Thirsty Thursday ~ Homemade Kombucha
Over the holidays, it was easy to get caught up in holiday drinking. There are so many tasty flavors out there and so many celebrations. Today, my first Thirsty Thursday in the new year, will be a healthier any time drink.
I’m a pretty active person and enjoy my post workout or post tennis smoothies. A few years ago, I gave up soda. But I couldn’t and didn’t do it cold turkey. I replaced my bad habit with a healthier choice. I discovered green tea. It took me a few green teas to find one that I liked. (The first one I tried, I literally said, “oh this is going to be a rough ride”). I could barley get it down. But I pressed on did some shopping and finally found a green tea at Trader Joe’s that I liked, especially since I enjoyed it cold. Perfect with my lunch. And it satisfied that craving I had for a refreshing beverage with lunch that once used to be soda.
During that transition, I also started discovering a growing selection of Kombucha. I kinda understood what it was, mostly not. I knew I heard ‘fermented tea’, felt a little grossed out but tried it anyway. I really enjoyed it! It satisfied my quench for a tea flavor, with the added bonus of some fruit flavors. Plus, it had the ‘fizz’ I really missed with my sodas.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are microbrews everywhere. What is now becoming popular is a taphouse that has many many beer taps on hand from local and regional beers. And they will fill growlers to go (32 oz containers). Now Kombucha producers are on the rise. And they use a similar bottling and taping system. At an event where a Kombucha company got to ‘take over some taps’, we got to sample some Kombucha, talk to the brewers and I learned quite a lot.
Kombucha isn’t just a new fad drink. It has been around for centuries and sometimes refer to as the ‘elixir of life’. It has so many healthy benefits! There are many articles you can find and read and I won’t bore you with all the details (but you can refer to some great resources at the end of this post).
Are There Really Benefits to drinking it?
What catches my attention is that since Kombucha is ‘fermented tea’ (more on that later), you get all the benefits of black, green, or oolong tea, which ever your tea your Kombucha is brewed from.
So what that means is Kombucha is full of probiotics! What does that equate to? A healthy gut. A healthy digestive system. The other benefits that are intriguing and that I feel I am benefiting from are boosts in energy from enzymes and B Vitamins and easing joint pain and increasing joint health with the presence of glucosamine.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha tea is the end result of fermenting sweet tea with bacteria and yeast. Don’t let the word ‘fermenting’ through you off or gross you out. Think about it, it’s a process in many beverages (beer, wine and liquor) and foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi). It’s the process of converting sugars. That’s it ~ see, not so bad!
Kombucha contains 4 ingredients: Tea, Water, Sugar and a SCOBY. (And throw some love in there, too!).
Why sugar? Doesn’t this make it not so good for you? Sugar, when broken down, is energy! The sugar is necessary for the fermenting process. The yeast needs the sugar for energy to produce acids, gases and alcohol.
What is a SCOBY?
Ok, we can all figure out the first 3 ingredients, but pump the brakes: what in the world is a SCOBY? I asked the very same question. What is stands for is: Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. It is a living organism; think of it as the living home of for the bacteria and yeast to transform your sweet tea into Kombucha.
A SCOBY is very peculiar in texture and, well, it’s existence! It is almost rubbery in texture. It feels like a wet portabella mushroom! It is a yellowy opaque and mostly circular.
Where do I get a SCOBY?
There are several ways to obtain a SCOBY.
- purchase one ( I found one on Amazon for around $7.00). It will arrive in tea that you will want to save for your first batch!
- get one from a friend that is brewing Kombucha (read more below)
That’s right! Guess what I learned along the way, every time you brew Kombucha, a new SCOBY will grow. Who new?! So guess what I had to do? Research what I was supposed to do with these new SCOBY’s with each brew. What I discovered was that I was going into the Hotel Business ~ the SCOBY hotel!
All this is, is a safe, clean place to keep your living organisms. It is your back ups in case one goes bad or if a friend wants to start brewing for themselves!
- grow one yourself!
Yep, you can take a bottle of your store bought Kombucha and make one. Take a bootle of room temperature tea, pour into a clean jar, cover with a tightly weaved dish towel (I use tea towels). Let it sit in a warm dark place for 7 days, check on it and look what you have on top…your very own SCOBY!
I chose to purchase a SCOBY online. Amazon Prime
How Do I Brew Kombucha? Is it Easy?
Surprising, it is very easy. With the very simple ingredients, it’s a very simple process.
- Brewing/steeping your tea
- 1st Fermentation of ingredients (about 7 – 10 days)
- 2nd Fermentation with fruits or juices (2-3 days)
You will need these material:
- Clean, large glass container (if it has a spigot, make sure it’s plastic. Metal will ruin your SCOBY)
- Tea bags
- Sugar (I used Organic Cane Sugar – no substitutes like sweeteners!)
- Clean tea towel
- Large Rubber band (to go over mouth of jar)
- 1 Cup of store bought Kombucha (or 1 cup from package if purchased, or your previous brew)
Additional materials, after first fermentation (after 7-10 days)
- Fresh or frozen fruit
- Fresh flavors like ginger, turmeric (in root form)
- Juicer or Vitamix
I have to admit, I was nervous to start. I thought I was going to screw it up. I was visiting with a great friend weeks before and she announced she was considering making Kombucha. I shared with her I’ve been toying with the idea of brewing Kombucha! So we decided we would do it together. She lives way on the other side of town from me (a whole 20 minutes. Don’t judge this smaller town girl!). So we got together on FaceTime to go through our process together!
Here we are, wrapping up our first steps of heating water and putting out tea bags in! Success!
Why Should I Make This at Home?
For me, the biggest reason is the COST! Each 12 oz bottle of Kombucha ranges $3.00 – $5.00. That adds up! The only real cost of making Kombucha is initial start up supplies, which to me are minimal. I already had the large glass jar. The SCOBY was only $8.99. And my Organic Yogi Team (a local Eugene company, by the way!) was $2.59/16 tea bags. (See, told you those notes would come in handy!). After that, the cost is just tea bags, sugar and fruit.
You will also want to think about how you would like to bottle the tea when it’s ready. A friend gave me her Weck Juice jars (35 oz) which work perfectly to have in fridge and pour as you go, and it has a great seal on it. I went to a local Home & Garden store and found some smaller 8 oz gasket sealed bottles. this was the perfect size for me to grab and go. (The brand escapes me, I didn’t make a note of it, but when I find it I will update this post!) Careful looking on-line for these, I was ready to hit the ‘purchase’ button several times on what looked like a great deal, until I read the reviews. The seals are not good was the common negative review. OK, enough about why you should be making this and how to store it…
FIRST, and I HIGHLY recommend this is to get some paper and a folder, a notebook, what ever works for you, but TAKE NOTES. Everyone has a different taste preference and it’s really great to look back on your notes to see what you added, how much you added and you can look back and decided if you want to add more or less of anything come next time. And once you make it, there will be a next time!
This process really is super easy, so there won’t be so many photos as it would be boring to see pictures of boiling water and tea steeping!
Here is what we will be doing
- Boiling 12-15 cups of water
- Removing from heat
- Adding tea bags
- Letting tea steep until water has completely cooled
- Removing tea bags and putting tea in your fermenting container (glass)
- Adding 3/4 – 1 cup of sugar
- Adding 3/4 – 1 Cup already brewed Kombucha *more below
- Adding your SCOBY (to cooled tea, so important!)
- Covering your jar with a tea towel that is fruit fly safe
- Placing jar in a dark place for 7 – 10 days
- After the first fermentation, remove SCOBY and new SCOBY in safe place
- Adding fruit juices and flavorings
- Fermenting for another 2-3 days
- Adding tea to smaller containers that has a tight seal
- Drinking and Enjoying your Kombucha
First, start brewing some water. You will want to start with 12 – 15 cups of water. You can use filtered or if you live in a place with drinkable water supply, go for that. Once it reaches boiling, remove from heat, add your tea bags and wait until tea is completely cooled. (I would not wait until evening to start this ~ unless you are a night owl!).
Once water is completely cooled remove tea bags and pour tea into a *very clean* glass jar. (You don’t want any contaminants in the jar to affect your tea). Pitch in your sugar, then add in 3/4 – 1 cup of already brewed Kombucha. Here’s the deal on this part, if this is your FIRST brew, use a 1 cup of purchased tea. If you are on your second or consecutive brew (referred to as continuous brewing), use one cup of the tea from your SCOBY hotel. (Here is mine, with my measured 1 cup of tea).
Then, with very clean hands, place your SCOBY into the container. Remember, this is a live culture and you don’t want contaminate it.
Once the tea, sugar, SCOBY and added kombucha tea (pre-made or from previous brew) is in the fermenting container, it is time to completely and securely cover the container with a tea towel and tuck it away in the cupboard for at least 7 days. After 7 days, take a taste test and determine if you want it to have some more time fermenting. From my notes, I have been fermenting at least 9-10 days.
Once the tea is to your liking ~ a little tangy, a little fizzy, you will remove your SCOBY (again, clean hands!). Place it in a smaller jar, like a mason jar and add some tea to the small jar; enough to cover. You will probably notice a new little SCOBY. You can also add this to your small jar. Now you have started a hotel!
Now, it’s time to start adding your juices! There are so many juice and flavor combinations, you have to add what you like. I have made 3 different flavors. I would make 2 of them again. I started brewing in fall so apple and ginger was a winning combination. I also did a strawberry. I wasn’t a fan. It didn’t juice very well or strain the fruit out well. It left the drink frothy and thick. In the winter I did a grapefruit and turmeric. I loved this combo and will definitely be making again. I am looking forward to the summer for some other flavor profiles that will include pineapple, lemon and lime and I’m trying to figure how to get the coconut flavoring in to emulate one of my all time store bought drinks.
- Juice 3 apples, like golden delicious
- add 1 oz. peeled ginger to juicer/vitamix
- add tea to Vitamix to thin out mixture
- strain into a tea towel to catch apple pulp
- pour into fermenter and seal with tight top
- Juice two large grapefruits
- add 1 oz turmeric root
- add to fermenter and seal with tight top
*the purpose of sealing with a tight top at this point is to deprive the tea of air which will force the tea to thrive on the natural sugars of the fruit for energy, which will result in a more fizzy, effervescent drink.
Happy brewing. Really, don’t stress about this for the first time (like I did). Grab a friend and go through it together. Share your notes and ideas. And your juicer (thanks Nicole!). It’s a simple process and if you take good notes, you can fine tune it to get your right flavorings. If you don’t like something, don’t give up, just stick with flavors you like and think about how it will settle in the tea and you will be good! Comment or message me if you have any questions. I will be happy to share my experience with you and cheer you along!
Kombucha Benefit Resources: