What is kombucha?
Short answer: It is a fermented tea.
Longer answer: (from the WAPF website) Kombucha is rich in B vitamins and a substance called glucuronic acid which binds up environmental and metabolic toxins so that they can be excreted through the kidneys. Glucuronic acid is a natural acid that is produced by the liver. Kombucha simply supplies the body with more and boosts the natural detoxification process.
Kombucha is also a probiotic that supplies your gut with healthy bacteria (that eats the nasty bacteria that makes you sick). One study suggests that probiotics reduces anxiety and stress in mice; listen to this NPR interview with the study's author about how gut health influences the brain.
Whole Foods sells it in the refrigerated section, near the dairy, for about $3 for a 16oz bottle. Or, you can make it at home for about $0.50/gallon.
My family drinks it in great quantities so I've learned to make it.
See the pancake like thing floating on top of the jar? Some people call it a mushroom, though it is not a fungus. Others call it a SCOBY which is an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Similar to other fermented foods, you need this "starter" to begin. They can be purchased at Cultures for Health or, get one from someone you know who makes it. A new scoby grows with each batch of kombucha.
To Make Kombucha
As many grains of sand on the seashore, so are there variations to making kombucha. I like to think of it as an art rather than a science. Below is how I make it.
gallon glass jar
paper towel & rubber band
black and green tea
distilled, reverse osmosis, or boiled water
Start with filtered water, like distilled water or reverse osmosis water. The chlorine and fluoride in tap water could damage the scoby. You can always boil the water for 10 minutes, but it's too hot in my kitchen to do that.
Heat two cups of water for each gallon of kombucha so that you can dissolve one cup of sugar. I use cheap white sugar, but some recommend using organic cane sugar.
Once the sugar is dissolved, add black and/or green tea. I use 2 family sized (or 8 regular) bags of Lipton per gallon and usually add a few small bags of green tea (for antioxidants). Today I was out of green tea. Sometimes I use loose or organic tea. The important thing is that you do not use herbal or flavored teas. They have oils which can damage the scoby.
Let the tea steep for at least 5 minutes, longer if you like.
With clean hands, remove the scoby from your fermented tea. Stir so as to mix the yeast (on the bottom) and the bacteria (on the top).
At this point, you can pour the fermented tea into mason jars (like this blogger), refrigerate and drink it.
However, if you like it effervescent like a soda, then it needs to be bottled, which is called a second ferment. I add about one ounce (2T) of juice to the bottle, first. Grape is our favorite, however any juice with white grape won't be as fizzy. Fruit is also yummy - like blueberries, strawberries, raisins, peaches - just a few pieces will do.
When filling your swing top bottles for the second ferment, be sure to save a cup or two of the fermented kombucha per gallon to use as a starter for the next batch.
The juice or fruit gives the yeast in the kombucha something to munch on during the second ferment. You may remember from your chemistry class that the byproduct of yeast eating sugar is carbon dioxide, or bubbles!
The bottles to the left I bought on-line. You can use anything with a skinny neck. If you reuse a screw top bottle (like a wine bottle), make a seal with a folded piece of plastic wrap. The middle bottle (below) had sparkling lemonade in it - from a fancy grocery store. The green bottle is a Grolsch beer bottle. A friend of mine landed a boat load of the Grolsch on Freecycle. Fermentables is a store in North Little Rock that sells these goodies for kombucha making.
As a general rule, the bottles stay on my counter for 3 days and up to 7 to get good and fizzy. The night before we want to drink it, the bottle goes into the refrigerator. Otherwise when opened, it could spew like champagne.
After bottling the fermented kombucha, it's time to refill the gallon jars. Once your sweet tea is cooled, add more filtered water to it. Then add the starter. Finally add the scoby on top. If the scoby sinks, no big deal.
Cover the gallon jar with a paper towel and secure it with a rubber band. This will keep out dust and fruit flies. Let it sit in a cool, dark place for about a week for best results. My kombucha sits in the kitchen, where it's hot in the summer and gets light and does fine. I drape the gallon jars with dark kitchen towels.
EDIT: updated post here. Be sure to read it, too.
Videos by the Home Health Economist on how she makes kombucha: part 1 and part 2.
Is kombucha safe when pregnant or nursing?
Cheeseslave's thoughts on organic vs Lipton tea.