I drink Kombucha, I really like the taste of it, but even I have to admit that the process of making it sounds seriously gross. It’s a fermented fizzy drink made by a slimy living blob called a SCOBY that looks like a fat pancake, feeds on tea and sugar and lives in a jar called a ”SCOBY hotel’. The original Scoby is called the ‘mother’ and over time it produces ‘daughters’ that can be left attached to the mother, peeled off to start other batches of Kombucha or given away to friends. If you can get past the idea of it, Kombucha or ‘Booch’ as it is known by many brewers, makes a cheap drink that tastes very similar to sparkling apple cider without the use of any specialist equipment. It is also very sustainable. All you need is a supply of tea, sugar and a jar and you can keep it going forever. Kombucha has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years and has been touted as a cure-all capable of preventing cancer, lowering cholesterol and rejuvenating samurai warriors weary from battle. The truth is that the history of Kombucha is something of a mystery and scientific research on the possible health benefits of the drink is in its infancy and mainly limited to animal models. Although many claims may be unsubstantiated, preliminary work suggests that Kombucha is at the very least a probiotic that promotes good gut bacteria.
How does the SCOBY work?
SCOBY is an acronym for ‘Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast’. It’s also sometimes called a Kombucha mushroom, but the scientific name for the jelly-like blob is actually a zoogleal mat…which I have to say makes it sound utterly unappetizing. A zoogleal mat is produced when a microbial community secretes substances that stick everything together to form a dense mat that protects them from the environment and disturbance. In the case of Kombucha, all SCOBYS have a slightly different composition, but contains bacteria (primarily Gluconacetobacter but also Acetobacter and in some samples lactic acid bacteria) and various yeasts (predominantly Zygosaccaromyces). The gelatinous film that glues them together is cellulose, which is also the main constituent of plant cell walls and vegetable fibres such as cotton. The yeasts eat the sugar to form alcohol, which is in turn consumed by the bacteria to produce vinegar. The resulting drink is a sweet slightly alcoholic (generally less than 0.5%) drink with a slightly vinegary taste. When it is bottled the CO2 (Carbon dioxide) produced during the breakdown of the sugar is trapped making the drink fizzy. The low pH and ethanol content of the drink provides an inhospitable environment for invasion by harmful microorganisms. The Scoby also acts as a plug living on the top of the liquid feed and pressing against the walls of the container as it develops.
How to get started
The easiest way to start brewing your own Kombucha is to get your hands on a SCOBY, either from a friend or by purchasing one. There are plenty of sellers on Ebay or if you are based in the USA you can also buy them here. You can also grow your own SCOBY from a shop bought Kombucha drink, but this takes time and the cost of buying a bottle of Kombucha is not that different to the price of buying a SCOBY.
– A Large glass wide mouth jar – I use a 5 litre glass cookie jar without the lid, but you can use any size or shaped jar
– Paper towel, coffee filter, T-shirt material or similar to cover the a jar.
– Elastic bands to secure the cover on the jar (I use elasticated headbands on my 5 litre jars)
– A Kombucha SCOBY
– Black tea-bags or loose tea (I use local organic Nerada Tea)
– Sugar (I use organic raw cane sugar)
Method for the first batch
Step 1. Add 1/4 cup of sugar to your jar and 3 cups of hot water. Stir with a non-metal spoon or spatula until the sugar dissolves.
Step 2. Add 2 black tea-bags or 1½ teaspoons loose tea. Steep for approximately ten minutes then remove the tea bags/strain to remove leaves
Step 3. Allow the sugar/tea solution to cool to 20°- 30°C.
Step 4. Add 100mls of the starter tea that came with your SCOBY. Stir to combine.
Step 5. Transfer SCOBY into your sugar/tea solution
Step 6. Cover the jar with a paper towel, t-shirt material or similar and secure with elastic.
Step 7. Place the jar in a warm, dark cupboard or similar spot with a temperature around 20°- 30°C. Leave for 7-10 days depending on preferred taste, it becomes more vinegary with more time. The daughter SCOBY will now fit the jar.
Step 8. Remove the SCOBY carefully with clean hands and either move directly to a new jar with liquid already prepared using the above method with ½ cup of the tea from this last batch. Alternatively, place in a container with the 1/2 cup of tea until the new tea has cooled in the original jar. Having two jars available speeds up the whole process quite considerably as the tea takes a long while to cool (or maybe I am just very impatient!)
Step 9. The Kombucha can be drunk at this stage either neat or mixed with juice or cordial, or you can bottle it with your preferred flavours and allow 2-3 days for a secondary ferment to give the Kombucha extra fizz (see methods below for secondary ferment). Like all fermented and raw foods, it’s best drunk in moderation rather than guzzling down a gallon of it at one sitting.
Please note whilst your Kombucha may have darker patches and stringy bits if it grows any mould on it no matter what colour, throw away the tea and the SCOBY and start again.
We quickly scaled up our Kombucha production to a 4 litre brew. This follows the same methods above but uses:
– 16 cups water
– 8 teabags
– 2 cups sugar
– 2 cups tea from the former batch
I tend to mast the tea and dissolve the sugar in only 8 cups of water then add 8 cold cups to speed the cooling process.
I always allow my Kombucha to ferment for an extra 2-3 days in a flip top bottle because I like my drinks fizzy. This process also allows the addition of flavours that improve the original brew. One of my favourite secondary ferments, is achieved by adding a vanilla pod to the bottle. The pod can be used multiple times and we grow vanilla here so it’s a very sustainable option for us. I also sometimes add Ginger and Tumeric to the mix. Rather than add the roots to the bottle, I finely chop them, place 1 part root and 2 parts water in a pan and boil, then strain off and use the strongly flavoured liquid. The majority of my second ferments are made with fruit juice as we have an endless supply that changes seasonally. At the moment, we have a pink grapefruit surplus so that is my Kombucha of choice. Some fruits produce a fizzier Kombucha than others so it’s good to experiment.
Step 1. Juice the fruit
Step 2. Add 1 cup of juice to each 750 ml flip-top bottle
Step 4. Top up bottle with Kombucha tea and seal. Open the bottle 2-3 days later for a fabulous pink grapefruit Kombucha with lots of fizz! Please note it can take up to 7 days depending on the fruits used and temperature, but be careful as you don’t want to create too much pressure and explode your bottles!
Store any bottles you don’t intend to drink immediately in fridge to slow further fermentation.