Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Brew Your Own Kombucha

Kombucha has become rather popular. This fermented tea has been around for centuries with many unsubstantiated claims to cure just about anything from cancer, to GERD to hangovers. Depending on what you read, you'll either get the hell scared out of you and avoid it, or you'll start draining your bank account on $3-$4 bottles of tea fizz.

An integrative medicine doctor recommended I start drinking the stuff to right the bacterial and yeast balance in my body, and hopefully calm my overactive thyroid. It did not cure my overactive thyroid, but it didn't kill me either. In fact, Tammy and I are somewhat addicted to the stuff. This same doctor told me to make my own to make it cost effective. So I do.

What is Kombucha?

It is literally fermented tea. It ferments due to the addition of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Also known as "mother" or "scoby." This thing looks like a big, flat, grayish brown booger. However, the scoby is the good bacteria and yeast our bodies need. One gallon of sweet tea will turn into fizzy kombucha in about 7 - 10 days. The scoby will grow until you have two scobies, and so forth.  I'm currently up to 4 scobies and 4 gallons of kombucha. We have a lot of fizzy tea in the refrigerator.

Whenever you grow any bacteria culture, you have to be very very sanitary. Although kombucha has been brewed since pre-sanitation days, it is entirely possible to grow yourself the wrong bugs and get super sick. So rule #1. Be very clean.

An Inexpensive Kombucha Recipe - Make Your Own Scoby

I used a recipe from The Kitchn because it was simple. I made a few modifications for cost and convenience sake.

There are a number of recipe books available; including ones you can download onto our kindle or phone (if you're a clutter free reader).

You will need the following:
4 Family-sized tea bags - I use 2 Lipton black tea and 2 Lipton green tea. You need some black tea to give the scoby and you some real nutritional benefits.
One Cup of Sugar - Again, I'm not going fancy. The scoby couldn't give a hoot whether your sugar is organic or fancy. I use HEB sugar.
One 16 oz bottle of plain Kombucha - I use GT's Original. GT makes the very best kombucha, if you ask me.
3.5 Pints of Water - Regular old water. I use tap water. There. I admit it. Not distilled. Not bottled. Not spring. Tap water. I'm practical like that.
Six 16 oz. Mason Jars - I know it's trendy to bottle in those cool Grolsch-style flip top bottles, but they're expensive, and this is about saving money. You can get 24 mason jars for less than $9. You'll need the other 18 if your scoby grows and multiplies like mine has.
One Gallon Glass Jar - Even a cookie jar will work if you really don't want spend $20 on a fancy jar with a spigot. In fact, the spigot will just get clogged with scoby and present a sanitation risk.
Tightly woven cloth and rubber band - A bar towel or cup towel works well. Not the terrycloth kind, but the smoothly woven kind.

Here's how to make your own scoby:

Scoby in starter tea
  1. Bring 3.5 pints of water to a rolling boil.
  2. Dissolve one cup of sugar in the water using a wooden spoon.
  3. Turn off the heat and add your tea bags.
  4. Let the tea brew to a preferred darkness. The longer it brews, the more nutrition for the scoby.
  5. Let the tea cool to room temperature. I recommend brew at bedtime, and let it cool overnight.
  6. Add your starter tea to the glass jar.
  7. Pour in your sweet tea.
  8. Tightly band the towel to the jar opening.
  9. Place jar away from direct sunlight and keep it at about 70 degrees.
  10. Let it sit until you form a scoby. It will take about 2 weeks.
  11. When the scoby covers the surface of your tea, and is about 1/4 inch thick, remove from the jar.
  12. Put the scoby in 16 oz of the tea and set aside.

You're Ready to Brew Your First Batch of Kombucha

This is short and sweet. Follow the above directions to make sweet tea.  Then do this:

  1. Pour one 16 oz bottle of original kombucha into the glass jar.
  2. Pour in your cooled sweet tea.
  3. Remove the scoby from it's tea and place it in the jar.
  4. Your scoby may sink or float sideways. It's ok. 
  5. Cover with the towel and band it tight.
  6. Set the jar aside out of direct sunlight, at 70 degrees (this is a recommended room temperature).
  7. Let tea ferment for 7 - 10 days.
  8. Start tasting at 7 days until its the right combination of sweet and tangy to suit you.
  9. When you're satisfied, remove scoby and pour 16 oz of your tea over it. Set aside to start your next batch. At this point, the you can use this tea as your starter tea and free yourself from the $3 bottle of GT's.
  10. Pour tea into Mason jars.
  11. Set aside for 3 days.
  12. On day 3, move to the refrigerator.
  13. Don't drink more than one a day. 
I like to zest ginger into my jars before I add the tea. It makes a fantastic flavor.
I've also added shredded apples. Add any fruit you want. It's really up to you at the bottling stage.

As you brew more tea, your scoby will get thick or make a separate offspring. When this happens, you can start a second batch.

Fresh batch of kombucha ready to ferment

Watch out for green or black bacteria growth. A healthy scoby is grayish, tannish or brown. Little stringy bits of it will also float in your tea. Boy howdy, you'll know if the bacteria's gone to the dark side because it will smell nasty and rank cheesy. Healthy kombucha smells vinegary.

My Perceived Benefits

I'm less hungry.
My skin looks better.
I'm maintaining a steady weight (because I got fat, y'all).
All of the above could also be attributed to knocking sugar and gluten out of my diet. I have a free day, but not every day. I also eat whole. I do not eat processed foods if at all possible. I drink a lot of water. I run, bike and do yoga. I lift a few weights. Therefore, I can't promise kombucha will do anything by itself. You'll need to make a 100% commitment to being healthy. 

As an anecdote, we do give it to our kid. She went on a junk food spree that included throwing away her healthy lunch and hustling up unbelievably massive amounts of chips and cookies. This was her primary diet. She was a monster. She was rumdum. She was in serious trouble. Currently, she's doing better and drinking kombucha. I WILL NOT SWEAR BY THIS. Any moment, she could decide to eat herself to death, but for now, kombucha is helping.

Try it. See what you think. 

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