use are: black or green tea (or a combination of the two), filtered or spring water and cane sugar. You prepare the tea in the usual way, add sugar, then pour the cooled, sweetened tea into your brewing vessel, float in your SCOBY top with a bit of starter kombucha reserved from your previous batch, cover and simply wait for the magic to happen.
TWO BREWING TECHNIQUES
There are two brewing techniques: the batch brew and the continuous brew.
Batch brewing is typically done in a half gallon or gallon size glass container. You can use a large pickling or mason jar for this, but I started out using a 2 quart glass pitcher and that worked perfectly for me. One thing important to note, the amount of your kombucha batch size is always going to be less than the size of your container (2/3 to 1/2 the volume); You need to account for the air space, your SCOBY, and the kombucha you must always reserve as starter liquid for the next batch.
The continuous brew method is better for those who want a higher yield, usually producing batches of about 1+ gallons at a time. In my opinion it's also a faster and easier process so if you know you and/or your family will drink a gallon or more a week, I'd recommend you jump right to the continuous brew method. And if a gallon a week sounds like a lot, it's really not! That's just 16 cups. With my continuous brew setup, I typically brew a batch every 7 to 8 days. Even with just me and my hubby, that's just 1 cup/day each.
Want to jump in and get started? Check out the links below for detailed instructions! Or, read on for more information and photos.
QUICK OVERVIEW: WHAT YOU NEED TO BREW
- SCOBY and starter liquid (available online)
- black or green tea, preferably organic (definitely NOT decaffeinated or herbal tea)
- cane sugar, preferably organic (1/4 cup sugar per quart of water)
- boiled filtered or spring water (either way, make sure it's chlorine free)
The proportions for the basic units are... 2 cups water : 1-2 tea bags : 2 Tablespoons sugar
You can get creative and add just about any fruit or juice to flavor your brew during the 2nd fermentation.
The list above is fairly general and the specifics will depend on the amount and method of brewing. Most people just starting out begin by making batch brews. As your knowledge and taste for kombucha grows, so will your SCOBY. This is fortunate because by the time you are ready to move up to a larger vessel, your SCOBY will be ready too.
A FEW IMAGES
Below is a photo of the first SCOBY I purchased for my home-brewed kombucha.
And this is a photo I took while preparing the kombucha for a second fermentation in my favorite glass carafes. This was a batch brew, and it made about 48 ounces of kombucha in just over a week. I was ready to switch to the continuous brew method after about 1 month.
Here's look at the my "SCOBY hotel", the pitcher I use for my batch brew, and the vessel I use for my continuous brew kombucha. I only use US made, lead-free glass containers for my booch- this is very important because kombucha is acidic and you don't want any lead or chemicals leeching into your brew.
For details on exactly how I make my brew, be sure to click on the links above.