Home brewed kombucha
Let's be honest, kombucha is a little weird... fermented tea?? Oh. Yes. Raw kombucha can be a great source of probiotics (depends on who makes it, check the label for probiotic content) that help to support digestive health. Unfortunately, I don't have a way of measuring the probiotic content of my home-brew. However, my kombucha starter was a bottle of GT's Raw Kombucha, Original flavor which contains 1 billion CFU of bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6068 and 1 billion CFU of S. Boullardi, both known probiotics. Fingers crossed that these guys are also present in my current brew! So back to it being weird, I got super excited about making my own kombucha as a food science experiment. I started out by growing a SCOBY -- symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast -- according to this recipe from The Kitchn. Highly suggest you read the whole article before trying it out! SCOBY is this weird goop that is basically the home for your tea-fermenting microbes. It takes about a month to make your own SCOBY from a bottle of raw, unflavored kombucha from the store, so it's best to plan on this being a long-term project. I've also heard you can find kombucha starter kits online or from local kombucha brewers. I currently have 4 separate SCOBYs that started from the original that I grew! Here's one of the bigger ones:
Since kombucha is a fermented product, food safety is very important. As you go along, be careful to wash your hands before handling your SCOBY, and always use clean equipment. The Kitchn recommends the following for keeping your SCOBY and kombucha safe:
"Keep an eye on it and refer to the pictures in the slide-show below. Bubbles, jelly-like masses, and gritty brown-colored residue are good; fuzzy black or green spots of mold are bad. The liquid in the jar should always smell fresh, tart, and slightly vinegary (this will become more pronounced the further you are in the process); if it smells cheesy, rancid, or otherwise off-putting, then something has gone wrong."
If in doubt, throw it out! Keeping the bottle of kombucha out of direct sunlight and covered with a paper towel or a thin, clean cloth towel will help the good microbes thrive and keep out the bad ones. When you need to set the SCOBY aside, put it on a clean plate. If it'll be sitting out for more than 5-10 minutes, cover it with plastic wrap. If it'll be out more than 2 hours, stick it in the fridge. You can store a SCOBY in the fridge in some kombucha liquid for 4-6 weeks, or longer if you change out its liquid.
Once you have your SCOBY, you're ready to get brewing! I use this recipe, also from The Kitchn, to brew my kombucha. The yield is 1 gallon of kombucha. I started out with a smaller half batch to see how it would go, and this week I increased it to 1 gallon.
The first step is making the sweet tea. Boil 3 1/2 quarts of water. Once boiling, stir in 1 cup white sugar and remove from heat. The tea I use is a simple, store brand green tea. You'll need 8 tea bags. I recently found a great deal at Whole Foods for green tea in bulk! The ones I have been using are from Harris Teeter. You can use black or green tea, but I've heard from some experienced sources that green tea might produce a better kombucha.
Remove the pot from the heat and let it steep until it cools to room temperature. I like to tie the bags to each other and hang them from a wooden spoon like so:
Once the tea is cool, stir in 2 cups starter kombucha. This can be the liquid you used to make the SCOBY, or 2 cups from the kombucha you brewed the week before. This helps acidify the tea to keep other bacteria from growing while it ferments.
Next, distribute the liquid evenly into whatever glass containers you will be using. Plastic might work OK, but avoid metal as it will weaken the microbes' fermenting abilities and change the flavor of the kombucha. I currently have 2, 1-quart glass milk jars and 1, 2-quart iced tea pitcher that I am using. Distributing it makes it a little easier to handle than putting the whole thing in one heavy glass jug. Gently place 1 SCOBY in each jar.
Cover each bottle with a paper towel or clean, thin cloth and secure with a rubber band.
Now, we wait! Keep the fermenting tea in a clean, dry area out of direct sunlight at as close to room temperature as you can get. After 1 week, the kombucha should be ready to be bottled. Depending on the exact temperature of the room, this might take more or less time. Taste a bit to see if it's as tart/acidic as you want. For bottling, you will need 6, 16 oz glass bottles with screw on tops. Bottling is the step where flavors are added and carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle, making it flavorful and fizzy. So far I've made plain, mango, peach blackberry, and strawberry basil kombucha.
You can easily flavor your kombucha with fruit juice, distributing 2-3 cups juice between the 6 bottles. I have opted for fresh fruit thus far, simply because there is a lot of delicious fruit in season at the moment. For fresh fruit, I use about 1-2 cups chopped fruit, pureed with 1/2 cup water. Below is the strawberry (1 cup) and basil (~7 leaves) from our garden I used most recently.
I then set up my strainer system: line a bowl with a paper towel and set up a sieve on top. A cheesecloth would work even better than the paper towel, I gotta go get some!
Next, pour the fruit puree through the strainer, using a wooden spoon to help it along.
Remove the sieve with the larger pulpy chunks, and carefully pick up the paper towel. Squeeze out the juice, being careful to leave any seeds behind. I then took about 1 tsp of this pulp and added it back to the juice, just for a tiny bit of texture.
Distribute the juice among the bottles evenly.
Fill with kombucha, leaving at least ~1/2 inch head space at the top of each bottle. Screw on the top, and leave it to carbonate for 1-3 days. Unscrew the cap once a day to let out some CO2. The warmer the room, or the sweeter the flavoring, the faster the kombucha will be ready and the more often you'll need to let out some CO2. Screw top bottles aren't completely sealed, so a little CO2 will be escaping regardless. If using a container with an exceptionally tight seal, open it up more than once a day to prevent it from exploding everywhere!
After those 1-3 days, enjoy! Have fun experimenting with different fruits, herbs and spices :)