About ten or twelve years ago, I came across a mushroom tea beverage while visiting some friends in California. I had no idea that this beverage was on its way to being known nationally or that it would become one of my favorite drinks ever. I am talking about kombucha. When I was introduced, kombucha was not nearly as available or well known as it is now. I doubt there were very few stores besides whole foods that even sold the drink. Well, it doesn’t matter because after I tasted the tangy, sweet, and fizzy combination, I knew I was hooked.
This drink was not new; on the contrary, it has been around since ancient times. According to history, the drink originated in China and then spread throughout the world.
Kombucha is fermented sweet tea. It contains bacteria, yeast, black tea, sugar, and flavorings. You make a sweet tea and add something called a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY looks weird. If you have never seen one, think about any alien blob of gelatinous mass from any alien movie. Yes, that weird. I wish I were able to go back in time and see the first people who created kombucha. What would possess you to drink the liquid after you noticed this blob floating in it? It blows my mind.
With the help of this SCOBY, the tea begins to ferment. The bacteria and yeast get together and do their happy dance while feasting on the sweet black tea’s sugar. After allowing the tea to sit and ferment for a week or more, you end up with a slightly carbonated, tart, tangy vinegary drink. What is cool about kombucha is that you can lengthen or shorten the brewing time to achieve your desired flavor. For a more vinegary taste, leave the jar to ferment longer. For a sweeter flavor, shorten the brewing time. I tend to allow my kombucha to brew for ten days; I have found that delivers my preferred balance between sweet and tangy. At this point, you can flavor it to your liking and bottle it again in an attempt to increase the carbonation level.
Like other fermented foods, kombucha contains a countless number of probiotics or beneficial organisms for your gut. The proposed health benefits don’t stop there. Since kombucha is fermented and brewed from black tea, you get all of those benefits. You also get,
- Improve heart health due to flavonoids.
- Lower cholesterol level
- Reduce blood pressure
- Contains cancer-fighting properties known as polyphenols
- Improved alertness and mental clarity due to caffeine and certain amino acids
I am not a doctor, so I cannot back up these statements, but I can say that it tastes great, and it may be the spark that helps you start living a healthy life. I know you were wondering why is the gardening guy talking about kombucha? Because gardening is just the start, the goal is to be healthy to garden for a long time. Not to mention that you can incorporate whatever herbs and fruits you grow in your garden into the second bottling and flavoring process.
How To Brew Kombucha
Now that you know what kombucha is and it health benefits, let’s talk about brewing it. I would say it’s better make your own than buy. People have been brewing Kombucha for centuries. How they did it long ago, or even first decided to try this is beyond me. But, I sure am glad that they did.
To get started, you need a few everyday items and a not so common ingredient.
The common ingredients:
- raw sugar
- black tea- loose
- 1-gallon glass jar
- cover and an elastic band.
The not so common ingredient is a S.C.O.B.Y. You can buy them online; search for SCOBY on Etsy or any search engine, and you will get a bunch of hits. Or you can buy yours here on the Big City Gardener shop. I would recommend staying away from the dehydrated versions available from some online retailers. I even sell my extra SCOBYs on my site. Along with the SCOBY, you are also going to need some starter solution. Whenever you buy the SCOBY, it should come with a cup of solution. That is enough solution to get you started brewing.
Once you have your supplies round up, it is time to get started. Just know that this recipe is for 1 gallon of Kombucha. Make the necessary adjustments if you are brewing more or less. A great thing about kombucha is that you do not have to be exact with your measurements. So a little extra sugar or more tea bags is up to you. If you alter the recipe too much, I’m sure you could run into issues. Just remember when people first began making kombucha centuries ago, I doubt they were keeping exact measurements.
- Brew a gallon of sweet tea.- Place 4-6 teabags in your 1-gallon glass jar and cover with ¼- ½ gallon of hot water. If you are using loose-leaf tea, then use 2 or 3 tablespoons of tea. Allow the tea bags to steep for 10 minutes. Stir in a cup of raw sugar. Add the remaining water to the container.
- Add SCOBY and starter to the jar of sweet tea. Before adding the scoby, check the temperature of the water. If the water is too hot, there is potential to damage or even kill the SCOBY.
- Cover the Gallon jar and set out of the way in a warm place. A dark spot is not necessary, or a cabinet is not required. Wherever you can find an area out of direct sunlight, including the kitchen counter, you will be fine. The ambient room temperature is essential to fermentation. Look for a place with a temperature between 75-85F. Excessive cold can slow down and halt the process. If necessary, place the jar on a seedling heating mat or top of the refrigerator. Doing so will help to raise and sustain the solution in the desired temperature range
- After a minimum of 7 days, you can start tasting your booch. Move the scoby to the side and dip a cup, spoon, or straw. Use the straw to siphon the desired amount out of the jat before tasting. Do not sip directly from your jar. Continue to check the kombucha daily until it reaches your desired flavor profile. I have found that 9 or 10 days is the sweet spot for me: the longer your tea ferments, the more vinegary the flavor. If you forget about your brew, you’re better off letting it continue to ferment until it reaches the vinegar stage. That’s right, kombucha vinegar.
- Remove the scoby and cup of kombucha before bottling. This cup of liquid will be your starter solution for your next batch.
After a few days you will notice a white fil forming on top of the liquid. Do not be alarmed! This is not contamination, this is a new scoby forming. One of the perks about brewing kombucha – buy the SCOBY and solution once, and every time you brew a batch, you get a new SCOBY. If you are continually brewing, you will end up with a lot of SCOBYs. You can keep them in a jar full of SCOBY, coined a SCOBY hotel, read about it here, or give them as gifts to get your friends into the kombucha brewing world.
Now that you know the brewing basics learn about flavoring and second ferment here. The second ferment is where the fun begins. It is where you get to incorporate your garden goodies into the Kombucha. Since this is a gardening blog, you know I had to connect this article to gardening somehow, someway. Get brewing and remember…