Kombucha is a delicious, lightly-fermented beverage with proven anti-microbial benefits and naturally occurring probiotics. Though it is trendy now, it has been made for centuries.
There are a lot of questions about the actual benefits of kombucha, and while I am not a scientist, I know what has worked for me. I also know what studies say, like this one from Cornell University:
Kombucha may be a healthful beverage in view of its anti-microbial activity against a range of pathogenic bacteria. This may promote immunity and general well being.1
I also know that kombucha tastes pretty darned good, and that I would in all probability drink the stuff regularly even if it didn’t do anything other than make me say “damn, that’s tasty!”
In my area, an average bottle of kombucha contains 15 ounces +/- and costs from about $3.00 and up. That comes out to at least 20¢ per ounce. I make my own kombucha at home, a gallon at a time. Using the same math, each batch of my homebrew is worth roughly $25.60.
The key ingredient for making kombucha is called a scoby. That stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacterial and Yeast. That’s what makes the magic happen during the fermenting process. Here’s what a scoby looks like:
I know, it looks kinda gross, but you’ll get over it, I promise.
Once you have a starter scoby (I’d be happy to sell you one when I get Etsy up and running), all you need to make your first batch of kombucha is some tea, some sugar, and a little distilled vinegar.
I start by boiling 3 1/2 quarts of water, turning off the heat and adding 4 family size black tea bags (or 6 regular size bags). I let the tea steep for 20 minutes then remove the bags and stir in 2 cups of granulated sugar. I leave the tea to cool completely to room temperature before moving on to the next step.
I clean and sterilize a large mouth gallon jar in the dishwasher, making sure to not use antibacterial soap. We want to encourage good bacteria, not kill it. When the tea has completely cooled, I add my scoby and 1-2 cups of kombucha from the previous batch to the jar and stir it for about 20 seconds. If you don’t have any starter tea with your scoby, buy a bottle of plain, raw kombucha at the store. I used to recommend adding distilled white vinegar in a pinch, but that is not recommended.
Then, all that’s left to do is cover the jar with a napkin or several layers of cheesecloth and set it in a warm-ish, dark place for 7-10 days. Seriously, that’s it.
After a week you can test your kombucha with a straw. It shouldn’t be too sweet, and should taste slightly fermented. A new scoby will have formed that you can share with someone else who wants to make kombucha. You can also add it right to your compost!
Remove the scoby from the jar and set it aside with 1-2 cups of kombucha. Then pour the fresh kombucha into jars or bottles and enjoy!
Just like the stuff you find in stores, you can (and should) try flavor variations by adding a bit of whatever makes you happy. I’m going to play with fruit flavors like pineapple and mango in future batches.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are making kombucha at home and see any mold whatsoever, you should discard the tea and the scoby, as it is no longer safe to consume.
1Determination and characterization of the anti-microbial activity of the fermented tea Kombucha
C.J. Greenwalt, R.A. Ledford, and K.H. Steinkraus
Department of Food Science
Ithaca, New York 14853