Po-tion – n; A liquid or liquid mixture, especially one that is medicinal, poisonous, or magical.
Kombucha is a fermented beverage that is made with tea, sugar and the kombucha culture.
The kombucha culture itself is a colony of yeasts and bacteria living in a cellulose structure. It is sometimes referred to by the acronym “Scoby”, meaning symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The scoby resembles a pancake, and varies in color from white to beige, depending on the type of tea it has been living in. It feels rubbery to the touch, and varies in thickness from paper thin to a couple of inches. During each batch of kombucha, a new scoby is created and grows on the top of the brew. These extras can be tossed into the next batch, used to create a batch of their own, or passed along to friends who wish to brew their own kombucha.
Kombucha has been around for a very long time, some say thousands of years. It is believed to have originated in China, and then made its way to Russia, India, Japan and further through trade routes. It has been touted as a miracle cure for a very wide variety of illnesses and conditions, though most of the proof seems to be anecdotal. Panacea or not, kombucha is delicious, and easy to make at home.
Kombucha is made in glass or lead free ceramic vessels. It is acidic and will leach chemicals from plastics and metals. To begin, boiling water and tea bags are combined with sugar, in various quantities depending on the size of the vessel. The sugar dissolves and the tea steeps. After a few minutes the tea bags are removed and the resulting sweet tea is left to cool to room temperature.
It is very important that the mixture cools completely before the kombucha culture, or scoby, is introduced. Heat will kill the yeasts and bacteria. Once cool, the scoby is placed in the sweet tea and a cup or two of kombucha from the previous batch is added. This helps to create an acidic environment which discourages molds.
The jar or bowl is then covered with a coffee filter, paper towel or dish towel with a tight weave. These are secured with an elastic or string, tightly to prevent contamination of the brew by fruit flies, ants or dust. The jar is placed in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight where it can rest undisturbed for approximately 7-14 days. The brew will begin to produce a new scoby on the surface within a day or two. The scoby will appear first as a thin film, and gradually thicken. The new scoby is always formed on the surface, but the mother culture may be found at the bottom of the mixture or floating near the top.
It is best to begin taste testing before you think the kombucha will be ready. When the scoby has consumed most of the sugar in the sweet tea, kombucha is created. It can range in taste from apple cider to champagne. Some describe the flavour as being similar to iced tea. Kombucha may be flat or carbonated. The brew can be tested with ph strips or taste buds, and will be ready when it has reached a ph of 3.0 or a pleasant taste that is not too sweet, but not yet vinegary. If left too long, kombucha turns to vinegar, which can be used the same way apple cider vinegar is used.
Once finished, the scoby is removed, and placed in a separate container with a cup or two of kombucha and the kombucha is bottled. It can be placed in wine bottles, grolsch bottles, mason jars or nearly any other glass or ceramic container you choose. It should then be refrigerated. As kombucha is often carbonated, the contents can become pressurized and eventually break the bottles if left in a warm place. Grolsch bottles and corked wine bottles are often favoured for this reason, as they can let the excess pressure out with less chance of breaking. Flavouring can be added to kombucha during the bottling process, by placing a few blueberries or some ginger or other preferred flavoring substances into the bottle. I prefer the natural taste of kombucha, so I do not add any flavouring to it. I prefer wine bottles for storing it, though when necessary, I store it in ball jars.
Kombucha takes a while to brew, but it is well worth the wait. It literally costs pennies per gallon. Each batch produces a new scoby, and so, I generally have lots of them kicking around. I often keep them viable by placing more than one scoby in a batch. Extras can also be flash frozen, dried, composted or stored at room temperature in sweet tea.
If you are interested in giving kombucha a try, or looking for a scoby of your own, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org