A Different Kind of Homebrewing: Fermenting My Own Kombucha

As any long-time BlogAboutBeer.com reader knows, I’ve been dabbling in homebrewing beer for years. I still stick to extract brewing (for lack of equipment, space, time, attention span, etc.) but I brew pretty regularly and like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Therefore I’m personally surprised it took as long as it did for me to try my hand at some other kind of home fermentation. That all changed this weekend when I brewed my first batch of Kombucha. Kombucha, as you may or may not know, is an ancient tea with origins in Russia, China and Japan which is fermented, and therefore has a very low alcoholic content (sub 1 percent).

Many folks, myself included, feel that Kombucha is an “elixir” which helps cleanse and revitalize the body, boost energy and speed up metabolism. Plus, it’s damn tasty. You can get bottles of kombucha commercially (any Whole Foods will have lots to choose from), but it’s expensive – usually about $3.50 a bottle. But you can brew your own at home, for about $1.50 a gallon.

The recipe and the brewing process of Kombucha is really quite simple, especially if you’re used to brewing much more complicated batches of beer. The tricky part is locating a SCOBY — often called a culture or “mushroom”, the SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) is what ferments the Kombucha tea — but I bet if you ask around, you’re bound to find some friends who have a SCOBY to spare. I was amazed at how many people I knew brewed their own ‘Booch and volunteered to pass along a baby SCOBY for me to use. If not, you can buy SCOBYs online (although they’re a bit pricy) and have them shipped to you. Or you can grow your own using the sediment from a raw, organic, unflavored bottle of commercial Kombucha (but it takes a couple of weeks to form).

After you have your SCOBY, all you need is 5 or 6 tea bags (caffinated, plain black or green; I used black), a cup of plain ol’ white table sugar, and a gallon of spring water. I brought half of the gallon of water to a boil, took it off the heat, steeped the tea bags in the water for about 20 minutes, removed them, stirred in the sugar until it disolved and then added the 1/2 gallon of sweet tea to the other half-gallon of cold water in a gallon-sized glass jar (an old pickle jar. Unfortunately a homebrew carboy won’t work because the mouth isn’t wide enough to fit the culture).

Once the liquid had cooled to about 70 degrees, I added the SCOBY and a half-cup of an old batch of Kombucha (from the same friend who gave me the SCOBY), covered the jar with a couple paper towels (rubber banded on) to serve as a makeshift airlock (and fruit fly lock), and put it in a warm, dark closet to hang out and ferment. In about 10-14 days, the batch will be done fermenting, at which time I’ll remove the SCOBY (and put it in a Tupperware in the fridge along with a 1/2 cup of the tea to use next time), and bottle the Kombucha for 3 or 4 days (so it can continue to carbonate) and they it will be ready to drink. What I need to do a little more research on is how to flavor my batch. I know some people who have added real flavoring to their bottles — like grated ginger, apple slices, blueberries, etc. — while I’ve seen other people use extracts common to homebrewing beer. And even still, I know that commercial Kombucha companies use fruit puree to flavor their batches. So I’ll report back on the direction I choose when I, well, choose it.

Have you ever brewed Kombucha before? What have your experiences been?

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