I have to I say I am not a huge fan of commercial kombucha. I have found some local brands I like, but for the most part I find them all too harsh and vinegary. Though anything homemade is usually better, I swore I wasn’t going to make kombucha at home. I have enough cultures to feed as it is, and I felt like I really didn’t need any more. But all that changed when I took the Making Natural Artisanal Sodas learnshop in Berea, Ky a few weeks ago.
The instructor, Jereme Zimmerman, brought several drinks to the class for us to taste, including water kefir, shrub/switchel, and kombucha. I’m familiar with water kefir, and I’ve been making it for a couple of years now. The shrub (or switchel) is a vinegar based drink that was interesting, but not really my cup of tea. He brought his kombucha brewing vessel with him so we could taste the unflavored stuff, which to my taste buds was better than any commercial ‘booch . But his blueberry kombucha was the star of the show in my opinion. It had a lovely flavor from the fresh blueberries he used, and when he started cutting up pieces of his starter/scoby to hand out, I quickly got in line!
This is not going to be a how-to on brewing kombucha, since I am just a rookie and new to the whole process. There are several good books available on the subject, and the Wild Fermentation Facebook group is a great source of free information. I will briefly describe the process though. The first step is to make a substrate for the culture to feed on, which is basically sweetened tea. The tea used can be black, green or white, or even some herbal teas will work. I made my first batch with some Luzianne decaf black tea, because that’s the only black tea I had on hand, and sweetened it with white cane sugar at the rate of one cup per gallon of tea. The sugar is needed for the bacteria and yeasts to feed on, and by the end of brewing much of it will be gone.
In addition to the sweet tea, you also need a kombucha scoby and a cup of finished kombucha from a previous batch. Scoby is short for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’, and different scobys are used to make kefir, vinegar and kombucha. The kombucha scoby is pancake shaped and sort of rubbery, and a new one (or two) is formed every time you make another batch of kombucha. I came home from class with only a scoby, and no kombucha, so I used a cup of GT’s Kombucha (original flavor) for my first batch. The kombucha is left to ferment for 7 to 10 days. During that time the sugar is consumed and the pH is lowered as acetic and other acids are formed. At that point the kombucha can be drank as-is, or flavored and left for a few days in airtight bottles to undergo a secondary fermentation and allow carbonation to develop.
One big advantage to making your own kombucha is you can flavor it to suit your tastes. So far I have tried blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, cherry/vanilla and grape using a mix of fresh and dried fruits plus fruit juice. I made one bottle with coconut water and pineapple, and another with half water kefir and half kombucha. All made very tasty kombucha, and I would make any and all of them again. One of my favorite water kefir combos made a great kombucha too, and that’s what I call pineapple upside down cake. It has fresh pineapple, dried cherries and a splash of vanilla. The flavor combinations are truly endless, and I want to experiment with ginger, turmeric and other fruits as well. I am reusing commercial kombucha bottles for my flavored brews, but other glass or plastic bottles can be used. They just need to be strong enough to hold up to the carbonation that results during the secondary fermentation.
I hope you have enjoyed this update on my experiments with kombucha brewing. I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres!
For more information about making your own kombucha:
- The Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory
- Wild Fermentation Facebook Group