Monday, 4 April 2016

Kombucha Kronicles: Round 1

Kombucha is one of those things, like cilantro, that everyone has a strong opinion about. You're either going to love its tart, vinegary taste, or wonder why the hell anyone would bother drinking something that ferments from a strange grey jelly-like substance you'd normally run screaming from if you found it floating on your drink.
I mean seriously. This is some creepy sh*t right here.

If you believe the hype, kombucha- which is just a fermented mixture of tea, sugar, water and bacteria/yeast- can do anything:
  • help with digestion
  • detox your liver
  • assist in weight loss
  • reverse greying hair (I'm counting on this one!)
and much, much more. It's been around for a loooong time, probably originating in China but also becoming a staple in Russia and other eastern european countries. 

I don't know that I believe in kombucha's myriad uses as a health product (I'll let you know in a few months if my hair magically turns brown again...), but since I'm the kind of gal who loves those fancy drinking vinegars and would happily consume apple cider vinegar straight up if it wasn't so acidic, I love the taste. It's like a healthier, more refreshing soda! But you know what's NOT so healthy? 
My bank account, from buying too much fancy kombucha at the supermarket or worse yet, the farmers market. For a product that's made of very cheap ingredients, kombucha is very expensive. 

So I decided to make my own. 
Good timing: one of the actors in the play I just did had some extra SCOBYs. A SCOBY is the 'mother' of kombucha, the Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria & Yeast that devours the sugar and ferments the tea until it is tart and fizzy. Matt brought the slippery grey discs to the theatre one night, sloshing around in a tupperware container. The following day I did the following:
  1. boiled distilled water
  2. brewed tea mixed with sugar in a 1-gallon glass jar (kombucha hates metal, so use glass containers and wooden spoons if possible)
  3. waaaaaaaaiiiiiited for the tea to cool
  4. added vinegar and 2 SCOBYs (might as well put both the little buggers to work, I figured)
  5. covered the jar with a cloth and attached it with a rubber band (keeps out flies but allows for ventilation). Again, kombucha hates metal, so don't use a jar lid.
  6. put the jar in the back of the cupboard under the stairs and tried to forget about it for a week.
After 1 week I gingerly nudged aside the very healthy-looking SCOBYs and had a taste. Still a bit sweet for my liking, so back into the cupboard it went for another 2  days. Yesterday I sampled it again and preferred the taste, so I gathered two 1-litre bottles and two 500ml bottles (thank goodness for a boyfriend who likes fancy beers with resealable airtight flip-tops). Today I scooped the SCOBYs out of the jar with clean, non-soapy hands and found that a new one was starting to form, which is a good sign. Then I funnelled the kombucha into the 4 glass bottles. 
To the two larger bottles I added some diced crystalized ginger and some frozen berries. These went back into the cupboard for a couple days of bottle fermentation. Hopefully by the end of that time they will be fizzier, and also infused with the flavours of the fruit and ginger. The two smaller bottles are in the fridge, and I had just a splash left over which I drank. Compared to the store-bought stuff I think it has a more tart, complex flavour; often the commercial varieties have been flavoured past recognition.

Now, the internet can scare you silly telling you about the health risks of home-brewing. I found that this site was useful in busting not only the negative myths but also the overblown myths about kombucha's many health benefits. It's always good to treat anything you read on the internet with a grain of salt, but at the same time I'm going to be as sensible as I can be regarding my kombucha experiment. I obtained the SCOBY from someone I know and trust. I used clean equipment and handled the tea as little as possible. I checked for mould. Obviously, if drinking the tea makes me feel shitty, I'll throw it out. 
If you live in the Vancouver area, Homestead Junction ( is an invaluable resource, both for equipment and also useful workshops and classes. I'll be taking a yoghurt-making workshop there later this month. 

Will I make kombucha all the time? I'm not sure yet. My roommate also loves it, so if she likes the stuff I'm brewing then there's a double incentive to keep making it at home at a fraction of the cost of store-bought. It's a fun, fizzy way to help stay hydrated when flat water gets boring, and there's a chance it might make me healthier. I can experiment with different teas and fruit flavourings as well. (This time around I'm brewing kombucha with green tea rather than black, and I'm going to add some fresh fruit and herbs when it's ready to bottle.) But too much of anything can get old fast.  Now that I have kombucha around all the time, I may just get sick of it. After all, as my friend Brian snidely remarked when I mentioned that I was making a large jar of kombucha: "The only downside to this is that you will have a large jar of kombucha."

Batch #2 brews up.