Kombucha: a colonial love story.

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Valentine’s day is coming up and I’ve got love on my mind.
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Here it goes, Kombucha. I haven’t stopped craving you since first sip. You had me at fermentation.
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It all began two years ago when I was living with nine college kids in a cramped, drafty house on the outskirts of campus. We called ourselves the “Eco-Haus.” We composted, turned off the thermostat, rode a special bike to power our television, ate as locally as possible, and ate as much homemade granola as possible. From massage trains and hug competitions to kneading bread, there was always some sort of fun going on in the house.  Even though we could never quite eliminate the fruit fly population that hovered over the kitchen compost bin or get the smell of eco-cleaner vinegar out of our clothes, it was one of the best semesters of college.

We committed to only eat “local” foods, or food produced within 100 miles of the Eco-House, with the exception of staples like flour and sugar. Every once in awhile, someone needed to pick up more sugar or baking soda from the nearby health food store and I volunteered. I have a strange love for grocery shopping; The vibrance of the produce aisle after its fake rain storm entrances me and the endless possibilities of the cheese counter excite me. But I wasn’t just shopping for the love of it. I was shopping for my Eco-House Shopper reward: a chilled bottle of the bubbly, fermented tea drink, kombucha.

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Ever since the “Eco-Haus,” I haven’t been able to divorce myself from the drink.
Kombucha is vinegary sweet and bubbly with a hint of caffeine to keep you going. But, unlike coffee or even black tea, kombucha doesn’t act as a diuretic and dry you out. Instead, kombucha rejuvenates your gut, promotes digestion, and energizes your mind. Store-bought kombucha runs $2 – $5 a bottle and, although it makes my gut happy, store-bought kombucha doesn’t make my budget too pleased. So what does a poor and kombucha-hungry college student do? She makes it herself.

Home-Brewed Kombucha

Makes 1 gallon.

To start, you’ll need a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.) You can get one from a friend or buy one online from Hannah Crum at Kombucha Kamp (after thorough research, I found K.K. is the best supplier.) Hannah has great brewing directions and they’re available below or on her website.

Supplies

  • 1 cup organic sugar (you can use normal white sugar)
  • 4-6 bags tea (for loose leaf, 1 bag of tea = 1 tsp)
  • 1 Kombucha Culture (SCOBY)
  • 1 cup starter liquid (retain from top of previous batch or substitute distilled vinegar)
  • 1 gallon purified/bottled water
  • tea kettle or pot to boil the water
  • brewing vessel (glass, stainless steel or oak) you can use food grade plastic, but I prefer glass
  • cloth cover (no cheesecloth: the weave is too loose and will allow fruit flies in your brew)
  • rubber band

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One: Make the Sweet Tea Solution

This is the stuff that will feed your Kombucha mother culture and turn into delicious Kombucha Tea:

  1. Boil 4 cups of water.
  2. Add hot water & tea bags to your chosen brewing vessel.
  3. Let steep for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Remove tea bags.
  5. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
  6. Fill vessel about ¾ full with purified cold water – the cold water will bring the temp of the hot water to a level where it won’t kill the yeast (they thrive at lukewarm).
  7. If tea is body temperature or below, proceed to the next step. If not, wait until it cools before completing the next step.
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Two: Add Kombucha Culture

Cure hands with filtered water or distilled vinegar before touching SCOBY.

  1. Add SCOBY. Immediately add started liquid to protect the brew.
  2. Cover with cotton cloth, secure with rubber band (can also use paper towels or coffee filters.)
  3. Say a prayer, send good vibes, commune with your culture (optional, but recommended.)
  4. Set in a warm, airy location out of direct sunlight and away from aromatic or greasy food preparation.
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Three: Don’t Do Anything

1. Do not disturb for 7 days.
2. Don’t do it.
3. Just wait.
4. It will be hard.

 1-DSC01768a new culture, white and gummy-translucent begins to form on top (if mold, or something that doesn’t look like this, forms, discard everything and start over.)

(flavors from left to right)Orange Peel, Ginger Spice, Pomegranny
(flavors from left to right)
Orange Peel, Ginger Spice, Pomegranny

Four: Taste and Bottle

  1. After 7 days, gently insert straw beneath the SCOBY and take a sip. Too tart? Redue your brewing cycle next time. Too sweet? Taste each day until it reaches optimum flavor. Properly brewed kombucha has a slightly sharp apple cider taste. Brewing cycle will range from 7-18 days, depending on temperature.
  2. With clean hands, remove both cultures (the new baby culture that formed and the original mother
    Kombucha culture) and place in a clean bowl.
  3. Ladle or pour 2 cups of liquid from the top of the brew over the cultures. This will serve as starter liquid for the next batch.
  4. Cover cultures with the cotton cloth and set aside for the next brew, preferably after bottling.
  5. Find clean, suitable bottles with tight fitting lids. Recycled bottles are fine, but avoid metal lids that may corrode. I like to use glass pasta sauce containers with rubber-coated lids.
  6. If flavoring the Kombucha, place fruit/juice/flowers/whatever(!) directly into the bottles. A little goes a long way. Experiment for fun. (Check out the picture above for my 3 flavor experiments; Pomegranny with pure pomegranate juice is my favorite.)
  7. Place bottles in the sink.
  8. Insert a funnel in your first bottle and ladle or pour the Kombucha.
  9. Fill to the top for increased carbonation. Repeat for the other bottles, but don’t drink the brown yeast dregs at the bottom, just dump the last 1-2 inches down the drain. (You may choose to strain the brew of culture or
    yeast bits, though it is not necessary.)
  10. Screw the lids on and set aside 1-3 days, burping the bottles to release carbonation and prevent explosions.
  11. Move bottles to the fridge as they reach the desired carbonation/flavor. This stops the secondary fermentation occurring due to sugar in flavorings.
    * ginger, strawberry & blueberry provide great flavor & fizz but also fast CO2 build up. Use caution! Bottles can overflow when opened or even explode during secondary fermentation if not tended. Store in a box, empty cupboard or cooler to minimize mess & danger.
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6 thoughts on “Kombucha: a colonial love story.

    • I’m not sure if Kombucha Kamp ships internationally, but you should email Hannah and ask! Is Kombucha available in stores? If so, and if the label reads “live and active cultures,” you could make your own Mother SCOBY.

      • No Kombucha in stores over here, so I am not sure how I can get hold of Mother SCOBY. Guess I will just make do with cheap coconut water (60 cents per one coconut!). Beautiful blog, Ms. JB! Love your writing and hope all is well with you.

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