"Kombucha?" I stammered, reading the label. "What is it? And what is floating around at the bottom of the bottle?"
"Oh, that's the bacteria," he replied.
What? Who drinks stuff with bacteria floating around in it? I thought. Even though I was grossed out, I was willing to try it...and I hated it. It was fermented, and pungent; way too strong for my taste. After that first taste, I remained totally uninterested in kombucha...until one fateful day.
Months later, I was at a friend's house. She offered me some of her homemade kombucha. I braced myself for the worst (with a polite smile on my face, of course), but I was pleasantly surprised with its simple, mild, yet tart, flavor. Now that was refreshing to drink.
Because I was so happy with my friend's kombucha, I asked her to teach me her ways. I learned that Kombucha (pronounced "com-booch-ah") is a naturally carbonated tea drink that is produced by a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (scoby). Like yogurt bacterial cultures, Kombucha cultures are actually good for you, promoting gut health. Also like yogurt, Kombucha can vary in sourness and sweetness.While the entire brewing process takes at least two weeks, the actual active preparation takes less than an hour.
I know that there are probably dozens of kombucha recipes out there, but I want to share the only one I know I like.
First, you have to brew your tea. Rather than brew a regular batch of tea and later have to wait for it to cool to room temperature, my friend instructed me to make a "tea concentrate" and then add cold water to it so that it cools more quickly. To yield one gallon of kombucha, you should brew six organic black tea bags in a half-gallon of water, along with one cup of sugar. You should use the purest water you have access to, as it will contribute to the health of your scoby. I used water from our filtered pitcher.
After about 20 minutes, and the sugar is completely dissolved, transfer the concentrated tea solution to a clean glass gallon jar. Next, add a little less than a half gallon of cold water to the jar (making sure to leave enough room for your scoby and a little leftover kombucha from your last brew). Adding the cold water will hopefully bring the entire mix to room temperature. If it's still too hot, you'll have to wait. I was in a hurry to cool my brew, so I gave it a little ice bath.
Once the tea is at room temperature, you add the scoby and leftover kombucha. Make sure your hands are clean when handling the scoby. It's weird knowing that this slippery, blubber-like mass is actually living.
Finally, you cover the top of the jar with a clean, cotton cloth which allows the scoby to breathe. Now you have to let the scoby work its magic for at least the next two weeks.
It took me a long time to decide upon a place for my kombucha to brew. Different websites I referenced insisted upon certain storage conditions (must be up high, can't be near a ceiling fan, needs light, can't be too warm, must be away from everyday activity, etc.). I was at a loss because my little apartment tends to be very warm, and every room, except for the bathroom, has a ceiling fan. Luckily, my friend calmed my fears by showing me the place where her kombucha brews: on a shoulder-high shelf in the middle of her busy, warm kitchen. So, I stopped worrying about it and put my jar on the top shelf in my kitchen closet.
Two weeks later, I took my jar down from the shelf. My original scoby, the "mother" scoby, had produced a "baby" scoby, just like it was supposed to.
I carefully lifted the two scobies from the jar and set them aside in a clean bowl. If you're not ready to start another batch of kombucha right away, the scobies can be set aside in the refrigerator. You can also separate the scobies and have two jars brewing at once. Keep in mind that the larger the culture, the faster the brew. I plan on letting my scoby make lots of babies before splitting.
I feel like I've been taking care of a pet this past month! I've had to feed it (on the sugar), make sure it can breathe (hence, the cotton cloths), and take care of its babies. I actually felt like I was killing something when I poured some little strings of bacterial cultures down the drain (I like to pour the liquid through a strainer before storing it in half-gallon glass jugs).
I let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before the final taste test. I was thrilled to find that it tasted just like my friend's kombucha. My second brew will be two weeks old in a few days, but I'm going to let it go another week to see how sour it gets.
I think my new pet and I are going to get to know each other very well in the coming months.