You might have heard of kombucha, the lightly fermented tea that has achieved considerable popularity among the healthy-eating crowd. Traditionally associated with Asia, Russia, and Germany, kombucha became a popular drink globally by the late 1990s.
Advocates claim it enhances cognition, stimulates immune function, supports weight loss, can be applied as a therapy for almost any ailment, and even promotes longevity.
Kombucha consists of just 4 ingredients: tea, sugar, clean water, and a SCOBY.
SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts.” The sugar feeds the yeast and bacteria, which form the nonedible SCOBY layer—the very identifiable, thick, mushroomy “raft” that rests on the top of the kombucha. This SCOBY adds the flavor and acidity, and it promotes the fermentation that creates the health benefits. It also contains a small amount of alcohol (only 0.5 to 0.3 percent, depending on fermentation); gluconic, acetic, and lactic acids; and some substances that discourage bacteria. Many people describe the fizzy taste of kombucha as slightly sour and acidic, almost like soda with a mild vinegar taste.
Although health food stores and many supermarkets now carry kombucha, making it at home ensures the freshest ingredients with the greatest amount of active nutrients. Studies have shown that commercially produced kombucha loses much of its antioxidants when stored in warehouses and on store shelves. An active fermen- tation process in storage can also cause films to form, which substantially degrades the quality.
When making your own, be sure to keep the fungus and bacteria culture “clean.” Any common mold, which appears black, green, or blue, will contaminate the product. If this appears on the culture, dispose of it, clean and sterilize all containers and tools used to make the kombucha, and start over.
Where to get a Kombucha SCOBY:
A Kombucha SCOBY is a necessary component for making kombucha tea. Anyone who is making kombucha tea usually has a SCOBY to share. Ask on your friends on social media, inquire at your local food co-op, or check for fermenting groups in your area.
You can also purchase a SCOBY online, I recommend purchasing THIS Kombucha tea starter kit.
After completing the First Ferment (which I teach you how below) you can use your kombucha in a wide variety of ways. (CLICK HERE to Learn More)
- In a small pot, bring 4 cups (946 ml) of the water to a boil, remove from the heat, and steep the tea bags (or loose tea in a reusable cot- ton tea bag) for 5 to 6 minutes.
- Remove the tea bag(s) and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.
- Add the remaining 10 cups (2.4 L) water to the glass jar, and then add the hot tea.
- Your tea should be roughly room temperature—no higher than 88°F (31°C), or you may kill your kombucha SCOBY; use a thermometer to be sure of the temperature.
- Gently add the kombucha SCOBY and kombucha, and stir. Cover the jar with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band or string.
- Allow the kombucha to ferment undisturbed at room temperature (ideally 76°F, or 24°C) for 1 week.
- After 7 days, you should see a new, cream-colored layer growing on the surface of your kombucha, which is a new baby SCOBY. While trying not to disturb it too much, dip a straw a few inches into your kombucha, cover the top of the straw with your finger, and pull out a sip to taste.
- Taste your brewing kombucha once a day until your ideal kombu- cha flavor is reached. If it’s still sweet, allow it to ferment longer. Most often my kombucha is done between 10 and 14 days, depending on the ambient room temperature.
- When your kombucha is finished, with clean hands, remove your SCOBY, along with 1 cup of basic kombucha. Keep them together in a clean glass jar; this will be the starter for your next batch. It can be kept in the refrigerator, in an airtight jar or container, for several months until you are ready to brew again. After several batches, you will be able to separate the thickened baby SCOBY to share with a friend, along with 1 cup of basic kombucha so your friend can brew a batch too!
How do I know for sure that my Kombucha is done brewing? Testing strips for pH can be used to verify that your kombu- cha is finished, which is when it’s within the ideal range of 2.5 to 3.5. Although pH testing isn’t strictly necessary, it can offer peace of mind to new brewers.
How do I clean Kombucha Bottles? When cleaning your kombucha jar and bottles, do not use antibacterial soaps, as any residue will prevent fermentation. Regular soap and hot water are sufficient.
Isn’t using sugar unhealthy? Keep in mind that the sugar isn’t for you; it’s food for the bacteria. It needs sugar to grow and create beneficial probiotics, acids, vita- mins, and antioxidants. With an average 10- to 14-day brewing time, the culture processes most of the sugar, leaving you with a healthy, delicious, and low-sugar beverage.
What if I can’t do a Second Ferment right away? If you do not wish to do a second ferment (see page #), simply place your finished kombucha in a sealed jug or jar in the refrigerator. Or, keep at room temperature and pour into a glass over ice when you are in the mood for a drink. It may not be as fizzy as bottled kom- bucha, but it will have all the same great nutrition and flavor.
Is something wrong with my Kombucha? Kombucha cultures are very resilient and rarely turn bad. Here are some ways to tell whether your SCOBY is in good condition.
- Brown, stringy, or bloblike debris throughout your brewing kombucha.
- Bumpy or smooth texture, or bubbles in your SCOBY.
- Top, bottom, middle, or even sideways, SCOBYs will move around during brewing.
- Fuzzy blue, green, or white mold.
If your culture develops anything that looks like mold, throw away your kombucha and SCOBY and start over with a new SCOBY.