Sunday, April 21, 2013

Kombucha: A Tutorial

A few months ago, I caught a deal on Vegan Cuts advertising a discounted kombucha starter kit from Oregon Kombucha. The deal is still available by the way — $11 for a kit with a starter SCOBY, a flavored tea of your choice, and detailed instructions on how to get started.

I love kombucha! P.S. This picture was taken way back in January.

I've been buying that high-priced, bottled kombucha at Whole Foods for far too long, and I'm tired of throwing money away on it. So I figured it was high-time I start brewing my own booch. I ordered that Oregon Kombucha kit, and since then, I've brewed jar after jar of the tart, fizzy fermented tea.

For my readers who aren't familiar with kombucha, it's a fermented tea that's heavy on probiotics. It has a vinegar-y twang with a carbonated fizziness. And it's most definitely an acquired taste. I thought the stuff was disgusting when I first tried a sip of the bottled stuff. But now I'm addicted to that tart flavor. To make it, you brew a batch of sweet tea with a mushroom culture called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) for several weeks.

So how do you brew the booch? I'll walk you through step-by-step.

1) Acquire a SCOBY.
To ferment tea, you must start with a mother SCOBY. You can order your SCOBY online (see this deal on Vegan Cuts). Or if you know someone who brews kombucha, just ask them for a SCOBY. Every kombucha brewer has a fridge full of SCOBYs, because every time you brew a batch, the mother SCOBY makes a baby SCOBY. The babies can be stored in the fridge and re-used over and over again. So all you'll ever need to start a lucrative brewing hobby is one starter SCOBY.

This is a SCOBY! It looks really nasty, but it's just a mushroom. Nothing to fear.

2) Brew a gallon of tea.
I use 12 small tea bags for this, but you can use larger ones or even loose tea if you please. Flavored teas are a great way to make flavored kombucha, or you can go with a simple green tea and flavor the booch after fermentation (more on that in a few). If you are using a flavored tea, avoid teas flavored with oils (such as Earl Gray) because they can kill your SCOBY.

3) Sweeten the tea.
Pour your hot tea in a gallon jar, and add one cup of evaporated cane juice or sugar. The sugar is what the culture feeds on, so it's an important step.

4) Allow the tea to cool overnight.
The tea MUST be cool when you add your SCOBY later, so give it plenty of time to cool.

5) Add your SCOBY.
Place your mushroom into the gallon jar, and pour in one cup of kombucha liquid. If you order a kit, it will likely contain a SCOBY floating in kombucha liquid. But if you get a SCOBY from a friend, you'll need to ask them to pour you out a little liquid.

Kombucha with both a mama and a baby SCOBY

6) Place a cheesecloth or rag over the top and store in a warm, dark place for 7 to 30 days.
How long it takes to brew depends on the temperature and how tart you want the flavor to be. Kombucha ferments best when the room temp is between 70 and 80 degrees, so you'll have faster batches in the summer. The longer it sits, the tarter it gets. Since I like a very strong, tart kombucha, I brew mine for a full 30 days in the winter. I haven't brewed yet in summer, so I'm not sure how much that will affect the time. Also, if your house is very cold in the winter, you might want to place a heating pad under the jar as it brews.

7) When desired flavor is reached, remove the SCOBY and the baby and store them.
Store the SCOBYs in one cup of the kombucha you just brewed and keep it in an airtight bowl with a lid in the fridge. After your first batch, you should have a mother and baby SCOBY. Always save your SCOBYs because they can be used again and again.

8) Transfer the kombucha into glass containers.
Some folks store their booch in glass Grolsh-style beer bottles with the flip-tops. I don't have those yet, so I used two large jars with glass lids. You can also use Mason jars, but if so, get the plastic screw-on replacement lids. Do not use metal lids for your kombucha.

I store my kombucha in large glass jars with glass lids.
9) Allow the kombucha to go into secondary fermentation.
This step allows the kombucha to get extra fizzy. All you have to do is place the jars of finished kombucha on a countertop and leave them alone for 2 to 14 days. Also, if you're flavoring your booch with fresh fruit or fruit juice, this is the time to do it. Add those flavorings and allow them to meld as it goes into secondary fermentation.

10) Store kombucha in the fridge and enjoy!
I have a glass of kombucha every night before bed. Sometimes I flavor my batches with all-natural fruit juice. Last month, I added bottled R.W Kudsen blueberry nectar, and the kombucha was amazing! This month, I'm experimenting with adding simple syrups upon serving. I made an orange-vanilla simple syrup a couple night ago, and I've been adding 1-2 tablespoons to every 8-ounce glass.

Dress up kombucha with flavored simple syrups.

To make the syrup, I combined 2 cups evaporated cane juice with 2 cups water. I let the mixture heat in a saucepan over medium heat so the sugar could dissolve. Then I added the zest of one orange, the juice of one orange, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. I let that simmer for 20 minutes.

You can also make kombucha cocktails!! Vodka is an excellent addition. Right now, I'm sipping on a cocktail with 8 ounces of green tea kombucha, 2 ounces vodka, and 1 ounce of orange-vanilla simple syrup. Yum!

Once you remove the SCOBY from your first batch, brew another gallon of tea and start all over. I have kombucha brewing at all times now.


Sophie said...

It is super easy to make Kombucha from a bottle of original unflavored Kombucha, and it's cheaper! I made a tutorial, but you can find them online easily. Here is my take on it:

but the original tutorial is here:

Kombucha is awesome although we stopped in the middle of winter because I prefer it in the summer :) I need to get some of those big jars, although mason jars work well too!

Adriana Robles said...

My mom used to make this for herself all of the time! When I saw the pictures you posted I knew it looked familiar.

foodfeud said...

I love kombucha and yr right, it does get pricey if you buy it all the time. Thanks for the reminder.
It's also cool that you can control and make yr own flavors!

Sarah E. Hoffman said...

nice tutorial. But just so you know - the SCOBY isn't actually a mushroom - it's a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. That's why it's called a SCOBY!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, you write a good tutorial. :)

John said...

I've been having a fun and delicious time brewing my own kombucha as well. I posted a couple of articles about it on my blog. You were lucky enough to have someone give you a SCOBY! I tried to sprout one from GT's bottles to no avail and ended up buying one on eBay.