Kombucha 101: What it Is, How to Brew it, and What to Use it For
I have been making kombucha at home for almost a decade now; long enough that I forget that not everyone is making it at home like me. I have found that initially, kombucha can be intimidating, but once people get over the initial “ick factor” (let’s be honest, the gelatinous thing in a glass jar in your kitchen does look kind of gross) and they get into the habit of brewing kombucha, they quickly get addicted.
Nowadays you see more and more kombucha in stores, but seriously, this stuff is so easy to make at home, and there’s so much that you can do to experiment with kombucha. My friend Emily Dilling and I were talking kombucha on the latest episode of her Paris Paysanne Podcast (you can listen here) and it got me thinking about putting together a straightforward guide.
So here it is: Kombucha 101, a guide to help you get started with your own kombucha brewing.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea, made by brewing tea together with sugar, and then letting the mother (also known as the SCOBY, which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or mushroom) do the work of turning that sweet liquid into a fizzy, carbonated drink. The result is a fermented drink full of plenty of things that are good for you.
How to make kombucha
Let me begin with full disclosure: I have been making kombucha for so long, that I don’t measure anything anymore. This is not to say that you shouldn’t measure at all, but the point is that if you know the approximate quantities, you can let the mother do the rest of the work. I think a lot of people get really afraid of ruining their kombucha. Put a little faith in it! It’s a living thing; if you brew with good ingredients, keep all of your tools clean, take good care of it and give it a little love, your kombucha will do just fine.
To start with, here is a basic kombucha recipe to follow. You can make more or less buy doubling the recipe, or cutting it in half.
About 1/2 gallon (8 cups, 2 liters) water
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces, 100 grams) organic sugar
About 1 cup (240 milliliters) of already brewed kombucha tea (that you’ve made, or bought from the store)
About 4 tea bags of black tea
Boil the water, then pour it into a large pot. Add in the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar has dissolved. Add the tea bags and let steep until the tea has cooled.
Remove the tea bags and pour the tea into a glass jar (or two depending on what size of jars you are using) with the previously brewed kombucha and the kombucha mother.
Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth, gauze or a tea towel, and wrap a rubber band around it to hold it in place.
Let ferment in a cool, dark place for 7 to 10 days. You can taste it to determine if you want to bottle it or if you want it to keep fermenting longer.
Use a funnel to pour the brewed kombucha into glass bottles. Store at room temperature for about three days, then transfer to the refrigerator for storing.
Where kombucha brewing gets exciting is in the second fermentation. This is the part where you let the brewed kombucha sit in bottles for a few days at room temperature before storing it in the refrigerator. This is what helps it gets nice and fizzy.
In this part of the fermentation process, once you have bottled the kombucha, you can play around with adding different things to it, like fruits and herbs. Here are some ingredients that work great for the second fermentation:
Citrus zest (be sure to use organic)
Fresh herbs like mint, lemon verbena, basil
Berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
Fruits like apricots, apples, pears
Once your bottles have sat for a few days and you are ready to store them in the refrigerator, pour your kombucha through a filter to remove the fruits/herbs/etc. Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors! If they don’t work out, you can always brew another batch.
What else can I do with kombucha?
There are plenty of things you can do with kombucha besides just drinking it straight. Here are a few ideas
Kombucha smoothies – Kombucha works great in smoothies, giving the smoothie a slightly fizzy and fermented taste. Try this one with apple, apricot and mint.
Kombucha cocktails – because of the tart, slightly sour taste, kombucha works well as a cocktail base. Try a Kombucha Moscow Mule.
Bake bread – Just like you might use beer to make bread, kombucha can be used as a leaven for sourdough bread, or simply added to a bread made with yeast for a little funkier taste.
Salad dressing – Use kombucha like you would vinegar to make salad dressings. This is particularly a good option if your kombucha has fermented a little too long and you feel that it is too strong to drink.
There are a few great kombucha books out there. Here are a few to check out:
Stephen Lee, cofounder of Tazo Tea and Stash Tea, launched Kombucha Wonder Drink in 2001. Since then he has been mastering the art of kombucha, and this book is full of useful tips for brewing kombucha as well as making things with it, from cocktails to sorbet.
Written by Eric and Jessica Childs, founders of Kombucha Brooklyn, this book is a great guide to how to brew kombucha but also how to use it in a variety of different ways, like baking bread.
Once you start brewing kombucha you might get addicted to making fermented drinks, and you just might want to start doing more. That’s where this book comes in. Emma Christensen leads us through the world of home-brewing, of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
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