What is kombucha?
Kombucha is sugar sweetened tea that has beeen fermented. It’s comprised of tea, sugar, and your choice of flavouring. Kombucha is fermented using a SCOBY, also known as a mother. Adding a SCOBY to the sugar and tea, then allowing it to ferment results in Kombucha tea. Kombucha tea is tangy and effervescent. It is full of probiotics from the fermentation process. During your secondary fermentation you can add flavourings. My personal favourite is ginger and lemon.
To make kombucha, you need tea. What kind of tea you ask? You can use black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong, etc. Stay away from plant infusions, such as mint or chamomile; as well as any heavily scented or flavoured tea such as earl grey. As I tend to be on the impatient side, I brew a strong tea concentrate, then cool it down with water, so I don’t have to wait for my tea to cool.
Many people have told me that they have had success with other sweeteners other than organic cane sugar. By sweeteners I mean honey, maple syrup, agave. Other people have told me horror stories of shriveled SCOBY’s or flat kombucha when using different sweeteners. I have found the best results, and by best I mean most consistent when I use organic cane sugar. Of course this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t experiment in your own home lab.
What is a SCOBY?
SCOBY is an acronym that stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Essentially it is a cellulose patty that is formed by the active bacteria during fermentation. The SCOBY contains all of the “life” of the tea, which is the yeast and bacteria. SCOBY’s are available for purchase online. You may have some luck locating one in your community, do an online search. Many people are happy to share their SCOBY bounty!
Once you add your SCOBY, it may float at the surface, sink to the bottom of your jar, or even float sideways. All of this is totally normal. If your SCOBY is a different shape or size from the container you are fermenting in, it will develop a new film that is exactly the size and shape of your container. This film that develops is a new kombucha SCOBY.
Grow your own SCOBY??
The film that develops on the surface of your fermenting tea is a new SCOBY. If you want or need to grow a new SCOBY, pour a bottle of kombucha into a wide mouth jar, cover and wait for about 1 week. A new skin should form. Wait until your SCOBY gets thicker, about 5-7 days, then remove it and start brewing!
Over time your SCOBY will grow and get thicker. You can peel away the layers, and start more batches of kombucha or share your bounty. Having a thicker SCOBY doesn’t benefit your brew more than a thinner SCOBY, so peel it and share! I keep dividing my SCOBY’s and keep them in a SCOBY hotel.
Yes, that’s right a SCOBY hotel. Every once in a while I add some sweetened tea to top it up and add more SCOBYs. Right now I have two large fido jars on my kitchen counter full of SCOBYs. If you start to become overrun with these creatures, and can’t find anyone to take them off your hands, I recommend composting them, or digging them into your flower beds.
There are so many, many options for flavouring your kombucha. Some of my personal favourites are lemon & ginger, wild blueberry & maple, and honey green tea. Experiment to your own taste.
Things to keep in mind
Kombucha does best in a warm environment 75-85 degrees F. The exact length of the fermentation process will vary depending on the temperature in your home. Typically my kombucha ferments in 7-10 days no matter what the season. Others have told me that they haven’t reached the right acidity in their brew for a month or two in winter time.
Kombucha does contain a trace amount of alcohol. Nearly all fermented foods do. Typically it is below 0.5 percent.
Examine your SCOBY. Some people have reported mold developing on their SCOBYs. If you have discovered mold, throw away the SCOBY and kombucha. The best way to avoid mold is to use a mature acidified kombucha starter from your previous batch.
If your SCOBY sinks and does not form a new film, your SCOBY is no longer viable. Compost it and start fresh.
- 14 cups filtered water
- 1 cup organic cane sugar
- 8 bags black tea or 2 tablespoons loose black tea
- 2 cups starter tea (from the store or previous batch)
- 1 SCOBY
- Bring 7 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add tea and allow to steep 30-40 minutes. Add remaining water.
- Once tea is cooled, remove tea bags or loose tea. Stir in your starter tea.
- Pour tea mixture into a 1 gallon glass jar. Place SCOBY in jar with clean hands. Cover mouth of jar with cheesecloth, paper towel or my choice, coffee filter. Secure with rubber band.
- Keep jar out of direct sunlight, at room temperature for 7-10 days. Take note: during this time a new SCOBY may develop on the surface.
- After 7 days, begin tasting your brew. When it has reached the right balance of tartness and sweetness, you are ready to bottle.
- Prepare another batch of sweetened tea.
- Remove SCOBY from fermenting jar. Set aside. Measure out 2 cups of starter tea from fermented tea. Set aside.
- Infuse your kombucha with any herbs, spices or fruit for another day or two in another jar covered with cheesecloth or paper towel.
- Strain and bottle using 2-2 liter pop bottles or 6-16 ounce swing top bottles. Leave at least 1 inch headspace.
- Store your bottled kombucha at room tempature out of direct sunlight 1-3 days. At this point carbination should occur. Refrigerate to stop carbination. Consume within 1 month.
- Prepare your next batch. Mix the reserved starter with a fresh batch of sweetened tea. Pour into fermentation jar. Place SCOBY on top and cover.