Kombucha…the popular fizzy probiotic drink that is supposed to be good for you…it seems like a fad but I think it might be here to stay. Thankfully, because I love this stuff! And now that I know how to make it, I can just keep this going for however long I want. This unpasteurized fermented tea doesn’t taste anything like tea. Depending on the added flavor it can taste anything like delicious flavored soda to fizzy sour apple juice to really sour vinegar. These days I see numerous bottles of this in the stores; different brands, different flavors, at about $3-$4 a bottle.
There is some debate about how good kombucha is for you. I know people are working on it and reports have emerged with scientific evidence. But I won’t get into that discussion. All I know is that it’s full of probiotics, I like having my fizzy drink, and I’ve had many people tell me it’s done wonders for their GI system.
[Warning: some of the pictures can be unappetizing, so please be prepared. Kombucha SCOBYs are treasures but rather unsightly if you’re not used to them. Also, if you have any medical issues, please ask a doctor before taking anything unpasteurized.]
I actually didn’t get into this until my cousin gifted me a small SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) which she grew after she drank 75% of a bottle of the Kombucha and then saved the rest as ‘starter solution.’ About a week later, she presented me with this SCOBY floating in the ‘starter solution.’
My first look at the SCOBY and I was slightly intimidated. It actually looked a bit gross. Like phlegm.
Warning: If you are slightly queasy, PLEASE DON’T LOOK and skip this photo.
But it was actually a healthy SCOBY and about to make me some very treasured and expensive kombucha. So I got used to the look of it and focused on figuring out how to make kombucha taste good. I was told to burp (open up the lid and it breathe for awhile) the kombucha daily so it can have some oxygen. Some people prefer to use a filter or cheesecloth over their bottles to let air in continuously. I chose to burp them because it was just easier for me than to worry about kids (or me) accidentally knocking some over. The first thing I did was taste the kombucha. It was slightly sweet. So I was told to let it ferment some more. I let it go until day 14. Tried it. Now it was slightly sour and bubbly. So I decided to drink most of the bottle and then save 25% of it, leave the SCOBY in it, and add in more sweet tea.
This became a process for me. Every 7-10 days (when it’s colder, allow it to ferment longer or go with your own taste preference), make some boiled tea (about a whole pot full) with organic green tea, add a ton of sugar (roughly a cup) and make sure it is COMPLETELY cooled until it is funneled (use a clean plastic funnel…don’t use metal) into an almost empty bottle of kombucha ‘starter solution’ and SCOBY. That was in the summer. The SCOBYs grew bigger and thicker and thicker until I had to separate the SCOBYs layer by layer or cut them up and put them into separate bottles with some starter solution. By fall, I ended up with so many daughter SCOBYs, even after I gave some away, I had about 10 bottles of SCOBYs and it was taking up so much counter space my kids and hubby were looking at them funny whenever they walked by. (Actually one of my kids started naming the SCOBYs because the SCOBYs started looking like they had fingers and mouths…it was yeast billowing in the kombucha!)
So finally by winter, I bought a huge glass jar with a plastic spigot and combined about 6 of those SCOBYs in the container and added a ton of sweet tea. Success! After we drank it down to about 25-35% of the container, it was time to get sweet tea ready and just pour right on top. Continuous brew it’s called. This was much more convenient for me to access (instead of pouring and hoping SCOBY doesn’t plop out into the cup, the spigot nicely controls the amount desired), and when it came time to add tea, no funnel is needed. I just pour straight into the huge container.
So the kombucha that is fermented can be enjoyed by itself. (Unflavored, if you can tolerate it). Some days mine tastes like sour apple cider and some days a little more like vinegar. Usually the longer it goes the stronger/vinegar like it gets. This is called the first ferment. (You could just add juice/tea and drink the first ferment or just drink it as is). Because you can flavor it and make the second ferments!
With the second ferment, instead of drinking the unflavored kombucha, start adding in your favorite flavors. And let it sit for a few days. Some like herbs, fruit, spices…get creative! My favorite was blueberry or strawberry mint. The sugar in the berries make the kombucha get extra fizzy. Sometimes I have to stand back and put a bag over the bottle before opening to avoid an extra messy kitchen! Another favorite was apple with cinnamon. Just watch for mold because I let one second ferment go too long and maybe there was a contaminant but the fruit and mint I put inside the bottle got moldy.
There is a super supportive and informative community of fellow kombucha brewers on facebook that one can join. They actually have to confirm your membership into their group before you see the posts, but it is easy to join and such a treasure! There’s ideas on second ferments and people routinely send in pictures and ask is it mold? The facebook page is ‘Kombucha Nation: Cultures, Health, and Healing!’
I keep some spares because the biggest fear is mold. Usually you can tell it’s mold because 1) its at the very top layer of the SCOBY 2) it’s fuzzy sometimes very green like on a piece of moldy bread 3) if in doubt let it go for a day or two and if it’s mold it’ll be obvious by then. (One of my SCOBY’s had white bumpy dots on the surface one day and I thought oh no! It’s mold! But luckily I held onto it for a couple of days because not only was it NOT mold, it was a baby SCOBY trying to conglomerate and it finally formed one by day 5). Kombucha is unpasteurized (obviously don’t kill the good bacteria cultures) but if the balance between yeast and bacteria is off, mold creeps in and destroys the entire batch. I would have to dump the entire container, even if mold is only at the surface. My cousin told me to keep the kombucha in a warm place like near the refrigerator or oven and that’s what I do. Likely temperature has a ton to do with it. Luckily I haven’t had that happen to me yet, but if it does, I’ll have a spare ready to go.
Another reason I’m holding unto a few spares because I’ve heard that these kombucha SCOBYs can be converted to coffee SCOBYs…I’m a huge fan of coffee…so I might just give that a try.:)
Oh one last thing…I also have some milk kefir grains that I grow too. Also good probiotics for the gut. I haven’t kept up with that as much since the kombucha took over, but that’ll be in a future post. Stay tuned…
Thanks for reading this super long post! I just wanted to make sure I included most everything. If there’s anything I forgot, please leave a comment below! Thanks!