Saturday, March 10, 2018

It's ALIVE! The light and dark side of kombucha.

I figured I would make a post about this topic as I appear to have several friends and/or family members interested in kombucha via my picture posts on Facebook.

To do a quick, description in layman's termskombucha is a fermented beverage made from sweetened black or green tea. It is produced by a "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast" (aka SCOBY).

This is where most people get turned off. The SCOBY (pictured here above and to the right)

Again, to put things in simple terms, a SCOBY is gelatinous 'blob' that is made up of bacteria and yeast... and visually looks disgusting. Kind of like a jellyfish or layer of slime one would find in a swamp or something. If you are able to get past 'the dark side', and look at the 'light side' (the healthy aspects of this probiotic drink), kombucha is truly a tasty, thirst-quenching, refreshing drink! I think the main reason it has been on a-lot of people's radars lately is because of the reported health benefits of consuming it. As reported in this WebMD page, kombucha is claimed to help your digestion system, boost energy level and help the body get rid of toxins... all of this is scientifically un-proven (just so you know).

My wife got me turned onto this drink many years ago and we both went though a phase where we purchased  several bottles a week. GT's was probably the biggest brand that came into the market (at least in our area) and came in a variety of flavors. Unfortunately, just like some exotic coffee brands, purchasing this at ~$3.00 a bottle, certainly added up quick! That's when I started looking into making it myself..

Being a homebrewer of beer for many years and the result of various Google and YouTube searches  about making kombucha, I realized that it didn't appear to be hard to do. As long as you had some basic equipment, the time and patience, anyone could do it. All you need is a few things - vessel to hold 1 gallon, a piece of cloth to cover during fermentation, tea leaves, sugar and a SCOBY. To simplify the process, this is what you would do in a nutshell:

Basic Brewing Instructions to make kombucha:
  1. In a pot or kettle, bring 1/2 gallon of water to about 180° F
  2. Remove from the heat
  3. Add in ~35grams of loose leaf tea (you can use store bought tea/tea bags if you want!)
  4. Let the tea leaves steep/sit there for ~4 minutes
  5. Strain out the liquid into another container, removing all the loose leaf tea bits
  6. Clean the pot/kettle, pour the tea you just strained/made back into it
  7. Add 1 cup of sugar to the newly strained tea. Stir to dissolve completely
  8. Pour the now sweet tea into a glass gallon jar or vessel you are going to let things ferment in.
  9. Add the remaining water to bring it up to 1 gallon; approx 1/2 gallon. NOTE: I'll often add ice cubes to to ensure the temperature is down to 70-75° F
  10. Once the temp is below 80° F, add the SCOBY!
  11. Cover the vessel with some cheesecloth or other clean piece of cloth and secure it with a rubber band
  12. Store it in a warm dark place; wrap it in a towel if you'd like. Temps should be in the mid-70° F's for it to ferment
  13. In about 5-7 days, sample the liquid to your taste (should have a mild vinegar essence to it). If you want to get more precise, take a pH reading using test strips; it should be in the the 3's). You can leave it go for longer if its not ready.

Secondary fermentation: 

This is what I have always done, but you don't have to. Secondary fermentation is the time you remove the SCOBY and pour off the kombucha into bottles (or a secondary vessel) to add flavorings and let it carbonate and get fizzy.

I like to add ginger paste tagged along with some fresh/frozen/dried fruit pieces or fruit juice. This stage is all about your making something you like! You'll have to play with the amount of juice or pieces of fruit to add (depending on the size of your vessel or bottle). Personally, I use cleaned out, de-labeled, GT's bottles that I have accumulated over time along with some 38mm growler caps purchased from my local homebrew shop. I often let the fruit meld with the kombucha for a week or so; that give it time for the solution to become fruity effervescence!

Equipment and setup:

For me, I started out with the simple 1 gallon glass jar for my fermentation vessel, some store bought tea bags, some organic sugar and a scoby purchased through Amazon (see below for some links of things I have purchased). Over the years, I've added on to the setup to include a heat-wrap with temperature controller and most recently moved to a continuous brew system like this one from Midwest Supplies.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this, so I will wrap this post up with this - for those of you who are looking for resources and places to go for getting into the kombucha game, check out these links that I have either used or purchased things through. Best of luck and feel free to hit me up if you have questions!

The starter kit I bough back in 2014! -

Scoby(s) I have purchased -

Tea blends that I have used -

Kombucha Revolution book

Other places I have purchased from -
Kombucha Kamp - I've bought some tea blends form them and most recently a brew stand for my continuous system shown in the picture above -