Home-brewed kombucha

A fermented tea, good for what ails you

click to enlarge Dr. Chef Peter’s kombucha. - PHOTO BY ANN SHAFFER GLATZ
Photo by Ann Shaffer Glatz
Dr. Chef Peter’s kombucha.

The end of our one-year lease in Oklahoma City is approaching and we are beginning the process of boxing up our belongings and deep-cleaning the apartment. We have a $1,000 security deposit on the line, and we've been told that our landlord is super picky. The apartment has been well-maintained and is generally spotless... except for a few little things that reveal that the kitchen has received a bit of use. Unlike our neighbors who rely heavily on meal delivery services, we avoid all processed foods and cook our own meals from scratch.


We make our own chicken stock out of the remains of our roast chicken, and vegetable stock out of all our accumulated vegetable trimmings so nearly every week we have a stock pot bubbling away for two days on the back of the stovetop. Though the microwave over the stovetop has an exhaust fan, it just blows the vapors out its top towards the ceiling. So no matter how clean we try to work, the kitchen ceiling has developed a soft patina of use. Fortunately this patina is not really noticeable unless you inspect it using a bright light.


We are starting to have prospective renters come through the apartment so my wife has been keeping it super-tidy. The other night she implored me to go easy on dinner prep so she didn't have to do a total recleaning of the kitchen ahead of the next day's visitors so I opted to thaw some chicken stock and make a simple chicken rice soup and a winter vegetable salad.


Our kitchen counter resembles a high school science lab. There's a crock of sauerkraut slowly bubbling away, quart jars of assorted kimchis and several bottles of home-brewed kombucha in various stages of maturity. As I was preparing our dinner I noticed a swing-top Grolsch bottle of blueberry-lavender kombucha from a week ago that I had neglected to refrigerate.


Kombucha essentially is sweetened tea that undergoes a two-phase fermentation process: yeasts convert the sugar to alcohol and bacteria convert the alcohol to vinegar. Carbon dioxide is given off in the process. The yeast and bacteria exist together in a form known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Combination of Bacteria and Yeast) which looks like a slimy gray disc floating atop the fermenting tea. The SCOBY bacteria and yeast ferment the sugar in the tea, transforming the tea into a refreshingly fizzy, slightly sour fermented beverage that is relatively low in calories and sugar and mildly alcoholic and highly probiotic.


The longer kombucha ferments at room temperature, the more carbonated and acidic it becomes. I anticipated that my neglected bottle of blueberry-lavender kombucha would be too tart so I opened the swing-top to give it a taste. At first I heard a little hiss as gasses started to escape and then foam began to rise, forcing the blueberries and lavender up the neck of the bottle, creating a momentary obstruction. Just like holding your thumb over the end of a garden hose, when the gaseous pressure overcame the resistance of the "bottleneck," my kombucha exploded like a volcano, splattering blueberries and lavender across the ceiling! I screamed, "Oh my God!" to my wife. "Come here quick! Bring me a stool and the cleaning bucket!" She started to pour Pinesol into the bucket. "No! Just give me a sponge and water! If we use a cleaning product it will leave a white spot and we will have to wash the whole ceiling!"

Well... water alone will not remove blueberry stains from a white ceiling. We had to resort to heavy-duty cleaning products, and yes, we had to scrub the whole ceiling. Actually, truth be told, my wife had to scrub down (or scrub up) the whole ceiling because I (fortunately) had to work a 14-hour shift at the restaurant the next day.


Home-brewed kombucha

Makes about 1 gallon

Ingredients

3 ½ quarts of water

1 cup granulated sugar

8 bags black or green tea

2 cups store-bought unpasteurized, neutral-flavored kombucha to use as a starter

1 scoby (obtain from another homebrewer or purchase online from farmsteady.com or Amazon)

Optional

2 cups chopped fruit, berries, or juice

1 to 2 tablespoons flavored tea (I like Earl Grey)

2 to 4 tablespoons fresh herbs or spices

Equipment

Stock pot

1-gallon glass jar

Clean tea towel and rubber band (for covering the jar)

Six 16-oz glass bottles with plastic lids, swing-top bottles, or plastic water bottles

Small funnel


Preparation

Make the tea base: Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Add tea bags and allow to steep until the water has cooled. When cool, remove the tea bags.


Transfer to a gallon jug, add the starter kombucha, and gently slide the scoby into the jar with clean hands.


Cover the jar with a tea towel and rubber band.

Ferment for 7-10 days at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.

After 7 days begin sampling the kombucha. It will change from sweet to tart the longer it ages. When it achieves the balance of sweetness and tartness for your taste, it is ready to bottle.


Prepare and cool another pot of sweetened tea for the next batch of kombucha.

With clean hands remove the scoby and place on a dinner plate and reserve 2 cups of your first batch of kombucha to use as a starter for your next batch.


Using the funnel, transfer the fermented kombucha into bottles. (At this point you can add any of the optional flavorings.) Leave a half inch of headspace in each bottle.

Store the bottled kombucha at room temperature and allow 1 to 3 days for the kombucha to carbonate, then refrigerate to slow fermentation and carbonation.


To make your next batch of kombucha, add the reserved starter to the newly cooled sweetened tea and slide the scoby into the jug. Cover and ferment for 7 to 10 days.


For six months, beginning in May, Dr. Chef Peter and his wife will be innkeepers and chefs at Milkweed Inn in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where there are bears, wolves and cougars. When we expressed concerns about our safety, the Inn's owners assured us that they have guns and bear repellant. And they told us that bears are afraid of dogs so Toulouse, our 25 pound 11-year-old Jack Russell will hopefully keep us safe.

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