5.28.13 Home Brew

Glass 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
You can't knock water, especially if you're drinking it fresh from your own artesian well, as I am. If I weren't lucky enough to have this, I would probably be using a filter on my tap. Bottled water? I try to avoid it. I object to all that plastic from an environmental standpoint, not to mention whatever it's off-gassing into my system. But drinking water seems so virtuous, doesn't it? The hydration, the lack of calories... On a hot day or after a workout, it's just the ticket. Other times, it can be a trifle dull. Come on, I know I'm not alone here. Yes, I add fresh lemon or a few slices of cucumber or sprigs of mint, but stil. Unsweetened tea works but I prefer it with a bit of sugar or honey, and then it starts to feel like something I shouldn't be drinking lots of on a regular basis. I've already ruled out fruit juice (unless significantly watered down) and soda was never in the picture so, until recently, the options for quenching my thirst had been rather limited. Until, that is, I discovered kombucha.
Scoby 790 xxx
the mother lode
I'm pretty sure you've at least heard of kombucha, even if you haven't yet tried this "healthy" beverage. Contrary to what you might think, it's not Japanese and has nothing to do with kombu (kelp). It's an effervescent fermentation of sweetened tea, almost like a cider with a complex, tart aftertaste. The process of making this drink actually originated in China around 220 BC and spread to Russia before reaching the rest of the world.

The fermentation occurs because of the introduction of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), which is something like those weird blobs you see floating around in natural vinegars—and what has mistakenly been referred to as a "mushroom." These microbes produce probiotics, organic acids, vitamins and antioxidants. Malic acid and acetic acid, for instance, are said to have a detoxifying effect and probiotics crowd out bad bacteria, allowing the good ones to proliferate. As more comes to light about the gut's role in preventing disease, probiotics become increasingly important.
Scoby2 790 xxx
mother's little helper
In order to start making your own kombucha, you need the SCOBY, sometimes called a "mother." Because each batch produces a new one (see the thin top layer, above; and the two separated, below), you can easily get a "baby" from a friend who brews kombucha, or order it from one of the many online sources. I got mine here. It's mailed to you packaged in a bit of the liquid kombucha that you also need to start your first batch and comes with an instructional brochure complete with troubleshooting tips for every possibility. Because you are dealing with live organisms, they can be a bit temperamental. It's sort of like managing a sourdough starter. It's all about maintaining a certain pH balance, but you can totally control it by monitoring how it looks and smells.
Double 790 xxx
mother and child

Once you have your SCOBY, you just need a few basic pieces of equipment: a glass gallon jug, a piece of cheesecloth, a rubber band. It's a low-tech operation and really very simple. You place two tablespoons of tea in the gallon jug, add 1 cup of sugar and fill it most of the way with very hot water. Once the sugar is completely dissolved and it's cooled to room temperature, strain out the tea and add the SCOBY and the cup of liquid it came in (or that you've reserved from a previous batch). Cover with a piece of cheesecloth that you secure with the rubber band. Set aside in a warm corner where it can remain undisturbed for about a week. In warmer temperatures, it ferments more quickly. Start checking after 4 or 5 days. Mine usually tastes right and has enough fizz after about a week.

Tea 790 xxx
i use assam, but any plain black or green tea works fine
Once it's achieved the flavor you like, simply decant it into bottles and refrigerate, always reserving one cup for your next batch. I like to do a secondary fermentation when I add flavoring and a bit of sweetener and let it sit out for another day to produce more carbonation. Carbon dioxide does build up, so I use these bottles (much cheaper in bulk), which are strong enough to contain it.
Jug 790 xxx
fermentation in process
I have experimented with many different flavors, adding pomegranate molasses, strips of lemon peel, chia seeds, maple syrup and honey. My favorite is two teaspoons of fresh ginger juice and two tablespoons of raw honey per litre of kombucha. Three litre bottles last me a week—and then my next batch is ready. It works out perfectly.
Foam 790 xxx
bubbling up
I love the idea that I can have a fizzy, lightly sweet drink that is low in sugar and calories and beneficial to my health. Bonus? It's great with a little rum in it! 

If anyone is interested in starting a batch and wants one of my "babies," let me know and maybe we can figure something out. I also volunteer to be your kombucha mentor if you are nervous about starting out, with all the hand-holding that implies. I feel it's my duty to spread the word.


So enjoy your posts! I have been brewing kombucha for about 6 months and LOVE IT! I recently switched to a continuous brew which has worked out lovely. Great post!
Rebecca on May 28, 2013 at 5:12 pm —
Rebecca, I'm very curious about the continuous brew and may have to look for a container with a spigot. What do you do with your extra SCOBY? I've heard it makes a great facial mask and can also be dehydrated for jerky!
laura on May 28, 2013 at 5:28 pm —
Hi Laura, I'm a new subscriber and I'm delighted to read your kombucha post. I switched over to the continuous method a year ago after months of regular brewing. It saves time and energy and you can go on vacation and not worry about it. My scoby is about 3/4" thick. The continuous method doesn't produce single babies but a nice doorstop of a scoby that slowly thickens over time. I treat my spigot jar like a scoby hotel. I tear some off when it gets too strong or when a friend needs a scoby. I also traded cheesecloth for a tea towel. Fruit flies can get through cheesecloth and lay eggs. Not a pretty sight and they do nothing for the flavor! Happy brewing.
Cathy on May 28, 2013 at 6:50 pm —
Thanks for the great info, Cathy, and welcome to GFL! Love the image of the SCOBY doorstop...
laura on May 28, 2013 at 10:01 pm —