Monday, February 9, 2009

Kombucha Baby!

So, I first got addicted to kombucha by drinking 'GT Dave's' brand of kombucha drinks which are bottled with pure fruit juices and are extra super fizzy.  I love kombucha, not only because it is soooooo healthy for me (read here for health info on it) but also because it gives me that 'fix' for any cravings I might have for juice (which is packed with sugar...too much natural sugars are even bad for us) or for pop.  After spending about $3.50 per bottle (I know...SICK), I realized that I needed to be making this stuff myself.  Thankfully, my dear friend Lacey gave me one of her 'bucha babies and I have been a 'bucha brewing fanatic for a while now!  My one hesitation about brewing it myself was knowing that home brews do not taste like what I buy from the store...and that's the kind that I like!   So, once I started, I was determined to make my kombucha fruity and just as carbonated as the store-bought brands. I've done a lot of reading on different kombucha sites and never really found instructions for the results I was looking for.  Sooooo...I started to experiment, myself.  And, after a few trials, I've finally successfully done it!  For a few weeks now, I have been brewing and bottling incredibly yummy, fruity, fizzy kombucha!  So far, I've made it with cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, dark cherry juice, apple juice, and grape juice (my fave!).
A lot of my friends already know how to brew kombucha and there are tons of instructional sites out there for it...but ever since I started giving out my fresh kombucha starters to other friends and writing out the brewing methods, I decided to document it here, along with my new bottling methods.
So, here's what you need to start:

-1 kombucha scoby or 'baby' or starter that is kept in at least 1+ cp. of previously brewed kombucha tea.  FYI:  "SCOBY" stands for 'symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts' for those who wanted to know and get on with the lingo!
- A large pot for making the tea
- 16 cups of water
- 6 black or green tea bags *you need the caffeine for successful brewing  *stay away from flavored teas because the oils can harm your scoby.
- 1-1 1/2 cups of plain white sugar
- A large glass bowl, glass container, or beverage dispenser like you will see in my pictures (about a gallon or bigger)
- cheese cloth or light weight cotton towel and string or rubber band to cover the bowl with.
For bottling:
- About 8-10 grolsch style or flip-top bottles
- Fruit juice of your choice.  I would steer clear of citrus juices for I'm not sure how they would turn out with the kombucha.  Sounds gross to me.  Try cranberry, apple, grape, cherry, peach, pomegranate, or ginger...etc.

Here we go:

After 10 minutes, discard the tea bags.  Now let the tea cool to room temperature.  I take it off the stove and let it sit for a few hours until cooled.

Always keep your new scoby with about 1 cp. of brewed kombucha tea that has been reserved from your last batch...this helps start the fermenting process.  In this picture, I have removed my newly formed scoby and reserved it with about 1 cp. of newly fermented kombucha is set on a plate while I clean out the the glass dispenser.  I add in the cooled tea that I have just made and then gently slip this scoby into the tea, along with this reserved kombucha tea.

Next, cover the top with the cheese cloth or towel and secure with a string or rubber band - this prevents dust from settling on the tea while it is fermenting.  You will notice that your scoby might float around for a while until it settles and a new scoby starts to form.

Place your container in a warm dark place to ferment for about 7-10 days.  I place mine on the top shelf of my pantry closet.  The longer it sits, fermenting, the more vinegary it will taste.

After the 7-10 day mark, check your kombucha tea.  You will notice in my picture how a new layer of scoby has formed on top...this is exactly what you want!  Taste your 'bucha.  If it has a light cider vinegar taste with soft carbonation, it is ready.  If it is still flat, then let it sit for a few more days.  It needs to be carbonated to be ready.  It will slightly taste like hard cider.

This is the look of my new scoby layer....smooth and creamy.  Everyone's does seem to look a bit different, as I've learned from other friends.  But this is how mine always looks.  I'm always proud of my new "babies" that have formed.  You may peel this new layer off now and share it with a friend....remember to give it to them with at least a cup of your brewed kombucha tea, as well, to help preserve it and start the next fermenting batch.  Then you may start a new batch with your original 'Mother Scoby'.  When your 'Mother' starts to look brown and old after a few batches, you may discard it and use one of your babies for your next batch.  I have learned that if I don't discard my new layers, but keep them altogether each new time that I brew, the stronger and more vinegary my brew tastes.  I prefer a lighter vinegar taste, so I only brew with one layer of scoby each time.  This is my preference, but not a rule.

So, once your bucha is ready after your taste-tests, you may choose to either drink it now, straight from the dispenser or bowl....or, like me, you may bottle it with juice for a more exciting drink!  For this batch, I chose to bottle with organic cherry juice...NO added sugars.

Make sure to thoroughly wash and sterilize your bottles each time you re-use them.  Contamination is one thing to be very very alert to and careful of during the brewing/bottling process.  My husband brews beer so, thankfully, we have all the gear for sterilization.  Good, safe cleaning products and a bottle brush will also do fine.

Once your bottles are ready, fill each bottle about 1/3-1/2 full of fruit juice then fill the rest of the bottle with your kombucha tea....leave a little room at the top of the bottle for breathing.  If you choose to use grape, use less juice....I have discovered that grape is a very sugary juice.  The sugar in the juice is what will make your kombucha more and more carbonated (like in beer).  Therefore, the more sugary your juice, the more carbonated it will be.  If it gets too carbonated, your bottles could explode!  This is one reason why I use the grolsch bottles - they are so thick and sturdy and their caps are securely fastened.  But, I did have one grape explosion when I opened a bottle one day that had too much juice in it.  Grape ALL over my kitchen and me!!  So, be careful with the juice and carbonation! 
Once bottled, I set my bottles back in the pantry for about 5-7 days and then transfer to the fridge.  The longer they stay in the warm pantry, the longer it will continue to ferment.  When you transfer it to the fridge, it will slow that process down.

After that week of bottling my kombucha is ready to drink!  And look at the head on that 'bucha!!  Just beautiful!  Perfect!  Oh and it is sooooo yummy and refreshing.  

I hope this was helpful!

Here are a few other websites that are helpful with kombucha information.  I am by no means a kombucha expert...I am learning just like the rest of us.  I just wanted to share what I've learned.  Check these sites out....or write me a question if you are in the midst of brewing and have one!  


Lacey said...

Yay! I'll post a link on my blog to bring people here, I like the pictures and your steps are more informative. I'm so excited to try mine, I have a blueberry, pear, and grape fermenting as we speak!

Janeen said...

Wow, I feel like I've been to school today, that was great! I have no idea what tea drink you just made, never heard of it before but now I'll keep my eye's open when I go to Trader Joe's or the Harvest House around here. I'll dub it, "Jenny's Drink!"

Radical Mama said...

you won't this at Trader Joe's but any other health food store should carry different brands of kombucha tea! GT Dave's Kombucha is my personal fave in grape.

tabitha and jon said...

i'm giving this a try tonight! thanks, friend of laceys! :)