A few months ago I discovered kombucha for the first time in person at a local Earth Fare market. It was on sale for $2.59 a bottle but the regular price was expensive for my taste at almost $4 a bottle. I’d heard good things and decided to try it. Unfortunately, for my wallet I was hooked and so were my kids. Over the course of the next month I bought probably 10 bottles or so of this probiotic elixir. In the meantime, I started doing research on what it was and how it was made. My curiosity was supremely peaked when I realized I could make it at home!!!
I posted about my newly found obsession on Instagram and caught the attention of a commercial kombrewer out west – Humm Kombucha of Bend, Oregon. I searched high and low and soon realized I would never get to try Humm Kombucha in my home since it is only distributed out west :(. On their website and their Instagram feed they advertised kombucha brewing classes complete with all the tools and ingredients necessary including the SCOBY. The SCOBY is where all the probiotic goodness comes. SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture (community) of bacteria and yeast. This works over time to ferment the tea and produce the sourness and carbonation in the kombucha.
Making Kombucha With A Humm Kombucha SCOBY by Slidely Slideshow
Humm was kind enough to send me a SCOBY so that I could brew my own kombucha at home and share my story. You can only imagine how grateful I was to receive it. The thought of what I had in my hands was a little intimidating. It’s teeming with life and I wanted to make sure I provided a proper environment for it to thrive. Since I didn’t have a friend teaching me all their skills I relied on Humm’s brewmaster, home brewers I found online and library books to help me get my set up going correctly. My favorite reference book so far is Kombucha!: The Amazing Probiotic Tea that Cleanses, Heals, Energizes, and Detoxifies. I renewed it until I couldn’t any more. After having it for 6 weeks I had to have it for my library so I bought it off Amazon :).
Using all my cobbled instructions on how to make kombucha, I brewed my first batch of tea and sweetened it. After letting it cool to room temperature I slid in the Humm Kombucha SCOBY and all the liquid that was with it. The accompanying tea that was in the bag with the culture served to feed the community while in transit. Although it was slimy and smelled very strongly of apple cider vinegar I knew that it would be just what this virgin batch of kombucha needed to get going. I watched with bated breath as the SCOBY floated sideways in the brew for a few hours and then slowly righted itself to float on top. Over the next few days the anticipation was killing me. It didn’t look like anything was happening so I gave the brew container a little nudge and noticed that a translucent film was forming on top. HUZZAH! It WAS working after all. A new scoby or baby was developing. For this first batch I followed my instructions to a tea, umm, T ;P. After 5 days I tried it and thought it was still too sweet. At 7 days I was unsure. When 9 days came the brew was almost too sour.
The second fermentation was a bit more tricky that first time than I’d anticipated. From my research I expected it to get fizzy within three or four days. But my bottles of ‘buch did nothing. One week in the reused commercial kombucha bottles I had and the brew was by all intents and purposes flat other than a mild vinegary bite. I was disappointed, but my oldest daughter was thrilled we had made kombucha at home. She lost no time finishing off all we had.
So I started again. Same ratios of tea, sugar and water as before only now my SCOBY had a wobbly paper thin baby attached. I also started to notice strands of yeast forming along the sides and bottom of the culture. I’d heard of this happening and felt that this was a sign my environment was working for the brew just fine. I just needed to fine tune my process. This one too was a bust (only figuratively since there was little or no carbonation :D). I thought it was just my bottles. Then I thought maybe I was waiting too long to bottle. It was getting a little frustrating for me, but my girls were enjoying drinking my failed non-fizzy batches anyway.
After three failed attempts at getting decent fizz and one even bottled in airtight bottles I came to understand something. There are 4 T’s to kombucha brewing success – Tea, Temperature, Time and Tools. The type of tea results in different flavors and levels of fizz. The temperature of your environment affects the time it takes to brew a batch. How long you brew will affect if your final product is fizzy, sweet or flat and dry. Your tools are one constant that can be indefinitely controlled. Making sure your tools are clean and you have the proper type of bottle makes a huge difference.
My first truly successful batch of kombucha was one I made 50/50 oolong and black tea and bottled it slightly sweet. Another key was using flip top bottles AND reused beer bottles that I recapped with a crown capper. When I popped that first bottle opened to test it after 7 days of second fermentation in my kitchen I watched as the bubbles shot up from the bottom tumbling the little SCOBY which was forming inside I knew we had a winner. It wasn’t until after this that I discovered that green tea and oolong tend to produce more carbonation than black tea alone.
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”350px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]What teas can you use? We recommend starting out using green or black tea. Green tea tends to make a fatter scoby. It also creates more carbonation due to the greater amount of beneficial acids. But Green tends to sour quicker. Black tea tends to give you a smoother taste. You can try a combination of both to get the best of both worlds. Or use Oolong tea which is somewhere in between black and green tea. White tea is younger than green and black. It will give a more delicate lightly flavored tea. You will usually get a thinner scoby. You will likely need to ferment longer as well. Recommended once established. Source: Yemoos.com http://www.yemoos.com/kombuchaFAQ.html[/dropshadowbox]
Eventually, I wanted to start doing continuous brewing instead of starting new every time. Now every 4 days or so I bottle 2 quarts of new kombucha and add 2 quarts of fresh sweet tea back into the batch. What is nice about this is that I don’t have 8 or more whole bottles of ‘buch fermenting at once. I can choose to consume it straight from the fermentation container or send it to second fermentation for the next week without worrying about having enough room to refrigerate all the bottles when they are ready. There is a three day overlap where I have 8 bottles in the kitchen, but that’s not a huge deal. Since it’s cold outside there is a cabinet in my garage that is serving as an overflow “refrigerator” for my kombucha and kefir bottles as they need to be cooled after the second fermentation. Refrigeration slows the fermentation process almost to a halt. I say almost because you will notice a little SCOBY starting to form over time as they sit in the fridge. It’s just one way to know it’s still alive and kicking.
I learned by trial and error that I shouldn’t get too crazy with the flavorings yet. Any batches I added juice to came out too sour for me to drink. Mastering just basic kombucha brewing and bottling is my focus now although simple flavorings like pieces of ginger wouldn’t be out of the question now that I am more aware of how long things take in my environment to finish.
Do you make any fermented foods or drinks at home? If not, would you like to and which ones?
Thanks to Humm Kombucha for sponsoring this post and my kombucha experiments. This site is supported by advertisers; this post contains affiliate links and clicking on them may result in compensation for this blog.