Vegan MoFo 7: The Home-Brewed Kombucha Adventure

I drink a bottle of Kombucha a day, either of the GT Synergy brand or the locally brewed NessAlla (and may I just gape at how lucky I am to live in a city as wonderful as Madison that we brew our own Kombucha?). The fermented tea works wonders on my digestive system as a detoxifier, not to mention that it tastes awesome and offers an instant boost of energy. However, at $3.99 a pop, stocking up on daily Kombucha proves an incredibly expensive endeavor. Thus, I explored the option of home-brewing.

 

There’s my mama Scoby! Scoby, the jellyfish pancake of acetic acid bacteria and yest required to brew Kombucha, stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. It eats up all the sugar and caffeine of a sweetened tea mixture, then proceeds to ferment the liquid around it, producing a fizzy refreshing beverage by which Chinese cultures have sworn for over 2,000 years. The resulting Kombucha bursts with antioxidants, enzymes, probiotic bacteria (my favorite!), and B vitamins (including B12, which the vegan diet often lacks), all of which combine to improve digestion, detoxify the liver, prevent cancer, and treat arthritis. No hard-core scientific evidence exists to back up these claims, but hey, the stuff’s got 2,000 years of tradition behind it plus I feel absolutely fantastic when I drink it.

For more information about Kombucha’s health benefits, read here. For a Kombucha FAQ from the local Madison company, read here.

The first step in home-brewing requires obtaining a mother Scoby, as I mentioned above. While some health food stores may carry one, you could also check Craigslist or contact your local Kombucha brewery (if you’re lucky enough to have one). As for myself, I don’t feel too comfortable buying a colony of bacteria from anyone other than my closest personal friends of whom I am certain will not attempt to poison me. Ergo…I grew my own under the knowledgeable guidance of Sayward from Bonzai Aphrodite, which I will outline here.

How to Grow a Mother Scoby from Storebought Kombucha—much thanks to Sayward!

Makes 1 Scoby plus about 4 cups of starter tea.

Ingredients/Equipment:

  • 1 bottle raw, unpasteurized Kombucha with no fruit juice added (like GT’s Original flavor.)
  • 2 bags of caffeinated tea (I used Hojicha green.)
  • 1 tbsp sugar/evaporated cane juice (don’t try to substitute alternative sweeteners like maple syrup and agave here—the bacteria need to munch on sugar.)
  • Large glass bowl (Use ONLY GLASS. No plastic, no wood, no metal.)
  • Small towel/washcloth (make sure it’s very very clean) OR a sheet of saran wrap with a couple holes poked in it
  • Large rubber band
  • Large glass jar (half-gallon mason jars work nicely here.)

Place the sugar and tea bags in your large glass bowl, then pour 2 cups of boiling water in. Allow the tea to steep for 10 minutes.

Remove the tea bags, stir to ensure the sugar is dissolved, and allow to cool until it is comfortable to touch. Pour in the whole bottle of storebought Kombucha.

Cover the bowl with your towel and secure it with the rubber band, or stretch the perforated saran wrap tightly over the bowl. Place the bowl in a warm, dry space free of drafts and sunlight (the top of my refrigerator accomplishes this perfectly). Let sit for two full weeks without disturbing it.

After two weeks, voila! Your Scoby is born. Cherish it. Gaze upon it. Kiss it (but only with very clean lips!). Store the Scoby in a half-gallon glass mason jar with a plastic lid (or any non-metal covering) afloat in the starter tea in the refrigerator. Be sure to handle the Scoby with EXTREMELY CLEAN HANDS! You don’t want to contaminate it, now do you?

After you’ve birthed and raised your very own Scoby (yes, I feel like a proud mother of a bacteria pancake. What’s at all wrong with that?), you can start brewing up a storm of Kombucha! My very first batch of 3-week-brewed Kombucha, complete with Mama Scobe-ster, is pictured below. Ain’t she a beaut?

 

 

Tutorial submitted to Fat Tuesday, Fight Back Friday, and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday.

How to Brew Homemade Kombucha—once again, huge thanks to Sayward.

Makes 8 cups.

Ingredients/Special Equipment:

  • Your homemade Scoby plus its starter tea OR a purchased Scoby plus starter tea
  • GLASS half-gallon mason jar (if you made your own Scoby per my instructions, it should be floating around in a half-gallon jar already, so you’re set!)
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar/evaporated cane juice (again, no natural alternative sweeteners. Bacteria feeds off of sugar, not agave, brown rice syrup, Splenda, honey, etc.)
  • 4 bags of caffeinated tea
  • Cheesecloth OR a very clean dish towel
  • Rubber band
  • Stainless steel pot (no Teflon, aluminum, copper, etc.)
  • Metal spoon
  • A VERY VERY VERY VERY CLEAN work surface. Better safe than sorry, eh?

In your large stainless steel pot, boil the 8 cups of water for a full 10 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar with your metal spoon until dissolved.

Add the tea bags. Remember, the flavor of the tea will determine the final Kombucha flavor. If you use looseleaf, make sure you steep it in a metal mesh infuser rather than dumping the leaves in to float about—you don’t want any stray leaves disrupting the fermentation process.

Let the tea steep for 4 hours to cool the water and strongly infuse it. Meanwhile, if your Scoby isn’t already floating in a glass mason jar, give your glass jar a run in the dishwasher to ensure tip-top cleanliness, then cool it in the refrigerator so the residual heat from the dishwasher doesn’t kill your Scoby bacteria.

Remove the tea bags, then pour your cooled tea either into the jar already holding your Scoby or your freshly cleaned jar. If your Scoby is not already inside the jar with the tea, wash your hands very thoroughly, fish out the Scoby from its original container, and slide it into the jar with its smooth side up.

DO NOT USE ANY METAL BEYOND THIS POINT IN THE KOMBUCHA PROCESS!

Stretch the cheesecloth or dish towel tightly over the top of the jar and secure it with a rubber band.

Let sit for 2-3 weeks in a warm, dry space free of drafts and sunlight (like the top of my refrigerator, for instance!). The brewing time will depend on your taste preference: the longer you let it brew, the yeastier and less sweet it will be. Kombucha also brews faster in warmer areas or with tea containing higher amounts of caffeine. Do not brew for more than a month.

After the brewing time has elapsed, make sure your hands are very thoroughly washed and fish out your Scobies. Yes…plural Scobies! Every time you brew, your mother Scoby makes a baby one, both of which can be used to brew their own batch. Transfer them to another incredibly clean glass jar and pour enough newly brewed Kombucha to cover. Store the Scobies + starter tea in the refrigerator until you’re ready to brew a new batch. If you want to brew two batches with the baby and mother Scoby, separate them into two jars just before brewing and double the above recipe to make 1 gallon instead of just 8 cups. Remember to use clean hands and clean jars!

If you like, you can keep your Kombucha in its original glass brewing jar, or you can transfer it to individual glass bottles (remember to avoid any material other than glass). I prefer to store mine into the big half-gallon jugs from NessAlla.

 

Additional Notes:

  • Always wash your hands!
  • Check for signs of contamination. If your Scoby produces anything resembling mold or if your Kombucha comes out tasting or smelling very off, throw out the entire batch plus the Scoby and start anew.
  • Your Kombucha should come out smelling very yeasty, like beer, with an acidic tang, like vinegar. You’ll be able to tell if it’s gone rancid.
  • Only add fruit juice after brewing, NOT before fermentation.
  • Don’t use bleach on any of your Kombucha-brewing equipment. Mild dishwashing detergent is fine.
  • Home brew is much stronger than commercial brands. Take it slow with your homemade Kombucha. I’m used to drinking a full 16-oz bottle of GT’s or NessAlla everyday, but I found that I could only drink about a cup of my home brew for the first few days.
  • Be careful, be thoughtful, and remember: I cannot be held responsible for what you do with these extremely delicate and potentially harmful procedures.

Now get out there and brew some Kombucha! I sure do love mine.

Until next time, Ali.

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20 thoughts on “Vegan MoFo 7: The Home-Brewed Kombucha Adventure

    • Ali Seiter says:

      I admit, it is a bit indimidating considering what could go wrong! But frankly, if you’re careful, you should have nothing to worry about. Think about the Indonesians who ferment their tempeh on the unsanitary streets–they do so in much more dangerous conditions and hardly ever end up with contamination. It sure doesn’t hurt to try! 😀

      • kessleremanuel says:

        Hey, dear, how long do you let your kombucha brew? I’m coming up on a week of brewing, and I know Sayward waits 3 weeks. What about you?

      • Ali Seiter says:

        For my first brew, I waited the full three weeks and it turned out a little too strong for my taste. I’d recommend brewing for two weeks, which allows the bacteria to powerfully enhance the kombucha, but still retains some of its sweetness.

  1. rawkinmom says:

    I brew my own too!!!! I have a huge colony of the scobies and use the extras in a bath, to wash my face, and once I rubbed it on my sunburn to make it feel better!!! I also sliced my finger pretty bad and placed a piece of scoby on it and within 2 days it was healed!!! The stuff is amazing!!!

    • Ali Seiter says:

      Um, WOW, I had no idea the extent to which Scobies could be used! They’re seriously okay to wash your face with? Yet another positive reason to brew your own Kombucha to add to the list of thousands.

  2. celyn says:

    This is the best kombucha how-to guide I have ever seen, and now I don’t feel scared to try making it. Thank you! Super useful. I am just going to pretend I didn’t see the comment about the maggots. Yike.

    • Ali Seiter says:

      Why, thank you so much, Celyn! Honestly, I wouldn’t even worry about the “maggots”. I’ve been drinking my homemade Kombucha for a good month now with no adverse effects, plus it came out smelling and tasting right on point. Take Sandor Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation and Kombucha expert, for example: he simply scrapes any mold (much scarier than maggots, in my opinion!) that might occur off the top of the Scoby and keeps right on brewing, asserting that if you re-feed the Kombucha, the the “good” Scoby will defeat any other bacteria…and he’s been brewing Kombucha for over 10 years.

  3. jill@RealFoodForager.com says:

    Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This was very interesting! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit RealFoodForager.com on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

    http://realfoodforager.com/2011/10/fat-tuesday-october-25-2011/

    If you have grain-free recipes please visit my Grain-Free Linky Carnival in support of my 28 day grain-free challenge! It will be open until November 2.

    http://realfoodforager.com/2011/10/grain-free-real-food-linky-carnival/

  4. Stephanie says:

    I’m “trying” to brew my first kombucha today!! I was just looking back at various instructions to see if I did them alright. My jar is though, very small – I could only fit 750mL of tea + scoby in it. Where can I get those large ones?

    I made my Scoby using store-bought bottle as well, and I tried some of the “left-over” tea after I transferred the Scoby into another jar. It smelled nice, but it was super strong! I could only have 1/2 cup or so. Is it supposed to be like that? Thanks!!

    • Ali Seiter says:

      Good for you, I’m so glad to hear it!

      You can find large mason jars at basically any craft or hardware store.

      The leftover tea will be stronger than the final Kombucha product since there is a smaller amount of it and it is therefore more concentrated.

      Let me know if you have any more questions! I hope your Kombucha turns out well.

  5. Danielle @ poor and gluten free says:

    I’m impressed that you drink a whole bottle a day! I find the raw stuff a bit strong so I flavour mine – I just posted a recipe for Ginger Lemon flavoured and one for Pomegranate flavoured – they’re super tasty.

    Thanks for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday!

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