Saturday, April 04, 2015

Kombucha 101: Fermented drinks for beginners

Kombucha - a kind of slightly fizzy fermented tea - is having a moment. 

The drink, which is made from sugar, tea, bacteria and yeast, has been around for centuries, but a resurgence in all things fermented means it's especially hot right now. There are Facebook groups devoted to sharing 'scobies' (the culture needed to make the drink), commercially made versions that sell for up to NZ$20 for a 750ml bottle and loads of forums where devoteees discuss the best kinds of tea and sugar to use. A kombucha bar, with six different kinds of kombucha available on tap, even opened in the hip Sydney neighbourhood of Leichhardt last week. 

Devotees believe kombucha has all sorts of health benefits thanks to its probiotic properties. I'm not in a position to make any claims as to kombucha's efficacy - it hasn't cured me of anything or driven me to Instagram my abs on a daily basis - but I do think it's good for digestion. More importantly, I like the way it tastes, which is my main consideration.

Berry kombucha, brewed in November 2014
I've been making my own kombucha since late last year, after receiving a scoby from someone I met via the 'Fermenting Freaks Forever' Facebook group. I know it might sound strange to invite a perfect stranger to send you a gelatinous-looking yeast culture in the post, but it's worked out well. So far I've shared the scobies I've grown with lots of other strangers - as well as any advice I can give them about brewing the perfect batch. 

If you're in New Zealand and you'd like a scoby, don't buy one. Look on Freecycle or Facebook - there is bound to be someone in your community who has some to give away. If you're in Wellington, feel free to contact me - I have more than I know what to do with.

There's loads of information available online about how to get started, but a lot of people find it extremely confusing to navigate. Here's the advice I give to my kombucha recipients - and they've all been successful so far.

Continuous brew kombucha (that's the scoby floating in the tea). Image:Catherine Adam
Kombucha 101
As well as a scoby (which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), you'll need a large glass vessel. I recommend scouring your local op shop for a large jar - like a two-litre gherkin jar, or similar - to see if you like it, before rushing off to invest in a big vessel with a spigot. The latter can be found in most homewares stores - the one in the picture came from The Warehouse. Make sure the spigot is plastic (most of them are). You'll also need a supply of glass bottles with lids in which to bottle the brew. I use clean screwtop wine bottles - for some reason we always have plenty of those to hand.

This is how you make what they call 'continuous brew' kombucha - because it's always on the go. If you want to have a rest from it at any stage, then put it in the fridge and bring it back to life on your return.

What you need:

13 cups boiling water
2/3 cup sugar
8 plain black or green teabags (or 2 Tbsp looseleaf tea)
1 scoby and 1 cup kombucha (this is often referred to as 'starter tea' - anyone who gives you a scoby will give you some starter tea as well)

What you need to do:

1. Put the boiling water and sugar in a large pot and stir well. Let cool for a bit, then add the teabags and let them steep for 10-15 minutes. Carefully pull them out and let the hot tea cool to room temperature.

2. Carefully pour the cooled tea into your nice, clean glass vessel (strain it through a fine sieve if you have used teabags). Gently pour in the kombucha liquid and scoby. 

3. Cover the top of the glass vessel with a piece of muslin or fabric and secure with a rubber band or piece of string. This allows the kombucha to breathe, but keeps out flies and other bugs. Leave in an open spot, out of direct sunlight. 

4. After a week, taste the kombucha - it should be 'dry', but not too vinegar-y, with that distinctive flavour. If you think it's ready, then drain it into bottles and add flavouring to them, eg fruit, ginger, lemon or orange zest and 1 tsp sugar. The kombucha will eat up all the sugar, so don't worry about adding it. 

5. Seal the bottles tightly and set aside until you are ready to drink them. They will keep fermenting - if you want to stop the process, put them in the fridge. 

Important things to remember:

1. Make sure you leave at least one cup of kombucha with your scoby at all times or it will find it hard to make more. As it grows, it will form new layers in your jar. This is perfectly normal and a good sign. If, however, it looks like it is growing furry mould, then this is NOT good and you may have to start again. 

2. Make sure you keep everything super clean - clean the bottles and lids with hot soapy water and rinse well with boiling water.

3. Plain white sugar is best - do NOT use honey as it can affect how the scoby grows. Avoid brown sugar too - it makes the kombucha quite yeasty and seems quite sweet.

4. Save any flavouring to the 'second ferment' eg when the kombucha is bottled. The scoby doesn't like any flavoured or herbal teas - just ordinary gumboot tea is perfectly fine. It's like a tradesman - it likes hot, sweet, ordinary tea and regular praise!

5. However, if you want to be fancy, green tea or white tea is also good. You can use decaffeinated black tea, but I'd advise throwing in a normal teabag or two for flavour reasons. Decaff' tea by itself is a bit tasteless. White tea gives the kombucha a delicate, floral flavour.

6. When it comes to flavouring the second ferment, anything goes. I most often use frozen berries (say, six frozen blueberries and a teaspoon of sugar to 750ml kombucha), or slices of fresh ginger. Elderflower and ginger is another gorgeous combination. My all-time favourite is using my sister's homemade crystallised orange peel and a few slices of fresh ginger for a kind of Cointreau-ish kombucha.

7. The kombucha will ferment a lot faster in warmer weather - you may need to check it earlier. If you have left it too long for it to be pleasant to drink, you can always bottle it as vinegar. I've successfully made fridge pickles using kombucha vinegar and my sister-in-law has made raspberry kombucha vinegar. 

Are you a kombucha fan?

4 comments:

  1. I had my first kombucha this weekend, and I really liked it. Now I need to track someone down who will donate me some Scott, I think I will be waiting a long while :( I will keep your recipe in mind for when that day comes

    ReplyDelete
  2. Look no further, Shaheen!! If you're in Wellington, that is. I've got scoby to feed the world in the jar now.
    Lucy, love the recipe. Even the kids about the place are loving it, which surprised me, what with the relatively low sugar content and all. Love it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ange,

      Do you have any more scoobie? I went to Common Sense Organics to buy some and they had sold out. They kindly directed me to the 'Fermenting Freak' website but my google search lead me here first.

      Many thanks,
      Jeanine
      021 994885

      Delete

Hello - thanks for stopping by. If this was real life I'd make you a cup of tea and open the biscuit tin, but in lieu of those things, let's have a chat anyway...

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