Kombucha

This post will be my braindump about brewing the ‘booch! This is going to be a quick and dirty first draft that I’ll keep editing as I’m short on time at the moment.

Kombucha is not hard to make. Starting from scratch, get any old bottle of booch and drink most of it. Leave about a cup from the very bottom with the cloudy bits for starting your own SCOBY.

OH MY GOD WHY IS SCOBY IN ALL CAPS?!

It’s an acronym — Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.

This is the thingy that “brews” your booch and looks like a weird jelly blob floating (hopefully floating — sometimes it can sink) at the top of your jar. It can get weird colored snot, usually brown, coming off of the bottom of it and this just indicates that it is happily munching on sweet tea. If you see weird colors that aren’t caused by air pockets or bubbles on the top, abort! Start over from scratch or with a different SCOBY. You don’t want to drink that.

In order to brew kombucha you need a SCOBY. But you can make your own SCOBY from almost any bottle of kombucha as long as it’s really kombucha and not some kind of trendy kombucha-like drink or something heavily filtered. It should have sediment at the bottom. Add the bottled kombucha to this recipe and you’ll have your own SCOBY after a couple of weeks. The first brew will be crappy but possibly drinkable. After a couple of brews your SCOBY will be thick and happy, and ready to share with friends for their own brews.

Required stuff:

  • Plenty of loose leaf tea. I use a mix of both generic black tea and gunpowder green teas. If you are a tea snob, save your good tea for something else. Unless you want something really exotic like Pu-Erh flavored kombucha, in which case, go nuts!
  • Sugar. I use organic sugar because it’s pretty much guaranteed to be vegan (some refined sugars are processed with bone char).
  • A clean half gallon jar or two. One for the initial brewing of tea and one for straining off the loose leaf tea. Don’t use metal or ceramic for brewing kombucha since they will react and can leech into the brew. I would not recommend plastic either since the acidic nature of kombucha brewing may end up leeching chemicals too. Your call. If you have cleaned a jar by hand make sure it is extremely well rinsed. You don’t want any kind of cleaning product to end up in your booch. If you only have one jar you can brew the tea in anything large enough that you’re comfortable dumping boiling water into — so again, probably not plastic.
  • Some breathable material to cover the jar: a dish cloth, paper towel folded in half, coffee filter, thick cheesecloth, bandana, or other semi-permeable material that is ideally very fine so that it cannot be penetrated by insects, but importantly, is not airtight.
  • A metal ring, rubber band, or elastic of some sort to keep the covering material tight on the mouth of the jar
  • A sieve or strainer to strain out the loose leaf tea, and to strain off any solids used for flavorings at the end of a batch.
  • A funnel for bottling the finished product

The process:
-Boil about half a gallon of water
-Add one tablespoon each of loose leaf black and green teas
-Let the tea brew for a few minutes and then strain it into a half gallon jar
-If you poured in a full half gallon, pour out about a cup (or however much kombucha you have to add in)
-Stir in 1/2 cup sugar until fully dissolved
-Wait for the tea to cool down to room temperature. If you do not wait you will fry the kombucha that you are about to add in.
-Add in about a cup of kombucha (from your last batch preferably, or from another source)
-Make sure there is enough clearance to fit the SCOBY and a few centimeters of headroom for air at the top of the jar. If there is too much liquid just pour some off, or scoop it out with a measuring cup to prevent having a sticky jar.
-Add your SCOBY on top. It should float. If it sinks it may be because the tea is still too hot, or it’s a very thin SCOBY, or it’s feeling like, down, today. No big deal. It may come back up or you may end up with another baby SCOBY on top at the end of this brew. Either way it will do its job wherever it is.
-Move your jar to wherever it is going to stay for the duration of the brew. It should optimally be somewhere that is warm (but not hot) and dark, with minimal chance of attacks by bugs. It should NOT be placed near any other open fermentation projects like ginger beer, etc. to prevent cross pollination (is that the right term?).
-Once the jar is in place, add your covering material and secure it with an elastic or metal ring. Double check the seal. Make sure the covering material did not get wet while manipulating it because that can lead to mold. Double check that the SCOBY is not touching the covering material. That can dry out the SCOBY and/or lead to mold. Triple check the seal. You don’t want fruitflies finding their way into your brew.
-Wait about five days before tasting a sample of your brew. I tend to use a reusable straw to push past the edge of the SCOBY and take a quick taste. Only you will know when it tastes right. Don’t ask me. It should have some sourness to it and not be sweet. If it’s sweet let it keep going. If it takes over a week your SCOBY may be immature and just need more time for a brew, or your temperature may be low and that will slow the fermentation process. If the ambient temperature is really hot you may have a usable batch in less than 5 days, but watch out, because when you bottle it it may also carbonate very quickly as well and lead to exploding bottles.
-Once the taste is to your liking, remove the SCOBY with clean hands and put it on a clean plate for temporary storage. Dump about a cup of the brew into a sealed container for your next batch. If you’re not going to make a new batch right away, put the SCOBY in with it, seal the container up, and put it in the fridge. That’s called a “SCOBY hotel”. It’ll keep for a while — even longer than a while if you give it some more fresh (but cooled to room temperature) sweet tea to munch on while it’s resting.
-Add whatever flavorings you want at this point. My go-to flavoring is fresh ginger and turmeric that I grind up on a microplane and add in with no particular measurement involved. I then let it sit for around 24 hours to soak up the flavoring, but what you use may require more or less time to absorb the particular flavor you are going for. It will take experimentation.
-If you’ve added stuff for flavoring, you’ll need to strain off the kombucha before bottling it.
-I like to use existing kombucha bottles since they’re smaller portions and opening one bottle doesn’t release all of the nice carbonation for the whole batch
-I also like to use at least one plastic bottle per batch to judge the carbonation level by squeezing the bottle to see if it’s hard or not. Once the plastic bottle is rock hard, I know the batch is carbonated and ready to be chilled.

That’s it for now, I’m sure I’ve left out plenty. I hope it’s helped a bit, and I’ll circle back and keep editing this as time permits.