Thursday, May 26, 2016
You can make a Kombucha brew with sugar, tea and a culture (a symbiosis of bacteria and yeasts). Its taste can range from something similar to champagne (complete with a head of foam), a refreshing light wine through to strong apple cider vinegar, depending on the fermentation time, the amount of sugar and type of tea that you use in the brew. The older, tart tea is more acidic and has a higher level of healing properties than a young, mild and slightly sweet brew.
You need not be too concerned about using sugar in the recipe. In a strong, tart tea, brewed over 10-14 days, only 3% of the sugar remains. 97% of the sugar is consumed and converted by the culture.
Kombucha is easy to make. First, you need a 'starter' in the form of a pancake-like 'mushroom', and some live kombucha tea. You can get a kombucha starter from a friend already brewing Kombucha, or buy a kombucha starter if you live outside Australia (USA supplier) or you live in Australia.
To make 1 litre of kombucha you need:
1 litre (2.1 US pints or 1.76 UK pints) of water (aired tap water, filtered water, hard water, spring water, mineral-rich water). Your brew needs the trace minerals found in most water. Do NOT use distilled water, reverse osmosis (RO) water, or alkaline ionised water.
70-90 grams (2.4-3.2 oz) of sugar (raw or white).
3-5 grams of tea leaves (1 heaped teaspoon). You can use ordinary black tea, oolong or green tea. I prefer green tea because it has anti-carcinogenic properties, is beneficial to the heart and blood circulation and is particularly nutritious. Green tea also gives a slightly milder flavour to the brew.
A saucer-sized piece of kombucha scoby/mushroom from a previous brew.
50-100 ml (2-5 tablespoons) of kombucha liquid from a previous brew (less required if it is strongly acidic).
Boil the water and the sugar. Add the tea, and leave it to sit for at least ten minutes before removing the tea leaves or bags. I usually leave them in until it is completely cool. When your tea is at room temperature, you can pour it into your brewing bowl and add the mushroom and the starter. It is important that it has cooled completely - if it is above 35C, you can kill the starter.
Cover it with a clean fine cloth that lets it breathe. Put it in a quiet place out of sunlight, where it will remain at a stable temperature between 23C and 30C.
Use a bowl made from glass, china, enamel or glazed terracotta. Metal, lead crystal and cheap plastic are unacceptable. Kombucha reacts strongly with any metal, and can take up toxins from some plastics. The bowl should have a wide top for good breathing.
The starter scoby/mushroom usually sinks. Within a few days, a clear or translucent thin skin will start to form on the top of the liquid, and it will smell fermented. The brewing time depends on the temperature, and your taste requirements. After 6-12 days, the new mushroom culture will be a centimetre thick, and grey, cream or peach-coloured.
Before you bottle your brew, remove the mushroom culture that has formed on the top, and keep a saucer-sized piece for your next brew. Also keep some of the brew as a starter. Stir up the sediment that has formed in the bottom of the bowl, and then bottle it in glass bottles, tightly capped. The sediment contains yeasts that make it fizzy. It needs a day or two after bottling to build up enough pressure to make a fizz. I put it in the fridge for a few hours before serving, otherwise the froth overflows when you open it.
Making Kombucha has almost as many variables as does making wine. The longer it is left, the sourer the tea will become. You can use a variety of teas, and generally, the finest teas make the best brew.
Normal kitchen hygiene is OK - your equipment does not need to be sterile.
Do not add other ingredients to the brew. Thousands of enthusiastic brewers have experimented over the years, and keep coming back to the basic ingredients of sugar, water and tea. Do not add vitamins, preservatives, other yeasts, mushrooms, artificial sweeteners, oxygen drops, fresh or dried fruit, coffee or anything outside the basic guidelines. There are a few herbs that won't kill your brew - such as elderflower, raspberry, nettle, rosehip and hibiscus, which add delicious flavours and other characteristics to the brew, including the medicinal benefits of the herb. Elderflower in particular adds a high level of fizz and sparkle to the drink, and imparts a 'dry Muscat' flavour. However, Earl Grey tea, and many other herbs with aromatic oils can kill your kombucha. (Earl Grey is made with bergamot citrus oil). I suggest you do not experiment with herbs until you have completed several brews, and are familiar with the variables in a 'normal' brew. Ensure you keep a backup, in case your brew dies.
I usually use a portion of green tea when making a herbal kombucha. If you buy herbs to make your brew, it is much more expensive to make - generally, you need to use six times more herbs (by weight) than the tea you are replacing.
Mold can form on the culture if the brew is not acidic enough - usually because insufficient starter was used. It can also form because of poor hygiene or cigarette smoke. If there is any mould on your culture throw it away and do not risk drinking it.
Other factors which can spoil a culture are sunlight, contact with metal, cigarette smoke, insufficient air, or water with no minerals in it (distilled or reverse osmosis filtered). A dead culture will darken and sink to the bottom.
Bad brew. Kombucha can become infected with a variety of other microorganisms, depending on the environment and conditions under which it is brewed. The acidity of kombucha will normally protect against harmful microorganisms, but if you suffer any negative symptoms when drinking it there is a small possibility that your brew has been infected. When infected, it will smell or taste unpleasant.
History of Kombucha
The earliest record of Kombucha seems to have been in 414 B.C. in Korea. It showed up in China in 221 B.C. during the Tsin Dynasty, and soon found its way into Japan, Russia and India. In Russia, it became established as an effective folk medicine in many rural communities. After World War II, Russian researchers were looking at why cancer appeared to be on the increase in their country. They found that two particular areas of the country stood out like neon signs because they were almost cancer-free. The people in these areas also lived longer, regardless of the fact that alcohol and tobacco consumption was higher there. They reported that the men of the region used to drink large quantities of Kombucha before their drinking bouts. This was the first modern scientific evidence that kombucha is indeed an immune system booster and body detoxifier. In the 1950's it re-surfaced when Soviet doctors discovered whole communities that had apparently been protected from dangerous environmental pollution by kombucha. Kombucha became popular in Japan after World War I. Visitors to areas where the tea has been consumed for generations are surprised to see that the women are virtually unwrinkled, with few other visible signs of ageing. Samurai warriors used to keep cultures in field flasks, regularly topping them up with fresh tea and sugar. The tea is again widely used in Japan. Today, at least six million people around the world brew kombucha, and several times that number drink it.