Monday, August 30, 2010
Get Yourself Some Booch: Brewing Kombucha at Home
Although kombucha is often referred to as “mushroom tea,” it has little to do with fungus. In fact, the fermentation process actually originates from a gelatinous pancake of bacteria and yeast called a SCOBY.
What on earth is a SCOBY?
Well… SCOBY is actually an acronym that stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts. I like to think of it as a little community of "good guys". Together, the bacteria and yeasts work synergistically, and the colonies help to ferment various foods and beverages. In the case of kombucha, the SCOBY feeds on a mixture of sugar and tea, improving the tea’s nutrient profile by increasing B vitamins and food enzymes. The resulting beverage is a pro-biotic beverage believed to contain any number of health-producing compounds. It also contains a little bit of alcohol.
A raw kombucha brew begins with a very minimal alcohol content (a bi-product of the fermentation process). However, over time, the drink’s yeast continues to convert sugars to alcohol, nudging the content higher and higher. Among bottled kombucha, at least one brand was determined to have reached 2.4% alcohol content according to a study cited in Good Magazine’s initial report on the Kombucha shortage. And this raised some eyebrows. In late June, kombucha producers were forced to pull their product from shelves at Whole Foods due to elevated alcohol levels. And kombucha lovers everywhere have been in withdrawl ever since.
Unless, of course, they’re like us.
We’ve been brewing our own kombucha at home for the past four months. And it’s been quite gratifying. Unlike the home-brewing of beer, in which even the tiniest microbe of bacteria can influence flavor and brewing success, kombucha is a pretty easy (and painless) process. You just need a few basic pieces of equipment, a few tablespoons of tea, some sugar, and a bit of old fashioned patience. And you have the opportunity to adjust the brew to your own particular tastes.
I received my initial SCOBY from my lovely and generous aunt, who has a virtual kombucha LABORATORY going over at her health food store in Hartland, Wisconsin. She’s been brewing kombucha from a wide variety of teas, including green, black, oolong, smoked oolong, and even… yes… Earl Grey tea.
Now, Earl Grey is generally is considered a poor choice for growing a SCOBY since there is some evidence that the bergamot added to the tea is harmful to the culture. However, she’s been brewing delicious Earl Grey kombucha without incident for some time – and I absolutely loved the flavor. So, I decided to take home one of her Early Grey SCOBY.
Rishi Tea. We’ve since switched to their China Breakfast Tea, which has a more neutral flavor – the perfect palate for some of our more recent experiments with fruit-infused kombucha. Some flavors we've brewed up include sweet cherry, raspberry, raspberry peach, watermelon, and blueberry ginger. Most recently, we made up batches of cherry vanilla and peach spice kombucha -- both of which ended up slightly "over" spiced -- but which we'll definitely try again, with slightly different proportions of fruit to spice.
Where can I get a Kombucha SCOBY?
You can buy a SCOBY online. Or, you can simply ask a Kombucha-brewing friend or community member if they’d be willing to share the wealth. Every batch of Kombucha results in the formation of an additional SCOBY, so regular kombucha brewers will usually have extras. I shared one of my first SCOBY with Rebecca from Cakewalk. In fact, she was so excited that she wrote her kombucha brewing adventures back in June, shortly after receiving her SCOBY.
In fact, if you happen to be in the Milwaukee area, email us! We can probably work out a deal ;)
Instructions: Making Kombucha Tea
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