Lesson Two: Kombucha
There is nothing in my kitchen that shouts WEIRDOS LIVE HERE more than my 5l jar of Kombucha. It sits on a shelf across from oven, the sea creature like mother floating happily in a sea of tea and sugar overlooking the lesser forms of fermentation that happen on the lower shelves. It really is a beast of a thing, but worth its oddness for the outcome of delicious, probiotic tea on tap.
Mother, as she is affectionately known was given to me by a friend who had been brewing Kombucha for awhile. Last week when we fermented our vegetables, we were relying on the bacteria and yeasts that were already present in the veg. All we were doing was creating an environment that they would be happy in - adding salt and water and limiting the air supply so they could do their own thing, we didn’t need anything else other than the ingredients.
With the drinks we are working on this week, as well as when you make sourdough bread and things like cheese and yoghurt, instead of using the LABs that are in the environment, we are going to use specially crafted cultures that will introduce the cultures we need to the food we want to ferment - like dear ol’ Mother.
These cultures and specific bacteria each play a special role. If you think about cheese making for example, the culture you use to make a holey swiss cheese is different to one you would use to make blue cheese. Specific cultures have been grown and harvested and passed on for generations, Greek, Turkish and Bulgarian yoghurt are all different bacteria that have been cultivated over time.
The good thing is now you don’t have to hope someone will pass you the right culture for your project, you can buy them easily on places like Amazon, Goat Nutrition and eBay.
SCOBYs (aka the Mother)
Kombucha and our next project Kefir both use a starter culture that is known as a SCOBY or a symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast. These come in various forms but for a Kombucha it is a flat disk, often with tails coming off or in the case of Kombucha, it is small grains.
These SCOBYs have developed in a way that help each other out to feed off of sugars and other foods in their environments. They tend to multiply, so if you have a friend who is a keen fermenter, you may be able to get some off of them if you don’t want to buy one elsewhere and didn’t have a kit. In Kombucha, the cultures feed off of sugar (or honey) and the caffeine in the tea.
Equipment for Kombucha:
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t let metal touch your Kombucha starter. This is largely because the Kombucha is very acidic and metal, even stainless steel, can taint your SCOBY. However, tea can be brewed in a metal container, no problem.
For your first ferment of Kombucha, a glass jar is ideal. Kombucha like oxygen, so rather than simply removing the seal and closing it as we did with our lacto-ferments, I usually cover it with a tea towel and a rubber band.
You will also need some flip top bottles for your second fermentation - again, a kilner type jar with a seal works well here, or some Grolsch bottles are great!
Starting you Kombucha:
The easiest way to start Kombuchas is with a mother and some starter tea. The basic principle is that you brew a strong, sweet tea, add your mother and starter and let it ferment until you like the taste. This is called the F1 or first fermentation stage.
Once the taste is how you like it, you can then ferment it a second time. This F2 stage is where flavour and carbonation occur.
If you don’t have a starter culture, you can also start Kombucha from a bottle of store bought unpastureised Kombucha.
Pour the raw kombucha and a cup of cooled tea with a tablespoon of sugar into a glass jar.
Cover the jar with a dish towel and secure with a rubber band
Ferment the tea in a warm spot out of direct sunlight, for about 7 days and then use that tea and follow the recipe below.
Traditionally Kombucha is made out of black tea and sugar, but green tea and honey (a version often called Jun) is what we prefer to drink and I have recently started making coffee Kombucha!
Kombucha Master Recipe:
Makes: 1.5 ltr of Kombucha
150 ml starter tea (from an older batch of Kombucha or you can use a store bought bottle)
6 black or green tea bags (or a mix of both)
75 g sugar
1.25 ltrs of water
Large pot for making tea (can be any
Large glass jar for first fermentation
(important there is no metal in this jar)
3-4 glass bottles with swing tops
First Fermentation (F1)
1. Using boiling water, make a batch of strong, sweet tea using the tea bags and sugar.
2. Leave to cool with tea bags steeping.
3. When cool, pour into large glass container for the first fermentation (often called F1 fermentation).
4. Add your SCOBY and the starter tea.
5. Leave to ferment on your counter for 5-7 days. You will know it is ready when the colour has lightened and it tastes sharp, but not too sweet.
Second Fermentation (F2)
1. Decant your F1 tea into your flip top bottles.
2. Flavour as desired.
3. Store on counter for 3-5 days or until desired taste is reached.
4. Store in the refrigerator.
Suggestions for Second Fermentation Flavours:
Cream Soda: 1 tbsp of treacle and 1 tsp of vanilla extract.
Chai: 2-3 each, cardamom pods, star anise, cloves, small piece of ginger, cinnamon stick, 1 tbsp of honey.
Orange: the juice of 1 orange or 2 clementines.
Apple Cinnamon: 1 chopped apple and 1 cinnamon stick.
Going on Holiday:
If you want to go away or pause your kombucha, all you need to do is make up a new batch of tea and add a fair amount of sugar to it. Store your mother in this mix and about once a week add sugar to it. If the Kombucha gets too acidic, use it like a vinegar.