“Like the earth itself, the various arts of fermentation rely on biology to transform organic matter from one state to a more interesting and nutritious other state.” ~ Michael Pollan, Cooked
Last year, one of my 2016 New Year’s resolutions was to learn how to make Kombucha tea at home. My daughter and I are both addicted to the Synergy brand, and we were spending a fortune (three bucks a bottle!) to support our habit. I thought it might financially save us a bundle to brew at home, and I also was just curious about the process. Sounded like fun – a great project in the spirit of yardsteading!
Never having brewed anything before, I had some fears about playing mad scientist and growing bacteria for consumption, and I didn’t know how to get started. If you’re like me and you’ve had an interest in fermenting but keep chickening out, this post is for you!
First, let’s talk about the history and alleged health benefits of drinking Kombucha. There is a lot of discrepancy about the origins of this beverage. Some say it was invented in the Qin Dynasty (220BC) of ancient China, others say Russia, where it’s recorded being consumed in the late 19th century. It was apparently very popular in both Europe and Russia prior to the sugar and tea rations of WWII. Today you can find it at every Whole Foods and HEB in Texas in a variety of flavors. I enjoyed reading the collection of Kombucha origin stories on a website called Kombucha Kamp.
I personally like to imagine the first person who discovered Kombucha. Maybe they made themselves some strong sweet tea one afternoon, set it down in a random corner, forgot about it for a few weeks only to one day discover it again, covered in a strange, blobby mass of grossness. Intrigued – and after looking around to make sure no one was watching – they took that daring first sip… Only to discover something fizzy and more delicious than ever before! If you’ve seen the jellyfish-looking bacteria responsible for Kombucha, you know this took some guts. But I digress.
Kombucha contains probiotics, B vitamins, and is high in glucaric acid, which some studies show useful in reducing the risk of cancer. There are claims that it can aid digestion and gut health, including helping control candida in the gut. It is high in antioxidants (immune system boosters), and helps support our body’s natural detoxification systems. I am of course not a health professional of any sort, so do your own research if you are curious or concerned about brewing at home. For us, it has become a regular staple in our refrigerator that I do feel is beneficial to our health.
It is an acquired taste for sure, and both my daughter and I love it. I think it tastes a bit like beer; she likes the vinegary tones and fizziness.
Last November I finally got to check kombucha off my resolution list. My husband gave me a starting kit from GetKombucha.com for my birthday. It’s a great way to have almost everything you need at your fingertips the first time you brew. If you’re like me, and getting started with fermenting feels scary, the kit is great for boosting confidence.
When you get the box in the mail, you’ll find a really icky blob in a bag of liquid called SCOBY, which stands for a “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”. It is known as the kombucha Mother, and will be covered in a light brown liquid. This is your starter tea. You’ll also get a bag of non-GMO organic cane sugar, an organic loose black and green tea blend, some little reusable steeping bags, a cloth for covering your jar, pH strips for testing the tea, and rubber bands.
The SCOBY can live happily in the sealed bag until the expiration date on your box. If I remember correctly, the date on my box was about three weeks after it arrived at my door. I stored my box in a kitchen cabinet until i was ready to brew.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED:
1 gallon glass jar (this is what I have)
A stainless steel pot that can hold 10 cups of filtered water
1 cup measuring cup
The materials in the Get Kombucha box: SCOBY, Tea, Sugar, a breathable piece of fabric, rubber bands, pH test strips
Kombucha glass bottles for your finished brew (I use these large ones from Amazon and use recycled smaller ones for individual servings)
Funnel or teapot for pouring into bottles
DIRECTIONS FOR BREWING
First heat up 10 cups of filtered water in your pot. When it is boiling, put about 1-2 Tbsp of tea in the bag to steep for around 15 minutes.
Stir 1 cup of sugar into the warm tea – and don’t worry, you won’t be consuming this massive amount of sugar when the brewing process is done. The culture actually feeds on it, so the sugar is 100% necessary and most of it is being consumed by the fermentation process. When all is said and done, you’ll have about 2-6 g of sugar per 8 ounce glass. For more information about why some form sugar is so important for Kombucha brewing, check out some great info on this site. I’ve recently learned you can also make Kombucha with honey instead of sugar, but I haven’t tried it yet.
Let the tea cool to room temperature. This is important, because apparently if the temperature is above 80 degrees, it will kill some of the yeast needed for the fermenting process.
Once cooled, pour your sticky sweet tea into the clean gallon glass jar. If you are curious enough to taste it at this point, beware. I got an instant headache when I took a sip the first time because of sugar overload!
Now that you have some very sweet “Texas-style” tea brewed, get the bag with the SCOBY and starter tea. Very carefully lift the SCOBY (aka the Mother) out of the liquid with clean hands or with gloves on. It will feel a lot like a raw chicken breast! [shudder] Place it in the cooled tea and then add the starter tea as well.
Place a rubber band around the jar mouth, place the fabric over the mouth as a breathable lid, and secure the second rubber band on top. This keeps dust and fruit flies away and allows room for the brew to breathe. If you’ve ever had Kombucha, you know it has a carbonated taste. The breathable cloth helps the bubbles (carbon dioxide) escape.
SENSORY FUN FOR KIDS (AND ADULTS):
SIGHT Let the tea ferment for around four days, and each day notice the color of the tea. Does it change or stay the same?
TASTE After day four, Get Kombucha’s kit says you can start pH testing and tasting to determine if you’re happy or want to brew longer. Notice the level of sweetness vs tartness each day after.
SMELL Take a sniff every day as it brews – Can you detect more sweetness? Or more vinegar? Pretty soon your nose will become a great indicator of whether or not your batch is ready for consumption. (It will also provide a great warning system if for some reason something went wrong!) Make predictions and check with your pH strips for accuracy.
TOUCH If you’re really feeling brave, take a minute to poke the SCOBY with one finger just for giggles. (Bonus points if you’re able to close your eyes when you do it.)
On day four-ish, you’ll notice the mother SCOBY has grown to make almost a lid on top of the liquid tea. This helps the fermenting magic occur! Scoop a small amount of the liquid into a clean measuring cup and insert a pH strip to see where it falls. The Get Kombucha kit says you want between 3 and 4 to ensure the environment is appropriate for bacteria to stay balanced. I ordered some extra pH strips, as there were only 4 in the starter kit.
When the brew is done to your liking and the pH strips are reading where they should, you can start pouring the liquid into bottles to store in your refrigerator. My understanding is it lasts quite a while in the fridge – one site said indefinitely, but we drink ours quickly so I don’t know firsthand. Before you finish pouring, be sure and save approximately 20% of your finished tea to keep your SCOBY mama covered in liquid. You can put it in a small glass container and cover it with your dish cloth while you wash and sterilize your gallon jar. This is your starter tea for your next batch.
We keep a continuous batch going at our house, so as soon as I’m done pouring the brew into bottles, I start boiling 10 cups of water and start all over again!
FUN TIP I heard recently: Try flavoring your kombucha by putting a piece of frozen fruit in each bottle before refrigerating.
Last, I’ll leave you with something super creepy: Your mother SCOBY will eventually have a BABY….and the baby can grow to start its own brew…
This isn’t from the yard, but it’s still in the same spirit, so happy yardsteading!
If you’d like support creating your own rituals, yardsteading and nature connection practices, check out The Handmade Life! There I offer nature-based coaching sessions, share herbal traditions, handcrafted goods, DIY workshops and herbal consultations.