And other things I am discovering

I thought ‘kambucha’ (with an a) was the correct spelling of the fermented tea drink, kombucha. This is how little I knew about it a few years back, and I honestly don’t know how many people around me really knew more. I had never heard the word before it started gaining popularity in health food stores, and then all of a sudden it was a very popular drink available in almost any regular store, coming in all sorts of varieties and flavors, from a multitude of companies unknown to me touting its beneficial properties.

At the beginning, if I am honest, my curiosity didn’t come from my wonder about kombucha being healthy or not, but from the fact that it was made by fermenting tea. And tea is one of my favorite warm beverages by far. I have tried to stay away from caffeinated drinks for months at a time, but tea with its elegant flavor and fragrance would always sway me back. And the queen of teas for me is Jasmine Green – how can I say no to starting my day with the subtle yet mesmerizing taste of this tea, filled with the magic of fairy tales and promises of adventure awaiting.

Let’s get back to kombucha, before I start day dreaming about jasmine green tea (I am currently out of it, as just cannot find one of good enough quality at the moment, so I am settling to making my own mixture of green and oolong which is also not a bad way to start the morning). So I did buy the occasional kombucha bottle from the store, and did enjoy it, though not that much to justify its cost in buying it often. As my understanding grew of how important the regular healthy intake of beneficial microbes really is, I decided to venture into the realms of fermentation. Kombucha, I thought would be the perfect start for me, since I love tea (if that isn’t perfectly clear by now) and also I thought it would be easy to do as the preparation and ingredients are quite simple.

So I did a quick google search and this blog came up, it has a very good and thorough description on how to make it, so I am not going to go into the details here, but mainly there are two parts 1. making your SCOBY, and 2. making the kombucha.

SCOBY is short for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. And I can only describe it as a gooey looking alien creature. Gooey is what I thought it would feel like, but surprisingly, it feels almost firm to the touch, as if showing its tenaciousness and determination for survival. May be those are a bit too poetic terms to describe this strange mass of microbes, but that is what it inspires me to think. It definitely felt a bit odd at first knowing that I am sharing my kitchen with this new strange entity.

Here’s how I made the SCOBY: 1. I boiled some water, added sugar and tea to it, stirred, and let it brew and cool for a few hours till it reached room temperature. 2. I sieved the tea into a quart mason jar, added a cup of store bought unflavored kombucha, making sure it contains all the little formations from the bottom of the bottle. 3. I covered the jar with two kitchen towels, and let it sit for about two weeks. And lo and behold it actually formed a SCOBY (I couldn’t believe it worked so easily):

After the SCOBY was ready, I prepared a mixture of the tea and sugar, used another cup of store bought kombucha (once my own kombucha was going I used my own kombucha from the previous batch to add to the new one), placed the SCOBY on top and waited a week. And again it worked! I had a very tasty home-made kombucha made tastier by the fact that I made it all on my own, and with little to no effort really.

I should add that once the kombucha is transferred to the bottles I had to wait a couple of days for it to fully become bubbly before placing them in the fridge.

I had a new batch ready each week and I kept that going for almost the entire summer, until one day I found fruit flies living happily in my kombucha mason jar, and SCOBY! So I had to discard it and start anew. This time though I wanted to make my kombucha not with sugar and black tea, but with honey and green tea (when using green tea and honey as a sweetener we should refer to this drink as jun rather than kombucha apparently). I prepared the SCOBY using sugar and black tea, but for the first batch of kombucha I used honey and the mixture of oolong and green tea that I have for breakfast. It worked, the kombucha is not as bubbly (although I am not sure if that is because Fall is upon us and the weather is getting cooler), and the SCOBY is not as thick, so I am still observing if it will survive or not. But I do enjoy the kombucha more, it is lighter and feels gentler, and also I don’t have to worry about how much of the sugar or the much more potent caffeine amount from black tea are leftover when using those ingredients in the fermentation process.

Now a word about alcohol, I am not sure what the alcohol content of my kombucha is (it really shouldn’t be more than 1-2%), but I definitely do feel a sudden feeling of relaxation coming over me, a bit too relaxed sometimes, so I avoid drinking it before doing something important, and don’t drink much more than a cup at a time. The ones you buy from the store shouldn’t exceed a 0.5 % ABV content, otherwise you would have to get carded to buy them by law. The longer the kombucha ferments the higher the alcohol content, and that is why I would approximate mine at slightly higher than the store bought one, but definitely lower than a bottle of light beer. For a bit of a cheeky read on alcohol content and kombucha check out this article.

Another very interesting point I want to include is the idea that the unhealthy sodas that are found in every restaurant and have tried to infiltrate almost every household, were an easy way to replace the fermented drinks we humans have enjoyed for millennia. I read this in a book I got from the library on fermenting beverages called ‘Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond’ by A. Lewin and R. Guajardo, and it resonated with me. It’s a very engaging and fun read.

Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond by A. Lewin and R.Guajardo

But wait, what about all those promised health benefits. Well, I am just at the initial steps of understanding fermentation and how those foods and beverages strengthen our gut microbiome. I am on the lookout for the precise studies, and will revisit the issue, specifically kombucha based soon.