Updated: Kombucha - What is it?
Kombucha, in short, is fermented tea. It's a semi sour liquid rich in probiotics produced by a weird pancake type blob. Proper name : SCOBY , short for Symbiotic Colony Of non-toxic Bacterium and non-toxic Yeast. This living 'thing' transforms sugary tea into a vitamin rich elixir.
Kombucha's been made in China for over 2000 years. It's one of those healing traditions passed on through generations. It's said to help liver, digestion and joints with its vitamins B and C, glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. They call it "Divine Che", "Mo Gu", "Cajnii grib", "Hongo", "Manchurian Tea" or "Kargasok Tea".
Kombucha's made a comeback in England. It was popular until sugar rationing in WW2.Germans (incorrectly) call it 'Mushroom Tea'... Ha, kombucha is neither mushroom nor fungus.
I started making Kombucha in 2014, using green and white tea leaves. Looseleaf, organic. I have since switched to black tea (in bags) for convenience and flavour.
Once your jar is brewing, you'll get strange looks from family and friends. Don't worry, they eventually ignore it.
(If you scroll down there is an audio about Kombucha.)
Why make your own Kombucha?
If you haven't noticed any creaking joints that need hyaluronioc acid and glucosamine, there are a string of other dis-eases Kombucha is said to help. (You can google those).
Anyway buying little bottles of kombucha becomes expensive, and as it's so easy to make at home, many of us make our own. I take it for the live probiotics. Digestion has been a bugbear for a number of years. I started making my own in 2014 after a natural health friend suggested it could help. As I'd never even tasted Kombucha it was an experiment in faith..
On my journey I managed to kill at least 6 SCOBIES... so don't be put off if you fail on your first attempt. And no, you don't need fancy equipment, although those items do/can help...
The Sugar: Tea Ratio for healthy Kombucha
A healthy ratio is 1 part sugar to 10 parts tea. Do not reduce the sugar as you run the risk of killing your scoby. Lots of fitness conscious women destroy their SCOBY by starving it. Your SCOBY eats up most of the sugar, so don't panic. Every extra day your Kombucha brews, the more sour and less sugary it becomes...not a problem.
Technically you're meant to top your brew up with the equivalent amount to what you use. This involved too much maths for me so instead I give the booch a great litre of liquid once a week.
I measure out 100g sugar on a kitchen scale and pour into a litre (1000g) boiled water. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Then add 4 teabags. to this. Regular black tea. (Not Earl Grey which contains bergamot essential oil) Let steep 3-4 minutes, remove teabags. Let the tea cool to body temp then add to your continuous brew. Super simple. If the tea is too hot to dip your pinky finger, it's too hot for the kombucha.
Since I wrote this article I've discovered a container in my kitchen that holds close enough to 100g sugar, so I use that now, and don't hassle with the kitchen scale. I keep the sugar measuring container inside the large bag of sugar to make the whole process even simpler.
Green Tea vs Black Tea
I was initiall;y a green/white tea brewer as I worried abaout excess caffeine. My solution now is having my dose of kombucha earlier in the day eg before 2pm. Green tea makes a paler SCOBY...however, looks are not everything. I prefer the flavour of the black tea, more fruity and complex. Black tea seems to give the SCOBY more coping power over winter too, so consider adding black tea into your brew when the weather has turned nasty.
One tip that's helped with the flavour....only brew your teabags for 3-4 minutes. Any longer and you run the risk of too many tea tannins getting into your tea. That astringent flavour can also mess with your Vata energies this time of year.
I've switched to teabags, for speed and convenience. Having to strain sticky tea was an extra step and invariably I'd make a mess and create another tidy-up job. The SCOBY does not need your finest artisanal tea either, rather enjoy those for your own sipping . 🙂 Regular PG Tips will be fine. Earl Grey not ok due to the bergamot.
Since the wrticle was written I've started drinking black decaf, so that should have reduced the caffeine content somewhat. The SCOBY doesn't seem to mind the reduction in caffeine.
If you're just starting out, you would add your Scoby and starter liquid to the cooled tea. Cover the open jar with a piece of cotton fabric. fasten with an elastic band. This is to stop fruit flies having a party. Initially you have to wait 2-3 weeks for your kombucha to be made. Over time this process speeds up as your Scoby grows in thickness. It becomes instinctive after 3- 6 months. Like learning to drive a car or breastfeed a baby.
UPDATE: January 2019 - Listen to an interview with Michelle at Happy Kombucha
Why I switched to Continuous Brew
My first Kombucha had the perfect condiitons. An airing cupoboard at a constant 20 degrees 24/7 x 365 days. I switched to continous brew as I foufn the whole relaoding of the liquid each week messy. Really messy. Continuous brew is so much simpler. You pop a small glass under the dpout, twist the handle and it dribbles out. Easy. You reload the sweet tea in the top to replaneish. No fiddling around with plastic containers and trying not to drop your slippery SCOBY onto the counter/floor etc.
When you might need a heating belt or mat...
We moved to a drafty Sixties home. No rooms at a constant temperature and the water tank cupboard too tight. So it had to be kicthen area. I killed a few Scobies experimenting with locations. I bought a simple heating belt that runs from Autumn to Spring. It adds a few degrees of heat onto the glass vessel. The SCOBY community are happy. Now I have the problem of too many! (Compost!)
If you are struggling to keep your SCOBY happy, try locations. Being near the fridge was bad news. Next to the oven is better. They don't want sunblight on them. They are fine in the pitch dark. If your home is well insulated, your temperatures won't fluctuate as much as older homes. If you live in the Scotish Highlands you might need to make an insulated box for them to live inside. Make a plan.
Starting Out With Kombucha
All you need is a clean jam jar, piece of fabric, elastic band, white sugar, teabags and a baby scoby in some starter liquid. If you don't have a scale you'll need to figure out an easy way to get your sugar:tea ratio. Maybe draw a line on the side of a second jam jar that indicates sugar level and then another line to where the hot water should be added? Make a plan.
You add your scoby and liquid to your sweetened tea, cover with fabric and pop on the elastic band. (Royal Mail posties leave these on their rounds if you wonder where to find one.) Find a draft free spot, like inside the airing cupboard. Don't fiddle with it. Let it be. Your scoby may float or sink... either way, leave it alone for 2 weeks.Any strand like bits are beneficial yeast, leave them alone too.
When you're new, you'll see some weird changes to the surface of your tea - that is the start of a new baby Scoby. It forms a fine layer over the top which gradually thicken up. When you have continuous brew, you never disturb the babies as your liquid comes out a spout lower down.
Then after 14 -21 days decant a tiny bit to taste. If it is still sweet, then leave it longer. When the flavour is slightly tart, decant two thirds of the liquid and replace with cooled and sweetend tea. Cover. Wait. Do a happy dance.
If you leave it too long, the brew just gets more sour/tart and eventually makes vinegar. Lovely with mustard and sunflower oil as a veggie/salad dressing. Digressing....
Kombucha Second Ferments For Fizz & Flavour
You can do a second ferment, which is where you add sugar, fruit, herbs to get a fizzy flavoured drink. Google on this. You will need specialist bottles and a safe place to avoid explosions and shattering glass. Second fermenting is an additional step.
Have fun with your ferments.
If you're in the UK, the best place to get a healthy SCOBY is from Happy Kombucha. I've bought all my water kefir, milk kefir and kombucha starters from them. The team were very patient with my questions. Of course if you have a friend with ferments, she will be too happy to share her excess with you! Once you get intot he hang of it, you will need to cull the extras (composting, doggy treats).
Wait, don't go! I've got more healthy tips:
Get started with Kombucha- here's a short audio interview with Michelle at Happy Kombucha
What you will need to get started:
- A cloth and elastic band
- A starter solution and SCOBY(see where I buy mine in the links below)
- A big glass container
- A countertop or strong shelf out of sunlight and drafts
- Sense of humour