Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hooked on Kombucha

This has been a huge leap for me, but it's something as easy as making a pitcher of sweet tea...

making Kombucha.

I'm posting this article for the faint at heart...folks like ME...with pictures. As a beginner, I've had a hard time telling if my Kombucha is "ok," and I'm unfamiliar with what it's supposed to look like in its different stages. I have to admit, as an uninformed amateur, if not for the encouragement of others, I'd have taken one look at this and declared it Funky and Disgusting.

But it's ANYTHING BUT here's a peek at my learning curve.

Making Kombucha is much like many other things are, and have been, in this learning process. I want to can jellies, fruits, veggies, soups...when I learn (well, re-learn) those canning skills, one of the biggest obstacles I have to overcome is my discomfort and unfamiliarity, and the fear I'm going to somehow kill off my family with some deadly pathogen lurking in a homemade product.

Maybe this is evidence of how brainwashed, or at least dependent, I've become throughout the years in trusting commercially-marketed products rather than homemade ones. I think there's a lot of fear and distrust and misinformation that has to be undone by any homesteading-minded person to even get to the point of taking that first step into the unknown and trying something new.

We did that a while back with fermented products when we found a source for yogurt cultures needing no cooking whatsoever, especially the Caspian Sea Yogurt. We used it, got the hang of it, found our comfort zone, discovered how to use it in our meals and found the range of good and bad fermentation indicators. It helped that at no point the yogurt looked weird or funky...that's not one of the stages of the yogurt fermentation process.

I was more leary about Kombucha, and was holding off on trying it indefinately till Maria generously offered to give me one of her extra starter "mushrooms" (SCOBY) and gave me really simple instructions on how to get it off to a good start. Despite my trepidations, I said Yes!

(I just wanted to be sure I wouldn't kill the little starter culture...I have kind of a knack for doing things like that)

It was at about this point that things began to pick up with Jack's mom's illness, and things got crazy around here. And it was at just that point that our little baby SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) arrived in the mail from Maria (I still have to send the Thank you note...I'm the ultimate loser of a procrastinator!!)

Don't you love getting a box delivered by the mailman? Here's what was inside, including the beautiful card...lovely!

Up close, the baby SCOBY looked like a firm, gelatinous, jelly-fish-ish round disc, and the liquid it was in smelled a floral, apple-y smell..clean and sweet. A fingertip taste-test confirmed that it had a light cider taste...mmm!

I brewed the tea, added the sugar, diluted it with water and when it reached room temperature, I added the baby SCOBY into its new home.

Ok, so I didn't have a clean tea towel, so an old clean shirt of Jack's was sacrificed to the cause... the SCOBY is floating here at the bottom, but as it fermented it straightened out to meet the edges of the container and floated at the top.

Then life hit hard. Since the SCOBY is content in its liquid at room temp for days (or more) at a time, covered with a cloth secured with a rubber band, it was left to its own devices. When I was home, I changed the liquid out every 7 to 10 days. The liquid was murky and smelled vinegary, and...I was afraid to taste the liquid. There was a white floating scum on the top of the water that I was SURE was something bad...maybe my ferment was moldy?? I laugh now to think of it, but since it was neglected in between new brews of sweet tea solution, I took white vinegar (SCOBYs like white vinegar) and "cleaned it up" each time, reserving a little liquid to include in the new batch with the growing SCOBY. Oh, dear!

Finally, I realized the white surface scum was the good was not fuzzy or dry and not turning colors. It was the part that thickens as the little SCOBY grows bigger. I confirmed this by looking at a lot of pictures on the internet.

My SCOBY, once at home in its brew of tea, has never looked perfectly pristine and white, but one of its babies has, initially. It separated into two sections like flaky biscuits do, and the underneath "flake" was white and seamless...the upper one was beige with an irregular surface. There were dark brown hanging fibers floating from underneath, like jellyfish tentacles, and some floating fibrous bits in the liquid itself, which seemed partially murky.

Again, if it were not for the convenience of an internet comparison, I'd have chucked the whole lot out of fear I was brewing some deadly potion.

But we found YouTube videos that showed all sorts, and saw that there is quite a range of brewing techniques and differences in the appearance of the different SCOBYs. Some are a pristine white, nice and thick, while others are highly layered and of varying thicknesses. Colors ranged from Dark Beige with variations within the layers, to pale and pearly. My SCOBY has variations in it and an irregular, but smooth, surface. At no point have I seen any mold, so I relaxed. I found a suggestion of adding a few tablespoons of vinegar for added mold protection, so I've been doing that routinely now.

After Jack's mom died, we had some time off and we decided to start the Continual Brew method. We are very much trial-and-erroring our way as we go...

We purchased another glass container, this time with a spigot at the bottom, and instead of emptying the contents after every 7-10 day brew cycle, we allowed it to do its intial ferment and then have a pitcher of the sweet tea solution made up to replenish any Kombucha we pour off daily. We don't worry about measuring how much gets replaced...we keep it filled to a fill line on the jar...easy!

To say we're enjoying the continual brew Kombucha is an understatement! Here are the three containers we have going right now...

This is a second baby that we're growing, and its container of has variations of opacity and transparency, but in a couple weeks it will be a thick and solid re-useable "mushroom."

Here's the original SCOBY, being coaxed from dormancy (it had been stored in the fridge for a time)'s getting thicker and whiter... it's rather like a leathery apple-vinegary scented pancake. (Sorry for the badly focused pic)

We're hooked! In fact, I was so hooked the first day it was ready to drink, I had (should I admit this publicly??) 6 iced tea glasses of it over ice ...all in one evening. The caffiene wired me so much, I was hyper and when Jack called me from work, I was feeling good he got a little worried and told me to hold off on it another couple days to make sure most of the sugar had been fermented out. I've not had another 6 glass day yet, but I'll say this is my new favorite drink!

We don't keep soft drinks in the house, or order them often, so around here it's usually water, and occasionally milk or homemade limeade. But Kombucha over ice?? perfect!!! It's tart, lightly sweet, slightly carbonated (and if you store it in the fridge a few days bottled it ramps up the carbonation further). I used to filter it so there were no "floaters" but now I pour it straight over ice right from the Kombucha container spigot.

Man, it's good!

And so our science experiments continue! Among the three containers, we should be able to keep some Kombucha drinking going on!

I feel great after drinking it, and am sleeping especially a baby, with dreams in amazingly vibrant colors...the first dream was of my buying a horse for the first time in my life...he was a beauty! (in the dream...)

Warning to other'll need to let it ferment to the more tart stage to insure a lower sugar content.

Kombucha...and Kombucha-making has turned out to be a fun (and nutritious) addiction. I'm glad I'm somewhat past the trepidation factor. This fermented drink is quite robust and loaded with glorious probiotics..the healthy bacteria that will chase the bad bacteria in our bodies right out of town :)


Carolyn said...

Interesting. Great Post.

You got me started on Kefir......maybe I should try this now!?!?!?

barbara (in Tennessee) said...

Hey, Robbyn, It's nice to read the adventures of another novice who is learning about things that also interest me. Thanks so much for all your posts and pictures, and especially for your research. I'm interested in trying kombucha myself, Did you discover a source for the SCOBYs while doing your research?

Brittney said...

I love Kombucha! We drink it all the time :) It's amazing how easy (and much cheaper!) it is to make your own!

Robbyn said...

Carolyn, yes!! How do you like the kefir?

Barbara, I'm definately the novice :) My source for the kombucha is the same for the Caspian sea yogurt...just click on the words "caspian sea yogurt" in my post and it'll take you there. There are some other good places on the internet, but I've had good experiences with this one :)

Brittney, yes! if I'd known how easy and good it was, I'd have been making this a long time ago :)

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

You said: "dreams in amazingly vibrant colors"?
Yep. Mushrooms do tend to do that. lol!

I'm not brave enough to try it.
I'm not much of a cider fan anyway, and vinegar makes me gag.

But I'm really curious about the history behind Kombucha. I mean, who discovered and why?

I'm really impressed with the first person who tasted it. The rest of the people, not so much.

They figured if he didn't die, then we're safe, right?

Keep on dreaming those groovy dreams :)


Robbyn said...

Lisa,LOLOL!!! Um, not THAT sort of mushroom, ha! I'm not a cider fan per se, but this is so good for you (at least I believe it is) that it's a really nice option for me rather than sodas, which I can't have. Yeah, I was a bit frightened of it at first, too! :)

Robbyn said...

Lisa, hi is a link I found with the commonly-believed history of kombucha. It has many names and has been used around the world (and still is) for a really long time...

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Thanks Robbyn,

I just copied that address and plan on reading it this weekend :)

Enjoy your tea!


Miriam said...

Great post! Kombucha is something that would really help if you had someone IRL to check with. My girls love it, too, and always ask for it. Dh thought it was hilarious that they were begging for a bottle at Whole Foods instead of candy or ice cream.

Love the idea of just topping off the tea as you take it out. I usually decant it and then make a new batch.

Killi said...

What is Kombuchka? A company called Carpé Diem sells it in my local supermarket. They also sell Kefir by the same company. I prefer the Kefir, but am sure that it is completely different to what I always thought Kefir is ie a fermented milk-based product which this is most definitely not.

Robbyn said...

Killi, it's a fermented tea. The ferment "eats" the sugar and turns it into a powerful probiotic. I like kombucha from the store pretty well but like it better homemade, since I don't like mine all that strong.

Killi said...

It sounds fun to make. IF I could lert it brew somewhere safe away from clumsy manic thieving cat I might try to find out how to make it, but said cat kills everything ~ casserole dishes, mugs, my wonderful bread making bowl... anything left out. I'm sure he deliberately sets out to break something whenever he comes in the house, then wonders why he's dunked & put out! His 1/2 sister, on the other hand & the other queen cats are light on their feet & gentle ~ just as well as Scraps climbs the wall of the house, opens my bedroom window & comes in. She's the only cat that does it ~ the other queens almost accept that they're outside farm cats

Nola @ Alamo North said...

That is amazing; I've never heard of it! I love learning something new every day.

plantainpatch said...

It is tasty stuff isn't it? I like it when it is tart. So good. At first, I was terrified of fermenting and it's various forms but really love it now.

Maria said...

He he! I'm so glad you like it! You are taking it to another level, though! I still have mine in a big 2 gallon jar with no spigot and change things out every 10 days. Where did you find your continuous brew container?

Hazey Killbourne said...

be careful with your new brewing jar with the nozzle on it. if kombucha gets around metal or plastic it will not be a good thing for the consumer!!!!