Monday, October 5, 2009

October Challenge: Home Brew Kombucha

October usually means more time indoors. It is a darker time in our house and a time of more consistent temperatures as we turn the heat back on. Often October signifies the return of comfort foods and a return to the kitchen after a long summer spent cooking outside and making meals with minimal prep.

As you shuffle back into a darker kitchen and spend a little more time actually using your kitchen this fall, I have an easy challenge for you, brew some kombucha. This is an incredibly simple and incredibly healthy drink to make. You can refer to my "ode to kombucha" and preparation instructions or read my additional thoughts on brewing kvasses, but I will also provide some simple instructions here.

You will need:
A glass or stainless steel container suitable for holding a gallon of liquid
A towel
A dark place with a fairly steady temperature of around 72 degrees F (I use a paper bag turned upside down over my kombucha jars atop the refrigerator)

4 organic black tea bags (or 4 small black tea nests if using Pu-erh)
1 cup sugar (yes, refined sugar)
3 qts filtered water
Kombucha "mushroom" and 1/2 cup starter (kombucha from a previous batch)

You should really use organic tea as it does not contain formaldehyde or any of the other strange chemicals often used in making non-organic black teas. Refined sugar is the best sugar to feed the culture. You also want filtered water because most tap waters contain chlorine, which can kill your starter culture.

Bring water to a boil. Add sugar and completely dissolve. Remove from heat and add tea bags. Let steep until room temperature. Remove tea and pour into fermenting container (or strain into container if using loose leaf tea). Pour in 1/2 cup kombucha from a previous batch and top with "mushroom". Let sit anywhere from 7-21 days. It is ready when it is tangy, slightly fizzy, and has no taste of tea remaining. This will fluctuate depending on kitchen and weather conditions. Once done, pour into jars and place in cold storage.

Each time you make kombucha your "mushroom" will make a "baby", which is simply another layer of mushroom atop the starter mushroom. You can allow these to continue multiplying and they might help your previous batches finish faster. You can also pull the new layer off and pass it onto a friend. To double the batch you do not need a second mushroom, but simply double everything else including the starter liquid.

You can further experiment with adding flavors, once made, and bottling them and letting them have a second fermentation on the counter for a couple of days to get fizzy again. You can also make kombucha with other teas and sugars, however, the recipe I am sharing is designed to give the highest quantity of gluchronic acid, which is what gives kombucha its remarkable health benefits. I cannot speak to the benefits of the drink when not made with black tea and sugar.

Rest assured, the fermentation process transforms the caffeine from the tea as well as the sugar into gluchronic acid, so there is no concern about giving this drink to children. However, I will say that it can have the same effect as black tea in staining your teeth. So if pearly whites are important to you, make sure to drink water afterward, or brush your teeth the same as you would after drinking tea or coffee.

Challenge Level One:
Locate a kombucha culture and take inventory to see if you have the equipment. You can often find cultures from friends who brew kombucha and I have even seen them advertised on Craigslist. However, if you do not have a friend who brews and need a reliable source, Cultures For Health can ship you one anywhere in the US.

Challenge Level Two:
Take the plunge and make some! It is inexpensive and not a large time investment. Besides, you might like it and your gut will thank you. It is also handy to have as we enter "cold and flu" season as it is a significant immune booster and detoxifier.

Challenge Level Three:
If you are already a kombucha brewer, try brewing something else. Try a true ginger beer or ginger ale, or better yet get started on some homemade sparkling apple cider for Thanksgiving next month. Whatever you do, tell me about it here!


  1. OK, where on cragslist does one search for this, as I have had no luck? Continental US doesn't help me either :(

    Michelle (and Nelson!)

  2. Hi! I have seen them locally under the free section here in Eugene and so I was speculating that other Kombucha brewers across the country might advertise their kombucha babies for free that way too. Perhaps you could put out an ad under "items wanted"? You could also contact the nearest chapter leader for the Weston A Price Foundation and ask if he/she knows anyone who makes it.

    Good luck!

  3. Actually, I think Cultures For Health can ship to AK....I know they cannot ship Kombucha internationally, but I think they can get it to you. I just went on their website and there is nothing that specifies "continental". My bad.

  4. I am making my very first Kombucha today. I was lucky to have a friend with the 'mushroom' and starter. I traded some eggs from our backyard chickens! I know she was able to get her scoby from a contact on Craigslist this past summer. Wish me luck, I am so excited to make this.....

  5. I just started making Kombucha about a month ago. Why does some of my experiements taste like formaldahyde? I used a variety of green and black teas. And if it is formaldahyde, is that very dangerous to drink it? Thanks.

  6. Terri - Sorry I never commented back to you! I love that you could barter with your backyard eggs. How is the Kombucha going for you?

    Anonymous - If it tastes like formaldehyde, my guess would be that it is. However, Kombucha also has a very unique flavor that takes a little bit of time to appreciate. I would be very careful to make sure the teas you are purchasing are organic. It is an industry standard for non-organic tea to be treated with formaldehyde. They do not have to list industry standards on the ingredient list, so it is not enough to read the label. However, if they are organic, it should not contain formaldehyde. I have never made Kombucha with anything other than black tea, so I cannot attest to what the flavor would be with green tea.

    My recommendation would be to get "good" at brewing with organic black tea, and once you feel very confident, then experiment with non-traditional Kombuchas. You can even add fruit juices and allow a second ferment to make other flavors.

    As for the danger level of drinking formaldehyde, I do not have any information. However, given what formaldehyde is, I personally wouldn't want any of it swimming around in my system. Further, whatever "standard" that the FDA allows in tea is probably based on the amount that comes out in the tea. Most tea is only steeped for 3-4 minutes, where as the tea for Kombucha is steeped for long hours and then fermented. This long process would probably leech all the formaldehyde out into the beverage.

    If you are buying organic teas, I wouldn't worry too greatly, but I would also suggest calling the company's customer service number and making sure they do not process the tea with formaldehyde.

    I hope that helps! Good luck with your future brews.

  7. OK, I finally ordered my starter :)

  8. Yay! I am in the middle of letting a batch cool right now.


Questions and Comments welcome! If you would prefer to contact me privately, please email mariannescrivner (at) gmail (dot) com.


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