Monday, 20 August 2012


Yes, I did make kombucha.  I made kombucha soda.

Sometimes you just have to try things, to test to see if you can do it for yourself.  

I've fallen in love with kombucha.  Sure, our caveman ancestors did not drink this--but at some point in time our ancestors discovered the beautiful art of fermentation and made other things, great things not unlike this.  In fact, that is how we discovered alcohol.  

So why kombucha?  Kombucha is both sweet and sour.  To me, it tastes like watery beer with juice added to it.  The fermentation gives it a natural fizz a little like soda pop but without all the harmful chemicals.  Kombucha solved 2 issues for me.  1) I had a diet coke addiction, long time ago, and I really missed the fizzy, sweet taste with my lunchtime meal.  And 2)  Motility!  Yes, fermented foods help speed up motility.  Lets just say that you drink a cupful of this stuff, eat your meal, and around a half hour later, you get to use the bathroom.  Nothing painful.  This is not a high-powered laxative, I promise you.  It just...helps my stomach feel much better.  And unlike soda pop, it does not make me feel bloated after I drink it.  Win-win.

If you've never had kombucha before, I recommend you buy a bottle and give it a try first.  Make sure you really enjoy it before you go to the trouble of making your own.  The problem is that kombucha is both expensive (around $3 per bottle) and inconvenient to buy because its not available at your local Mac's Milk--you have to make a trip to your local health food store.  Try to find raw and organic plain kombucha, because you'll need a bottle of it to get this started if you do decide to make your own.

So, kombucha is pretty simple to make.  What makes it daunting to most people is the TIME it takes.  You have to wait for it.  You have to plan for it.  We do like our modern conveniences and fast foods, don't we?  If you're making traditional kombucha and you already have a SCOBY, it takes about a week.  What's a SCOBY, you ask?  It stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.  It's your active bacteria starter; all fermented foods need a starter of some sort.  Your SCOBY is a funky-looking creamy off-white disc of weirdness that will freak out your children and spouse if they've never seen a ferment of this kind before.  My teens desperately want to poke my SCOBY with a stick.  But I won't let them.

So first you need a SCOBY.  What, don't have one?  Do you have a friend with one?  Me, neither.  Had to make my own.  Don't worry.  It's not hard.  But it takes extra time (darn).  

I found all my info at Food Renegade.  She makes it really user-friendly so do take a cruise around her website, you'll learn something new.  The first thing I needed to know was how to make a SCOBY which I learned from here.  Basically you boil up some tea, add sugar, let it go cold, add your bottle of store bought raw unflavored kombucha, and then you wait.  It takes anywhere from 1 1/2 week to 3 weeks to grow a SCOBY.  It's summer here, though, and despite my house having central air conditioning, it only took about 1 1/2 weeks. 

This is a terrible pic, I know.  But here's my SCOBY growing in an old pickle jar that I washed out, with a tea towel and rubber band ontop of it to keep the flies out.  Yes, flies love this stuff.  I originally used several layers of cheesecloth and came home to fruit flies one day touching my SCOBY.  So don't do that.

So this step required 
  • a bottle of store bought raw, organic plain kombucha
  • a cup of tea with 1 Tbs plain white sugar stirred into it, and 
  • a clean jar, tea towel and rubber band.
my SCOBY set aside with a bit of the brew
I used ordinary store-bought orange pekoe tea.  I used ordinary tap water.  And you HAVE to use real sugar--it's what feeds the bacteria, and it's almost gone from the end product, so don't sweat it.  Honey will not do.  Yea, I had to go out and buy some sugar too.  My kitchen had been sugar-free for a year until I started with the 'booch.  
So then I waited.  Meantime, I went in search of a 1-gallon glass container for the next step.  I found one at The Real Canadian Superstore.  I think it's a glass cookie jar, but it's perfect.

Then, when my SCOBY was nice and thick, I moved onto making kombucha.  

This required
  • making a gallon of strong tea in my glass jar, then adding 1 cup of sugar into it and stirring to dissolve the sugar
  • I let it cool completely (or the heat will kill the SCOBY); once cooled, I added about a cup of bottled kombucha from the store (this is the last one you'll ever need to buy) and added the SCOBY to it
  • then I covered it again with a towel and elastic and I waited.
My SCOBY sank to the bottom the first time I did this.  It doesn't matter if it floats or sinks.  I let it brew for 7 days, pulled out a straw (and moved the top "skin" out of the way) and tasted it, decided I wanted a bit more sour, so I let it go another day.  The second time I brewed this stuff, I stopped at seven days.  So remember to always taste it on day seven.  Meantime, I went out and bought a bunch of mason jars.  I wanted to make kombucha soda.

If all you want is classic, plain kombucha, then you're almost done.  When it tastes the way you like it, pour your kombucha into the mason jars and seal tightly.  Apparently the metal can taint the brew so don't put so much in that it touches the top.  Always leave an inch for expansion/carbonation anyways or your kombucha could become explosive.  Make sure it's sealed tight to keep the fizz in.  If you want more fizz, simply leave the tightly sealed container out of the fridge for a couple of more days.  Start testing it after 2 days, but some people leave it out up to another week; it depends on how sweet or sour or fizzy you want it to be.  Then put it all in the fridge to enjoy as you like.  Remember to reserve about 1-2 cups of the old brew to store your SCOBY in until you're ready to do another brew.  Store your SCOBY in some of the liquid, sealed tight, in a dark cupboard if you are going to make another batch in a week or two; if you aren't going to make more for a longer period than that, store the SCOBY in the fridge the same way.  It should keep for a couple of week in the cupboard, or several months in the fridge if tightly sealed.

See the skin on the top?  Eww, but important.
If you are moving onto soda, go here for detailed instructions, but simply stated,
  • I used 4x 1-litre mason jars
  • you need juice--pure, unsweetened juice.  Apple and grape work best for this.  I used Welch's Real Grape (100% juice, no sugar added)  Avoid anything with pulp.  Too gross.  
  • into each jar, pour up to 1/3 cup of the juice or chopped up fruit.  I wanted multiple flavors  so I added frozen fruit in the 1/3 measuring cup, then filled all the space in the measuring cup with the grape juice.  As long as it still amounts to about 1/3 cup of add-in.  You could use flavoured tea that you've allowed to cool--but remember to add some sugar again to feed it.  (You don't need sugar if you're adding fruit or juice, it has enough natural sugar to finish the job at this point).  You could use herbal tea for the kombucha once you have a SCOBY-- its up to you.  You could make a whole bunch of single-size crazy flavors  just adjust the amount of juice add-in accordingly to your size jar.
  • top up the jar with your kombucha.  Leave a tiny amount of air space at the top.  Seal it tightly.  Let it sit on the counter, out of sunlight, for 2 more days or longer.  
  • now stick it in your fridge.  Cool completely.  You're done.
Ready for 2nd brew--already there's fizz on the 3rd jar.

Because of the berries in my booch, I poured out mine through a metal strainer each time I poured myself a glass of it.  I just dumped the berries right back in the brew.  I don't know if you can eat the berries--but why not, right?  I'll have to try it.  Maybe its just like fermented pickles.  I'm going to have to try it.  I made whatever fruit flavors I had on-hand, which happened to be blueberry-grape, raspberry-grape, cranberry-grape, and rhubarb-grape.  That's just what I found in the bottom of my freezer.  God only knows how old those cranberries were.  But they were all great.  I have to say that I loved the rhubarb the best.  It had the most fizz and the flavor was only mildly sweet.  The blueberry was the sweetest, and the least fizzy.  I don't know why.  Maybe I didn't seal that jar very tight on the second ferment. 

Sealed jars, to sit for at least 2 days
I drank my booch for the next week, testing all the flavors before I started a new batch.  I shouldn't have waited.  I ran out of booch and had to wait for the ferment to hurry up and be done.  Silly me.  But basically, this time around, I made my gallon of sweetened tea, let it cool completely, then dumped the SCOBY and the juice it was stored in, into the jar and covered it tightly.  No need for more store-bought kombucha this time.  My only costs from this point on are the tea bags, white sugar, and juice or berries if I want soda.

On my second round of kombucha, I read that strawberry and citrus can be very, very fizzy because of the citric acid.  So the amber coloured bottle has a candied ginger slice and a couple of splashes of lemon juice--maybe 2 tablespoons worth, and no grape juice.  Apparently the high-acid ones can be a bit combustible so I'll have to keep an eye on it.  It might require burping so it doesn't explode on opening.  We'll see.

The Food Renegade even has a handy-dandy Q&A page here to help with any questions or problems.  Personally, my booch wasn't quite as fizzy as the store-bought variety, but I doubt I closed my jars as tight as I should have on the second brew.  If that doesn't fix the problem, I hear Crate & Barrel sells those rubber-flip-top bottles that hold the seal better than mason jars.  Because I love my booch.  And I refuse to pay $3 a bottle any more.

So a fast review (if you already have a SCOBY)

  1. Make 4L of tea and add 1 c white sugar, let go cold
  2. Add SCOBY and juices it was stored in
  3. Cover with tea towel and elastic, let sit on counter out of sunlight for 7 days
  4. Bottle and either refrigerate, or move onto 2nd ferment...
2nd ferment (soda stage)
  1. Pour 1 c kombucha into a old jar and put your SCOBY in it, seal and store or return to step 1 above
  2. Pour remaining kombucha into prepared jars, either seal as is, or add up to 1/3 c juice or berries, then seal it up tight
  3. Let sit on counter for another 2-4 days
  4. Move into fridge and enjoy

 Ready on my next batch, this time immediately after pouring out my last batch into its 2nd ferment.  I just have to let this tea cool before adding the SCOBY back in.  Hmmm.  What flavours shall I make next time?  Any ideas?

***Follow-Up:  I've been making kombucha for a couple of months now.  So a few things I've learned/changed since then:

  • I tried making a batch with "lemon zinger" tea and I hated it.  They say that if you're going to use herbal teas, either use half black tea with it, or have a second SCOBY around in case you kill yours by mistake.  The best kombucha is made with black tea, but I hear that white tea and green teas work, even if they do stain your SCOBY.
  • My favorite is still lemon and candied ginger, but for my latest batch, I tried throwing a bunch of mixed berries into the first ferment instead of the second, then strained them out before the second ferment which I sealed tightly and let sit for 3 days.  Fizziest, nicest tasting brew yet (though the berries did stain my SCOBY)
  • The pro's do warn you to not use citrus fruit or ginger with the SCOBY as it can harm or kill the SCOBY, so if you're going to try adding lemon or orange slices to the FIRST ferment (like Kombucharista does--check her out on Facebook) please have a second SCOBY available just in case.....
  • I used to place a slice of waxed paper under the lid rim to keep the metal from tainting the kombucha, but the two never touch each other, so I stopped.  The batches are much fizzier without using the waxed paper because I get a better airtight seal on my second ferment without it.
  • I didn't like apple juice in my kombucha.  I find apple juice has a slightly metallic taste that is just magnified in the kombucha.  I tried it with cherry juice which I found raw at MacMillans Orchards in Ajax (they have loads of RAW juices there, check them out); it was a bit mild for my tastes.  I still want to try pomegranate juice.  

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