What is kombucha?
Lovingly referred to as “the ‘booch” in our house, this fermented drink has been around for ages. Putting it simply, kombucha is fermented tea. We aren’t quite sure where it was first produced, some believing its origins are in Asia and others in Russia. The Chinese are known for looking to natural remedies to cure most physical and emotional ailments, and kombucha was considered the “tea of immortality”. ‘Booch dates back to about 200BC in Chinese literature.
Okay, so what is this ancient, healing, fermented tea?
The final product is a result of a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) acting on sugar and tea and producing acetic, lactic, and glucuronic acids (Nourishing Traditions, p. 596). These acids in turn help with digestion, boost the immune system and help detoxify the body. In essence, these acids are aiding our often overloaded liver. The result is a tangy, fizzy drink perfect for summer or any time of the year (we try to get ours in at breakfast).
Oh, and it’s pretty delicious, let’s not forget that part.
Now, there are several ways of going about making your own kombucha tea, which I strongly recommend doing versus buying at the store. One bottle can cost you about $3, but we’re going to make about 7 times that much for less. So, I’ll let you know what I use, but also give you a few other options.
A large glass jar or fermenting crock is a must for making KT (kombucha tea, let’s refer to it as KT from now on). I use this jar. I’ve even seen them at Target. This particular jar is considered a fermentation jar, not sure why, but I thought you should know. You may even have a jar big enough to make KT, just make sure it can hold at least a gallon of liquid.
KT can also be made in a fermenting crock. I actually saw fermenting crocks at my local farmer’s market! You’ll have to look around for these.
Any unflavored tea will do fine in brewing KT, but many have said that black tea does better than a green or white. I’ve personally used both black and green teas, with good results. Black is what I try to reach for. Getting organic tea here is important, as conventional tea often contains fluoride which can contaminate the ferment, along with pesticides and other chemicals that will not do well when fermenting. You can get organic teas many places including most grocery/health food stores, but if you’re unable to find any I recommend Cultures for Health or Mountain Rose Herbs.
If using loose leaf, be sure to get some reusable tea bags, which are great to have on hand for making tea any day.
Kombucha is just fermented tea, remember? So we can’t forget the sugar. If you’re limiting your sugar intake, no need to fret the culture (bacteria and yeast) will eat most of the sugar up through the fermentation process. With that, it’s important we get our hands on some pure sugar. I like to use organic pure cane sugar for my KT.
This is important, even more important than I first realized. You will need to use filtered water to make KT. Tap water and unfortunately most bottled waters will not work. The additives in our water will hinder and often prevent the tea from fermenting, the result will be a molded SCOBY and you’l have to throw out the whole batch. Most bottled water is simply bottled tap water. You can try looking for natural spring bottled water, but I can’t recommend it because I’ve never gone that route myself. Some people say that by boiling the water, a lot of the additives will be killed off. I’ve never tried this method either, I don’t know if that actually works so for that reason I can’t recommend this route either. I do think boiling the water (all of it, which we’ll get to in the next post) would be the best option of those addressed above.
We use water filtered through our Berkey. We bought this system originally to remove all the contaminants that are in our water, both intentional additives and unintentional. Because it removes most contaminants that other filters won’t it’s great for KT as well.
Getting pure, filtered water is a must, folks. I really can’t stress it enough. I’m trying to save you the heartache of batch after batch of failed KT. My sister who jumped into the KT world head first like I did, wanting to get all of its health benefits, could not figure out what she was doing wrong. I kept telling her, “make sure everything is clean, your hands, the vessel, the spoon, everything.” I’m surprised she didn’t scrub her skin off, everything was immaculate. That’s when we realized her molded KT was likely a result of using tap and bottled water.
Kombucha & SCOBY
Yes, in order to start making kombucha at home you must first acquire some KT and a SCOBY. The first time I made KT, I bought some unflavored kombucha from the store. I poured the entire thing into a quart jar and covered with a cloth and rubber band. Within a week I had a small SCOBY growing on top. I let it grow for about 2 weeks and then started my first batch of KT.
This is one route you can go, and unless you have a friend or neighbor willing to give you some KT and SCOBY then it’s also the cheapest. But you know what they say about cheap stuff….well, it’s cheap. My KT wasn’t very strong, the process took longer, and on my second batch I got mold. So, I don’t recommend this as your first choice.
The best possible choice you have here is to find one for free. I’ve successfully done this two ways. The first time I got some KT and a SCOBY from a neighbor (yay for hippie neighbors!). Upon moving to Virginia, I looked up our local Weston A. Price Chapter and one of the members was happy to give my some KT and a SCOBY. It was quite funny actually, we met in the grocery store parking lot and it totally felt illegal, like a drug deal or something. Take my advice, ask around and check out the WAPF link above.
Despite the length of this post, the supplies you need to start brewing kombucha at home are easily attainable: large jar, organic tea, pure water, brewed kombucha and SCOBY. I’m guessing you already have most of these things in your home. That’s it for now. Go gather your supplies and I’ll be back shortly with Kombucha Part 2: Let’s Ferment!