Kombucha has made a come-back. Straight out of the hippie 60s and 70s, when it went by names like ‘mushroom tea’ and ‘hippie juice’. Now it’s acceptable by the mainstream – well, sort of….! And is called simply Kombucha. And everyone wants it. Plain, coffee, fruit flavoured.
It’s rebirth is directly related to the sudden rise in the interest and science around good gut bacteria. Even the conservative medicals can’t miss this one. Can they?
It’s clear that after decades of knocking off our beneficial organisms with buckets of antibiotics, and the sanitising of everything in sight, we need all the variety of gut bacteria we can get.
And while probiotics will do the job, it’s a pretty expensive hobby. Kombucha, on the other hand, is cheap as chips. Just a pot of sugared tea. Easy peasy. And tastes fizzy and fantastic.
What’s a Scoby?
Kombucha is loaded with bacteria and yeasts, which is where it’s ‘mushroom’ gets the name – scoby = Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast.
The number and types of bacteria vary between batches, depending on the makeup of the scoby, and also what organisms get in during the fermentation process.
It’s really important to use a properly cleaned glass container which is kept covered. Carefully wash your hands before lifting the scoby out, and make sure all the other containers and utensils that you use have been freshly washed.
There’s plenty written about how good or how bad Kombucha is – and I’m not going there. I like it, and continue to make it. Read everything you can find, then make up your own mind.
The scoby quickly takes on a flat round form, rather like a thick pancake, except that it usually has a layer of weird bits on one surface…brown and stringy.
It will start to get thicker after a few batches, until it’s like two layers joined together. Now is an ideal time to separate them, and give one to a friend. You can also cut a single layer in half, since it will soon grow into a round again.
It should never look like mold, or smell unpleasant – the smell is a bit yeasty towards vinegar. If you have any doubts about it, throw it out and start again – it’s not that hard.
There are a number of ways to start making your own. And you’ll find the recipe at the end.
- beg borrow or steal a scoby and add it to sugared tea
- find someone who has one who would be prepared to give you half
- buy a bottle of commercial Kombucha, (raw, unpasteurised) and use a cup of that as a starter. Look for a little blob floating around in it.
When you go the commercial route, it will take about 3 weeks for the scoby to develop, so you’ll need to be patient. But once it’s grown, each batch will only take around a week, depending on the ambient temperature.
You decide when the Kombucha is ready to drink. I like it just lightly acid, with a pleasant fizz. Some people like it tart or even vinegar-like. Whatever tastes good for you.
Flavours and colours
Once it’s ready, you then bottle it off and start a new batch. You’ll probably want to strain it before bottling, as there are often weird floaty bits that look pretty suss. They’re not; just the bacteria doing their job,
You can now flavour it if you want by adding fruit, berries, herbs or spices. I like it with added fresh lemon, including the skin. And fresh ginger is a great addition.
If you put the liquid into sealed bottles, you need to be aware that it continues to ferment, and there is a danger that the bottles can explode. You can get proper Grolsch Flip-top bottles that prevent that.
(Using a SCOBY)
Use glass containers, and limit the use of metal (which the bacteria don’t seem that fond of)
1.5 litres water
1/2 cup sugar
4 tea bags or equivalent amount of loose tea (Use real tea – black, green or white. Herb teas can be added, but only as added flavour, not part of the basic amount.
1 cup kombucha from the last batch
Boil the water, and add it to the tea and sugar. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Allow it to steep for at least fifteen minutes. When it’s cool pour into a clean jar, add the starter kombucha, and mix well.
I dissolve the sugar and tea in just 500 mls of the boiling water, then when it cools, add the remaining water, cold. Much quicker than waiting for the larger amount to cool.
Once you’ve developed a good relationship with your scoby, and understand it, you can mess a bit with the quantities. I use a little less sugar, and sometimes a little more water. Just pay attention to the look, smell and taste.
Be sure the liquid is actually cool before adding the reserved cup of Kombucha and the scoby….if it’s even tepid, you could kill your new best friend.
Slide the scoby into the jar. It may sink, float or just hang around, especially at first. Later, it will sit prettily on top of the liquid, completely covering the top.
Cover the jar with paper towel, a coffee filter, or clean teatowel. Date it, and put in a cupboard away from dust, sun and disturbance.
After about 4 days, you can start to taste it until it is fermented to your taste. Goes faster in warm weather, and slows down when it’s cold. Usual is 7 days.
When you’re ready, carefully lift the scoby out with clean fingers, and put it into a clean dish.
Bottle off the liquid, (remembering to keep a cup aside as starter, then wash and dry the jar and start the whole process over.
Once you’ve bottled it off, it’s a good idea, especially in warm weather, to keep it in the fridge, in order to keep it from fermenting too much.
Using commercial Kombucha
If you’re starting from scratch, without a scoby, use the same tea/sugar mix, and add 1 cup of commercial, unpasteurized Kombucha.
Check every week that it is looking and smelling healthy. Soon, you should see a jelly-like blob appear – and grow. That’s good. After about 5 weeks, you should have a recognizable, if a bit tatty, scoby.
It’s recommended that you toss this liquid, (except for one cup for the starter) and start at the beginning, as above. Your plants or compost will be delighted with the discarded liquid.
If you love coffee, and in Summer, iced coffee, you can use coffee instead of tea as the base.
NOTE: Once you use the scoby with coffee, you can’t return it to tea. So wait till you have one big enough to separate.
Use strong coffee in place of the tea with the same amount of sugar. You don’t need to use the cup of starter for this one.
Kombucha is a great drink to have instead of canned junk drinks; it’s refreshing and the sugar has pretty much been used up in the fermentation process.
And those beneficial bacteria will not go astray. Try it; it’s a fun and very healthy thing to do.