Culturing and Fermenting: Kombucha

Culturing and Fermenting: Kombucha

Several years ago, I was talking with someone about culturing and fermenting and she introduced me to the word “kombucha” with a brief description of what I needed to do to feed and culture kombucha. Intrigued, I went home and looked up more information. For those not currently doing culturing or fermenting do a little exploring on the subject. There is an entire underground community sharing information on this topic. “Nourishing Traditions” by Sandy Fallon talks a great deal about kombucha and all sorts of fermenting and culturing. The book in general is a great self-sustainable person’s resource which covers many subjects that are not limited to culturing. The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) is a wealth of information, too. Kombucha is mega healthy. It cures quite a long list of surprising health issues. Most of us do not get enough fermented or cultured critters into our bodies to maintain our systems correctly anymore. In our family, My husband and I drink it and the children are always asking for it. You just can’t keep enough on hand so if you start making it, double your recipes after your first batch or two.

Kombucha. Well, what is it? It is often described as a mushroom (but its not one) or more accurately a probiotic bacteria & yeast colony. Its job is to create a lovely beverage for you. As culturing goes, the super hero in question here is ugly, phlegmy in appearance and looks like it should be thrown out upon first sight. You will soon fall in love with it’s slimy slippery goodness that creates a delightful super-healthy beverage resembling sparkling apple cider with a hint of apple cider vinegar tang to it. No lie. It is amazingly delicious and you are missing out.

Wait a minute, did I say slimy and slippery AND delicious in the same description? Yes. I did. The actual beverage you would drink is not slimy- only the probiotic colony that creates the drink is. The kombucha “tea” created is refreshing whether lukewarm or cold. Some folks even drink it hot and that would be great too, but it would kill off any live critter goodness in the drink.

When I received my first kombucha mushroom or scoby (S.C.O.B.Y.: Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) I was having some thoughts of backing out. I confess, I too did not have love at first sight. After following the standard directions, I put the whole ensemble in the pantry and hoped for the best but had my doubts. About 10-14 days later I pulled out the jar, pulled off the cloth covering the opening and surveyed the landscape. Toledo! I was -not- going to consume that. After confessing my dismay on a culturing forum, they laughed at me and pretty much dared me to try it. That worked and I poured a bit of the kombucha off into a glass and sipped. No, I did not die but I sure was surprised! And a kombucha believer was born that minute.
Kombucha scobys live off of the caffeine made by black tea and white sugar. That means the scoby eats the caffeine and sugar and replace it with live critter probiotics, so rest assured you are not getting a sugar/caffeine buzz here... or consuming scads of white sugar, which many people avoid at great costs.
Okay now, are you ready? Strap yourself in for some pictures to go along with this kombucha “tea” extravaganza, folks.

First you will need to acquire a scoby, a large gallon glass jar, very clean muslin or flour sack fabric (about 8 x 8 inches), wooden or plastic spoon, some regular black tea bags, white sugar. You do need white sugar and yes your tea must be black with the caffeine still in it. These are the rules for a happy scoby and a happy scoby will show you love in return.

Wash your hands. Boil about 15 cups of water. Pour off some into a glass, heat tolerant jar of some kind, preferably a 4 cup measurer for convenience. Two or three cups will do.
Place 10 tea bags in this water you poured off. Let sit 10 minutes and squeeze the tea bags out well without breaking them.
Pour your 1 ½ cups white sugar into the gallon jar and add your concentrated tea mix. It is important to stir sugar in until completely dissolved.
Now cool everything to room temperature. We don’t want to kill our new best friend before we even get started, right? Sure she looks like a snotty pancake, but give her a break! She works hard. It usually takes a couple hours to cool down so allow yourself this time in your day when you make a new batch of kombucha.
[Note: whenever you stir or transfer or decant kombucha or touch the scoby in any way, you cannot use metal of any kind. Wood, plastic or your clean hands only.]
Pour your large portion of cooled water into the gallon jar but leave about 2-3 inches head space. Wash your hands again. Your scoby is anxiously awaiting her new home, go find her now. Open the scoby packaging or jar carefully and pour off any liquid INTO your lukewarm sweetened tea concoction and take care with your scoby that she does not get too excited and jump right in too. Gently assist your scoby into her new cozy sugary caffeineish home. I highly recommend you use your hands to help ease her in. Just look at her in there! She’s happy. You did it!
Get your square of clean muslin or flour sack and place over the jar opening and secure with a nice thick rubber band. Grab a post-it and put today’s date with “10 teabags, 1 ½ cup sugar” and put it on your jar.
Place your jar in a closet or your bedroom if it is dark in there, where no one will be harassing her as she’s working.
After 10 days carefully bring her back to the kitchen, it’s show time. It’s your turn to be brave now. Do you have a nice clean turkey baster or a plastic ladle? Get it out. Take your cloth that keeps fruit flies, spores, dust and all manner of yuckness off your jar. There she is. Scared? Don’t be. Gently slip your baster or ladle along the inside of the jar edge to retrieve some kombucha and put it in a cup to try. Go ahead! See, I told you! She was worth it wasn’t she?

If you find the current stage of culturing is still a bit too sweet, cover her back up and put her back to work in the dark pantry you had her in. Check on her in a few days and repeat the process. My family likes kombucha “brewed’ for about 3 weeks. We like the sweet and slightly sour tang and increased effervescence. Like sparkling apple cider.

Now we are at decanting stage. Pull your scoby and any slimy stringiness out and place her in a nice cozy glass bowl. Use a slotted spoon if you must to get a decent amount of any stringy things.

Ladle or pour your kombucha into pint size canning jars and use the standard lid & band combo. Pint size is perfect for drinking and not too much fizz is lost between partaking. Tighten well to keep the bubbles in there or it goes flat. Flat is fine, just not as good. Put a few in the fridge to start chilling if you like it cold. No refrigeration is necessary. You do need to know though that the longer it sits the more vinegary it will be but usually that is a couple months when it becomes too tart. At least for us. If we find it is a bit too strong we add a bit of water to our glass and it’s fine. Guess you could use your too tart kombucha as a hair rinse or in salad dressing.
Reserve some kombucha as starter to go back into your new batch you are making now.
You remembered to prep your water and tea all day first for your scoby to go live in again, right? After all, she can’t be homeless. You'll need to have her home ready in advance of decanting.
Let’s look at your scoby now. Notice how she seems to have two parts now? Like she divided? The scoby you found floating on top of the kombucha tea is the “baby” and the scoby thing below it, perhaps on the bottom of the jar is your “mother” scoby. The mother is the original scoby you put in there, the baby is your new scoby. Good news: You can use BOTH scobys. Gently separate them if they are attached in some way.
Here are different examples of a scoby mother not floating on top while her baby is on top. Various combinations do occur though.

Give one away to a friend you know will be a good adoptive parent OR make 2 gallons of kombucha this time. Put the baby in one jar and the mother in the other. Simple. Both work and love just the same. Some people actually put “extra” scobys in the compost or out to the chickens. Don’t do such a thing. There are people everywhere scratching and clawing to get one. No one should ever have to pay $20 for a scoby. Share the love.
Enjoy the adventure. To your health!