I don’t like soft drinks; something about the carbonated bubbles makes me avoid them. I do like to try new things (I’m adventurous with food); I happened to try kombucha one afternoon and to my surprise I loved the flavour. So I went looking for how to make it (because, while I may be adventurous, I am also cheap).
How does kombucha work? The short answer is; the magic of fermentation. The sugars in the tea are converted to alcohol by the yeast community in the scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), then the bacteria in the scoby feed on the alcohol to produce a kind of vinegar. The tea also provides a little caffeine, tannins and other flavours to the brew. It is possible to make a kind of kombucha from oak leaves (but I haven’t tried that one yet). The scoby makes a new layer each time you make a batch of kombucha, and needs to be divided every now and then. It can be used to make fruit leathers, or a vegan leather substitute. It can also be given away to friends or used to start a new kombucha batch, or even used to make soap or other skin care products (I look forward to making scoby soap). After all that reading, I was excited to start making my own.
When the kit arrived in the mail, it contained a glass 8 litre jar with a plastic tap, a piece of closely woven fabric (and a rubber band), a bag of tea bags, some sugar and a sealed bag of slime (a scoby). Instructions were included and easy to follow.
I have made about 4 batches using this kit so far and it is an easy process that doesn’t require a lot of fiddling about. So I thought I would go through it here.
Before beginning the process of bottling kombucha, boil the kettle and make a strong pot of tea. I have only used black tea so far, but apparently you can also use green tea and white tea (any tea without flavourings is OK). This pot of tea needs to steep for a few minutes until it is very strong. I use 9 tea bags per batch and I make it in the coffee plunger so I can squeeze the tea bags and get the last of the dregs from them.
When the tea is steeped enough, I pour it into a bowl and mix in 3/4 of a cup of raw sugar. Apparently you can use any kind of sugar (and even honey) as long as the yeast has enough sugar to convert to alcohol (and then to vinegar). The sugar needs to be dissolved completely, so I give the tea a mix with a spoon and set it aside to cool a bit while I bottle the previous batch.
I was lucky enough to be given a supply of those lovely Grolsch beer bottles by a friend (Thanks Lucille), they are perfect for making kombucha in. I wash and disinfect 8 of these bottles, including scrubbing the little rubber seals on the stopper. I pour some fruit juice into each bottle; I have tried orange juice, apple and black current juice and now mango juice. In the future I will try ginger and other herb teas (with sugar) and maybe some fresh juiced fruit from our trees (mulberry springs to mind). The possibilities here are endless, as long as there is some sugar in the flavouring it will make bubbles in the brew.
Now for the moment of truth; bottling the brew. The tap on the bottom of the jar is very useful here, I just fill each bottle almost to the top using the tap. I leave the scoby in the jar and fill bottles until the scoby is sitting about level to the tap (for me that is 8 bottles). These bottles are sealed and set aside in my kitchen cupboard for 2 days, then moved to the fridge or given away to friends. I do label the bottles (mostly because I give them away to friends).
Now to top up the brewer for the next batch. I add another 2 litres of cold water to the sweet tea in the bowl to cool the lot down to body temperature, then pour it into the top of the brewer. Sometimes I need to top up the jar with a bit more water.
The new brew then sits quietly on the kitchen counter next to the sourdough until next week. The brew time varies with the daily temperature and with individual taste preferences.
The finished product is a lovely sparkling, fruit flavoured drink that is apparently good for digestion and internal bacteria balance (with occasional globs of gelatinous pre-scoby). I pour my kombucha into the glass through a tea strainer to remove the inevitable little bits of slime (they are harmless, but gross).
Now I have made a few batches, I have some scoby extras to play with; I’m not sure what to try first, but if you are a local and want to have a go brewing kombucha, leave a comment here and I will eventually get a scoby to you.