I can’t count the number of times perplexed colleagues, classmates, and other acquaintances have stared quizzically at the bubbling, brightly colored liquid with swirling strands of some strange substance contained in my pint mason jars. Depending on the person, varying lengths of time pass before they inevitably ask in curious and, at times, borderline accusatory tones, “What do you have in that jar?”

 

“Moonshine,” I sometimes joke. “Booze.” My response is probably funniest to myself, since I haven’t drunk alcohol in years. Then there’s always that level of gorgeous inappropriateness of the idea of getting covertly sloshed at a place of employment or higher education. But there is a kernel of truth in my jest that I just can’t resist. For the kombucha within my jar may have trace amounts of alcohol. Just enough to send a gentle wave of relaxation through my entire body when it hits my lips.

 

Kombucha is a cultured beverage made from the fermentation of black or green tea and sugar by the miraculous activity of a SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY is a mushy gushy jellyfish-looking organism that some refer to as a “mushroom.” Living in the proper environment (which I detail for you below), the SCOBY turns ordinary sweetened tea into a delicious, fizzy drink that can be flavored with infinitely many combinations of fruits and herbs.

 

Many have chronicled the various health benefits of this traditional tea, which has been used for over 2000 years. Personally, I don’t really care much about the health benefits. Kombucha is probiotic, tastes good, and makes me feel great without any discernible negative consequences. When made properly, kombucha may be an elegant sparkling beverage. It is both relaxing and energizing, and can be enjoyed any time of day. I’ve been through periods during which it is my go-to morning energy fix, and other times when it is the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Some enjoy it as a nightcap in lieu of a glass of wine.

 

Bottled kombucha lines the shelves of most health food stores and even Walmart nowadays (hooray!). As with most store-bought stuff, the homemade version is much more cost-effective, a lot of fun, and delicious. My kombucha homebrew is one of my many ongoing kitchen experiments. Here’s how to get a brew started in your home.

 

Ingredients/Materials:

  • 1 gallon purified water
  • 1 1/2 cups pure cane sugar (preferably organic)
  • 12 black tea bags (preferably organic)
  • 2+ gallon glass vessel
  • SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast*)
  • glass containers for individual kombucha servings (pint-sized mason jars work well or reused kombucha bottles)
  • fresh or dried fruit, fresh fruit juice (not pasteurized), and/or herbs for flavoring

 

Directions:

1. Boil 1 gallon of purified water. When water begins to boil, turn off heat, and add black tea bags. Allow to steep for 30 minutes or more.

2. Remove tea bags, and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

3. When it reaches a lukewarm temperature, pour the sweetened tea into a glass vessel.

4. Place the SCOBY in the vessel. If using the SCOBY for the first time, watch for it to rise in the next 3-7 days.

6. Allow mixture to sit for about 7 days. You can place the vessel in a sunny spot in your kitchen. The top can be covered with a paper towel, cheesecloth, or porous dish towel, which you may want to secure with a rubber band. This is the first ferment.

7. On the 7th day, taste the kombucha. If it is too sweet, allow it to ferment longer. If it is too vinegary, add more tea and sugar. 

8. When it tastes right to you (and only you will know this!), pour the kombucha off into smaller glass serving jars or bottles.

9. Add whole fruits, herbs, dried fruit, and/or fresh fruit juice for flavoring. I’ve tried several good combinations, like ginger and strawberry juice. Grape-basil-orange is nice too. Dates, raisins, mulberries, and other dried fruits add an intensely sweet flavor. Pineapple-apple-mint is a winner too! Experiment, and try whatever sounds good for you!

10. Seal containers and let them sit for 24-48 hours. The longer the second ferment and the tighter you screw on the lids, the fizzier the kombucha.

11. The containers are ready to be refrigerated when there are bubbles on top, and the container is pressurized. Store in refrigerator until use. The longer they sit, the more intense the flavor and the more fermented the tea. Enjoy your homemade kombucha!

 

**SCOBYs are on Amazon. Once you have made your first batch, your SCOBY will be a mother, and with each subsequent batch, another SCOBY baby will be born. I usually separate the new SCOBY from the mother and put the baby in a “SCOBY hotel” with unflavored kombucha. My SCOBY babies live a large jar on my kitchen counter, and are ready for me to share with others who want to start their own homebrews!