Part One – Supplies and Preparation
Ahh Kombucha, my newest obsession. I have to admit, the thought of brewing this myself at home was initially a pretty big turn off. The idea of handling and using a jelly-like bacterial growth to brew and ferment tea seemed….odd and gross, to say the least. But after buying and becoming addicted to this delicious elixir at the local health food store for $5 a bottle, I was easily convinced to give it a try. You know the saying ‘Don’t knock it till you try it?’ Well that definitely applies here.
The health benefits and history of this ancient beverage seem to be relatively unknown and up for debate. Many people claim that it aids in everything from digestion to eczema. I have also read claims that it is filled with all sorts of probiotics, trace vitamins and minerals and that it boost energy levels and immune systems. In fact, this is understood to be true of most fermented foods. Unfortunately, like so many natural products, Kombucha is still pretty much shrouded in mystery. Few legitimate scientific or medical studies exist on what exactly Kombucha brings to the table in terms of nutrition and health benefits. What I know from my own experience is this: Kombucha is a much healthier alternative to pop. It’s fizzy, fun to drink, it’s tasty, it gives me a little energy boost and I most definitely feel the digestive benefits. It’s easy to make and once you have all of the supplies, it’s very inexpensive. For these reasons, I will continue to drink it and share wonderful benefits of Kombucha with whoever is interested!
Once I decided that I wanted to try my hand at making it, the first order of business was sourcing a SCOBY. That’s the floppy placenta-like pancake thing I mentioned above. A SCOBY (which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) is necessary for brewing Kombucha. It’s job is to sit in your jar of tea, either floating on top, sinking to the bottom or hanging out somewhere in the middle. It’s what causes the fermentation to happen and it eats the sugar in the tea which gives kombucha it’s slightly tangy taste. I had seen a few places online where you could buy these and have them shipped to you…but I checked our local Kijiji pages and sure enough, a lovely lady sold me several, along with a good amount of starter tea for $5.
At first I was nervous. Not only do I have zero experience with fermentation, I am also notorious for killing even the heartiest of house plants. How in the hell was I going to keep this SCOBY alive, never mind brew a delicious tea with it?! Well, I’m proud to say that I didn’t screw it up. In fact, within 7 days I had a beautiful, delicious bubbly tea to bottle as well as two new baby SCOBYs that had grown on the top of my jars. So rest assured friends. If I can do this, you most certainly can too!
If you are looking to try brewing your own Kombucha at home, here is a basic list of supplies you’ll need to acquire for brewing 1 gallon:
– A large, wide mouth glass jar. The two I use a 2 gallon storage jar made by Anchor Hocking. I purchased mine at Walmart for $19.99 though I have also seen similar ones for sale at Target and Canadian Tire for the same price.
– 16 cups (one gallon) of distilled or purified water.
– 7-8 Pure green or black tea bags. Flavoured tea will not work for Kombucha and from what I have read, may also kill your SCOBY. I’ve had excellent luck with Oolong tea and just regular, pure green tea.
– 1 cup of sugar. I use the organic stuff purchased from Costco but plain, run of the mill white sugar works too. (This is what your SCOBY eats so don’t worry – you aren’t consuming all of this!)
– A square of breathable cotton fabric to use as the cover for your jar. I use a cut up old pillow case. Whatever you use, be sure the holes in the fabric aren’t big enough for fruit flies to get into. cheesecloth is not a good option for this.
– A rubber band. This is for keeping your fabric lid securely on the jar.
– Pure white vinegar. This is for rinsing your jar and your hands. Because you are dealing with good bacteria, you want to ensure that your SCOBY stays clean and free of contact with any of the other bacteria that could be lurking on your hands etc.!
– A SCOBY and 2-3 cups of starter tea. There are a couple of ways one can acquire a SCOBY and starter tea. If you happen to have a friend who brews, that would be the easiest option. If not, check your local buy and sell websites as there are likely people in your community who have been brewing for a while who don’t mind sharing. Otherwise, there are websites like Kombucha Kamp or Royal Kombucha that will happily sell you both. This option is pretty pricey though.
Once you have all of the items above, you are ready to brew! These steps below are exactly how I brew mine. I am by no means an expert at this point, but this method below is working well for me thus far!
Steps for brewing Kombucha:
Step 1: Pour your 16 cups of distilled or purified water into a large pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add your 1 cup of sugar and stir to dissolve. Add all 7-8 tea bags and allow tea to steep. I leave mine for at least an hour. Remove the tea bags and allow sweet tea mixture to sit in the pot with the lid on for several hours until it has reached room temperature.
Step 2: Prepare your jar by rinsing well with boiling water and then again with white vinegar. Be sure you have clean hands and rinse them well with vinegar too. Place your SCOBY and the 2-3 cups of starter tea into the jar. Add the entire room temperature sweet tea mixture in as well.
Step 3: Cover with your square fabric piece and secure with elastic band. Place jar in an area of your home that is out of direct sunlight and where it can remain relatively warm and un-disturbed.
Step 4: Begin visually checking on your brew daily. A few days in you should begin to see a white-ish film to appear, covering the top of the Kombucha. The amount of time this takes to appear seems to depend on the temperature. The cooler your home, the longer it will take. Generally speaking, mine have been taking about 3-4 days to appear. This film is the formation of a new SCOBY and it will thicken over time. By day 7, use a clean straw, gently push your SCOBY out of the way a little and give it a taste. If you like the taste at this point, you may wish to move on to the stage of bottling and the 2nd fermentation. If the flavour is still too sweet, cover the jar back up and allow it to continue on brewing, checking the taste every couple of days.
Because the SCOBY eats the sugar in the tea, the longer you leave to brew, the less sweet it will be. There is no one right way for your Kombucha to taste. It’s all a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer it a bit sweeter so they choose to bottle at the 7 day point. I’ve also heard of others preferring it at the 2 week or even 1 month point. I like it at about 10 days. It’s important to remember that leaving it too long can result in a vinegary tasting drink…so don’t forget about it!
So you’ve watched, waited, tasted and now you are ready to bottle your brew?
Click here for Part 2 of How to Make Kombucha where I will talk about the 2nd Fermentation process, bottling tips and flavouring!