By Eileen Weber
Several weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of kombucha and did a taste testing of some of the brands you can easily find on the market. Now I’ve taken it one step further—brewing my own.
After a little cursory research, it seemed the brew kit from Kombucha Brooklyn would be the easiest and most cost effective kit to buy. You can get one directly from their site or you can get one on Amazon. Getting from Amazon, however, means you have to get the SCOBY, or the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast that is the starter for your batch, from Kombucha Brooklyn anyway. So I suggest ordering a kit directly from them rather than Amazon.
While whole process was easy enough—brew tea, add sugar, cold water, and SCOBY, and let it sit—I’m not sure brewing it in such cold and snowy weather this winter worked to my advantage. Typically, the brew should be kept at 72 degrees to 80 degrees, at least according to the directions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to keep my house hotter than a tropical rain forest. I tried wrapping the jar in a kitchen towel almost like a tea cozy. But the temperature stayed at 64 degrees.
The one thing that’s apparent is the smell of the kombucha. As you get closer to the tail end of the first fermentation, kombucha’s distinct acidic scent comes through. Tasting it along the way helps you determine how tart or sweet you like your kombucha. Some people prefer to ferment for a shorter period, some longer. The longer it sits, the tarter it gets. While there are basic guidelines to brewing, the end result is really up to you.
I tasted my batch at 12 days. Honestly, I was afraid of removing the cloth top for fear of contaminating it. I’d read horror stories about blue, green, and black molds forming on the top. That’s the last thing you want on your first try. But my batch seemed to be fine.
The “mother” SCOBY—the original yeast and bacteria culture—was relatively opaque with a few jelly-like patches, but otherwise mainly appearing the way I’d put it in. The “baby” SCOBY was easily detached from the mother and I used that to start the next batch.
It had the telltale fizz and a little acidity but still sweet. The fizz, however, was subtler than I expected, which made me wonder if the cooler temperature made a difference there. The whole process is similar to brewing your own beer. Cooking ingredients, cooling them down and letting them sit with a breakdown of yeast and sugar is phase one. Phase two is bottling. There are certain beers like lagers that ferment better in cooler temperatures than say stouts or ales that take to warmer temperatures. Would my kombucha be a more sparkling tea drink if I had tackled this in the summer?
With the original brew, I poured it into the swing-top bottle—very similar to a bottle of Grolsch—I purchased at Whole Foods when I bought their in-house brand. How’s that for being green? I’m brewing my own fermented tea AND I’m recycling!
Before the second fermentation in the bottle, you can add flavors to your tea. From citrus to herbs to spices, it’s your choice. But there’s also nothing wrong with leaving it completely unadulterated.
Before bottling, I added fresh lemon juice. I like the combination of tea and lemon, so it seemed like a good starting point. The taste was generally pleasant but I was surprised that the lemon became the dominant flavor when I opened the fermenting bottle a week later. The fizz was the general mouthfeel and the tea flavor got a little lost.
I wondered how different this batch would be if I’d added mint or some other flavoring? What if I had used green tea instead of black tea? Kombucha Brooklyn, as well as many other web sites touting the benefits of brewing your own, highly recommends not using herbal teas. They tend to wreak havoc on the SCOBY and can alter the flavor profile in a negative way. This also includes flavored teas like Earl Grey, which can be a little oily.
If you’d like to try your hand at brewing your own, here’s a quick rundown: Boil two cups of water in a 2-quart pot. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, remove it from the heat. Add your tea bag and let it steep for about 20 minutes allowing it to cool. Add a ½ cup of sugar and make sure it dissolves fully. Then, add four cups of cold water and pour the mixture into your brewing kit jar. (Make sure you have affixed the adhesive temperature gauge on the side of the jar.) Pour in the SCOBY and let it sit for 10 to 14 days.
For bottling, remove the SCOBY pulling the “mother” off the “baby.” The mixture goes into a clean, capped bottle and should sit for another week. Any flavorings you add should come at this point in the brewing process and not before. Et voilà!
As a Do-It-Yourself project, this was relatively easy, particularly once you have the proper equipment. All it takes is brewing tea and waiting. How hard is that?