By Mary Imgrund
If you’ve been to a health food store anytime since 2015, you’ve likely come across the effervescent, fermented kombucha tea drink; a fermented concoction boasting pre- and pro-biotic benefits along with a host of other claims of kombucha health benefits. Though some claims are truer than others (it does help with gut health but I’m not so sure about increasing 'life force') this expensive drink has a cult following that I am wholeheartedly behind. I stopped drinking soda years ago because of its detrimental health affects and less than sustainable production lines. Kombucha seemed like a better alternative. Though I realized my ‘buch was made in small batches and is organic, it was still produced a few states away and shipped to me, producing waste in its shipping and container.
I think we, as western people, are so disconnected from the production process things we consume that we sometimes just assume they sprang forth from the shelves on which they sit. So I dove deeper into the 'buch culture (pun intended) and grabbed some mason jars, adopted a SCOBY (acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), and got to work.
This article is meant just as a primer. There’s so much to learn about home brewing kombucha. I'd always been curious about kombucha and after drinking it for years. When I finally took the DIY plunge I found it to be much easier than anticipated.
The basic idea of kombucha is it’s a “living” drink, meaning the SCOBY eats and drinks the tea and sugar you feed it, and turns the drink into a tart, healthy mixture of tea and good bacteria—the kind that will keep your gut happy. I think of my SCOBY as small, slimy pets, not unlike salamanders. They’re actually pretty much exactly like the Tribbles in Star Trek: The Original Series. They need all the same things a real pet would: food in the form of sugar, oxygen, a nice warm environment, and some light. So what that means for you is that you should first brew sweet tea, let it come to a temperature that’s slightly warmer than room temperature, then plop your colony in it. My first big mistake was being impatient with the water and putting my SCOBY in too early. This burns the little babies and eventually kills the culture, which allows mold to grow (dangerous).
When making a batch, try to find a big glass container. Glass is not only nontoxic, it’s also a cheap and sustainable option to find vintage or thrifted containers. Once your sweet tea is brewed and cool enough for the SCOBY, make sure to 'ban' all the bad bacteria by adding in either a small amount of your last batch of kombucha or, if you don’t have that, adding a small amount of white vinegar. Remember to place a breathable top on top container, a paper towel or breathable cloth will do fine. Your SCOBY will either sink or float. The kombucha is finished when a second SCOBY appears across the top, creating a natural lid. Then you have double the SCOBY for twice the brewing fun. You can compost the SCOBY, even eat them (I am not brave enough to try this yet), some say you can even make clothes out of SCOBY. To make the brew fizzy you can put it in a smaller enclosed container for a secondary fermentation for a few days.
Home brewing will not only save you money but it will reduce waste by using ingredients you already have (not counting the first SCOBY you will need to buy or adopt) to make a healthy, tasty treat. Making one’s own products is empowering, and breaks us from a wasteful production. So, go forth, new home brewers, and enjoy the magic drink you can make with a little bit of love and a lot of bacteria.
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