Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Kombucha Experiment

Aah, Kombucha, you are a many-splendored thing. Almost as splendored, in fact, as you are disgusting. But in a way that I've really come to love.

After hearing that a person could start their own home batch of Kombucha from a bottle of GT's, I decided to give it a shot and start saving the $3.39 a bottle that I've been paying at Whole (Paycheck) Foods. But wait! What's Kombucha, you ask? It's a tasty beverage! More specifically, kombucha is a tasty fermented beverage made of sweetened tea, coaxed to fizzy, pro-biotic completion not by a mushroom, as is sometimes claimed, but by a bacterial "mother". This mother is often referred to as a SCOBY, which is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. I've decided to name mine Mr. Scobalina, Mr. Bob Scobalina.

But Mr. Scobalina is really one of the end products of making kombucha, not the beginning. Though it is possible to buy a starter SCOBY, I found the idea of "stealing" one somehow more appealing. So, going off a great many pieces of googled advice, I purchased a bottle of GT's "original" kombucha. One bottle went into a large glass brewing jar, which also held 6 cups of room-temperature water that had been boiled with organic tea and sugar. (There's a recipe for all this at the bottom, by the way. No need to keep track!) This jar was covered with a scrap of linen and sat, more or less undisturbed, for two or three weeks until the SCOBY was about 1/4" thick.

What does that mean, when the SCOBY is 1/4" thick? Your bacterial culture will grow to the size of whatever container you are using to brew in. After about a week of thinking nothing was happening and that maybe I had done something wrong, a few of the little bits of bacteria that had been floating about in my original bottle started to stick together, and after a few weeks more I had a nice round disk (only moderately disgusting) of bacteria and yeast. At this point, I washed my hands (you don't want anything to contaminate your little ecosystem, or you may have to start all over again) and removed the Mr. Scobalina, rinsed out the jar, and brewed another batch of the same tea. This one took even longer, probably almost a month, but I wound up with a nice frizzante batch of kombucha. Not too sweet, either.

The biggest question (and fear) for me during this first batch was when to drink it. When is it done? When is it over-brewed? Can I drink it yet? I think the real answer to all of these is simply, "What do you think?" Of course, you want to be sure that you've let things propogate for long enough to recieve some of the benefits of finished kombucha. (These benefits, incidentally, can range from curing sweets cravings, weight loss, energy gain, detoxification, even curing cancer depending on who you ask.) I got in the habit of taking little sips every week or so, and as soon as it stopped tasting like sugar and started having little air bubbles form underneath the SCOBY I decided it was done and poured it into some old Grolsch bottles, purchased and dutifully emptied for the sake of science. I also made a quick flavor addition of boiling about 2 inches of grated ginger in maybe 3 cups of water, along with a handful of sugar. This I dispersed into the 5 bottles of kombucha for a bit of extra flavor, and also because I'm hoping the addition of that last bit of sugar before bottling might up the fizziness a bit. But mostly I did it beacause ginger Kombucha is damn good.

Basic Tea Recipe:

6 cups water (I've used tap with success, but chemical-free is always best)
1 cup sugar
2-3 T. loose organic black tea
1 bottle GT's original Kombucha or 1 SCOBY + 1 or 2 cups Kombucha from your last batch.

Boil the water with the sugar to dissolve, let tea steep for at least 5 minutes until you're satisfied with it's strength. LET COOL TO ROOM TEMPERATURE! You don't want to kill your new bacteria friends. Add Kombucha starter or your existing SCOBY + a bit of the reserved tea from your last batch. Leave, covered with breathable fabric, in a warm and relatively dark place. Your tea is done when it tastes how you want it to, but also when your 'mother' starts to form 'babies'. Bottle your tea, and feel free to distribute any of the 'babies' to your friends, or just go hog wild and make as many batches as you want at once.


  1. how do you store these scoby's? Is it best to leave them in a cup of the starter batch, don't they get more vinegary this way though? Thanks!

  2. The key to storing scobys is to keep them submerged, supplied with food, and cool. Putting them in a glass container in your fridge with small batch of sweetened tea (like you would brew in) with a bit of kombucha from your last batch is the way to go. If you are giving scobys to friends (or receiving one from them), it's best to do it this way.

    That said, I've been able to keep scobys going continuously and haven't really found a need to store them. If I feel like I'm getting sick of kombucha, I'll just leave it out and let it keep fermenting like usual but not worry so much about the end result tea. If it's just to keep the scoby alive, it doesn't matter how vinegary or sour it gets!