Kombucha 101

by Matilda


Kombucha is said to have many health benefits, but that is not the main reason why I started to experiment with this fermented tea. It was something new, something that I have never heard of. It was exciting. I know, so much excitement caused by tea.

I discovered kombucha tea when I was doing research for our Facebook page. At the same time Belinda was visiting her cousin in Zambia and one of her friends served kombucha. Ice cold and refreshing. Belinda loved it and both of us were intrigued by this interesting tea fermented by something called scoby. When Belinda returned from her trip a friend gave her a couple of scobys. She gave me one with very little instructions to go with it.

Luckily, brewing kombucha is really easy. I Googled recipes and got off to a good start. It took me a couple of months of trial and error but now our kombucha brewing is well on track and I even make flavoured kombucha. I can only share my own experience with this process, but even if I say so myself: I brew kick-ass kombucha.

Our containers of kombucha with dates to show when new tea was started.

So, what exactly is kombucha and what is a scoby? Scoby is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Scoby is the live culture that ferments the tea and kombucha is what that fermented tea is called.

Before we start the process, let’s talk about hygiene and maintenance. Scobys aren’t very fussy, but you have to know a few things about them. I don’t sanitise my equipment. I just give everything a good wash and then rinse with boiling water. You need only one scoby to ferment the tea. It grows to the size of your container. If you aren’t so lucky as to be gifted a scoby you can make your own by using store bought kombucha. Scobys do get old, mouldy and sometimes sick, but a new scoby forms every couple of weeks, so you will always have a fresh one. Scobys don’t like to be touched by metal. Always use wood, plastic, bamboo and glass. Keep the fermenting tea covered with a tea towel or something similar, because flies love kombucha. I just cover our containers with their lids, but unscrewed so that the carbon dioxide formed during fermentation can escape. If you leave your tea to ferment too long, it will become vinegar.

Now, for the brewing. I dissolve a cup and a half (375 ml) of sugar in boiling water and steep ten teabags of Rooibos tea in enough boiling water to make 4 liters of tea. I’ve always used Rooibos, but I’ve read that you can use black, green or any other tea you prefer. You have to experiment with the amount of sugar you like. I’ve read about people using honey, but I haven’t yet. Sugars are what scobys “feed” on.

Allow the sweetened tea to cool completely and then add your scoby and some of the tea that was left over from your previous batch. It is called the starter tea and helps your scoby to thrive. Scobys look gross, I know, but you get used to it. In the photograph you can see how my scoby has started to make a new scoby. You can use this new scoby to make another batch of tea. I used both scobys in the same new tea, because the old scoby still looked good and I don’t need to make more batches. Cover your tea, let it stand and after about two weeks you will have kombucha. I like to keep my fermenting tea covered with a blanket. Yeast like to grow in warm, dark places. I also date mine, because I have four fermentations going at the same time. If the weather is cool the fermentation process will take longer, but your scoby should be fine. Now you can enjoy your kombucha or you can do a second fermentation.

The second fermentation is used to flavour your kombucha. I made lemon flavoured kombucha this time, but I’ve used apple, papaya and granadilla (passion fruit). We like them all, but so far the granadilla is our favourite.

For every liter of kombucha I use a tablespoon (15ml) of sugar and about a cup (250ml) fruit. When I make lemon flavoured kombucha I use a bit more sugar, because lemons aren’t naturally packed with sugars. I just peel and chop the fruit, except for the apples. I just chop them up. If you don’t like bitter tasting things, use just the juice of the lemons.

Add the sugar and fruit to a container. I made 3 liters of lemon flavoured kombucha. Cover the fruit with boiling water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Let it cool down completely.

Next you fill the container with kombucha, leaving a little space at the top. This time you will screw the lid of you container securely and the carbon dioxide need some space. After you’ve tightened the lid, date your brew and leave from three up to seven days. In cooler weather it takes longer to ferment. You have to taste it ever so often, because you don’t want the fermentation to go too far.

When you are satisfied that the degree of fermentation is just right, it is time to decant and bottle. I’ve just made the lemon flavoured kombucha on Sunday, so that isn’t ready to be enjoyed yet. I did, however, bottle a batch of granadilla flavoured kombucha.

I usually transfer the flavoured kombucha to a jug that pours easily. I use a funnel and a sieve to pour the brew into bottles. You need bottles that closes securely or you will loose all the fizz. Keep it in your fridge to slow down the fermentation process and to enjoy your brew ice cold.

Kombucha brewing is easy and experimenting with different recipes is a lot of fun. You have to find the brew or brews that you enjoy most. Use my recipes as guidelines to explore and discover your own favourite kick-ass kombucha.

Matilda xo

Bottled and ready to enjoy.

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