Adventures in Kombucha Homebrew and How to Make Your Own

The tangy, fizzy finished product, and some of my favorite teas.
Confession: outdoor time hasn't been at the top of my priority list in the past few weeksThe 2016 CrossFit Games Open started last week, which means ramped up training at CrossFit Love. Time not spent at work or the gym was allocated to studying for a work exam, (which I passed!). I've had to find creative ways to get my adventure fix, even if it's a tiny adventure, and even if it isn't deep in the woods somewhere.

The most recent tiny adventure? Making my own Kombucha. My brother gifted me a homebrew kit from Kombucha Brooklyn for the holidays, and though I knew next to nothing about it, the idea of a foray into something new was impossible to ignore.

What is Kombucha?

In the most basic sense, Kombucha is fermented tea. It's probiotic, like yogurt, and is produced by taking plain tea, adding sugar, dropping in a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), and letting it sit for up to two weeks. Learn more.

There's little evidence to support Kombucha's health benefits, which theoretically include detoxification, added energy, immune system support, digestive system support, and disease prevention, among other things. As a general skeptic of most products that are touted as "healthy" or "detoxifying," the potential health benefits are less important than the enjoyment I get out of consuming whatever the product is.

Ingredients like good tea and plain old sugar are key to a good brew.
When it comes to Kombucha, I love the taste and a bottle at the store will run you anywhere from $3.50 to $6.00. Making it at home? A whole lot cheaper, and a lot more fun.

What You Need to Make Kombucha at Home, and How to Do It

All you need is tea, sugar, water, a culture, and something to put it all in while the 'buch ferments. Pretty simple, right? My homebrew kit gift came with a 1/2-gallon glass brew jar, a 100% organic cotton cover for the jar, a temperature strip, tea, organic evaporated cane sugar, and a claim code so I could order the SCOBY culture and liquid starter.

When the SCOBY culture came in the mail, I was, to be completely frank, alarmed. The squishy, slippery disc-shaped jellyfish-like culture definitely did not look like something I wanted anywhere near my foods or beverages. But these types of cultures are used to make everything from ginger beer to kefir and sourdough bread, and after the shock wore off, I figured I'd give the SCOBY a chance.

The SCOBY, pictured right, isn't particularly photogetnic, is it?
The process for making Kombucha is, like the recipe, simple. Boil water, add tea, let it steep, add in the sugar until it's dissolved, pour it in a jar or ceramic container, add cold water, drop the SCOBY and its liquid in, cover the jar with a permeable cloth, and wait 10-14 days. My starter kit came with clear instructions about how much tea to use, how long to let it brew, the temperature the water needs to be, and more. The wait time depends on your preference for flavor; after a few brews, I've discovered I like letting the 'buch ferment the full 14 days.

What I've Learned From Brewing My Own Kombucha

After five successful half-gallon brews, I'm certainly not an expert, but I've learned a few things that might be helpful to other beginner homebrewers. 

Get a starter kit. KBBK's starter kit was ideal for me because it came with everything I needed to start my first brew, and incredibly detailed instructions to help me avoid screwing it up. You can always experiment more after a few successful batches.

Not all types of tea are created equal. I've found gunpowder green tea and plain black tea make the best brews. You can also use white and oolong tea, but it's best to avoid flavored teas

Filtering my homebrew in a nut milk bag helps make it nice and smooth.
Think the SCOBY looks weird to start? It gets weirder, and it makes babies. The further along my Kombucha brews got, the stranger the SCOBY looked. I learned things like bubbles, tendrils, and brown spots are normal. The SCOBY also reproduces (!!!), which is odd, but awesome. You get to make more batches without having to buy another SCOBY, and it means you're doing something right. The SCOBY won't grow and make babies if it's not well taken care of. The original I ordered from KBBK, the "mother," doubled in size after my second brew, and I had to separate them. But now, I have two SCOBYs with more on the way!

Consider filtering the brew after it's done. Though you can drink the Kombucha as soon as it's done fermenting, and after you take the SCOBY out, there's still...stuff in it. I use a nut milk bag to capture some of the tendrils that fall off the SCOBY during fermentation, among other leftovers. The brew is smoother and more palatable.

So fizzy and so yummy!
It's an acquired taste, and you might not acquire it, but you can add flavor, carbonation, and more if you need to. The tea you use and the fermentation time will affect the flavor of the Kombucha, but you can always add things like fruit juice, herbs, and extracts. (I love this recipe!) But kep in mind the Kombucha has active yeast in it even after the SCOBY's been removed, and any flavoring you add with sugar in it gives that hungry yeast more to eat.

Alright readers, Kombucha: love it or hate it? Did you learn anything new from this piece? Fellow homebrewers, any other tips? What questions do you have about Kombucha or brewing it?

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