Tuesday Night Fermentation Club: Kombucha!

11 Feb

Here at the Tuesday Night Club, I like to let my readers (is this thing on?) know that canning and fermenting projects do not need to be sweat soaked all day affairs.  You can often whip up a project in just a few hours after work, preferably while your S.O. cooks you up dinner and refills your wine glass because you’re busy measuring water and finding old jars.  This week, kombucha.

A few years back, I discovered kombucha.  At first, of course, I thought it was disgusting.  Who wouldn’t?  Then as Double S slowly brought them around more often, I came to like them.  Then I came to really like them.  Especially these:  GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha.   In it’s original flavor.  These are now delicious to me.  It’s got that carbonated fizz that I sometimes just gotta have in my drinks.  Plus, there’s all that crap about it being so good for you. I keed!

RIP, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

I honestly think kombucha is good for you!  As are all fermented foods.  Mainly, you’ll read about the intestinal and digestive benefits of kombucha, but it’s also a major detoxifying agent.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a slightly sour fermented beverage.  What else is fermented, you ask?  Well, practically everything you (read: me) like!  Coffee, beer, wine, vinegar, chocolate, cider, cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, yogurt, and miso.  And kombucha.  Kombucha is a fermented tea.  You take water, sugar and tea, and let it sit in a fairly warm place with a kombucha starter, also known as a mother or a SCOBY (A symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.  I’ll wait while you stop drooling with anticipation), and in about a week, that jar of sweet tea is transformed into a jar of vitamins, minerals and various helpful acids.

The SCOBY. See, not THAT scary!

The acids seem to be the key benefits of kombucha.  Glucuronic acid is a detoxifier.  It binds to liver toxins and flushes them out through the kidneys.  You know all the plastic and pesticides we’re all exposed to on a daily basis whether we choose to be or not?  Glucuronic acid is one of the few agents in the body that can deal with those toxins, and kombucha’s got it in spades.  Kombucha also contains lactic acid, which is essential for digestion.  It contains a host of other do-gooders, see here, but also, it’s just plain delicious when made properly.  That’s the beauty of ferments for me: delicious and nutritious!

How do you make it?

Two years ago when I was making kombucha pretty regularly, I was following the recipe in Sandor Katz’s awesome bible of fermentation, Wild Fermentation.  However, I never got exactly the result I wanted.  Plus, after awhile, the kombucha started to taste a little musty.  After that, and all the work and mess of making kombucha in a really small space, I stopped making it.  Almost lost my taste for it.  Then, I discovered this guy, and I’ve been reinvigorated.  Dude is awesome.  He’s made kombucha for 15 years, and now he sells it at several farmer’s markets in Seattle.  Bonus, he uses only bike power to to get to the market, and he gives away his recipe and encourages everyone to try it themselves.  Yep, the dude basically puts himself out of business.  His endeavor is called Communi-Tea, and I think that when it comes to community, he really means it.  His kombucha is truly delightful.  He sells it in these nice swing-top bottles as well.

A bottle of Communi-Tea kombucha.

Communi-Tea kombucha is light, fizzy, slightly acidic, only lightly sweet.  It’s almost champagne-like.  I had basically stopped returning kombucha’s calls until a few Sundays ago when I found the Communi-Tea guy at the Ballard Farmer’s Market, with copies of his recipe, and samples of his delicious brew.

So I started my hunt for a new SCOBY.  Last week, Double S got two SCOBY’s for me from friendly folks who answered her ad on her former school’s listserv.  That’s kind of the way kombucha makers are; they’re at the ready to provide a SCOBY to whoever wants to give kombucha a try.  If you want a SCOBY, check Freecycle and Craigslist.  You can also buy them at kombucha.org, or try the International Kombucha Exchange.  Or, if you’re in Seattle, ask me for one and I’ll provide as long as this sucker starts making babies.  Also in Seattle,  the fine gentleman at Communi-Tea will sell you one for less than $20, and he includes some of his tea to use as a starter.

As I embark on an attempt to make kombucha again, I’m trying to correct the two major mistakes I think I made during my last efforts.  First, I think I kept using the SCOBY beyond it’s shelf life.  I tried cleaning and trimming the SCOBY, but it didn’t help.  Which leads to my second mistake.    Second, and I think the biggest mistake based on my new research, is that I let it ferment at too low of a temperature.  Seattle doesn’t get that warm.  However, kombucha thrives between 76-78 degrees.  It’s basically never that temperature in your average Seattle house, as it always cools off at night.  Because of this lack of consistent heat, my SCOBY was always childless–it never produced a baby, as it should when it’s healthy.  I should have taken my SCOBY’s infertility as a sign to change up the kombucha-making game a little, but I didn’t.  Thus, in my new attempts, I am focusing on temperature control.

Will I like it?

Give it a try.  I like GT’s the best of those you can purchase in the store.  They look like this:

GT's kombucha.

I like the original the best.  Try it more than once.  I really experienced it as an acquired taste.  Like beer, and we all know how awesome that turned out after our first initial tastes as a kid (ahem) or high schooler.  You can get them in the refrigerated drinks section of larger or more organic leaning grocery stores, or health food stores.  See how expensive it is?  It doesn’t need to be, because you can make it yourself!

Look, Lindsay Lohan likes it!

Where's Sam? I need someone butch to open my delicious kombucha bottle!

Ingredients/Equipment:

  • Sugar.  1 cup.
  • Tea (green or black, not herbal).  About 3 Tablespoons of loose tea, or 5 tea bags.
  • Water.  3 quarts total.  Preferably filtered, so if you have a Brita or some such contraption, use the water from it.
  • Kombucha SCOBY.
  • Kombucha tea.  About 1 1/4 cups, to get the ferment going.  Have the person who gives you the SCOBY give you some extra tea, or buy a bottle at the store.
  • Wide mouth container–like an old one gallon jar from pickles at Costco.
  • Cheesecloth.

Recipe: adapted from communitea-kombucha.com

1.  Clean your hands well.  Sanitary conditions are key to making ferments.  You will especially read about this if you try to make wine or beer.

2.  Bring one quart of filtered water to a boil.  If you’re using green tea, don’t actually let the water boil.  Let it hit about 190 degrees.

A kitchen thermometer is a beautiful thing!

3.  Add the tea to the water and let steep ten minutes.  I did this while the water was still on low heat. After ten minutes, remove the tea.

Let steep 10 minutes.

4.  Stir in one cup of sugar.

5.  Add two more quarts of filtered water.  Let cool to room temperature.

It will cool to room temperature pretty quickly.

6.  Pour this concoction into the jar you will use for the ferment.  I wouldn’t use metal or plastic.  Glass or some kind of a glazed crock work best.

7.  Add the reserved kombucha tea that you hopefully received from your kombucha SCOBY pusher, from your last batch, or from the store bought bottle.

Ready to add the SCOBY.

8.  Add the SCOBY to the jar.

One more shot of these beautiful beasts! Go SCOBY!

9.  Cover the container with a thin cloth.  I used cheesecloth.  Attach it with a rubber band around the mouth of the jar.

I made one with green tea, and one with black. Let sit for one week!

10.  Go about your business for the next 7 days, leaving the jar to ferment in a warm place in your house.  If it’s the summer, you’re set just having it on the counter.  If it’s not (or if you live in Seattle), you’re gonna need to provide for this sucker.  You need to give it some heat.  First, I tried an aquarium heater.  I put the Kombucha jars in an old cooler, added water, then put in the heater and waited.  Nothing ever happened, and I worried a lot that I’d burn the house down.  I also read that aquarium heaters kind of never work.

I love our movable faucet head!

Really, don't try this at home.

So instead, today I am trying a  seedling heat mat, based on the suggestion of my homie, growandresist, (Thanks, Friend!), or perhaps one of these DIY alternatives.

11.  After 7 days at a warm temperature, taste the tea.  Don’t be afraid!  You want it to be slightly tart and still a little sweet, or as sweet as you like it.  This will take longer in cooler temperatures, and as stated, might not work at all if the temperature is too cool.

12.  When the tea tastes the way you want it to taste, remove the SCOBY.  Your SCOBY may have made a baby (good, promiscious SCOBY!) or it might take a few times for it to get up the nerve.  Handle the SCOBY with care!

I love Jenny Lewis’s cover of the Travelling Wilburys original.  And yes, it’s another one that works wonders for pitching woo on mixtapes!

Anyway, when your kombucha is finished, your SCOBY may or may not have made a baby, or a second smaller culture.  Give away the baby to an interested friend, or use it to make another batch, or toss it in the compost for your garden–it’s good for it!

When you want to make another batch, start again, no problem!.  Don’t forget to reserve about 1 1/4 cups of your current batch to get the next batch rolling.  You can use your original SCOBY, or it’s baby.

Stay tuned for updates as to the success of my new attempts!

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16 Responses to “Tuesday Night Fermentation Club: Kombucha!”

  1. growandresist February 11, 2010 at 10:43 PM #

    SCOBY looks SCARY! I’m sure it’s fabulous though. I mean, if Lindsey is drinking it….come on! “Stars are just like us! They drink Kombucha!”

  2. ohbriggsy February 13, 2010 at 2:09 PM #

    yeah, that was definitely an US magazine moment. the seedling heating mat is working great for the kombucha, btw. thanks for letting me borrow it!

  3. Luker February 14, 2010 at 8:23 PM #

    Great blog! I got a scoby today and just made my first batch of kombucha! I just started drinking kombucha this past year but haven’t had it as much as I would like b/c it’s a little pricey. It didn’t even occur to me that I could make it myself until I read this. I went to the farmers market and asked at the kombucha stand if they sold the scoby. She wouldn’t sell me one, and she was definitely not like the Communi-tea guy you deal with. So then I went on craigslist and found someone that was selling scoby babies for $5. I went downtown to pick it up today. The girl I bought it from was really awesome, gave me extra tea and told me to email her anytime if I was having trouble. Now that was the experience I was looking for! We’ll see in a week if I did it right or not, but thanks so much for showing me how to do it! I feel like I totally accomplished something today, and I will be ecstatic if I don’t have to buy kombucha at the store anymore! (And I am VERY glad there was a picture of the scoby in this blog to prepare me for what it looked like, otherwise I would have screamed when she pulled that monster out to give to me!)

    • ohbriggsy February 17, 2010 at 11:25 PM #

      Hey Luker! I’m glad you’re giving this a try, and that you had luck with Craigslist. People who like kombucha seem to be enthusiasts who want to share the SCOBY love. Don’t worry, it won’t kill you in your sleep! The clown in the closet will!

  4. Tami May 14, 2010 at 3:20 PM #

    I live in Seattle and would love a scoby baby if you have one to spare. I have never tried this tea but am reading Nourishing Traditions and its one of the things to add to my list of beverages.

    • ohbriggsy May 15, 2010 at 9:25 AM #

      sure! when i have one ready i’ll email you at the address you have listed here. and nourishing traditions is a great book. you should also read wild fermentation if you havent already.

  5. Merrit October 9, 2010 at 1:49 PM #

    Hello! Very nice blog. 🙂

    I am wanting to get my hands on a Kombucha Mother… Can you help me out??

    • ohbriggsy October 11, 2010 at 11:44 PM #

      thanks for stopping by! i’m not making kombucha right now, so i cant help you out with a mother. sorry about that! check around, i’m sure you’ll be able to find one on craigslist or freecycle.

  6. coolBallarddude January 18, 2011 at 12:39 PM #

    Hey Briggsy, this is an old thread, but still got any SCOBYs available? I’m starting a brew and would love a “mother” to start with.

    Cheers,

    ~cj

    • ohbriggsy January 22, 2011 at 10:32 AM #

      hey cj! man, i’m not making any ‘bucha right now so i don’t have any scobys available. sorry! i always had pretty good luck posting for one on freecycle or craigslist. give it a shot. i’m wanting to start another batch soon, so if i do, i’ll shoot you an email to see if you’re still looking. good luck!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  5. What Have I Been Up To? Early Summer Preserving Update! « oh, briggsy… - July 7, 2011

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  6. Sourdough Starter is a Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma, Surrounded By Smelly Liquid and Maybe Bubbles? « oh, briggsy… - March 15, 2012

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