When I mentioned making a ginger bug for soda last week, I also mentioned making a slightly carbonated fermented tea called kombucha. If you’re not sure what kombucha is, it is a sweet tea that has been inoculated and allowed to ferment for a period of time. It is easy to make and a whole lot cheaper than buying it from the store. Kombucha is to the fermenting world what chickens are to homesteading. It’s that gateway that introduces you to the endless world of ferments.
Making kombucha is really quite easy, but before you can start brewing batches right and left, you must come up with a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) otherwise known as a mother culture. There are a good number of places you can find them online – a quick google search, Amazon, or heck, even us – or you can take the time to make one yourself. Making a SCOBY is not difficult, but if its your first foray into fermenting, it might seem a bit daunting; for all intents and purposes, it is not, and you probably have most of the stuff you’ll need sitting in your kitchen.
Kombucha is tea that is fermented, so you’ll need some sort of black tea, sugar, water a fermenting vessel and some plain kombucha. Later in life, when you have multiple SCOBYs you can experiment with different types of teas, but the different oils and compounds can effect your SCOBY adversely so it is recommended to start with a basic black tea. (After using a SCOBY in non-black tea, I give it to the chickens and use another mother next time.) Sugar is another important factor for making kombucha, like any ferment, the bacteria and yeast need sugar to feed on. White refined sugar is what the internet and all the books claim works the best. I have tried different types of sugars and have noticed no difference in taste. Again, to start, use white sugar, and once you get going go ahead and experiment. Remember that honey is an anti-microbial and while it may work for kombucha, it slows the process and hurts the SCOBY. Some people put a lot of focus on the water, saying you have to use filtered water or bottled water. I haven’t found this to be an issue, so long as you don’t have chlorinated water, you should be fine. If your water is chlorinated you can buy bottled water, or let your water sit in a container with an open top (use a coffee filter) and let the chlorine dissipate into the air for a day or two. As far as fermenting vessels go, I’ve used an empty glass gallon jar; it started out full of pickles. Or if a gallon of kombucha is too much, you can get a half-gallon mason jar.
The last key ingredient is the kombucha culture which can actually be obtained from the store. Technically you should use plain kombucha for making a SCOBY as it does not have the additive flavors and oils, however I have been able to use flavored kombucha when the store did not have any plain.
Now it’s time to make your SCOBY. It is simple. When you make your first SCOBY you don’t want a huge batch of kombucha, so you could start with a quart size jar while you eat all your pickles.
- Start with a cup of water and ¼ cup of sugar. Heat the water up with one black tea bag or one tablespoon of loose black tea and dissolve the sugar.
- Allow the tea to cool to about 70-80°F and remove the tea.
- Add your bottle of kombucha. You can add the whole bottle, or you can add less, just make sure to get the visible strains and yeast from the bottom into your batch.
- Put a breathable top on your container (rubber bands and coffee filters work well).
- Put the container in a warm (70-80°F) place and let it rest.
- In a few days – seven at the latest – you’ll start to see a baby SCOBY forming on the top.
- In two or three weeks, you’ll have a decent sized mother and will be able to start fermenting your own batches of kombucha.
Making your first batch of kombucha is essentially the same as making a SCOBY, extrapolate your sugar to water ratios and add your mother with a half-cup of starter tea and you’re off!