The first time I tried kombucha was in 2007.
I was working at Lululemon Athletica part-time in San Francisco while I was working on the business plan for Balanced Bites – originally a grass-fed/organic meal delivery business. Yes, really. One of the many cool things about working at the store was that we'd get a “treat” each morning or evening if we opened or closed – especially over the holiday season when times were busy. Often we'd get items from Starbucks, but this time it was a run to the local health food shop down the street. I asked some of the other Lulus what they were getting, and most of them replied “kombucha!” Okay, well I wasn't going to be a sore sport who didn't try this crazy sounding drink everyone raved about. So I tried it. They recommended GT's Synergy Mystic Mango. I took one sip and nearly choked on it. It was sour, tart, even alcoholic-tasting. I am a notoriously bad drinker.
About 5 minuter later, I felt buzzed. What the heck?! I thought this was some kind of fruity drink thing, not a cocktail?! I can't say I was hooked from that moment, because I don't think I even finished the whole bottle, but that was when kombucha and I first met.
Fast-forward to 2009 sitting in one of my nutrition classes learning about the benefits of fermented foods and a classmate was going on and on about how she had all these extra SCOBYs if anyone wanted one. Um, what? A what? A SCOBY [sko • bee] is a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. I figured I was game as anyone for an at-home science experiment, so I took one home and did a little googling to figure out what to do with the slimy little thing.
My first batch of home-brewed kombucha was a disaster.
I didn't have much sugar in my house at the time, and I think all I had was about 1/2 a cup of granulated muscavado. It's dark in color, and not super appetizing once combined with the tea I brewed. Well, the fermentation went even longer than it needed to, and, with the lack of sugar in my batch, and I quickly ended up with about a gallon of weird tea-vinegar. Needless to say, I didn't try making it again until pretty recently.
I'm lucky enough to have some awesome home-cook/home-fermenting friends these days, and one of them shipped me a SCOBY from North Carolina. SWEET. I dove right in, but this time, I followed the instructions and used the full amount of sugar called for. This is very important, folks. It ain't like cooking or baking where you can take a lot of liberties in the way the bacteria grows on the food you provide it.
I drink kombucha regularly/daily for several reasons:
- I like it. I like the taste. I like the slightly fizzy texture of it, and I like the ritual of my glass in the morning.
- It has replaced my morning coffee. While I don't need my kombucha to get me going, I certainly enjoy the caffeine-free (if I buy it from a store) or mild caffeine hit from the home-brewed green tea versions I make – as well as the B vitamins that are produced in the fermentation process.
- I like food projects. Specifically ones that freak other people out, like fermented foods. So I really enjoy making my own at home and trying out new flavors (see below for a few ideas).
- I enjoy the effects of the probiotic content of the tea. My digestion feels better while I'm drinking it, and unfortunately I don't currently tolerate even grass-fed yogurt or kefir, so I'm left with other options (including my own homemade raw sauerkraut).
- I feel better drinking it. I have not been sick in – knock on wood – at least a year now I don't think. If I have been sick since then, I don't recall it happening so it couldn't have been that bad. And I travel a lot! We all know what kind of bugs are circulating on airplanes, but it's not just about what bugs are around that determines whether or not someone gets sick, it's how strong (or not!) your immune system is at crushing those bugs! Mine's been pretty darn good at it lately. Coincidence? Perhaps… but I'm still going to drink this stuff anyway.
- It's an easy-to-find/easy-to-enjoy/socially-acceptable-and-embraced fermented food. I travel a lot, did I mention that? I find that getting my hands on some kombucha and slugging it down is a lot easier than getting some raw fermented sauerkraut and then toting the jar around until it's finished, with or without refrigeration. Granted, I travel to lots of places where there are Whole Foods Markets, but kombucha is becoming more readily available in many other shops as well. I also find that my (now mostly Paleo) friends all pretty much are hooked as well and enjoy grabbing a bottle of the refreshing beverage together – score!
- 128 ounces of filtered water
- 8 tea bags of your choice I use organic green tea currently but you can use a black or white tea if you choose. Herbal tea will not work.
- 1 cup of sugar, granulated, I use an organic sugar – a liquid sweetener will not work
- 1 SCOBY, plus any liquid or “starter tea” it was in
TOOLS & EQUIPMENT
- 1-gallon or a 2-gallon glass jar or ceramic crock ahead of time. You will be able to make about 1-gallon from this recipe, but quickly will be able to make more as your SCOBY reproduces.
- A SCOBY. You can either use a SCOBY that is given to you, or purchase one online from variety of sources here, here, here, or here, for example. You can also grow your own SCOBY if you can't find one to buy or get for free from a friend. Check the comments below for a local SCOBY source! Lots of folks have them to give!
- Paper towels or an old t shirt cut into a large enough piece to cover the top of your jar of kombucha while it ferments.
- A large rubber band, to hold the paper towel or t-shirt onto the top of the fermenting jar to keep bugs, dust, and other critters out.
- Jars for storing the tea for the second fermentation (optional) and in your fridge. I use these 32oz mason jars or I re-use bottles from store-bought kombucha.
In a large pot over high heat, boil 64 ounces (half) of the filtered water, then place the tea bags into the water to steep for 20-30 minutes.
Once the tea has completely steeped, mix in your sugar and stir it until it is dissolved completely.
Pour in the remaining 64oz of filtered water and allow the sweetened tea to come to room temperature.
Once the tea has cooled, pour it into the glass jar with your SCOBY and place the unsealed but covered for dust & bug protection jar into a cool, dark place like a cupboard or closet. You can use paper towels or a thin t-shirt with a rubber band to hold the cover in place, but be sure air can still get into the jar. I keep mine in a curio cabinet covered with a towel to keep light out for anywhere from 7-14 (or more) days. The longer the kombucha ferments, the more probiotic material is created and the less sugar remains. If it goes too far, it may become too sour or vinegar-y tasting. If this happens, you can simply add more sugar and wait for it to ferment a bit longer, or you can start over (but that would be so sad, wouldn't it?!). It is “done” when you think it tastes how you want it to taste. It should be pretty tart/sour and not smell sweet necessarily, but it should have just a hint of sweetness left for taste. Or not, your call really.
Your kombucha is done at this point and can be bottled and refrigerated before enjoying. Or, you can go on to add fizz and/or flavor in a second fermentation process as outlined below.
To make different flavors, you'll go on to complete a second fermentation:
Once the kombucha is at a desired level of tartness from the first round of fermentation, or when it's just a hint sweet still, bottle the tea into smaller containers – I typically use 32oz mason jars.
Next, you can add fruit slices, whole berries, or fruit pureé in varying quantities to your taste. I will add anywhere from 1/4-1/2c of pureé per 32oz, then close the jars and replacing them in a dark, cool spot. Allow them to ferment another 5-7 (or more) days to your taste.
My favorite fruit to add: mango, blueberry, cherry, or a combination of the three. I began by adding slices and whole berries (pictured), but have progressed to adding purees. It's really just about convenience and whatever's easier. They both work equally well to flavor the tea in my experience. I have not yet added my own ginger or citrus, so I'm not sure on quantities of those to add. Please feel free to share your own recipes in the comments below!
Second fermentation: to add fizz…
Once the kombucha at a desired level of tartness, or when it's just a hint sweet still, bottle the tea into smaller containers – I typically use these 32oz mason jars. You can add a tiny bit more sugar here if you like – maybe 1/2 tsp per 32oz – before closing the jars and replace them in the dark, cool spot. [Note: If you want to flavor the tea, this is when you will do it.] Allow the tea to ferment another 5-7 (or more) days to your taste. Then refrigerate it before serving.
Second fermentation: to keep the tea flat (no fizz):
Follow the instructions for adding fizz, but “burp” the jars every day or two to let the air out. This will keep the tea flatter. Allow the tea to ferment another 5-7 (or more) days to your taste. Then refrigerate it before serving.