Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kombucha Making Resources and Recipes

I started making Kombucha tea recently and it has been a lot of fun. I had been wanting to do it for a while, and now that I'm making it regularly I wish I had started sooner. I just wanted to make a blog post about it in case anyone else was interested to try it out.  Kombucha is a fermented drink made with beneficial probiotics. It's alive! The Kombucha is started from a SCOBY, which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. There are many health claims for Kombucha. I can't say that I have experienced any health changes with it. I am primarily interested in it because I can make good tasting fizzy low alcohol drinks with it myself at home with Organic ingredients at low cost.

Getting Started: Acquiring a Culture and First Ferment

If you are lucky like I was, you can get a SCOBY from a friend. My gardening friend Suzanne had one that she traded me for a shampoo bar. She also pointed to this helpful video from Cultures for Health. Cultures for Health also sells dehydrated SCOBY or you can join the international culture sharing group on Facebook where there are many people who are willing to share. I recently free received water kefir grains from a very kind member of the group. Water kefir also makes a similar fermented beverage which is milder in flavor. Also for the Etsy shoppers, you can find SCOBY at Wells of Health. Wells of Health also has a wonderful range of yogurt cultures available.

For those who do not have access to youtube, I will summarize the steps for making Kombucha.

First you brew a strong tea of black tea, Oolong, or green tea. For 1 quart of green tea you need to add 1/4 cup of white sugar. Some people also use sucanat. I have used turbinado and brown sugar. The white sugar is supposed to work the best and create the most stable pH, which is important for safety, but I haven't had any trouble with the sugars I have used.  When the tea cools you can add it to a clean jar that has 1/4 cup of starter tea or 1/4 cup of vinegar. I have been cleaning my jars with vinegar which was suggested by my friend. I also rinse my hands and utensils with vinegar first.  Do not use metal utensils.  Into the clean jar you add the SCOBY and the tea. Next cover the jar with a coffee filter or clean cloth and secure it with a rubber band or string. Next you wait for a new SCOBY to form at the top of your jar. The amount of time it takes for the SCOBY to form depends on the temperature and the size of your starter SCOBY. The SCOBY should be off white in color and it will have a bit of a rubbery texture. Orange, Black or Green on a SCOBY is a sign of a mold contaminated culture that needs to be tossed out. I haven't had that problem. It takes only about 5-7 days for a SCOBY to form on top of my culture, but I have a pretty big starter and the temperature where I have the culture is pretty warm, on top of a refrigerator in a 81 degree house.

The Fun Part: Secondary Ferment

Some people will tell you that the plain fermented Kombucha tastes great. I don't really care for it unless it has been flavored and bottled to make a fizzy finished drink. To make your secondary fermentation, you fill a bottle that you can seal tightly about 80% of the way full with your primary tea fermentation and then fill the bottle the rest of the way with herbal tea, juice, or fruit. I use Grolsh bottles.
Source: via Christian on Pinterest

So far I have made 4 different flavored Kombucha Drinks. I made up these fun free labels at to go along with the recipes for them. So far my favorite is the Hibiscus Kombucha, which my Kombucha loving sister in law also likes. For this Kombucha I simply boil water together with a tablespoon or 2 of Organic Hibiscus sabdariffa powder from Mountain Rose Herbs  and a bit more sugar for about 5 minutes. With the Hibiscus Kombucha I let it sit for about 3-4 days before refrigerating and then drinking it. The top of the brew will have a little film of a baby SCOBY forming which you can strain off and compost. The Hibiscus gives the Kombucha a tart berry flavor. Hibiscus is fun to use to make a natural berry flavored glaze or frosting. I love so much I even made a Hibiscus Tooth Powder.
Holy Basil Kombucha is also really good. The flavor from the essential oil of the plant really gives it a lovely smell and initial flavor. I want to try Holy Basil together with other herbs next time though to give it a deeper flavor beneath the initial Holy Basil top note. My my sister said the Holy Basil Kombucha was the best she has ever had. I love that herb! To make it I simple gathered up tops from my plants and made a strong tea with it. When it cooled I added it to the primary ferment. This also takes about 3-5 days before fizzing up and being ready to drink. I check the top of the tea through the glass to look for bubbles to get an idea if it is ready or not.
If you want a very fizzy Kombucha, just add fresh cantelope. It will be wildly fizzy after only a short time. My bottles of Cantelope Kombucha can only ferment for a day or 2. Then they have to go into the fridge. I suggest opening them with a towel on top when they are completely cold, otherwise you might have an explosive fizzy mess to clean up. I lost a lot of tea the first time I opened one of them before it was completely cooled.
As gardener who always has a stockpile of Seminole pumpkin I'm always looking for something new to do with it. A couple of weeks ago I make a fresh batch of pumpkin pie soaps. I requests for whole pumpkin pie soaps last year, so I wanted to be ready for this Thanksgiving.
I had lots of puree left over and my first fermentation was ready to go, so I added pumpkin puree with shredded ginger. I can't wait to try again with a bit of cinnamon and clove added too.
Do you have a favorite Kombucha flavored tea? If so I would love to know what kind. Leave a comment to let me know. Drunk Off Kombucha
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