Kombucha

Awhile ago a friend stopped by our house to chat and have some sushi. Our conversation was taking its normal course: complaining about school, laughing about something that happened at school, asking if the other had begun watching one of the addictive series catch on like wildfire amongst our friends, complaining a little more about school, etc. Suddenly she sat upright and said, “Oh my goodness! You’ll never guess what I saw the other day.”

My mind began ticking through potential guesses… a monk in an interesting situation? A monkey on someone’s motorbike? Six people on a motorbike? A particularly unconvincing ladyboy?

“Well. I went over to Collette and Claire’s for tea, and noticed they had a big thing covered in a batik on their fridge. I asked what it is and it was–”
“Oh, their kombucha!”
“I don’t know what it’s called but it was mold! A big thing of some tea with proper mold growing at the top!”
“Haha yeah it looks kind of weird but it’s kombucha. It’s really good for you, they’re going to give me some of that ‘mold’ when it’s big enough and I’ll grow my own.”
“Oh no. No thanks. They tried to get me to actually drink some but no! I couldn’t!”

And yes, Kellie’s reaction can hardly be blamed. I don’t think I or anyone else would try to make a case that the ‘mold’ (or SCOBY, as in “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” as it’s formally known) that makes a home at the top of a batch of kombucha is a particularly enticing entity– in fact, it is rather off-putting. But if she’d just gotten past that… if she’d have not let that mental block get the best of her!

She’d have been in for a world of good. People make cases for it being good for just about every part of your body, and also claim it can improve mental health. It’s an ancient Chinese “elixir” that has been used in traditional medicine for over 2000 years. At the very least, (naysayers in the medical community are quick to point out that there have been no clinical trials to support many of the beneficial claims) it’s loaded with probiotics (think yogurt, but MORE) and has well-accepted detoxifying properties. Check here (or here or here) for more detailed accounts.

And since that conversation, we’ve succeeded in preparing two batches of Kombucha! Collette and Claire’s SCOBY (“Thomas,” they named it him) finally reached a sharable size (so, naturally, we now have “TJ,” both to mean “Thomas, Jr.” and because I like to act the part of an overly-enthusiastic UVA alum. Have you seen my dog’s collar?), and following this guideline we’ve met all kinds of success!

Now, one thing you may notice in any research you do about kombucha is that people are quick to mention all the harmful things that can happen as a result of contamination. If you do decide brewing kombucha at home is for you, it’s really important that you keep everything really clean. Run boiling water (mixed with white vinegar, preferably) over everything. Don’t use soap though, as any traces can allegedly kill all the good bacteria.

our materials: enormous glass container, loose green tea in cheesecloth, four cups of sugar, pot for boiling water, vinegar for sterilizing

boiling enough water to nearly fill the container… tedious and sweltering, but worth it in the end!

so. large container of green tea, with four cups of sugar added on the left. a bit of leftover kombucha with the SCOBY on the right. when the tea has reached room temperature, pour in the leftover kombucha as a starter, and then with clean hands carefully add the SCOBY.

tada! now just tightly cover with a cloth or other breathable material, and wait for 1-2 weeks. (taste it after about a week. it’s ready when it’s carbonated and tangy enough for you. all that sugar is intended to feed the SCOBY: the longer you leave it the less sugar that will be left.)

let the waiting begin!

a few days later. notice that the SCOBY has made its way to the top (where it’s in the process of forming a new layer) and the tea’s already a bit cloudier. this is good.

a close-up of the growing SCOBY about a week in.

after a week i was dying for some, so i decided to take one little pitcher. (remember to sterilize all secondary storage containers as well!) this batch was only slightly carbonated and still quite sweet– apparently the SCOBY was still working its way through the sugar.

the SCOBY, after another week. you can understand kellie’s wariness of the whole idea, no?

two weeks in, it’s finally ready to bottle up the rest! once again… sterilized ladle, sterilized funnel, sterilized bottles. don’t let all your hard work go to waste!

and, the finished product. ideally you’ll use glass bottles but we end up drinking it so quickly i feel like plastic’s fine. and that little jar to the side? i’m attempting to grow just a tiny culture to bring home with me:). i hear even the starter kits are really expensive in the states! as directed, we let it sit at room temperature in these bottles until they become “rock hard” from carbonation, then put them in the fridge to chill.

By the end of two weeks, we found our batch had gotten quite tangy indeed and will probably bottle it a few days earlier this time. The link I provided as my “guideline” had recommended infusing it with fruit when bottling it; we haven’t tried this yet but I think it could yield some great results. Sometimes I also choose to strain it when pouring myself a glass, as those little stringy bits (“jellyfish,” as we’ve come to endearingly refer to them) do end up in the finished product and can be a bit much sometimes. And for those of you wondering whether it being a “fermented” drink means that it’s also an “alcoholic” drink, the answer is that yes, there’s a negligible amount of alcohol that forms during the fermentation. In other words, you’d have to drink a whole lot in order to get wasted, but hey, give it a try. If you’re into that kind of thing.

One more time just because her instructions are way more professional and easy to follow than mine (not to mention her pictures are better): How to Make Kombucha Tea at Home from theKitchn.com.

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2 thoughts on “Kombucha

  1. Pingback: This Week in Links: January 20-January 26 | ollie in america

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