Thursday, January 7, 2016

How to Make Kombucha Tea

Photo: drivethedistrict.com
In recent years I replaced drinking diet soda with diet Arizona tea. Admittedly, I should give up diet drinks altogether, but sometimes a person wants something refreshing to drink besides water. So that's where Kombucha, a fermented, carbonated tea comes in. Reportedly, the drink contains healthy bacteria and yeast that have a myriad of health benefits. Keeping your digestive tract loaded with good bacteria, you get B vitamins and other nutrients also.

The 16 ounce bottle I bought at my local health food store costs $3, and I had to buy a glass bottle to fill, priced at $1.50. Sooo ... to keep drinking it, the cost needs to come down. For that reason, I decided to try making a batch of the fermented, sweeten (black or green) tea at home.

Before we begin, know that you will need to get a starter kit, which is a scoby floating in a cup of the fermented tea. A scoby is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that ferments the sweet tea. I ordered a scoby from a reputable seller at Amazon.com for $6.99. Once you have a scoby, here are the steps:

Homemade Kombucka
Photo: Williams-Sonoma


Ingredients:

3 quarts + 3 cups water (15 cups total)
1 cup sugar (I cut the sugar to 3/4 cup, but any less stops fermentation from happening. The scopy needs to be feed!)
8 tea bags (I use 4 black and 4 green)
1 scoby with starter Kombucha

Directions:  (They may read complicated, but are fairly simple to follow.)

1) Boil 3 quarts + 3 cups (15 cups total) of water for 10 minutes. Tap water works after boiling it. All water, except distilled water, should be boiled to ensure that it doesn't have any elements that would prevent fermentation. (Heck, I'd boil distilled water too. Why take a chance of the Kombucha not turning out?)

2) Add one cup of white sugar to the water and stir it with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. (Many sources warn against using a metal or plastic spoon.) Also, there is no need to worry about the calories from the white sugar. The scoby feeds off it, and there won't be much sugar left to metabolize once the sweet tea turns into Kombucha (= 30 calories per cup). The same applies to caffeine -- less then in a cup of coffee.

3) Steep 8 tea bags (I use 4 black and 4 green) for 10 minutes in the water. (Don't use Earl Grey or herbal teas; they have oils that interfere with fermentation. You can use white and oolong tea, but decaffeinated tea will not ferment either.) After you know what you're doing, you can experiment with the amount of tea bags in your brew to suit your taste: You may prefer to cut back to fewer or more tea bags to your liking. You might like to brew all black tea, or a mix of black and green teas, etc. You can also adjust the sugar to your taste, but nothing drastic because the scoby needs the sugar for fermentation. 

4) Let the sweet tea cool to about 98 degrees F (or human body temperature), then pour into a clean glass jar. Next drop the scoby with the starter tea into it. (If the water is too hot, it kills the culture.)  Also several sources stress the importance of using a glass jar, or if you must, a porcelain, or wooden container. You don't want the chemicals from plastic to leak into your Kombucha and ruin your colony.
Photo of a scoby colony: thewholedaily.com.au
5) Cover the glass jar with a coffee filter, or a white cotton towel and secure with a rubber band. (The rubber band stops insects from getting into the batch and laying eggs on the scoby. Yuck!) The scoby needs to breathe in order to ferment. Let it sit at room temperature for 7-10 days. Make sure it is out of direct sunlight. Also, don't mess or jostle the tea while it is fermenting. Wow, what a temperamental little scoby!

6) After the 7-10 days, remove the scoby along with a cup of fermented tea to store in a glass jar. This becomes the starter to make your next batch of Kombucha. As it turns out, another layer of scoby grows with each new batch ... "a mother and baby." So after a few batches, you can give a scoby (culture) starter kit to a friend for free. (If you don't make another batch fo kombucha immediately read how to store your scoby here.)

At this stage, you can drink the Kombucha, but for it to be bubbly and favored there are a few more steps ...

7) To flavor Kombucha, fill a glass jar with 1/5 of fruit juice (or crush some blueberries, raspberries etc.). and pour the Kombucha you just made into the jar. Cover up again with the coffee filter (or white cotton towel) secured with a rubber band, letting the tea breathe. After flavoring and bottling, let the komacha set for at least 2 more days to carbonate. 

Here's how I usually flavor my Komacha: I  cut a wedge of ginger and put it in a bottle with Kombucka, then wait another seven days for the Kombucha to carbonate. The reason I wait a week is I put it in the refrigerator as I make the next batch.

8) Pour your finished Kombucha through a funnel into glass bottles with stoppers (like the example to the right) or swew tops and refrigerate. You want to refrigerate it because if fermentation isn't slowed down, the bottles might explode. Also, when done, you want to drink it!

I don't know if I feel like a chemist; brewer; or earth mother, but it's cool to try new things. And, it's illuminating to discover how cheap and easy a more exotic tea is when brewing it yourself!

Watch this YouTube video if still confused about the process. Extra Kombucha making tips are here. I also love this Tim Anderson video from Instructables (so much fun to watch!)

Extra tips
* For some reason, gallon sized canning jars cost $13 - $18, so buy a gallon of pickles for $5 and use its jar.
* Bottle kombucha in old wine bottles and cork it. Saves money!
* Purists will be upset but I sometimes bottle Kombucha in 16 oz plastic water bottles if I intend to drink them soon. I do use recycled glass Lorina sparkling lemonade bottles for long-term storage. Since we can't avoid plastics altogether in our world, I don't worry about the chemicals in plastic for short-term storage. However, I never, ever expose the scoby culture to plastics. The scoby only sits in glass jars. So that's how I do it.

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