I had no idea what kombucha was until about half a year ago, so don’t be ashamed if you’ve never heard of it.
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink, made from tea, sugar, and an alien like colony of yeast and bacteria – sounds tasty right? Well, it is!
How It is Made – Science!
Yeasts turn alcohol into sugar and you can thank them for wonderful creations such as beer, bourbon, and wine. Kombucha is made with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, known as a SCOBY, that converts what is sweet tea into are fermented tea.
The SCOBY contains Acetobacter (an acetic acid bacteria) and one or more various yeast strains to form what is known as a zogleal mat – a gelatinous biofilm of microorganisms.
Kombucha is made when the SCOBY feeds on the sugar and converts it to alcohol. For many yeast strains, alcohol (ethanol) production only happens in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic conditions). The SCOBY forms a film over the tea and prevents the normal gas exchange that would happen if the liquid was exposed to air and makes conditions just right for the yeast.
The acetic acid bacteria take the ethanol that is produced by the yeast and begin to convert this into acetic acid, also known as vinegar. This is the same process that turns wine into vinegar.
The bacteria and yeast work together in their colony to transform the sugary tea mixture into a tasty effervescent beverage.
Why Drink Kombucha?
For starters, I just think it is really damn tasty.
If you are brewing your own kombucha you have control over how sweet the drink ends up being. I tend to let my kombucha go for about a week, which gives me the right mix of sweetness and acidity. Some like it sweeter. Others like it near the point of vinegar.
But other than taste, is there any benefit to fermenting tea?
Well, the verdict on kombucha is all over the place. Some say it is full of health benefits. Others say its just a weird beverage. And there are a few rare cases of serious side effects and deaths due to improper preparation and contamination (very very rare, but I had to put the disclaimer out there- the same risk goes with canning foods at home, FYI. Read More).
Those touting the benefits of kombucha say that it can fix intestinal disorders and boost the immune system. This is why I first tried kombucha.
After I came back from two years in West Africa, my stomach was a mess. I had one confirmed case of giardia parasites and a number of other horrible periods of stomach distress. I was enjoying local food and drink, sometimes that were not made or consumed in the most sanitary of environments, and my body caught a few nasty critters.
When I returned home to the U.S., my stomach was still experiencing issues. Without going into too many details, it was plain for me to see that my gastrointestinal system was not functioning right.
I wanted to find a healthy natural way regain my gut health. I looked to some of the health and lifestyle people I hold in high regard and I was pointed in the direction of probiotics and fermented foods. I took both routes.
After a week of introducing probiotics and fermented foods, such as kombucha and kimchi, I started to see a big change. Now, my gut is doing well.
Being the scientist that I am, however, I recognize that this little experiment had too many changing variables and it would be difficult for me to say if the kombucha played a big role in the change.
Scientific rigor aside, I think that kombucha did help – but even if it didn’t, I really enjoy the taste and the process of fermenting my own tea at home on my countertop.
How To Make Kombucha At Home
I really enjoy kombucha. What I don’t enjoy is the price of buying a bottle at a store. The stuff is expensive, in contrast to the water and coffee that make up my other standard beverages (bourbon excluded).
So, being the cheap, crafty guy that I am, I started making my own at home.
You can buy a SCOBY (like this one) but you can also buy a bottle of raw kombucha that still has active microbes and start you own SCOBY. That’s what I did.
- 1 Liter Water – ideally filtered water
- 4 Tea Bags – either black or green
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- Raw Kombucha – ideally unflavored plain kombucha, yet you’ll see I didn’t use plain kombucha because the store was out when I went to make mine.
- 1 Liter Mason Jar
- Cheese Cloth
- Heat water to a boil and then remove from the heat
- Place the tea or tea bags in the water to steep for 10 minutes
- Remove the tea bags from the water and add sugar to the tea
- Reheat if the sugar doesn’t readily dissolve
- Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature
- In the mason jar, mix the settled solids from the bottom of a bottle of raw kombucha with your sweetened tea
- Cover the jar with cheese cloth and secure with a rubber band or the metal ring of the jar
- Let the kombucha sit for 1-4 weeks
- Each kombucha is going to be different. You’re starting a unique colony. For this first kombucha, since your main goal is to establish a SCOBY, you should let the kombucha turn all the way to vinegar. This will make for a strong and healthy colony, but a horrible drink you’ll want to toss. Don’t drink it.
- Once you SCOBY has developed and your tea turned to vinegar, repeat steps 1-4 but now add your SCOBY to the tea
- Allow the tea to ferment for 1-2 weeks
- At this point, you can make the kombucha as sweet as you want. I let mine go for 7-9 days and then make another batch of tea and transfer the SCOBY
- Don’t worry if your SCOBY sinks to the bottom. It will either float back up eventually or start a second one up top.
- To stop fermentation and store your kombucha, just transfer the finished product to the fridge and place the SCOBY in a fresh batch of tea to keep it alive and fermenting
- As your SCOBY transforms tea into kombucha, it will grow in thickness. The upper most layer will get old and die. The SCOBY will also form visible layers. You can divide the layers and make multiple SCOBYs or just ditch the old cells of the uppermost layers.
- Give SCOBY babies made from your mother SCOBY to friends and share the fun!
- Going on vacation but don’t want to find a pet sitter for your SCOBY? Don’t worry! You can let the SCOBY go for more than a month, without worry. Just toss the vinegar and make a fresh batch of tea for your SCOBY.
Are you going to try kombucha? Totally weirded out by the idea of a biofilm of microorganisms growing in a jar on your countertop and transforming sweet tea into kombucha? Let me know in the comments below!