I was hooked on kombucha the first time I tried it. It’s a sip of bubbly, refreshing heaven. It reminded me of a wine cooler without the wine. The problem, though, was it’s cost. $4-6 a bottle meant that I couldn’t have it all the time…unless… I learned to make it myself.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea that has tons of probiotic value. I thought it originated in some hipster’s cube, but really it has it’s roots as the “elixir of life” in ancient China.
Why should I make kombucha?
It’s easy, it’s fun, and making it is nearly free. Buying it, however, will require a small business loan. If you learn to brew kombucha, you can you can walk around with your own bottles and feel like someone who eats caviar every day.
Brewing is an artisan craft, and kombucha is a nice entry-level project. You may find an interest in other healthy ferments and brews, too. Before you know it, you’ll be making your own wine and beer, too. That may just take your teaching craft to a whole new level.
How do I do this?
First, you’ll need a “SCOBY.” It stands for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. This is the kombucha culture. Kombucha is a ferment–it’s alive. It thrives on the sugar in the tea, and converts it to fizzy goodness, otherwise known as a smidgeon of alcohol and lactic acid.
- Boil 4 ounces of water. Add 12 grams (~2T) black tea. Steep for 10 minutes and pour through a tea strainer.
- Add 1 c sugar. Don’t worry, much of this will get eaten up by the brewing process.
- Pour this sweet tea concentrate into a 1 gallon glass jar. (Perfect jar: that one-gallon summer relish or pickle jar, about $4 at the big box store)
- Fill the rest of the jar with water. At 84 degrees, you can add your SCOBY.
- Cover with a cloth napkin or cotton cloth, NOT a cheesecloth because fruit flies can get through. Kombucha needs to breathe, so don’t put a lid on. That was my rookie mistake and I almost killed my first batches. Secure your brew with a cloth napkin and an elastic.
- After a week, you’ll notice that it tastes all bubbly, more kombucha-y than tea. Taste it. I have a special tool called a wine thief to take a sample without contaminating my brew. It’s inexpensive and I use it a lot–if you use a ladle to taste from the top, you’ll get a mouthful of vinegar around the SCOBY and you’ll think you messed up. Yeast, a byproduct of brewing, settles to the bottom. You’ll want your sample to come from the middle.
This is where you get the extra fizz and bubbles. It’s optional but really makes the kombucha taste professional.
- Bottle the kombucha up with a little bit of a fruit, ginger, or a couple drops of honey. I often use chopped ginger and raspberries. It’s my favorite.
- Leave it on the counter for a day or two.
- Refrigerate when it’s as bubbly as you want, but no more than a couple of days. Since they’re still fermenting, they get less sweet–drier–as time passes and the sugar gets eaten up in the reaction.
- Leave the bottles in the fridge until ready to use. Mine stay good for quite a long time, but they continue to get a bit more tart as time passes.
Where can I get a SCOBY?
I got my first two from Amazon and Brooklyn Kombucha. A favorite emerged and I used that for subsequent batches.
Since each batch produces a “baby SCOBY” you’ll be collecting quite a few of them over time. Keep them in your “SCOBY hotel.”
A SCOBY hotel is a big jar, covered, with all your SCOBYs in it. You should have two in case one jar spoils. To take care of the SCOBY hotel, simply put in some sweet tea once in a while and keep it covered with a cloth, just like you would the regular kombucha batch.
The SCOBY hotel doesn’t need weekly maintenance. I check mine every month or so and thin it down and change the tea. Even that is more frequent than required.
Tip: Keep a few scrap SCOBYs for experimentation, as you can try different teas, but the SCOBY will change over time.
You can be a home brewer
Making your own kombucha will make you a superstar, save you money, not to mention it tastes like a high-class vacation in a bottle.
One word of caution to all you teachers out there. Technically, this can have a smidgen of alcohol in it. Since it is a natural ferment, you will not be able to measure this exactly. It should be on the scale of insignificant, but people do intentionally brew kombucha wine, a weak but over the legal limit beverage.
In 2010, “The Great Kombucha Crisis” caused all kombucha to be pulled from Whole Foods since no one could quite measure the alcohol content exactly, since brewing and fermenting is always a unique artisan craft.
You will not get drunk on your kombucha, but until you’re an experienced brewer, know that you may not want to share this with your class of first graders. It’s better to keep it all for yourself.
- Keep your equipment sanitized.
- Never cut oxygen from your kombucha.
- Do not store your SCOBY hotel in the fridge–cold temps will stress and kill your SCOBY.
- Find a corner of your house that’s warm and cozy for your kombucha.
- Be patient–my kombucha works best in summer and wood stove season. In that mid, colder season, it takes longer to ferment.
- Remember, this is a living thing–no two batches will be exactly the same, but you can get a predictable outcome as you get more skilled.