Learning How to Make Kombucha

I still remember the first time my husband, John Doe, had me try kombucha. Despite all the warnings he gave me about it being an acquired taste, and that it was going to be unusual, my first reaction was still a solid, “Honey… I think this has gone bad. No, seriously…”

In the years since, we’ve embraced the probiotic goodness that is kombucha. Even my daughter, Elizabeth Doe,  loves it. Which has actually become a problem, because as you may know, the stuff’s not cheap. We’re talking $3.50/bottle, and Elizabeth will gladly drink a bottle a day if we let her. So when John saw an ad for a free demonstration on how to make your own kombucha, we were there, dude. They even said there’d be starter cultures for everyone to bring home. That’s kind of a big deal, because you can’t brew without it, and you gotta “know a guy” to get one. 

And probiotics are going to be really important in the apocalypse. Because we won’t have anitbiotics kicking around for very long. We’re going to need strong digestive tracts to avoid dying of dysentery.

Even though there were far more attendees than expected, my daughter managed to score a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). There was one place we’d heard that term before prior to this demonstration (see below). We left with live demonstration knowledge (there’s nothing like hearing instructions first-hand, with visual demonstration and taste testing), a sheet of written directions, and our very own SCOBY culture. #WINNING

So the way it works is, you make a strong sweet black tea, let it cool to room temperature, and pop that SCOBY in to do its work for a couple weeks or so. The tea is its food, and the colony will transform that super sweet tea into a more vinegar-like healthy drink. Our first brew was very small, only a quart, because it was the biggest jar we had on hand and because My First SCOBY was a small colony. Because of this, there was only enough first brew kombucha for a single serving of second brew (2 weeks later).

The first ferment was tasty, if a bit too sweet, but sweetness is easily remedied in kombucha brewing, simply by waiting longer. Just needed to give them a little more time to eat up that sugar, see.

Our second first ferment had a bigger home; the recommended large pickle jar, covered with a kitchen towel and rubber band. That was a couple weeks ago. That batch made enough to fill 7 kombucha bottles. 5 of those were just old kombucha bottles we’d washed out, two were from a box of Brieftons bottles I’d ordered that were recommended for these purposes.

Many people just drink the kombucha at this point, but I’m very interested in the flavoring angle, which is done during the second ferment. For the second ferment, one adds some fruit and fruit juice (about 1/4 that and 3/4 first ferment). Then you cap the bottles, airtight this time, and wait a couple days.

We kept our jars in a big plastic bucket, because there’s a chance these bottles will burst under the pressure from the second ferment carbonation. None of ours has yet, but I’m vigilant about “burping” them (loosening and then re-tightening the cap to allow some gas to escape). I’ve read you’re supposed to do this 1 – 2 times/day, but even once per day, the hiss of the escaping gas doesn’t sound like it was on the verge of exploding. However, I have seen people post that their jars blew up, so better safe than sorry I guess.

Our first second ferment. Not to be confused with our second first ferment, or our second second ferment…

Anyway, I split a Dole pineapple fruit cup into two jars, and filled them the rest of the way with brew. I also did a couple with freshly sliced ginger, a couple with fresh cubes of watermelon, and one with frozen grapes. This is very much the experimentation phase right now, and I was just going with whatever I had on hand. Our instructor had recommended pineapple if we wanted carbonation.

Pineapple: Lightly carbonated after 2 days, and overall delicious.

Ginger: Definitely just cutting up slices of ginger root isn’t enough. It maybe had a taste of ginger, but it was very faint. No carbonation, but still delicious. More or less, I’d say this was just the first ferment.

Grape: From the start I expect I didn’t put enough grapes in this, because they were frozen grapes and I was worried about making things too cold for the cultures.

Watermelon: My initial assumption was that watermelon should result in as much carbonation as pineapple, since it seems equally sweet.

One thing that’s obvious now is that bottles of kombucha you buy in the store are artificially carbonated (so is beer, and of course, soda). So it’s going to be an adjustment, if you’re used to drinking kombucha with that level of carbonation. I’m hoping to increase the level of carbonation, but that’s an experiment for another day.