Kombucha, a brief lesson

A SCOBY 'hotel'. Feed this periodically to keep them fresh. I have one for Genmaicha and one for Black Tea, the two varieties that I brew. 

I've jumped on the Kombucha bandwagon!  This healthful tonic is popular now, heralded for its many benefits, how could I not try it? I am always searching for something to help with my rather petulant stomach. 

Making your own Kombucha is really pretty straightforward.  Here a guide to how how I make mine. 

Delicious Black Tea Kombucha

First, you need a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and 250-300 ml of the starter liquid to adjust the PH levels. Ask a friend, many people are making their own Kombucha these days and with every batch you make, you get a new one so they are plentiful in a short period of time. I keep a SCOBY 'hotel' to host all the extras in case a friend needs one, or I want to experiment.  SCOBYs are also available to purchase online.

Once you have your SCOBY, you need to make sweetened tea. I make two kinds: Black Tea and Gemaicha Kombucha. Genmaicha is Japanese Green Tea with roasted rice, my favourite green tea.

Plain green tea is also good, just be sure that whatever type of tea you use, it should have caffeine in it, the SCOBY needs it. Herbal teas are not recommended.

The only other ingredients you need are organic sugar and water.

Equipment: One 3.5-4 litre glass or ceramic jar (not metal), a fine mesh strainer, some cheesecloth, funnel, paper towels or a piece of woven cotton fabric (quilting cotton weight), 3 or 4 one litre mason jars, a large cooking pot, and patience!

Make your tea: bring 4 litres of water to a boil. Take it off the heat and let it cool to the right temperature for your tea. For black tea I wait about one minute, for Green tea or Genmaicha, I wait about 5-10 minutes so the tea is not bitter.  Add 4 bags of black tea or 4 tablespoons of Genmaicha to the water.  Add 250 ml of organic sugar. Stir gently and let it cool until room temperature. This takes a long time!  I usually make my tea in the evening and leave it to cool overnight.

Starting your first fermentation:

Strain your tea into the large glass jar untilit is approximately 80% filled.

Pour in your starter liquid.

Carefully place your SCOBY into the jar. It may float, or sink, or go sideways. Now gently pour in more of your cool sweet tea so that the liquid level comes to the base of the jar's neck.  Your new SCOBY will form on the surface of the liquid, so if the jar is partially filled, you may end up with a large and thin baby SCOBY. That is ok, but I like to keep mine a bit smaller than that.

Now secure a piece of quilting cotton or a piece of paper towel to the jar.  Cheesecloth is too porous and insects can get into your Kombucha and ruin it. Fruit flies love Kombucha; seems they know what's healthy! Date your jar, as you can see I use painter's tape and a Sharpie marker. Set your jar in an out of the way corner where the temperature is relatively stable. I set mine on a sideboard. Cover your jar with a clean tea towel.

Various coverings on my jars of Kombucha on the sideboard.  Paper towel or a piece of quilting cotton will keep your product pest free. The covering does need to be porous. 

Now the patience part. Let your jar rest (don't jostle it about) for several days. If you want your Kombucha sweeter rather than sour, a shorter fermentation time is recommended. I find that leaving the first fermentation for 6-10 days is good. After a few days, a new SCOBY will form at the top of the jar. The 'mother' may be attached to it, or not.

Black Tea Kombucha, first fermentation. You can see the bubbles and the new SCOBY forming on the surface.

Prepare for the second fermentation

The night before: make your next pot of tea for your next batch so that it can cool overnight.

Wash and thoroughtly rinse 3  one litre mason jars, or other suitable, sealable glass containers.

With clean hands, lift your new baby SCOBY and the ‘mother’ out of the large fermentaion jar, place it in a clean bowl and set aside for a few minutes.

Strain off your kombucha into your prepared jars, reserving 250-300 ml of the liquid for the next batch.

Place lids on the jars and mark the dates – I usually add the start dates of the first and second fermentations. Set these aside to rest until the next day.

Make your next batch of Kombucha. Wash and rinse your large fermentation jar then follow the steps you did to make your first batch. You can use your original ‘mother’ SCOBY again and use the baby SCOBY to experiment with a different flavour of tea. Or use both in the new batch.  When you have too many SCOBYs you can compost them or creat a SCOBY ‘hotel’.

Flavouring your Kombucha

After your jars have sat on the counter for a day, you can add flavourings if you like. Gingerroot adds flavour and additional fizz, soft or tropical fruits add a lovely flavour and colour. I’ve used fresh pineapple, plums, strawberries, raspberries. Personally, I like the tea just as it is.

Place washed and gently crushed fruits or finely chopped gingerroot to your jars then pop them in the fridge to finish their fermentation.

You can drink your Kombucha right away if you like, but wait a couple of days if you’ve added fruit. The Kombucha will stay happily in your fridge for 2-3 weeks, if it lasts that long!

Caution: Sometimes new SCOBYs will form in the second fermentation; to avoid a rather unpleasant textural surprise I highly recommend straining your Kombucha before serving! A a fine mesh strainer or tea strainer works well.  

Enjoy your healthy and tasty Kombucha! 

Ingredient Summary: 1 scoby, 250-300 ml (1-1.25 cups) of starter kombucha liquid, 4 litres water, 4 bags of tea or 125 ml (4 tbsp) of loose tea, 250ml (1 cup) organic sugar

Genmaicha Kombucha fermenting. See the 'mother' SCOBY floating on an angle while the new 'baby' SCOBY  is forming at the surface.