Sunday, December 2, 2012

How to brew your own kombucha!

Kombucha is awesome stuff, and typically very expensive when purchased at a retail store. I used to brew a lot of kombucha a few years ago, but I had let my kombucha culture die by accident and hadn't gotten another one. Recently, a friend showed up at my door with a kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacterias & Yeast), and I decided it was time to start brewing it again! I've detailed the process below so you can brew your own kombucha too!

To make kombucha tea, you need to have access to a kombucha scoby. Either get one from a friend, from Craigslist, from online, or you can grow your own!

Kombucha tea is most often fermented using a tea base with a good deal of sugar in it. Many people like to use black teas, but I personally like kombucha that is made with green or white teas. Its important to note that you should use actual tea, not herbal teas. Although you can technically use herbal teas, I would not recommend using them by themselves. You can, however, use them in combination with regular teas, should you desire to be creative.

A kombucha scoby
For this batch of kombucha, I used a jasmine green tea with tulsi. Although I love kombucha made with jasmine green tea, be careful when using teas with fragrances, fruits, or oils in them, as they can get funky (however, they can also turn out to be totally awesome). I personally prefer using loose leaf teas, but you can use bagged teas as well.

Brew slightly less than one gallon of tea using the appropriate amount of loose leaf or bagged tea. Please note that you should steep different types of teas at different temperatures for different lengths of time, or else you risk over-steeping (this can make the tea taste too astringent and strong). Below, I have listed proper steeping temperatures and times:
  • Black Tea: >200*F (rolling boil). Steep 4-6 minutes.
  • Oolong Tea: Slightly less than boiling, around 190-200*F. Steep for 3-8 minutes (to taste)
  • Puerh Tea: Slightly less than boiling, around 190-200*F. Steep to taste (some can steep for a very long time).
  • Green Tea: 160-180*F. Steep for 2-3 minutes.
  • Loose leaf jasmine green tea
  • White Tea: 150-160*F. Steep for 2-3 minutes.
 After the tea has finished steeping, strain out the loose leaf tea or remove the tea bags. Then add one cup of white or raw sugar (i.e., turbinado sugar). I would not recommend using demerara or brown sugar as they will impart a molasses flavor (unless that is what your desire).

Add the sweet tea to your desired glass fermenter (do not, under any circumstances, use metal). The fermenter must have a large mouth so you can add and remove the scoby with ease. Allow the tea to cool to room temperature.

Once the tea is cool, add 1.5 cups of kombucha tea from a previous batch. If this is your first batch, then add either some raw kombucha tea that you've purchased from the store, or 2 Tbsp. of pasteurized white vinegar. Doing this will increase the acidity of the tea and help the scoby to thrive.
Its all ready to go!

Gently add your scoby to the tea and secure a cloth onto the fermenter using a rubber band or twine. If you decide to use cheesecloth, make sure you use many layers of cheese cloth. The idea is to allow oxygen to permeate the cloth, but not bugs.

Be sure to put the kombucha in a place where it will not be exposed to direct sunlight or excessive heat or cold (no hotter than 90*F or colder than 60*F). Allow the kombucha to ferment, undisturbed (if you move the jar around, it breaks up the baby kombucha scoby that forms on the top of the tea), for 7 days. After 7 days, begin sampling your kombucha on occasion until it reaches your desired flavor and strength. When the kombucha is young, it is still relatively sweet. The longer it ferments, the stronger and tangier it gets. Some people like their kombucha fermented for 30 days or longer.

Once your kombucha has reached your desired taste, remove the scoby and place it in a bowl or other container (again, no metal), along with 1.5 cups of your fermented tea. Place it in the refrigerator until you want to brew another batch.

The baby scoby begins to form on the surface
You can either go ahead and drink your tea as it is, or you can carbonate it! Carbonating the kombucha is easy; just naturally carbonate it in bottles, or you can keg it if you have a force carbonation setup for homebrewing. To naturally carbonate your kombucha, you will want to bottle it. Most people like to add a bit of sugar to provide fuel to the yeast and bacteria, which carbonate the tea. However, you can not add any sugar at all and the kombucha will still carbonate, but the resulting beverage will have little to no residual sweetness. If you'd like your kombucha to have some residual sweetness after carbonation, you can do it one of two ways: add either around 12 oz of juice (make sure it has no preservatives in it other than citric acid), or a little simple syrup (sugar and water) to the kombucha batch. If you are making a simple syrup, I would recommend using no more than 1 oz of sugar in the syrup. Now put the kombucha and juice/sugar mixture into sanitized beer bottles or mason jars and seal them tightly. Make sure there is a little bit of head-space in the bottles/jars.

Allow the bottles/jars to sit at room temperature for around 48 hours. DO NOT SHAKE THEM! They can explode. After the 48 hours have passed, place one in the refrigerator, get it cold, and then sample it. If it is carbonated nicely, then place all of the other jars/bottles into the refrigerator as well. If they are not carbonated to your liking, then allow them to sit at room temperature for another 24 hours and then sample again. Again, do not shake the bottles when they are room temperature, as they can explode.

After your kombucha is carbonated to your liking, then enjoy! Drink to your health and share with your friends!