Saturday, September 9, 2017

Eats: DIY Kombucha Tea

Hello! I'd been reading about kombucha tea lately, but didn't know much about it other than the various health claims (purported to be probiotic, anitbacterial, and more). Then a friend told me about purchasing the Sacred Springs brand at our local farmer's market, so I tried some from the vendor there. The guy was super nice and his ginger-flavored kombucha tea was awesome.

But was not awesome was the cost: I think around $4.00/bottle. The brands at grocery stores and health food stores are priced lower, but still not low enough to make buying kombucha tea a regular habit. 

So of course I investigated making my own, and came across this clearly-written tutorial.

According to the recipe, I needed to start out with a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which I could have ordered online. However, my recipe also included a link for making my own SCOBY as well (the link is in the last line of the ingredients list). For this SCOBY-making step, I did need to buy some unflavored kombucha for making the starter tea, to go along with tea bags, sugar and water. For the tea itself, I used ordinary Lipton's since I already had a big box of it on hand, but opted for organic cane sugar(purchased for a reasonable price at Sam's Club).

You need a large, clean glass jar for making kombucha tea, as both the SCOBY-making process and the kombucha tea-fermenting step yield 8-10 cups of liquid. Fortunately I had 2 large jars, purchased years ago at a store-closing sale. (the recipe can be made in two smaller jars, or can be halved if desired). 

I think I jumped the SCOBY-making step a bit. The instructions say to let it "grow" to a thickness of about 1/4" thick. This is supposed to take 1-4 weeks. After 8 days, I looked at my SCOBY and thought it was thick enough. But you know how shapes look distorted under water? Well, that's what happened when I took my SCOBY out of the starter tea. It was probably closer to around 1/8" thick. However, I'd already made the tea base that, along with the SCOBY, would be set aside to ferment for 7-10 days to make kombucha tea. So I decided to go ahead with the fermenting step, figuring that the lesser amount of SCOBY would be okay for this first time around.

After seven days of fermenting were up, it was time to flavor/bottle/carbonate my kombucha tea. Flavoring options are included in my recipe, so I decided to go with the easiest one, which was to add fruit juice. I used R.W. Knudsen's organic black cherry juice. 

I've read that carbonation works best with the type of bottle that has a stopper that is clamped down with a wire mechanism. I didn't come across an inexpensive source for these bottles, but will keep on looking. In the meantime, I bought some plastic bottles with screw-on lids from American Science and Surplus's website.

The carbonation step takes 1-3 days, then the kombucha tea is refrigerated and ready to drink. The tea will keep for a month in the refrigerator. I decided to refrigerate my first batch after one day was up, since I was anxious to start drinking it. I liked how it turned out! It wasn't really fizzy, but I didn't care about that.

Okay, that's enough chatter about my first foray into DIY kombucha tea. As of today, I'm ready to bottle my 4th batch, so here's how things look:

Above, the fermented tea base, with the SCOBY on top (that lighter-colored blob). The glass jar is kept covered with a cloth napkin, but I took it off so the SCOBY would be more visible in the photo. Next to the jar is one of the bottles I use, and behind these containers is the tea base for the next batch of fermenting tea. 

Making kombucha tea is like using a sourdough starter (which I've also done): you have to reserve some of the fermented tea (before you add any flavoring to it) to use in making the next batch of kombucha tea. Thus, you make the fresh batch of tea and let it cool down before you're ready to bottle the fermented batch. 

My first two batches of kombucha tea were flavored with that bottle of cherry juice. But then I wanted to try replicating the tangy ginger flavor I'd enjoyed before. Again, I went for an easy way of adding this flavor: I peeled about 3" fresh ginger and placed it and 1/4 cup raw honey into my Vitamix along with 3/4 cup water. I blended this mixture until smooth, then strained into my jar of kombucha tea. It tasted great! I think this will be my go-to flavor. 

As with many DIY projects, there are various cautions involved in the making of kombucha tea. Contamination can be an issue if a bad SCOBY is used. The recipe I use has a page on troubleshooting typical SCOBY problems, the worst of which is mold. And of course, all kitchen utensils, bottles, jars, etc. need to be clean when going through all the steps in the process. But that is just common sense. 

To keep things straight, I keep a running list of when each step is completed (fermenting, bottling, carbonating). It seemed a little confusing at first, but I'm getting the hang of it. 

So far my SCOBY has been behaving just fine, so I will keep making kombucha tea with it. I don't know if I feel any different after drinking it for a few weeks now, but I like how it tastes, and I like the money I'm saving by going the DIY route.



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