Friday, May 7, 2010
The Wonderful World of Brewing Kombucha
So if you are a resident of the West Coast (the land of the crunchy granola people as my Dad likes to call it) you’ve probably heard a little bit about Kombucha. For everyone else who doesn’t live or die by their Bio-Diesel car and Vision Board, Kombucha is a fermented tea that us crunchy granola people drink for its multiple health benefits.
Kombucha, like beer and wine, is brewed. The Kombucha culture (SCOBY) ferments sweet tea turning it into a slightly to somewhat acidic drink (depending on brewing time). The culture, sometimes erroneously know as a mushroom, is best know as a SCOBY, "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” It’s not pretty thing, but if we learned anything from the Beauty and the Beast it is that even ugly things are beautiful underneath.
Truthfully the SCOBY, best described as a Blob-y grayish pancake object, looks pretty suspect. For this reason most people who drink Kombucha buy it in brightly colored bottles from health food stores. Synergy and other brands sold at Whole Foods are pretty and nice, but they are not cheap either, especially if you want to sip this tea everyday, as is recommended for its benefits.
So with this in mind, and to learn more about Kombucha as a whole, I invited Dave “Kombucha” Lindenbaum to give me the skinny. Since this whole process ended up being a little bit more expansive than I was expecting it to be (hence the super big post) I have decided to break the wonderful world of Kombucha into 3 separate posts: how to Brew, how to Bottle, and a more extensive interview with Dave about the ins and outs of this world.
Dave is an ex New York finance guy who magically transformed into a Kombucha guy in Los Angeles, CA (all you east coasters can make some joke about SoCal frying your brain… like we’ve never heard that one before). His company Get Kombucha sells bottled Kombucha, but more importantly it also sells all the things you need to brew organic Kombucha at home by yourself.
When I ask Dave about why does this for a living he explains, “When you brew Kombucha you are the one who made it. It might not seem like a big difference, but it is. It’s about taking ownership.”
THE LOWDOWN WELCOME TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF KOMBUCHA
The best way to think of Kombucha is as a probiotic tea. Probiotic, now there’s a word that is being thrown around a lot these days. You might have seen Jamie Curtis talking about it to sell yogurt, but what exactly does probiotic mean?
Probiotic adj 1. A live microorganism which when administered in adequate amount confers a health benefit on the host.
In any bottle or brew jug of unfiltered Kombucha these strands and strains float (live yeast for anyone who is asking), but what are these health benefits they might confer on us (the host)?
Well on the simplest of levels, we all know that toxins are bad for the body, and when we get rid of them the body gets better.
Now anyone who sells you Kombucha related paraphernalia will become uneasy about it’s specific health selling points (since the FDA gets all weasely eyed about such things without very specific, and expensive, studies backing it up). That being said, Kombucha has been recommended as a remedy against acne, intestinal issues, kidney stones, gout, arthritis, and cancer, the last one being the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to talking about this acidic drink. Whether these claims are all valid or not probably won’t be proven for a very long time, but what is known scientifically is that many of Kombucha’s components have antibiotic and detoxifying characteristics. Whether this is because of the acidity of the drink influencing the GI tract or something more hasn’t been completely mapped out yet. But regardless, in detoxifying the body you’re helping to cleanse it so the possibility of disease is lessened.
But, let’s swing away from this digression and return to how to brew the K-tea.
GET THE STUFF - WHAT YOU NEED
So in the beginning there’s sugar, lots and lots of sugar. But don’t get thrown by this, the sugar will be eaten by the yeast of the SCOBY and converted into acids that are beneficial to your gut, and other parts of your body. Along with sugar there should also be cleanliness, lots and lots of cleanliness (I am hoping this is a given, but just in case…)
Like anything you cook, bake, or brew you’ll need some ingredients. These include: • A suitable brewing container with a 2-gallon capacity or more (some people use glass jars, Dave actually sells this and all the other kombucha items). • A piece of muslin, kitchen towel, cloth napkin, or some other piece of clean porous material. Whatever you use it needs to be a size that will cover the top of the brewing container with some overlap. • A large elastic band to hold the material on the container. • 1.5 gallons of water (boiled and cooled or filtered). • 2-3 teaspoons loose tea in a reusable muslin filter bag. You use a loose bag because this allows the tea to breath more. The tea can be Black, Green or a mixture of both. Please note: it must be tea and not a tea-like substance Herba Mate. • 1-2 cups Sugar (organic is preferred, but ordinary household sugar will do if you must). • A SCOBY (if you have a friend who brews they can cut you one off, otherwise you can buy one from Dave). • 32 ounces of already brewed Kombucha (Dave also sells this (shocker) or you can buy a bottle of premade bottle tea, just make sure to buy plain tea, not flavored).
Note (again): Cleanliness is very important in every aspect: hands, equipment etc. The first thing you should do is to clean everything that you are going to use (please be wary to soap as it can hurt your SCOBY, just wash with water and rinse with white vinegar.)
DOUBLE, BUBBLE, TOIL, AND ... - MAKING THE SWEET TEA BATCH
This is the liquid that feeds the Kombucha culture which is then transformed into Kombucha tea by your sugar chomping SCOBY.
Place your water in a pot (a stainless steel, enamel covered, or heat-resistant glass household cooking pot) and turn on the burner. The water should either be filtered or should already have been boiled for at least 5 minutes.
After boiling for the necessary time, add the tea. Allow it to boil for 5 minutes before stirring in the sugar till it dissolves. Allow the mixture to boil for 15 minutes (creating a super saturated solution for all those chemistry buffs). When finished fish out the muslin bag and allow this solution to cool to room temperature.
Don’t put add your culture yet as it is too hot for your SCOBY! (They are sensitive creatures)
WEIRD SCIENCE - ADDING YOUR CULTURE
Once the solution is at room temperature pour the solution into your brewing container. Then plop the SCOBY on top. Whether it sinks or floats it doesn't matter, it will work either way. To finish it off, pour the Starter Tea on top.
JUST DO IT - BREW TIME
C’est ca; that’s it.
Just cover the top of the container with your kitchen towel, using the elastic band to hold it in place and protect it (your tea needs air, but definitely not flies).
Move the container to a good real estate location. Somewhere that it can be left undisturbed for about a week. You should try and have the temperature somewhere between 68 – 86 Fahrenheit. Since it’s a living thing keep it away from tobacco smoke, strong smells, and fried food (more specifically the grease that gets in the air from frying food).
TIME DELAY- FIVE DAYS LATER
After 5 days, it is time to taste the Kombucha. When you pull off the cloth the first thing you will notice is that the container will probably smell like you’re dying Easter eggs (vinegary).
The best way to tell if it is done is by tasting it. The Kombucha should have a slightly acidic (read: sharp – definitely not sweet) taste. If it isn’t quite there yet, put the cover back on and leave it for another day before tasting again.
The length of brewing time can vary quite a lot depending on location, temperature, and time of year (faster in the summer, slower in the winter), normally it takes between 5 days to 2 weeks.
Once the “kick” kicks in you’re ready to start reaping the K-tea rewards. It’s simple, good for you, and fun (especially for everyone who ever wanted to be a Mad Scientist… Oh wait, maybe that’s just me).