How to Make Kombucha
How to Make Kombucha
Over the years, we've seen interest in Kombucha grow remarkably, so we thought to ourselves, "boy, our customers need to hear about this stuff!" Kombucha (occasionally called “kvass” or “Russian mushroom tea”) is a highly sweetened probiotic tea fermented using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (or “SCOBY”). This kombucha “mushroom” (also called a “Russian tea mushroom”) is a pale, rubbery zoogleal mat of yeast and acetobacters. The yeast break the sugar’s sucrose into fructose and glucose, then converts the glucose into alcohol. The several species of acetobacter, in turn, convert this alcohol into acetic acid (i.e., vinegar) and gluconic acid. The gluconic acid smoothes the finish of the acetic acid, suppressing much of the vinegar’s harshness. The result is a sweet, tangy, fizzy, lightly caffeinated beverage with almost no alcohol (generally less than .5 percent), and measurable amounts of L-theanine, an amino acid found in all brewed teas and shown to reduce mental and physical stress.
A wide array of health benefits have been attributed to kombucha and its gluconic acid -- a principal product of the kombucha fermentation process. Although none of these claims have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or US Department of Agriculture (neither agency regularly evaluates the effectiveness of folk medicines or herbal remedies) both the FDA and Center for Disease Control have investigated all health concerns related to properly brewed kombucha tea, and found it to be perfectly safe.
Homemade kombucha contains live cultures and is very tart -- a little belly rumbling is not unusual at first. It’s a good idea to ease into drinking it regularly. Start with 2 oz. at a time for several days.
If you're planning to make kombucha at home, here's what you'll need:
• A kombucha starter. This consists of a kombucha SCOBY (also called a “kombucha mother” or “kombucha mushroom”) and ½ cup prepared kombucha tea. These can be bought online or gotten for free through a “kombucha exchange”
• ¼ cup of refined white sugar
• 1 quart water
• A glass jar or bowl larger than 1 quart
• A strainer
Below, we've listed out the steps necessary to make a batch of kombucha at home:
STEP 1: Thoroughly wash all utensils, pots, and bowls. It’s important to minimize the yeasts, bacteria, and molds competing with your SCOBY.
STEP 2: Boil the quart of water for several minutes . This has three benefits: (1) It kills any microbes that may be in the water; (2) Boiling will drive the chlorine out of treated water (chlorine can damage your SCOBY, and will almost certainly slow fermentation); (3) It is easier to dissolve sugar in hot water.
STEP 3: Cut the heat. Add sugar, stirring until it is completely dissolved, then add tea leaves. Tea in bags can be used in place of loose leaves.
STEP 4: Let the sugar/tea solution cool until it is room temperature. If the fluid is warmer than body temperature it will kill the SCOBY.
STEP 5: Meanwhile, place your SCOBY and ½ cup of prepared kombucha in the glass jar.
STEP 6: When the sugar/tea solution has cooled, pour it into the jar with the SCOBY, using the strainer to catch the loose tea leaves.
STEP 7: Cover the jar with a clean piece of cloth or paper towel, secure the covering with a rubber band, and place the tea in a warm, dark place.
STEP 8: After 5 days, begin checking the tea. As the kombucha ferments, a new “daughter” SCOBY will form on the surface of the solution; this is perfectly normal. The kombucha is ready to drink when tiny bubbles are forming at the edges of the surface of the tea, and it tastes like a mildly sweet, slightly vinegary cider. Fermentation times of 7 to 9 days are normal, and 14 days is not unusual.
STEP 9: Pour the tea into a clean glass container and refrigerate. Refrigeration halts fermentation, and also helps the kombucha mellow. Be sure to leave at least ½ cup of kombucha behind to keep your SCOBY moist.
STEP 10: (OPTIONAL) For a fizzier drink, pour the kombucha into clean, spring-cap beer bottles. Seal these, and allow them to sit in the warm, dark place for 5 more days, then transfer to the refrigerator.
Here are some additional insights to guide you in making your own kombucha:
• The ideal temperature range for brewing kombucha is 74 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit. While the yeast can thrive below 70 degrees, the acetobacter cannot, and undesirable microbes might take hold. Temperatures warmer than 84 degrees will kill the SCOBY. In general, low-temperature fermentation takes longer and produces a lighter brew, while high temperature fermentation goes faster and produces a darker brew with a more powerful flavor.
• Your SCOBY might float to the top of the solution, stay the middle, sink to the bottom, or slowly move from one level to another; all are normal, resulting in good, healthful kombucha.
• Allow the fresh kombucha to “rest” in the refrigerator for a day or two -- a process wine brewers call “cold stabilization.” This reduces the acidic bite and allows insolubles to settle out. The result is a clearer brew with a more subtle, complex flavor.
• Store your SCOBY covered in kombucha (at least ½ cup). It can be stored either in the warm, dark place where you ferment your kombucha, or in the refrigerator -- just be sure and check it frequently, to make sure it doesn't dry out. Although a SCOBY can be frozen (again, making sure it is completely covered in kombucha), doing so runs the risk of killing the SCOBY.
• Over a few dozen batches, your SCOBY will get old and exhausted. A ragged, dark brown SCOBY is ready to be retired (throw it away, compost it, or feed it to your dog), and replace with one of your backup “daughters.”
Three Signs Kombucha Fermentation is Going Well
Here are a few indicators that your kombucha is fermenting nicely:
• A new SCOBY “daughter” is growing on the top as a smooth film. After 2 or 3 batches, she’s ready to be separated from the “mother” and used to make new kombucha. Keep the daughter as a backup (she can be stored in the refrigerator, covered in ½ cup of kombucha) or give her to a friend.
• Nothing that looks like bread mold is growing on the surface. (NEVER SMELL ANY MOLD! All mold reproduce via microscopic spores; inhaling these can lead to a severe respiratory infection.)
• The brew has a slight, tart vinegar aroma.
Just a few more tips to insure that you have a successful kombucha-brewing experience!
Kombucha Brewing Do's
• Clean everything thoroughly before brewing or bottling.
• Filter or boil your water before brewing.
• Use refined white sugar; it is healthier for your SCOBY, and results in a more palatable tea with higher levels of the several healthful organic acids. Also, since the SCOBY consumes almost all of the sugar, there is no need to worry about the health risks associated with eating refined sugar.
• Check the pH if you’re nervous. Kombucha generally finishes with a pH of 2.5. Anything lower than 4.6 is safe to drink, since the acidity acts as a preservative. Commercially available pH strips can be used to verify that your brew is ready.
• Watch for mold and throw away a batch that gets moldy.
Kombucha Brewing Don'ts
Here are a few definite no-no's when making kombucha:
• NEVER ferment your kombucha in a metal, plastic, or ceramic container. Finished kombucha is very acidic, and can leach toxins out of some metals, plastics, and ceramic glazes.
• Don’t use teas flavored with oils (such as Earl Grey), as these will damage your kombucha SCOBY.
• Don’t add flavorings -- such as ginger or raisins -- to the fermenting kombucha; they can damage the SCOBY or encourage mold. Add these when bottling the finished kombucha; the high acidity will preserve the fruit.