Kombucha is the nectar of the gods, or, at the very least, the gods’ favorite fermented tea flavored with fruit. It’s delicious.
Can you believe me? You can. I might be a weird mix of contradictions. Freshly manicured nails bring me joy, and so do my reusable pads. I’m not quite ready for family cloth, but I did preserve over 200 lbs of fruit and vegetables this summer. I’m a makeup-loving feminist, and despite my initial reluctance, a food fermenting aficionado, and a passionate lover of kombucha. In fact, I love it so much that I make my own. And I’m going to teach you how to make kombucha too.
What is Kombucha? Kombucha is sweetened black tea that is allowed to ferment with a yeast and bacterial puck, which is called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). It undergoes two stages of fermentation, over the course of about two weeks, and the end result is bubbly, tart, and once you grow to love it, delicious. Really. It’s not just tasty, but I believe that it has health benefits. With the antioxidants from black tea, plus probiotics, I feel that my intestinal health and general immunity have been improved by drinking kombucha. Am I a doctor, or otherwise qualified to give health advice? No, I am not, but I do really enjoy giving health advice nonetheless. Who doesn’t? I consider dispensing health advice to be a viable hobby. Anyhow, kombucha does contain live bacteria, and small (tiny) amounts of alcohol, so I don’t recommend it for pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, or people who have compromised immune systems.
To make kombucha, you will need:
- 2 bags black tea
- 1/4 cup sugar
- a glass container that is large enough to hold 8 cups of boiling water
- paper towels
- rubber bands
- SCOBY plus liquid from prior ferment
- reusable bottles suitable for fermenting (these, and these seem nice to me- the bottles need to be able to hold pressurized liquids, and be airtight.)
- 2 dishtowels
- teapot, or other pot, for boiling water
- quart jar
- flavorings (could include any of the following: fresh ginger, blueberries, apples, fresh turmeric, carrots, beets, strawberries, pomegranate, cranberries, etc)
Part One: the First Ferment
The first part of recipe is as follows (you can multiply this recipe as needed- I always make a double batch.):
- 8 cups of boiling water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teabags (black tea)
- 1 SCOBY plus liquid from previous ferment
You may be wondering “where can I get a SCOBY?” Don’t worry. I’m here to help. You can order a SCOBY online, you can ask local Facebook friends, or you can post to Front Porch Forum, and ask neighbors. I’ve given a SCOBY away in this manner. Or ask me. I have some extras. You can also make your own SCOBY, which sounds like a lot of fun.
Wash hands scrupulously before handling any ingredients, and make sure that all of your tools are as clean as possible. Pour boiling water into your large glass container (please make sure your container is safe for high heat before doing this.) Add sugar. Stir to mix. Add two teabags. Allow to seep until water is room temperature. This will take hours, but it is essential to let your tea cool, otherwise you may kill your SCOBY. Remove teabags. Add SCOBY plus liquid from previous ferment. Cover the top of your container with a doubled up paper towel, held in place with a rubber band. Wrap a dishtowel around, but not over, your container. Put it in a warm, dark place to rest, undisturbed, for a minimum of 10 days. When the temperature of your room is cooler, fermentation takes longer, and you may want to let your kombucha ferment for a few more days. Kombucha is not an exact science, and I have allowed my kombucha to ferment for up to two or even three weeks. The end result is a little stronger, and more tart, but it tastes fine.
Part Two: the Second Ferment.
Here’s the fun part! You get to flavor the second ferment any way you want. You must use something that contains a little natural sugar, to promote fermentation, and you can also add spices, if you wish. In each bottle, you should use about 2 tbsp of fruit, and about 1/2 tbsp of spice (fresh ginger or turmeric, minced, or whatever else you want to use. I think cinnamon would be a tasty addition, but please don’t make the mistake I did, and put whole cinnamon sticks into your bottles. They’re impossible to remove. Tiny pieces of cinnamon stick would have worked better. Cardamon, cloves, and allspice might also be delicious.) I use ginger and turmeric in almost every batch because they are both so good for you. Add fruit/spices to your fermenting bottles.
When you unwrap your first kombucha ferment, it will smell slightly sour. That’s great! Your bacteria has eaten the sugar, and your SCOBY should have reproduced. Transfer your SCOBYs into your quart jar, with about a cup or so of the first ferment liquid enough to cover the SCOBYs. Cover the top of your jar with paper towels, and secure them with rubber bands. Wrap the sides of the container with a dishtowel, and store until you make your next batch (I usually make my next batch when I start my second ferment.) This is your first SCOBY hotel! Congratulations! I feel weirdly affectionate towards my baby SCOBYs. Transfer remaining liquid into your fermenting bottles, leaving about 2 inches of air space. Close bottles tightly.