Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kombucha 101

Pardon me if I have posted something like this before but let's be real one can never have too much information on kombucha brewing or encouragement to home brew.  So here we go on a magic brewing adventure of fermentation nation!

There's a slim chance you might ask, "what is kombucha?"  It is a fermented beverage made from caffeinated tea, sugar and an active culture (often referred to as the "starter" or mother or scoby).  This culture is fed by the sugar and becomes a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.  It eats up the sugar so you can bottle the tea when it is to your taste.  It will get more vinegar-y the longer it brews.  Kombucha lovers and makers champion it as a health elixir with a lot of the same properties as other probiotic and fermented foods.  They say it contains good bacteria for your digestion, that it contains lots of B vitamin and other amino acids.  Scientific evidence is scant but we all know western science rarely supports a lot of alternative healing methods**  So take it as you will.

Here's the quick and dirty version:

  • Brew a large jar of caffeinated tea
  • Add 1 cup of sugar
  • Add starter w/juice
  • Cover with cloth, paper towel or coffee filter
  • Store in a dark place
  • Brew for 1-2 weeks

Here's the more detailed version:
  1. Find yourself a starter and some starter juice.  You can ask any friend who brews kombucha for a layer of their scoby and a little of the fermented tea drink. (rumor has it you can even just buy a bottle of kombucha at the store and use that as a starter)
  2. Find a pretty big glass jar (or even plastic they say).  Clean it well, sterilize it if that's an option.
  3. Fill the jar 3/4 of the way with hot water and 3 or 4 tea bags of your choice (green or black).  Add 1 cup of sugar and mix in.  Let the tea steep for 10 minutes or so and remove the tea bags.  Let the tea cool to room temp!!!!
  4. Add the starter and its juice to your tea mix and cover with a cheese cloth/paper towel/coffee filter.  Make sure it is secure as you don't want anything to get into your brew except air**
  5. Move your jar into a darkish warmish space.  I keep mine in a cabinet.  
  6. Let it sit.  For 1-3 weeks.  This part is highly variable.  It will brew faster if it's really warm.  It will brew faster if the starter is BIG.  In New Orleans where it's hot and humid it brewed in a week.  Here at Green Gulch in the cooler climate it's more like 2 weeks.  
  7. After a week you can try tasting it.  If it's super sweet and not so tangy it probably hasn't brewed enough.  If it's way too tangy almost like vinegar it probably brewed too long.  Also look at the scoby.  If it hasn't grown in size that's a good indicator something ain't right.   Also if mold grows on top of your scoby, mold like the blackish furry kind, then you have to scrap the whole thing.  This has only happened to me twice in the entire time I have been brewing (several years).
  8. When the brew has a taste you like what I do is bottle it into a few smaller bottles.  I like the bottles with the rubber stopper.  So I fill up the bottle using a funnel, I like to make sure some of the little chunks get in there (my theory is that it helps it to keep brewing a little), and then I add a tiny pinch of sugar before closing it up.  I let it sit a few more days because it will get more fizzy being sealed shut with the sugar. 
  9. You can also add flavor.  Before you seal up your smaller bottle you can add things like ginger, blackberries, raspberries, lavender and anything else you can dream up.  Blackberries turn it a lovely pink color too!
  10. Enjoy.

**Scientists also warn against the danger of contamination in home brewing, which is a fair warning but probably nothing to be too worried about, especially given all of the other questionable things we eat (for example, "hmmm, this has been in the fridge for a few days, do you think it's still good?").  I have not had a problem yet.  I do wash my hands and the jars frequently in the process and I have the luxury of a sterilizer here at Green Gulch.

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