kombucha: the brew of champions

I first tasted kombucha (kom-boo-cha) tea at a dear friend’s house in Goshen, Indiana, a regular stopover on our Winnipeg – Syracuse jaunt. Our host possesses the kind of leisurely effervescence that makes our time together always feel too short. Last August while standing in her kitchen listening to the rain that had diligently journeyed with us across the Midwest, she burst in suddenly to ask, “have you guys heard of kombucha?

I had, but as is common with me, promptly forgotten about it. Maybe it had seemed like health store hype. But after lifting a glass of my friend’s brew to my lips and letting it fizz and bubble down my throat like an earthy hybrid of tea, beer and champagne, I was sure never to forget it again. But not without a brief moment of doubt:

kombucha

It took me about eight months to find a suitable “mother” or SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). I could have purchased one online, but like a sourdough starter or friendship bread, buying locally seemed part of the whole experience. I knew that if I was patient, someone in the Syracuse community would come through.

Yesterday I brought my baby home and left 6 liters of water to de-chlorinate for 24 hours (it evaporates off). Today I started the process of culturing my first, well, anything. Cultured as I may be, now I’ve got nothing on the kombucha fermenting away in my living room.

With some help from Wikipedia, I’ve patched together a briefer on kombucha for all parties: interested, incredulous, or somewhere in between. Kombucha works in a similar way to the old world process of making vinegar: sweetened tea is fermented by a solid mass of microorganisms called a “colony.”

The drink dates back to 250 BC China, where it was named the “Immortal Health Elixir,” for its ability to balance the spleen and stomach and aid in digestion. News of the beverage eventually reached Russia and Eastern Europe as tea became affordable for the average Joe (or Fyodor). The process of brewing kombucha was introduced in Russia and Ukraine at the end of the 1800s and became popular in the early 1900s. The kombucha culture is known locally as chayniy grib, and the drink itself is referred to as “tea kvass” or simply “kvass.”

I’ll keep the updates coming, but for now here’s the basic procedure:

kombucha

1. De-cholrinate 6 liters of water by letting it sit for 12 hours.

2. Using 2 litres (8 cups) of your de-chlorinated water, make a strong, sweet tea: Boil water, then add 1/3 cup of black (fruit-flavored works well) and green loose tea. I usually throw in some dried hibiscus as well, for a nice rose tint. You can also steep dried berries in with the tea mixture. Experiment!  Stir in between 2.5 – 3 cups of white sugar (don’t use any other sweetener!) and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let the tea steep for 30 minutes.

3. Strain the strong tea into the rest of the de-cholrinated water (shown above).

scoby

4. Set the SCOBY safely aside in a bath of already fermented tea (shown above).

kombucha

5. Let the tea-and-water mixture come to room temperature

kombucha

6. Gently, and always with clean hands, place the SCOBY into the jar of fresh tea. Pour already-fermented kombucha into the jar (you’ll need about 10% of the final amount to be this “starter.”)

7. The SCOBY mother will either sink or rise, either is OK.

diy kombucha

8. Cover with fine cheesecloth and set aside in location with good air-flow and medium light (no direct sunlight or dark closets).

9. Wait 2-3 weeks. Depending on the ambient temperature, the tea will ferment at different paces. Test the PH levels (most people like a tea of between 2.8-3 acidity) or scoop some out and taste to your liking. As time goes by, the PH will fall and the mixture will get more acidic and less sweet.

10. Repeat the process, saving some fermented tea to use as a starter in the next batch.

Resources:

The Happy Herbalist, though not a well designed site, offers some really useful tips

WikiHow on Kombucha

A thorough article on the drink

He wrote the book

The New Homemaker likes it too

Taste before you culture

2 thoughts on “kombucha: the brew of champions

  1. sheri
    April 8, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Hey Jen I can’t wait to taste this! I am hoping to bring home a chunk of your starter to make my own! Cobie wants some too.

  2. Keith
    April 21, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    this sounds very interesting.. I’ve been reading a book you might like Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz and Sally Fallon