This could be the start of something very cool.
I’m talking kombucha. Brewed at home. Yep, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon. So what is kombucha and why am I so smitten?
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. (Those last two are known as the SCOBY, a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.) Kombucha has been around for a very long time, as in 2,000 years long, but it’s only recently made its way out of home brew basements and onto grocery store shelves.
I think I first heard about kombucha when I tried a Paleo diet for a month. One of the sites I ran across was touting the benefits of eating fermented foods. And then I kept seeing more and more about kombucha, online and in grocery stores. Pretty soon I was gazing at various brands of kombucha in Whole Foods, mesmerized by their bright colors and both fascinated and mildly put off by the brownish sludge on the bottom of the bottles. Would these actually taste good?
I’m no stranger to fermented beverages, at least when grapes are involved but I’m no home brewer, at least not up until now.
At a recent dinner when Eve offered some around (brewed by one of her students) I worked up the courage for a tiny glass. It was, um, intriguing: slightly murky, a touch of effervescence with a definite sharp, sour note. Decidedly vinegary. It didn’t taste like tea at all.
I wasn’t convinced that it was for me but I was willing to try more. I bought two small bottles at the store. Yep, the ones with sludge on the bottom. The ginger-lemon kombucha was still tart, lighter and even more bubbly than the home brew. But it was the Synergy Triology kombucha that tipped me over the edge. It was delicious, an absolute flavor explosion.
And I could make it at home? That’s when I knew I had to learn more about this stuff. The good, bad and ugly. Speaking of ugly, here’s the SCOBY in my first batch:
Eve and I went to a kombucha making class at O5 Rare Tea Bar, led by Master Brewer Rosie Priest. Rosie was almost as bubbly as the kombucha we sampled, and her infectious enthusiasm took away what reservations I had about trying this at home. It’s easy, she said with a smile.
I had several panicky moments the first few days, fretting about the size and color of the SCOBY (There’s brown spots on it now! What does that mean?? Eve, does your SCOBY look like this?), I decided the best way to deal with it was to shut the kombucha in a cupboard and try to forget about it until it was ready to be bottled. Patience isn’t always my strong suit.
And 10 days later there I was, bottling my very first ever batch of kombucha. Eeeeek! I split off part of the main batch and flavored it with a few tablespoons of fresh raspberry puree. Then, remembering Rosie’s advice on how to make it more bubbly, I let the tightly-sealed kombucha sit for a few more days at room temperature to go through a secondary fermentation.
I could hardly wait to try it out. It was tangy, light, bubbly, with hints of apple cider. And the raspberry one was bursting with raspberry flavor, but not sweet at all. Super tasty, and made for a fraction of the price as the ones in Whole Foods. Yay!
There are a gazillion resources about how to make kombucha at home, including this one. I’ll be fine tuning my kombucha in the next few batches, but here are a few tips for what I’m doing with my own home brew:
- Start with high quality tea that hasn’t been flavored with any oils
- Cold brew the tea, leaving it to sit overnight before adding sugar and the SCOBY
- Use pure cane sugar for the sweetener (I used a proportion of 1/2 cup of sugar to 1 litre of tea)
- Cover with a paper towel secured with a rubber band, and let brew for at least 7 days
- Remove the SCOBY, then strain kombucha into bottles with tight-fitting lids
- If you’re flavoring your kombucha, add the flavoring to the bottle before filling with kombucha
- Chill and enjoy!
- If you want to do a secondary fermentation to make it bubblier, leave a small amount of room at the top of your bottle before you seal it up. Let it sit, tightly-sealed, for 2-3 days at room temperature. Then chill and enjoy!