So, a little while ago, a friend and purveyor of all things healthy and good, Honae MacNeill (@minimacmeals) wrote a guest piece for Training for Chocolate on Fermenting – with advice and instructions on brewing your own kombucha tea and making your own milk kefir.
Around the same time, she gave me my very own 2 litre of jar of already-brewing kombucha, complete with scoby (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria & Yeast). The scoby is the rather unpleasant looking jelly-like disc of yeast and bacteria that turns regular sweet tea into this beautiful healthy drink.
Honae had lamented at seeing me pay $5 per (small) bottle of kombucha from the health food store, and let’s face it, that’s not really a daily habit you can keep up is it, as delicious as it is? The health food store already gets more than it’s fair share of our household income, let me tell you.
Honae knew from her own experience how easy and cheap it was to make it at home. I was a complete novice, utterly clueless but very keen to see if I could do it.
So, somewhat nervously, I started my own little fermenting journey.
Now, just in case you don’t know what kombucha is (if you do, skip the next paragraph)….
Kombucha is a cold fermented tea. That doesn’t sound so yummy, but really, it is. It has just the right amount of sweetness. And it’s super refreshing with a little tang to it that your taste buds will love. It’s kind of energizing too, like a little pick-me-up. All great reasons to drink it.
However the reason it’s becoming so popular is because it’s so darn good for you. It’s full of pro-biotics so it aids digestion and boosts your immune system. Your tummy really needs fermented foods (or drinks!) every day to stay healthy. For me, kombucha is the best way to get it, not being a fan of sauerkraut. It’s also thought to help balance your metabolism and detox your organs.
The team at I Quit Sugar love kombucha too – see their 17 Reasons to Drink Kombucha.
As I said, you can buy it in health food stores, even in different flavours (I love the Mojo Kombucha brand’s Raspberry one, hubby loves the zing of the Ginger one). Or you can make it at home…
In short, here is what you do (although please refer to Honae’s original post for more detail):
- Boil up tap water for 15 minutes (I do about 2 ½ litres, so that even with evaporation, I have more than enough liquid for my 2 litre glass fermenting jar)
- Add tea bags and sugar (for my volume, around 5 tea bags and a cup of raw sugar)
- Brew for 15 minutes then remove the tea bags, make sure sugar has dissolved
- Leave to get to room temperature then pour into the glass jar and pop your scoby back in with around 100-200ml of the previous batch)
- Cover with muslin/tea towel and let the scoby do it’s thing…mine only seems to take a week until it tastes perfectly scrumptious
- Strain, decant into bottles and pop in the fridge to get nice and cold.
It is so so easy. But that doesn’t mean my short journey has gone entirely smoothly.
Mistakes? I’ve made a few.
Here are some mistakes I’ve made (so far) that we can all learn from.
- First up, not using metal, not even for the straining.Actually I just learned this today when I was doing some research, so I need to go buy a plastic sieve and some bottles without metal lids. And remember to use plastic spoons when I’m tasting. I’m not sure how big of an issue it is but I’ve read it a few times today, so I’m going to take heed.Another thing I’ve read is to use sterilised bottles. I haven’t been sterilising mine, and Honae doesn’t sterilise hers, and we’ve decided that’s OK. OK? Oh, maybe I’ll start sterilising as well… watch this space.
- In my first brewing process, I had no idea what I was doing. Even though the instructions are simple, I still managed to mess things up.I didn’t use enough sugar. I thought I was doing my body a favour here but in actual fact, the scoby eats up almost all the sugar, turning it into goodness, so I had no need to worry about the sugar content.I didn’t know the volume of the jar, and underestimated the amount of water I needed (taking into consideration evaporation when boiling it for 15 minutes). So when I poured my cooled sweet tea into the jar, it only half filled it. So I started all over again with another boiling and tea brewing session and then added that to the jar afterwards. I think this hotch-potch of brewing affected the flavour a bit.
- Not tasting early enough.My first batch was a disaster. I left the kombucha fermenting for a fortnight before I tasted it and when I did, it had gone ‘too far’ and was really vinegary.I bottled and chilled it anyway, hoping that it would taste better cold, but no. Had to chuck that batch down the sink, so sad. I reckon we have a Super Scoby and so now I taste after 7 days and usually the kombucha is pretty much perfect at that point, not too sweet but not too sour. Go, scoby, go!
It seems that Super Scoby is having a baby! Woop woop. This means that once my current fermenting batch is ready, I shall be able to separate ‘mother’ and ‘baby’ (I’ll be gentle) and have two batches of kombucha going at once.
And the reason this is so awesome is because currently we’re drinking it faster than we’re brewing it. Because it is THAT delicious.
Well, I’m probably on my fourth or fifth batch now, and this time, following Honae’s lead, I’ve experimented with half black tea, half green tea. Yet to taste. I’ll report back. Once I have two batches on the go, maybe I’ll try one that’s all green tea.
I’m also planning to trial a ‘second fermentation’ where you add a fruit or flavour (perhaps ginger) to the strained kombucha and let that sit (without scoby) on the benchtop/in the pantry for a couple of days before straining again and refrigerating. Fancy.
Once we have the second scoby going too and hence more volume of yummy kombucha coming our way, I will then experiment with leaving the strained kombucha on the bench for a couple more days before putting in the fridge. Apparently this continues the fermentation process a bit longer and produces more of a ‘fizz’ to the drink. We’ve always been so desperate to get it cold and drink the sweet nectar that I’ve not bothered with this. Until now, I guess. Again, I’ll report back.
And I need to shop! Now that a second scoby is in the pipeline, I need to find another 2 litre glass jar. Plus the plastic sieve and I’m keen to get a big funnel to make pouring the fermented tea into the storage bottles a little easier (and reduce spillage, I hate to see any of this gorgeous stuff hurtling towards the drain).
Don’t have your own scoby?
If you don’t have a friend with a spare, perhaps ask in your local health food store. Or you can google it – there are some websites that sell starter kits including a scoby (sometimes dehydrated for mailing). I found a couple – www.naturaltherapyshop.com.au and www.culturesforhealth.com – but there’s plenty more.
While we’re talking scobies… I was worried about sediment at the bottom of my jar, and about knobbly and stringy bits coming off the scoby, and what looked like a film forming on the top of it.
So I called in my scoby doctor (yes, Honae again) and she confirmed not only that these things are all fine and normal but in fact, that film that was forming was actually the new scoby. I’m just sharing this because I know how mums worry about their little ones haha, and I don’t want you to worry, it’s perfectly normal for your scoby to do all these things.
Not so novice any more
So it’s early days, but I’m getting there. Learning more all the time, and I’ll be trying new things as my fermenting confidence grows.
The main thing is that we are loving drinking kombucha every day. It feels like a little treat, it really does. And we know it’s doing our tummies loads of good. Double whammy. Actually, triple whammy because I’m saving heaps of money making it at home.
Sooooo grateful to Honae for starting me off .
If you’ve never tried kombucha, go buy a bottle from your health food store and see if you like it.
If you’re a keen store-bought kombucha drinker and want to try making it yourself, read Honae’s article, buy a big glass jar, beg, borrow or steal yourself a scoby (no, don’t actually steal one, that’s not nice) and get brewing.
Welcome to the kombucha club, I think you’re going to like it here.