homebrew kombucha: tasting

After three days of second fermentation (after the addition of juice to the kombucha), we broke out a bottle of the mango kombucha. I was pretty nervous – not about safety, but about whether the juice to tea ratio was right and whether or not it was carbonated enough. 

We both like our kombucha cold, but since it ferments at room temp, we added ice. 

The mango was quite good. Mark thought the juice ratio was perfect, though I thought it was slightly too much. We both thought it could use another day or two of carbonation (we had these at day 3). But it was truly delicious.

We tried the tart cherry the next day (day 4 of carbonation). I thought the cherry had a better ratio of juice to tea than the mango, and Mark, even though he’s not as much a fan of tart flavorings as I am, thought it was good as well. Ironically, we both felt it needed more carbonation than the mango one, even though it sat for another 15 hours. I think that might have something to do with the particular juice and how much sugar is in it, etc. 

We also gave a bottle of cherry to our friends, who both reported it tasted great. And one of them wasn’t really interested in GT’s kombucha when he had it, but liked mine! Better than GT’s? For a tiny fraction of the price? I’ll take it!

From this point forward I’ll keep a supply of kombucha going and will be trying to work it into my diet daily, for the GI benefits it supplies as well as the fact that it tastes fantastic. I’m quite proud of myself for finally following through on this project and checking off one of my 2014 goals!

To read more about this process, check out these other posts in the homebrew kombucha series:

Making a SCOBY
Making the first batch
Flavoring and bottling


homebrew kombucha: flavoring and bottling

I am well on my way to fulfilling one of my goals for 2014: to homebrew kombucha. I truly thought this would be one of the hardest goals for me to reach, since I had so many hesitations about the process, but it turns out that it’s been so incredibly simple, I’m shocked.

First, I made a SCOBY. After the SCOBY was ready, it was time for the first batch. 9 days after I started its ferment, it was ready – exactly within the 7-10 day time frame suggested by this recipe that I’ve been using. I hesitantly sipped a bit of it this evening to test, and was shocked that it was not just fine, but delicious. Had it been colder, I would have probably had a big glass right there.

But now comes the fun part – the flavoring and bottling. Mark’s favorite kombucha flavor is mango, and I like the berry/cherry type, so we started with mango and cherry juice as flavorings. There are many different ways you can flavor kombucha, or just drink it plain, but we are both fruit kombucha fans. I wanted to use 100% juice to help keep the flavoring pure.

First, I removed the SCOBYs from the two jars of kombucha I made. A new circular one had formed in addition to the starter SCOBY I used, which means I now have 4 SCOBYs (which will come in handy a bit later on).

I decided that for my next batch I would make a double, so I kept all 4 SCOBYs aside, and also reserved 4 cups of the kombucha as a starter for my next batch. 

While I was doing this, I had the tea steeping for the second batch. I made a double, which is all the more I can make at one time anyway due to the size of my stock pot. So I’ll have enough for about 12 bottles of kombucha at a time going forward, which is how many bottles I have anyway.

Next, I pulled out my EZ top glass bottles (after watching a video tutorial about 6 times learning how to get the dumb caps on!). I filled the bottle with a bit of juice (guestimating about 10-20% of the total volume of the bottle being juice). 

Then I added kombucha, leaving a decent amount of headspace, just like in canning. You leave the space because the kombucha will keep fermenting with the addition of the sugary juice (called a second fermentation) and it will be effervescent. You don’t want to blow the lid! 

I popped the cap on with its tight seal and labeled them simply with trusty masking tape.

The bottles (3 cherry and 3 mango) are now sitting for their second ferment for about 3 days in the same spot the kombucha originally was (room temp, out of direct sunlight). So hopefully by the end of this week, I’ll be enjoying a cold cherry kombucha on my deck!

homebrew kombucha: making the first batch

One of my goals for 2014 was to homebrew kombucha. Almost exactly a month ago, I started by growing a SCOBY. The SCOBY has been ready for a little bit, but I only had time to start the kombucha this weekend. I’m using this recipe for the base, since it’s as simple as it comes.

You start by boiling some water. Easy peasy.

Once it comes to a boil, you add a cup of sugar.

Once the sugar dissolves, add the tea bags and let it steep for a long time – until it cools off on its own.

Fast forward a couple of hours (I baked 96 mini blueberry cupcakes while this was cooling!) and you’ve got sweet tea. Squeeze the tea bags and remove.

Here we’ve got the sweet tea, a brewing container, some starter kombucha, as well as my SCOBY, floating on the top of the jar. I’ve read that you can use that liquid as the starter instead of the original kombucha, but I don’t like to experiment and divert from recipes when I first make them. Just my personality.

 Add all 16 ounces of the original kombucha to the starter tea. You do this so that the acidity of the tea stays high enough that the bad bacteria don’t grow. You only want the good ones! Once this first batch is done, I can save out 16 ounces of that batch for the next one I make. So you might very well be looking at the last bottle of commercial kombucha I’ll be buying!

I then transferred the tea mix to the brewing container. I had chosen this container after a lecture I heard at Mother Earth News Fair about good containers for started kombucha. Since the spout on this container doesn’t have any metal, it would be ideal for brewing and then transitioning to bottling.

Then it’s time to transition the SCOBY over. Man was this thing weird. I’ve seen pictures of them, but never touched one before. And it was seriously a blob. But I was pleased to see that it was healthy with no problem areas – only just one thin spot.

Ironically, once I put the tea mix in the beverage container, I had to step away to attend to something, so it sat on the counter for a bit before I could put the SCOBY in. During which time the container’s seal proceeded to leak. Just a tiny bit – not enough that you’d notice at a party if you had punch in the container. But enough that I knew I couldn’t leave the container like that to brew for a week, or I’d lose it all.

Plan B was to split the SCOBY in two and use half gallon mason jars to brew. Cutting the SCOBY was ridiculously hard though, since it was like thick tire rubber. Definitely an experience. I covered them both with cheesecloth held in place by a rubber band, like the jar on the right, and set them in the same place where I grew the SCOBY, since it seemed to have the right temp and light to grow a good SCOBY in the first place.

So now I sit and wait for 7-10 days while these ferment. Then it will be on to the next step – bottling, flavoring and carbonating! Stay tuned!

homebrew kombucha: making a SCOBY

I finally bit the bullet on moving forward with my homebrew kombucha after writing about the status of my goals for 2014. I pulled out the supplies Mark had given me a couple years ago, as well as my copy of Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation and a few step by step tutorials online. (While The Art of Fermentation is awesome and gives a ton of good information, especially trouble shooting, I really needed a step by step, numbered instruction list for my own learning style. For some people, that book might be enough.)

Basically, kombucha is fermented sweet tea. People drink it for a lot of reasons – everything from enjoying the taste to thinking it cures cancer. I am strongly in the “enjoys the taste” camp, with also an added benefit I’ve seen with my own GI issues, since the “good bacteria” in kombucha can aid digestion. I don’t think it’s a cure for anything (and even a hippie fermenter like Katz doesn’t claim that). The main reason I want to make it at home is because a 16 ounce bottle of it is almost $4, and I want to drink too much of it for it to be cost effective for me to buy it at the store.

To begin, you need a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). You can purchase them online, or get them from someone who homebrews their kombucha, or you can make one. While Mark had originally purchased one for me back when I got the other supplies, I’m not sure how effective it will be after this long. So I’m trying an experiment – going to brew batches with the SCOBY he purchased for me as well as one I make on my own. Which gives me the opportunity to learn to grow one. (Though thank you to Deanna who generously offered a SCOBY baby for me to use!)

So I began with my book, this tutorial and these supplies:

Water, sugar, organic black tea and a bottle of store-bought original kombucha. (I like GT’s kombucha, in case you want to try some in the store to see if you like it. But I prefer the flavors that have juice in them – like mango, cranberry and strawberry. I’ve tried other brands, but none are as tasty as GT’s.) The cheesecloth and half gallon Ball jar are for the setup.

Boil the water, and then add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

Next you steep the tea for a bit. The marks on the bottom of my pan are from stirring through the bubbles on the bottom (though it looks like something’s floating in there!). It sits until it comes back down to room temperature.

While this steeped and cooled, I measured out the 8 ounces of GT’s I would use. You can vaguely see in this close-up of the GT’s kombucha that there are floating pieces of brown film-like substance in it. I made sure to fish those pieces out and include them, since they are baby SCOBYs.

After the tea was cool, I added it to the mason jar. (And managed to clean off most of the kitchen island to take a photo without as much crap in the background!) The tea was quite dark, and the kombucha quite light.

Obviously after adding the kombucha and stirring, the color changed slightly. I cut a piece of cheesecloth and placed it over the top of the jar, using a rubber band to hold it in place. Then I transferred the jar to the warmest room in our house – the one that’s most likely to hold temperature and one that has a door to keep the cats from their own curiosity – the office. 

It will hang out in the office for anywhere from a week to 3 or 4 weeks, depending on how long it takes to develop. The liquid from this SCOBY growing will likely be too vinegary to want to drink. So this weekend, I’ll probably start a regular batch using the older SCOBY to see what happens. A culinary science experiment!

A lot of people ask if it’s safe to ferment things at home – and the answer to that is absolutely. People have been fermenting things to eat and drink since the dawn of time, and certainly before modern food preservation. There are signs to look for that your kombucha is not good, but like other living foods, it should be pretty obvious in the smell and look that something is off and you should start again. So I’m not afraid to try out a batch with this older SCOBY, because I’ll still be able to determine if it’s ok to drink.

Are you a kombucha drinker? If so, why? What kinds do you like?