Food & Beverage

Kombucha
Kombucha Madness
By Arwen O’Reilly
Brew your tea with fermented zing. A special project from CRAFT 02 (subscription information).
Kombucha is on its way to being the new “it” drink. This fermented tea is so popular that several brands are available at upscale grocery stores, and its Wikipedia entry has tripled in length since I first checked. I’ve heard the tea’s culture — which looks like a rubbery pancake — called a “mother,” “mushroom,” “starter,” and most accurately, a “scoby” (‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts’).

Whatever it is, kombucha is entering a renaissance after millennia of use in China and centuries in Eastern Europe, from whence all good fermented things come. Its loyal following claims health benefits of all ilk, citing vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and probiotic microorganisms present in the tea. I just like it because it tastes good (like a sweet-sour sparkling apple cider).


Suppliesjpg

Materials

» Wide-mouthed glass jar
» Kombucha culture
» Black or green tea bags (5 to 7)
» Water (3 quarts to 1 gallon)
» Sugar (1 cup, brown or white)
» Clean paper napkin or tea towel
» Rubber band or string
» Funnel
» Old soda bottles, cleaned
1. Get kombucha starter culture.
You can buy kombucha culture on the web, but it’s probably easier to get it from a friend or someone in your neighborhood (try craigslist.org or bulletin boards at your local health food store). I even saw some for sale at a flea market in Russia (see above). The starter replicates itself in each batch, so one is enough for your lifetime. Soon you’ll have a culture for everyone you know!
2. Make regular tea and sweeten.
Make 3 quarts to 1 gallon of tea (if you have loose tea you can make a tea bag out of a piece of an old sheet and some string) and let cool to room temperature. Remove tea bags and add sugar. Don’t worry if it seems too sweet — the culture feeds on sugar and caffeine, so the final drink will not be as sweet as the original.
3. Add kombucha culture.
If your culture came with some liquid, add the starter liquid to the tea. Pour the sweet tea into your jar and add the culture. If it floats on top, it will grow another layer, which can be peeled off and used for another batch when the kombucha is ready. If it settles to the bottom, that’s fine — a new culture will form on top of the tea. The starter will grow to the diameter of your jar, so make sure the mouth is wide enough to remove it easily when you are done.
4. Ferment and bottle. 
Cover your jar with a clean towel and seal around the rim with a rubber band. Store in a spot out of direct sunlight for 7-14 days. The longer you leave your tea, the more sour it will become. Start tasting it after 5 or 6 days, and decant into clean plastic or glass soda bottles when you like the taste.
5. Give it some fizz.
To give it some bubble, tightly cap bottles and store in a warm place for another day or so until the plastic bottle hardens from pressure. Be aware that as the kombucha continues to ferment, the pressure inside the bottle is growing and can cause it to explode if left too long (this is more of a concern with glass bottles). If you’re worried, leave the cap a little loose, but this will prevent the tea from fizzing properly.
6. Drink and make more.
Always set aside 10% of the liquid to help start future batches. Then you can start all over again! If you want a steady flow of “the tea of immortality,” then it probably makes sense to stagger your batches. Most experts warn against drinking too much of the stuff; it is a detoxifier, so you don’t want to stress out your body.
NOTE: As with all foods, be careful when preparing and storing kombucha. While I personally have never heard of anyone getting sick, it is theoretically possible, so make sure everything is clean while preparing; if you see mold, toss the entire batch, including the starter, just to be on the safe side (it happened to me once, and only once, probably due to lack of air circulation or a bad starter). But don’t let this warning scare you: even my mom drinks my kombucha, and Google’s chef whips up huge batches to serve in its cafeterias.
Online resources:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kombucha
www.kombu.de
craftzine.com/go/kombucha

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20 thoughts on “CRAFT: 02 – Kombucha Tea

  1. I was not familiar with this type of tea, I think I will try to make some. I wonder if loose tea can be used instead of tea bags? Green tea would be my preference.

  2. Good question!You can certainly use loose tea, but you would need to strain it (a friend of mine makes one giant tea bag with loose tea and a square of muslin). I have never made kombucha with green tea, but know that people do, so give it a shot! As far as I know, the tea must be caffeinated (the kombucha starter feeds off the caffeine and sugar), though, so I don’t think herbal tea will work unless you combine it with black or green tea.
    Enjoy!

  3. Green tea does not work well with kombucha because green tea has some mild antiseptic qualities that the culture does not like. Same reason you should not use honey as a sweetener.

  4. So many memories of Kombucha growing up. My mother got some from my grand mother that she brought over from Mexico. She told me that it would help her lose weight. I remember that it has a strong aroma. I could never drink it when I was young, shortly for the fact that it was sitting out for days at a time. :) I should try it some time now.

  5. Free Kombucha culture!! Buy a bottle of the premade kobucha tea at your local grocery or health food store. Pour the contents into a jar or container cover with cloth then store in a warm area. In a few weeks you will have a nice culture of you own!

  6. So, if this is a fermented liquid – does it then have an alcohol content? It sounds much the same as making homemade wine….

  7. Kombucha has between .5% and 1.5% alcohol, due to the metabolism of the yeast.
    Bottling Kombucha for up to a week will create more fizz, closer to the stuff you buy in the store.
    Loose leaf tea is great for Kombucha!
    And yes, making herbal kombucha works. Rooibos is caffeine free and a great alternative to tea. Kombucha requires sugar and nitrogen, caffeine simply causes the brew to ferment faster.
    Got my first culture on Craigslist!

  8. This is not a new idea. My aunt was into this stuff in the 1990’s. She described it like it was a medicine, as she drank it for some minor ill she had. Grew her own and no one wanted to even smell the thing. A few years latter and the same folks freely traded friendship bread go figure.

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