I savored my first sip of this tea-based fermented beverage in 2007. It is surprisingly similar to fermented apple cider and I was instantly hooked! Unfortunately, at $3.50 a bottle, it quickly became a rare indulgence. About a year later I made an attempt to brew my own. With not having anything to compare the growing culture to, I was convinced something was going terribly wrong! After 3 weeks into what looked like a biohazard nightmare, I scrapped the idea and stuck to buying bottles. This past summer, I decided to give it another try. Turns out I was doing everything correct and the scoby (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is supposed to look like a nasty mess while forming. If only YouTube had all those time-lapsed tutorials back then, maybe it would have restored my confidence in what I was doing!
Kombucha, which has an undocumented history dating back hundreds of years, requires nothing more than a few easy-to-find ingredients and a bit of patience. I brew mine in gallon batches. Once it has reached maturity, it is transferred into a separate vessel and the process begins again.
If you do not already have a mother culture, it will take approximately 4 weeks for one to develop depending on its growing environment. Each time you ferment a new batch of kombucha, a second scoby will grow, which is referred to as the baby. Eventually you will end up with several cultures resembling a stack of pancakes. You can compost them or give them away; I do both.
1 gallon filtered spring or distilled water, do not use tap water.
1 scoby or a bottle of commercially brewed kombucha tea if you are starting from scratch.
1 cup sugar – This acts as the food source for your growing colony of bacteria.
6 organic tea bags, either black, white, or green (or a combination). Never use flavored teas or teas with oil, such as earl grey, since they can harm the beneficial bacteria you are trying to grow!
1 gallon glass jar - Never use plastic, the fermenting process can leach harmful chemicals into your tea!
a piece of tightly woven cloth, such as muslin. Do not use cheese cloth or other open-weave fabrics, since dust, fruit flies, and other insects can make their way into your jar.
Pour a bit of the filtered water into a stainless steel sauce pot, add the sugar and turn the heat to med-high. Once the sugar is completely dissolved and the water is about to boil remove from heat and add your tea bags. Steep tea in the sugar-water for 15 minutes. Carefully pour your tea into the glass jar and add the remaining bottled water. Be sure to not overfill the jar since you will need a bit of space for your culture to sit. Once the jar has cooled to room-temperature, add the scoby, or pour in the bottle of kombucha. Place the cloth over the opening of the jar and secure it with a rubber band.
Growing a scoby: Over the course of about 4-5 weeks a mother will form. I warn you, it will look really really gross, which is completely normal. Do not disturb the jar, just leave it alone to do its thing. Once you have a fully formed scoby scoop out a cup of kombucha and with clean hands pull out the mother. Dump the kombucha that grew the mother, it will be too sour to drink, and begin brewing a fresh batch of tea.
If you already have a scoby: Allow your tea to ferment for 10-14 days, remove the mother and reserve a cup of the kombucha tea for starting the next batch. It is at this time you can do a secondary fermentation to increase the carbonation or begin drinking your tea. If you are just going to drink it, strain and transfer the kombucha to another food-safe container and refrigerate. You don’t have to strain it, but another culture will begin to form if you don’t.
Secondary Fermentation: To increase the CO2 in your kombucha, a secondary fermentation will need to take place. You will want to use a closed vessel, such as a growler, since carbon dioxide build up can cause bottles to explode! Allow the kombucha to sit out for an additional week. I have found that by the second opening of the growler the kombucha is flat once again… my solution to that problem!
Images and content copyright © 2009-2011 Danielle R Limoge.