Kombucha

This isn’t quite on the herbal spectrum of things, but it is on the natural side. Kombucha has become very popular these days in light of the “health food” craze, so if you haven’t heard of it, I am surprised. It is easy to go to the store and buy a bottle of this “living tea” in a variety of flavors, but what if I told you that you could make it at home, for less than that $3+ p/bottle they charge at the store?

To skip the hoopla and go straight to the DIY part of this post, click here. Although I would like to say that the more you know, the more prepared you will be. Plus, it’s cool to be able to spill a bunch of knowledge when people ask questions…or maybe that is just me.

Kombucha is brewed, much in the same way that you would make beer, wine, or mead, and needs very little in the way of survival and prosperity. Bacteria and yeast feed off of sugar and in kombucha’s case, caffeine. As one of my friends asked, “so it’s my spirit animal?” If you live off of caffeine and sugar, you know what she is talking about.

Kombucha is not considered an alcoholic drink, but it does have a low alcohol content, which is created when yeast consumes sugar. It is low enough that it is safe for all ages to consume, although I do dilute it for my son. Jars you buy at the store have a note saying that it does indeed contain alcohol for people who are avoiding it due to religious reasons or pregnancy. I would like to say that I see nothing wrong with consuming it during pregnancy, however you may want to drink it in moderation. Even a small glass of red wine a few days a week later in pregnancy can actually be beneficial, but you need to drink in moderation. And as always, don’t take my word for it. Do your own research!

SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, also known as the “mother”. If you use or drink apple cider vinegar with the “mother”, that little thing floating in the bottle is a scoby that can be used to make more vinegar, which is basically kombucha that hasn’t been fed. But there is a lot more that goes into making apple cider vinegar, so maybe I will do another post later on how to make it. I would also not try to make kombucha from that scoby, but maybe it can be done. If you have successfully turned a vinegar scoby back into kombucha, drop a comment, I would love to know.

I would suggest finding someone local to get a scoby and starter liquid from. I am sure you can find them online, but to be shipped they would need an actual lid, which starts the carbonation process, something you don’t really want until you have strained off and flavored what you plan to drink.

I personally sale quart jars with a scoby and filled with starter liquid for $20, but the price can vary. A lady a few towns over from me sales them for $25, but she has an established business and patrons. I’m also not sure how big of jars she uses. It may sound a little pricey, but other than buying tea bags, sugar, and whatever you plan on using to flavor with, this is really the only expense you will have. As I stated previously, bottles of it at the store are around $3 each. That adds up, especially if you drink it daily.

Something to keep in mind if you are caught up on price of a scoby and starter liquid is this: the scoby will grow…faster than you can imagine. I went from a half gallon mason jar to 3 huge glass pickle jars and a two-gallon jug with a spigot in a matter of months. I also feed mine REALLY strong tea, which causes the scoby to grow and ferment faster in my experience. Most pictures you find of kombucha online are transparent…but mine isn’t. I like it to burn when I drink it, but I can easily dilute it to give to my son or someone else who doesn’t like it as strong. It’s why I love making it myself. It is so diverse that you can make something that everyone will love.

A kombucha scoby is a mass of yeast and bacteria, but before you go “eww!” and leave, give me a minute. Yogurt (the good kind) has living cultures of bacteria in it as well, and if you know anything about the human body, you will know that we need good bacteria for gut health. Nearly every illness can be traced back to problems in the gut, even respiratory infections. Your gut is the center for your immune system, and if it is out of whack, everything else is compromised. If you look at a container of yogurt (again the good kind) it will say something along the lines of “contains live cultures” and “probiotic.” Probiotic means good bacteria, which is exactly what kombucha contains. It is a lovely way to get your daily dose of probiotics, for a lot cheaper than you can buy supplements at the store.

HOW TO MAKE KOMBUCHA

The only things you need to get started are as follows:
-a glass mason jar (no lid)
-cheese or muslin cloth and a rubber band to cover jar
-a scoby
-starter liquid
-strong black or green tea
-sugar

In general, you only need to feed your scoby every 1 or 2 weeks, depending on the season. If your house stays super cold, you can get away with feeding less, but in warmer months, fermentation will happen faster. You can taste it to see if it is starting to get tart or not. You may have a day or two where it kind of tastes like sour tea but give it another day or two and it will work itself out. You didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just part of the process.

RULE OF THUMB: When it starts to have a vinegary taste, feed it.
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To feed a quart jar, pour off about 3/4 of the liquid to flavor. Make sure to leave at least a 1/4 liquid in whatever sized jar you are using with your scoby to start your next batch. That is your starter liquid.

Brew your tea. One or two regular sized tea bags work great for a quart jar. Let it steep until it starts to cool down. While still warm, remove your tea bags (squeezing to get the excess tea out of course), add about 1/2 cup sugar, and stir to dissolve. Let it cool completely to room temp and then pour into your jar of starter liquid with your scoby.

With the liquid you poured off, you can either drink it as is, which is actually really good, or you can add juice, fruit or spices. My favorite is about a 1/4 cup pomegranate juice and a handful of frozen berry medley fruit that I get at HEB to a quart jar. Of course, you can add more or less. It is really up to your preference. Pineapple juice, orange slices and cinnamon are wonderful as well, and tastes kind of like apple cider.

For the best flavor, let it sit for a day or two on the counter. You can put an actual lid on your jar here and it will start to carbonate itself! I prefer my kombucha room temp, so I will leave a covered jar on the counter for as long as it takes me to drink it. Opening it once a day keeps pressure from building up too much. The fruit will start to be consumed and break down, so depending on what you use it may start to look funky, but that is ok. The flavor is best at this point if you ask me.

You can also bottle up in glass bottles, but beware! Don’t leave on the counter for more than 2 or 3 days. It might explode when you open it. You can leave bottles on the counter for a few days and then stick in the fridge to stop the carbonation process and it will be nice and fizzy for you when you are ready to drink it.

For my many jars, I brew 5 1-gallon tea bags with about 1/2 a cup of sugar for each and split between them. I then fill the jars up the rest of the way with water if there is any room left. Make sure to mix well if you add water on top, and I only say to do this if you know you are making extra strong tea.

Never add plain water without feeding your booch first!
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Emma Lee Joy

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