My Dear “Kindred Spirit,”
Now that I’ve been making my own kombucha for… uh… well, it’s been over 2 months now… I figure that I must be enough of an expert to write a post on it!!
Yeah… Don’t tell anyone, but I’m really not an expert on kombucha.
However, I have made several batches, made several mistakes, and I’ve got a system going that seems to be working really well for me right now.
And I’ve had enough friends ask me how to make it that I figured it would be a good idea to have a post with all the instructions so I can refer people to that when they ask about it.
So, first, a few of the most obvious questions:
What is kombucha?
Why on earth would you drink it??
And why would you want to make it yourself?
Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea. Simple as that.
You want to drink it because it’s yummy, and it will make your gut bugs very happy!!
Ok… I’ve had people argue with me about the “it’s yummy!” part. If you’re not into hippie-type drinks, there’s a definite chance you might absolutely hate this stuff. So I do recommend you go buy a bottle and try it to make sure you can stomach the stuff before investing the time and effort to make your own.
It is very good for gut health, though. That one can’t be argued about.
Because kombucha is a fermented food, it’s very high in probiotics, which are the “good” gut bugs that you absolutely need in order to be healthy. In our modern world, with all our relatively new methods of preserving food – canning, freezing, refrigeration, etc – we’ve lost the art of making fermented foods, and as a result our health suffers. Back in the old days, fermenting was one of the main methods of preserving food, so people ate lots of fermented food. As a result, they suffered from very few of the chronic health issues we’re overrun with these days. Probiotics are where it’s at, and kombucha is a great way to get more of them into your diet!
Ok, side note here, I’m starting to get really annoyed at the way spellcheck keeps trying to tell me that kombucha and probiotics aren’t actually words… grrrrr….
So, anyway, that’s why you want to drink kombucha.
And you want to make it yourself just because you can! It’s pretty easy to make, and way cheaper than buying it. Grocery stores get between $3.50 and $4 right now for a bottle of this stuff. Seriously. Nearly $4 for a pint of this liquid that is nothing more than sweet tea, some fruit, juice, or other flavoring, and a bit of ferment time.
You will need a kombucha SCOBY to get started. SCOBY, by the way, stands for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.” (When people ask me what the weird, slimy, mushroom-y looking thing floating in my jar of brown liquid is, I love rattling that off and then just watching the look they give me. Dang it’s fun being a hippie!)
Anyway. I was fortunate enough to be given a SCOBY, and that’s what got me started. So if you’re in the market for a SCOBY, ask around a bit. Check local co-ops or other natural food type places, and definitely don’t forget to check with any hippie-type friends or acquaintances you may have. Chances are if you find someone who already makes kombucha, they will be delighted to give you a SCOBY and help you get started brewing “booch.” And if all else fails, there are places online that sell SCOBYs mail order.
Ok, so I’m gonna assume you’ve acquired your SCOBY, and are all ready to get started brewing!
You will need:
- Your SCOBY (of course) and a bit of kombucha (1/4 – 1 cup) to get you started – I was given a little in the jar with my SCOBY, hopefully you will have some too. If not, try using store bought, or you can use vinegar for the first batch. For future batches, just save a little out when you bottle it up and use that to kick start your next batch.
- Plain old black tea (I’m in the process of using up some old tea bags… when I got started brewing booch, I found a “value size” box of cheap tea in our pantry that’s more than a few years old. Our family doesn’t seem to use up much tea… It’s getting used up now, though!)
- Plain old white sugar
- A large jar (a gallon pickle jar is awesome, half gallon mason jar works great too, if all else fails you can use a quart jar, but I guarantee you’re gonna want bigger batches than that eventually)
- a cloth of some sort (washcloth or cloth napkin) and rubber band
Make your sweet tea. I use 2 tea bags and 1/2 cup of sugar per half gallon container. I brew it right in my jar. Now, LET IT COOL to room temperature (tip for if you’re short on time – fill your jar only 1/2 full with the boiling water when you make the tea, let that steep for 20 minutes, then fill the rest of the way with cold water. Gets your tea down to room temperature much quicker).
Because the SCOBY is a living thing (don’t get grossed out, but, yes. All that wonderful bacteria and yeast does make it count as a living thing), you have to take a few precautions to not kill it.
One of the things that will kill it is boiling water… I like to think of it this way – if the temperature I’m subjecting it to would burn me, then it will probably kill my SCOBY.
Another thing to avoid is really cold temperature. Cold doesn’t tend to kill your SCOBY like extreme heat would, but it greatly slows fermentation. If you want a break between batches, or are going to be away for a while and can’t tend to your booch, you can store the SCOBY in the fridge. But when you’re fermenting, leave it at room temperature. You don’t work very quickly or effectively when your hands are cold and numb, and neither will your SCOBY.
Ok, so during the time it took me to ramble on about that, your tea has probably already cooled to room temperature, so now add the kombucha and the SCOBY. Cover the jar with the cloth and rubber band it to keep flies out. Let it sit (at room temperature) for 7-10 days (you can leave it longer – I’ve heard of people leaving it a month or so).
You can drink it at this point. It will taste pretty “vinegary,” though, so I recommend doing a second ferment. For the second ferment you’ll need:
- The “first fermented” booch (duh!)
- Fruit juice, fruit, herbs, essential oils (if you’re knowledgeable enough to know which ones are safe to take internally) and/or any other flavoring things you can think of you’d like to use (this is optional, you don’t have to flavor the booch. But why wouldn’t you? Just adding a splash of grape juice is quick and easy. Any kind of fruit is great – I’ve been doing blackberry lately. I’ve got some lemon and blackberry booch fermenting right now, actually. I’ve done maple in the past (yum!) and I’ve even heard of some crazy flavors like oregano! Just have fun experimenting!)
- Jars with airtight lids (quart mason jars are my go-to for second ferment)
This is as easy as re-bottling it, adding your flavors (fruit can be pureed or just added whole), slapping on airtight lids, and leaving it sitting at room temperature another few days (3 days up to a week or so).
During the second ferment, the booch will (hopefully) lose some of the vinegary “kick” to it, and build up a bit of carbonation. One thing to be aware of, though: during the 1st ferment, the jar doesn’t have an airtight lid, so you don’t have to worry about it, but during the 2nd ferment there should be an airtight lid on there, so there is the chance that if you leave it too long the gasses could build up and it could explode on you… So I like to check it every day or so just to be on the safe side. 😛
And that’s all there is to it! Enjoy your “jellyfish juice” (as my aunt refers to it. Apparently the SCOBY looks like a jellyfish…). I hope this was helpful, if you have any questions feel free to ask and I’ll do the best I can with my limited expertise to answer them.
P.S. Call me crazy, but I love referring to kombucha as “booch,” because it sounds so much like “hooch.” So when I say “I’ve been guzzling booch again” it almost sounds like “I’ve been guzzling hooch again,” and I just get such a kick out of that…
Huh. No wonder my new nickname around here is “the boozer…”