Kombucha is probably a buzz word you have heard recently. You may be wondering what the hell Kombucha is and why is everyone talking about it?! I started brewing Kombucha about 4 months ago, knowing little about it myself. It's that easy to make though, all I did was spend a few hours watching Youtube videos and reading blogs about fermenting Kombucha and I had the hang of it in no time.
So what is Kombucha??
Simply put it is fermented tea brewed using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, aka SCOBY. At this point I should mention SCOBY's look absolutely disgusting, so if you have a weak stomach it's probably best not to see the SCOBY before trying Kombucha for the first time. Kombucha is a "health drink" as it is fermented it is full of good bacteria, vitamins and is good for your gut etc etc. To be honest I just like the taste, and it's a nice pick me up to have after work instead or having a fizzy drink or a beer or cider. Also it tastes amazing with beer and cider, so when I do want something alcoholic I just mix a 50/50 booch beer, keeping it low alcoholic.
My Kombucha set up. The white stuff on top is SCOBY.
How do I make Kombucha?
There are numerous resources on the internet about how to make Kombucha, so I am not going to go in to detail here, as I just wing it a bit now days.
First you will need to find a SCOBY, I originally got mine from my neighbour. Once you start brewing Kombucha your SCOBY creates a baby each time and slowly it gets bigger and bigger. After a while it is hard to keep up and there are extra SCOBY babies. If you ask around on Neighbourly, Facebook groups (Fermenting Freaks Forever! New Zealand), you should be able to find a SCOBY, you can also find some on Trade Me.
I brew my Kombucha using loose leaf black ceylon tea and green tea. I purchase my tea loose from the bulk bin section of Royal Oak Spice Invader. I use white sugar which I also buy in bulk or Chelsea Sugar paper bags that I either recycle or compost (we go through A LOT of sugar in our house as we distill and ferment it all). I usually cold steep my tea & sugar using tap water, but in summer I will start leaving my water out overnight or boiling beforehand to evaporate the extra chlorine that is found in our tap water. I steep my tea in a growler (the BF has heaps of these as he is a brewer/distiller) or large pot and strain the loose leaves through a sieve. As the SCOBY is living you have to be careful to not mess around with the PH too much, and to keep everything extra clean.
I keep my Kombucha tea as a 'continuous brew' in a 10L glass server with a tap, for easy pouring. It is important to cover this with a material that will allow the booch to breathe, but not allow bugs to get in. I wrap my booch in a towel and leave it in the kitchen under a shelf, to keep it warm & dark. For every litre of Kombucha tea I take out, I replace it with fresh tea. I usually have Kombucha ready in a few days now. The initial ferment is around 1 week to 10 days, although this really is to taste. The longer you leave your booch the more vinegary it gets.
How do I flavour the Kombucha?
Once you have fermented your Kombucha you can now play around with flavours & fizz. I do my second ferment in soda stream bottles as these hold pressure & fizz well and they are easy to fill with fruit and to clean. I flavour my booch with whatever fresh seasonal fruit needs to be used up or dried fruit purchased from the bulk bins. If I am lazy I use a fruit juice or a syrup. This is a great way to use up overripe fruit, I am often 'gifted' fruit that was going to be chucked out. I find the best fizz & flavour comes from strawberries. My mum had a punnet going to waste in the fridge, I washed them and chopped off the nasty parts, chopped the fruit up and fermented for a day and it was super tasty and fizzy. As I just make up my combinations I can't really post any recipes, I tend to just experiment.
My favourite flavours:
Blueberry (either fresh in season in summer or dried and purchased in bulk)
Lemon, honey & ginger
Persimmon (in season May/June) and ginger
Strawberry (summer season, fresh from a strawberry farm)
Citrus (mix of mandarin, orange, grapefruit, in season in winter).
The ratio is usually around 1/4 fruit and flavours, and the rest is kombucha tea. The more fruit you add, the fizzier it will be. It is best to leave your
second ferment for a couple of days, and open it slowly!
A large second ferment using homegrown excess citrus. I made this in to alcoholic punch.
What do I do with the fermented fruit and spent tea?
As this is a no waste household, I make sure I don't waste the fermented fruit once I have made my second ferment to taste. If I don't eat the fruit in my Kombucha I put it aside to ferment it even further to make a scrap vinegar. Or I will blend the fermented fruit up, freeze it in a muffin tray and use it in smoothies. If the fruit is truly spent then I compost it. I re-steep most of my tea leaves, I use the spent leaves on my plants and worm farm. I have also used the spent tea leaves to mop my floor instead of a using detergent. The tea leaves can also be dried and used as a room deodorizer or in homemade soaps.
What else can I do with Kombucha?
You would be surprised how many weird and wonderful uses kombucha & SCOBY's have.
Mixers for beer, cider, spirits. As the BF is a distiller I usually turn up to parties with a mason jar of alcoholic kombucha as my RTD.
Vinegar. If you ferment Kombucha long enough (over a month) you will get vinegar. You can use it for cooking or cleaning
Marinade for meat, tofu, or SCOBY
Hair rinse/conditioner; It's best to use an over-fermented kombucha vinegar.
Give it away to a friend, or keep spares in a "SCOBY Hotel."
Eat it (if you are brave)- add it to a stirfry or use it in sushi.
Dehydrate it and make a healthy candy, vegan jerky or a dog chew.
You can also make Kombucha Coffee; I haven't tried this yet, you will require a separate SCOBY as you can't use the same coffee SCOBY in a batch of kombucha tea. I've caught the fermenting bug, what else can I ferment?
Once you start fermenting you will want to ferment everything! As I mentioned before, I make a scrap vinegar as inspired by the Zerowaste Chef. I also make Sauerkraut, fermented chilli for hot sauce, yogurt and sourdough. Fermented foods are great as they are not only waste free, but they are good for your gut too!
Left: a bottle of fermented scrap vinegar. Right: Vinegar soaking in citrus for cleaning
Let's get fermenting!
Update 5/2/16: NZ Herald/Viva posted a decent Kombucha recipe here- I would recommend doing a mixture of black tea and green tea, it tastes nicer and I'm sure must be healthier also. Also if you can, use loose tea as tea bags can contain hidden plastic! I often find them only partially broken down in the Hungry Bin worm farms at work. Another great resource and also NZ specific is this blog here