January 9, 2014

Brewing Kombucha

I suppose it was really just a matter of time.

Our ex-housemates Alexi and LeeAnn used to drink Kombucha and I was always very skeptical. Last winter I was sick and eventually took some antibiotics, which had the unfortunate side effect of totally wrecking my stomach. I've never experienced anything like that with antibiotics before, and it was awful, even after I was done with the drugs. Becky got me a bunch of Kombucha and Kefir to consume when I couldn't eat any actual food. Luckily over a month or so my stomach recovered, but I had come to rather like the Kombucha by then.

So we have been wreaking havoc on the grocery budget by buying plenty of G.T.'s Kombucha from Whole Foods, or the odd jug of it from the Kombucha guy at the Somerville farmers' markets. It seemed like the sort of thing we should by rights make ourselves if we were drinking it regularly, and it is quite cheap if you make it at home. 

I didn't have a quick way to get a scoby, so instead I made up a 4L batch of green tea with a cup of sugar in it, then dumped in the dregs from about 6 bottles of G.T. It took about three weeks to grow a thin slug at the top of the two jars I was fermenting it in. I threw the first batch out and transferred the mini-scobys into a fresh batch.

I think I'm up to about 6 batches or so now. Most weeks I make a 4L batch and leave it in the closet fermenting for a week or two, innoculated with a splash of liquid and the scoby from the previous batch. The optimal ferment time for me still hasn't stabilized; sometimes its a week other times two plus. But keeping the cycle going is pretty easy and sometimes the  results are just as good as G.T.'s (even when this is not the case it's still fine to drink). I ferment in two 2L glass jars with cloth rubber banded around the top.

For some reason my scobys don't float reliably. They often sink to the bottom and a new one forms at the top. Or they turn sideways near the top and the new layer grows on the edge of the old one. I was under the impression that the main one should live at the top surface and add bulk to itself. Have to wait and see how things develop I suppose. 

Since I brew hard cider in the fall and drink it year round, I have a CO2 tank in my kitchen closet and drink cider from 2L PET bottles with Liquid Bread tops. I dedicated one of these setups to Kombucha, and carbonate and serve from the PET bottle, rather than fooling around with a secondary ferment in a closed container. I'm sure the Kombucha puritans would be horrified :)

We favor the ginger version of G.T., so I started experimenting with adding ginger to the finished Kombucha. First I tried slicing thinly, letting the slices sit in the Kombucha for some days, then straining them out before drinking. Slices are visible in the jars below.

This was ok, but didn't succeed in imparting a whole lot of ginger flavor. Lately I've been using a different method.

grate the ginger (without peeling it).

Put the gratings and stray juice into a linen cloth

 then squeeze the juice out. 

Divide in two portions

Dump 'er in

A sizeable lunk of ginger gives the 4L of weekly brew a tasty ginger flavor; could probably use a little more to equal G.T. levels but fresh ginger is not the cheapest thing to buy in quantity from the regular market.

I like this stuff, and I'm sure its good for the gut, but I must report it is not a health miracle for me. Despite drinking about 2L weekly (plus Chia every morning), I've been sick on and off this winter with colds and sinus infections for over 2 months. Given what happened last year though, I'm hesitant to take antibiotics except in circumstances more grim than I am presently experiencing. Anyway, the Kombucha can't hurt and it tastes great.

Buster (now almost 3yrs) actually loves drinking it too. "Hassum... that... kombucha! I love kombucha!". The girls are not so hot on it, but occasionally Millie has a few sips.

UPDATE 4/2014
With essentially unlimited Kombucha available, consumption has crept up. I've started brewing each week in a 5L Fido bail top jar.

It's not too demanding now that I have a system figured out:

  • Fill jar from filtered water tap to appropriate level
  • Pour in pot, boil
  • Add 3 TBSP imperial gunpowder green tea
  • After >5 minutes, add 1-1/3 cup white sugar
  • Let cool in pot with lid on overnight or all day (I busted my first big Fido jar by putting the tea in hot, then rinsing the jar with cool water)
  • Strain loose tea out with small colander
  • pour through strainer into Fido jar, with lid removed
  • pour in some Kombucha from previous batch
  • transfer scoby from old to new batch
  • cover new batch with cloth and rubber band, stick in closet
  • dose old batch with 3 ginger juice ice cubes, put lid on jar, stick in fridge
  • next day (sediment drops out during cooling) - pour through strainer into PET 2L bottle, carbonate with CO2 in PET bottle, enjoy as desired
  • Repeat until 5L jar in fridge is down to dregs
We are finding that especially with the one big jar, the taste is better after 2-3 weeks fermentation than the one week we were averaging before. So I now have two jars at any given time in the closet, and one in the fridge which we take from during the week.

For ginger, it was getting time consuming to manually grate and squeeze the ginger every week. Lately Becky has been getting me a big load of ginger about once a month. I peel it by hand, 

then grate it with the food processor (wish I had a hand cranked grater...).

The gratings go into a linen towel and get squeezed for juice.

The juice fills up about one ice cube tray. After freezing, the cubes are put into a plastic bag and stay in the freezer until needed.

UPDATE 3/10/2015
Latest process uses 1/4 cup gunpowder style green tea (cheap if you buy a big sack of it on Amazon or at the asian grocery), and 1 cup sugar. I let it ferment for three weeks ideally, plus or minus a week. Usually there are two fido 5L jugs in the dark pantry closet, so I end up making a new jug every 1.5-2 weeks.

When I switch the scoby to a new jug, I put in 3 ginger juice ice cubes, then let the jug sit in the fridge for a day or two. This allows the goobers and sediment to separate a bit before I pour through a strainer and funnel into a 2L PET bottle for forced carbonation. The 2L only uses half the batch from the fido jar, so I pour the rest into a 2L glass mason jar and put that in the fridge. It settles further while we are drinking the first 2L from the PET bottle, so when I refill the PET from the mason jar I get the maximum usable kombucha.

I don't bother peeling the ginger anymore, just rinse it, chop roughly, then into the grater.


mssewcrazy said...

Most of this was lost on me and I think like the girls I will pass by on this concoction. I am sure it is very healthy and I had not ever heard of it before. I used to have a lot of sinus stuff in winter as I have had allergies to rag weed a long time which made me susceptible to sinus and ear infections. What has helped me to dodge lots of the problems I used to be plagued with is saline nasal spray, gargling with salt water and putting swimmers concoction in my ears ( half vinegar and half rubbing alcohol) if I start having any problems like a touch ear or drainage or sore throat. I used to have to take antibiotics which did not help at all. I try to consume one piece of citrus or glass of orange juice daily. I also keep ear muffs in my coat pocket and a fleece scarf. These changes have kept me free of problems for nearly 5 years or I think they are the reason for no longer fighting the sinus illnesses which were a huge problem for me. Any way I will read up on your concoction as it was new to me. Many years ago a professor in microbiology told me the professor she had was involved with the developing team of the first drug and said he would never take them. I have found I do better just doing my own natural thing and it's much cheaper and safer.

Holly Gates said...

Thanks for the comments. Like many of us, I think I would probably be dead or disabled by this point in my life if not for the wonder of antibiotics, but they certainly are not without drawbacks and are surely used more casually than would be optimal. Thanks for the tips on avoiding sinus troubles; I've got to figure out a better strategy for my issues.

Anyway, you can probably find commercially made kombucha at a Whole Foods or health food store. Like most fermented foods, it takes a little while to get used to it, but it grows on you.