After a decent absence from the blogging world, I have decided to jump back in and discuss a few projects that I have been working on!
If you have been to a grocery store any time in the past year, I’m sure you are well aware of the current Kombucha craze that is sweeping the US. I was pretty hesitant to jump on this band wagon, but decided to at least give it a try. If you haven’t heard of kombucha, it is basically a fermented tea that people have been drinking for years in the Eastern world. The fermentation process leaves this beverage low in sugar, full of probiotics, and a pleasing amount of carbonation. I’ve never been a huge soda drinker, but i do enjoy a soda on occasion mainly for the carbonation, particularly when my stomach is a bit upset. When I heard about kombucha, I thought it might be a nice healthier option to replace my occasional soda. It also had a possibility of doing more to help an upset stomach than soda did…so why not?
The first brand/flavor that I tried has remained my favorite store bought variety. GT’s Synergy contains a variety of different berry flavors along with ginger and is quite refreshing. Personally, I love the tart flavor and zip that the ginger provides. If you aren’t fond of ginger or vinegar, this may not be the beverage for you! If you would like to give a store brand a try, I would highly recommend this one. They have a wide variety of flavors, and all the ones that I’ve tried have been really good. The only downside is the relatively expensive cost. One single bottle of kombucha generally runs around $3.00 or more. The best prices I’ve found are at ALDI. You can consistently get bottles there for around $2.75. If you grow to enjoy kombucha, it can become a rather expensive part of your diet.
As my interest in kombucha grew, so did my desire to try and brew some for myself! I’m always down for trying something new and challenging!
After reading and doing some research on the fermentation process, I ran into my first obstacle….I needed a SCOBY. I’m sure you’re probably wondering what in the world a SCOBY is. Allow me to enlighten you! SCOBY is an acronym that stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. To a normal person, it looks like a big slimy pancake shaped blob. This amazing “blob” is what causes all the magic to take place during fermentation. But where does one go to find said blob? A girl doesn’t want to procure a SCOBY from just anyone. I found myself asking around to some of my friends as though I was trying to find some rare black market item. Everyone just looked at me like I was nuts. A few people were interested, but didn’t really know where to find one. Thankfully my friend that gave me the hardest time about my endeavor, actually ended up jumping on the kombucha bandwagon and got me a home brew kit that included a SCOBY!
I was officially set to begin my brewing adventure! It just so happened that I received my kit right before a long rainy weekend. It was the perfect time to read up and get brewing! The first thing I learned was that I needed some distilled water. Water free of additives is really what you’re looking for. Chlorine will inhibit the growth of your culture. Other filtered and spring water usually has a variety of additives that help with taste when drinking plain water, but don’t really help when brewing kombucha.
You start the process by brewing a batch of good strong tea. You can use all kinds of different teas and even blends of teas. It is fun to try a variety. You get all the healthy benefits of whatever tea you use. After bringing the distilled water to a boil, turn it off and allow your tea bag to steep for an appropriate length of time. Approximately 5 minutes is a good general rule. While the tea is still hot, add in a rather large amount of sugar. This exact amount will be different, depending on the quantity you’re making. It’s important to use regular processed cane sugar. Raw sugar and honey aren’t broken down the same way by the yeast, and don’t yield good kombucha.
My kit came with a large gallon glass jar. It’s important to clean all of your brewing items well with a mild detergent. DO NOT use antibacterial soap! It will harm your SCOBY! After cleaning, I wipe down all my brewing equipment and even my hands with distilled white vinegar. After my jar was clean and wiped down, I attached an adhesive thermometer to the outside of the jar. Temperature is very important to monitor. I highly recommend placing these on all of your brewing jars.
I then poured my freshly brewed tea into the jar and filled the remaining part of the jar with cool distilled water. You want the jar to be about 3/4 full. The cool water will help bring the tea down to the temperature you want it. If you place the SCOBY in the brew when it’s too hot, it will harm the culture. When your tea reaches the target range of 72-84 degrees, you can gently pick up your SCOBY with clean hands, and place it into the brew. It’s also a great idea to add a small amount (a cup or so) of a previous brew to get things moving. After adding in your culture and previous brew, you simply place a piece of cotton cloth over the top and WAIT. The culture needs to be able to get air, hence the cotton cloth. DO NOT put a lid on your jar. The temperature ranges I mentioned, are ideal for the fermentation process. If it’s on the higher end of that range, fermentation will happen a bit faster, on the lower end, it will be slower. Generally you are looking at about 3 weeks before your first brew will be ready to enjoy.
I placed my brew up on a high shelf in my kitchen, but quickly noticed that it wasn’t warm enough in that spot. The temperature of the brew was hovering just below the ideal range. I moved my brew upstairs to a shelf that was near a heat register, and was able to easily maintain the desired range after that.
After a few days to a week, you will notice a new layer beginning to form on the top of your brew. This is your brand new culture! A SCOBY forms in layers. The newest grow on the top. It’s important not to move the jar around much or jostle it so that you don’t interfere with the growth. At around a week you can begin tasting your brew and checking the pH. A good kombucha should have a low pH of around 3.2. This helps keep harmful bacteria from growing. My kit came with a big pack of pH strips, and I would highly recommend you keep some on hand. I gently use a pipette to draw out a sample without disturbing the growing culture. When the brew reaches your desired level of tartness, you can choose to either bottle it and drink it as is, or proceed to second fermentation.
Second fermentation is really just the addition of any flavoring items to your brew. I’m a big fan of fruit, so that is what I chose to add. It’s also important to get some good glass bottles for individual serving portions. You can see the “pop top” version that I used. They are available on amazon. Just as you needed to clean all the brewing materials initially, you will want to do the same with the bottles and materials you use for the second brew.
I gathered a few different fruits and just tried a variety of flavor combinations. Place the clean cut fruit into the bottles and then just add kombucha until they’re mostly full. You want to leave some air in for the second fermentation so it will be nice and fizzy. You then leave the bottles out to ferment a few more days. I generally do 3 days in the same location/temp as my big brew jar, before moving the bottles to the fridge. Once the bottled kombucha is chilled, it’s ready to drink!
The flavor combinations I tried first (pictured above) were:
- Blackberry peach
- Strawberry peach
- Strawberry lemon
They were all FANTASTIC! I must say that the amount of satisfaction I get from hearing a great big POP when I open one of my home brewed bottles of kombucha is pretty serious. I also rather enjoy finding new flavor combos and naming them when I find a winner. As soon as I bottle a gallon, I start another brew. I now have a continual brew going at my house at all times! You can also store your SCOBY if you don’t want to brew again right away. Just brew some tea with extra sugar so it can survive while it isn’t being used. I also find it comical that while I was once barren in the SCOBY department, I now produce baby SCOBYs regularly. If I change my blogging name to Mother of SCOBYs don’t be surprised.
Have you guys brewed kombucha at home? Drop and tips, recipes, or tricks that you’ve learned!