Over the summer, I had a bladder infection and had to take antibiotics. Not only did that severely mess with my monthly cycle, but it also left my stomach upset for over a month. Being unable to consume dairy products (and thus take advantage of all those fabulous probiotic cultures, I started looking to other foods to help rebuild my gut flora. The first and most obvious of these was raw honey. I have a fabulous supplier of varietal raw honey that I visit once a year, and one or two teaspoons of that each day helped my stomach calm down. In the past, I had also had kombucha (a fizzy, fermented, tea-based drink), and knowing that fermented foods can help gut flora, I decided to give it another go. Kombucha is an acquired taste, but it’s one that I picked up relatively quickly, unlike coffee or black tea, which I still can’t stand and won’t drink. We picked up a few bottles of Synergy kombucha, which I like a whole lot better than the last brand I tried, and I rationed it out over a few days to try to calm my stomach further.
Around the time I was finishing the last bottle, I came across a video on Facebook about how to make your own kombucha at home. It seems that the key is to get the right culture of yeasts and bacteria, feed it properly, and leave it alone to do its thing. It seems people pay quite large sums of money to buy these SCOBYs (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) online, but making kombucha doesn’t have to be that expensive. Every bottle contains live culture, so you just need the sediment and about 1/2 cup of liquid from a couple of new bottles. Here’s what I did:
- Bought green tea and hibiscus petals to use for my base tea, and made a teabag with them using cheesecloth. It seems that the polyphenols in the traditional tea leaf are necessary for a healthy culture, but I wasn’t going to use black tea, so green tea fit the bill. I got the hibiscus because it has a bit of a raspberry flavour and also contains the necessary compounds. Over time, I hope to use less frequent green tea and more hibiscus, adding some rooibos in, but I wanted to start with something that would help my culture grow strong. Each different ingredient you use, including changing from black to green tea, affects the culture you are growing.
- I brewed an enormous jar of green and hibiscus tea, then allowed it to cool to almost room temperature. It is recommended that you use water without any fluoride or chlorine. Although chlorine can be removed with a standard whole home or tap filter, once fluoride is added to a water supply (usually by a city or town) it usually takes reverse osmosis to remove it. Alternatively, you can use distilled water or spring water. (Oops! We filter chlorine out of our water, but the fluoride is still there, and I used tap water. Hopefully any harm will be temporary and we can use spring water next time.)
- Once the tea was cool, I added 1/2 cup of sugar (1 cup of sugar per gallon of tea) and stirred to mix. This will feed the yeast culture, and thus very little will remain in the finished kombucha.
- I had previously drunk (by pouring into a glass) four bottles of kombucha, saving the last 1/4 to 1/5 of each one, including as much sediment as possible. I dumped all of this sediment and remaining kombucha into the cooled, sweetened tea.
- I then covered the jar with a cloth and held that down with an old hair elastic, to keep dirt and bugs out, and left the jar in a room at about 25 degrees Celsius. Each culture has an ideal temperature, and kombucha culture is happiest at about 24 to 26 degrees. The covering was really important, as I had discovered while drinking the bottles of kombucha, because fruit flies LOVE kombucha.NOTE: Seriously, we have made the best fruit fly traps ever with kombucha. It beats juice, vinegar, and anything else we’ve tried, hands down. We set our fruit fly trap right beside the jar of fermenting tea to attract them away from the kombucha-in-progress, and replaced the trap about once every five days to prevent re-infestation (not because the kombucha stopped being an effective attractant).
- Wait. Normally they say kombucha takes seven to ten days, with a maximum of about 30 days. I waited about 2 1/2 weeks because my SCOBY was just starting out and needed to grow and develop. After about a week and a half, I tasted the kombucha by pushing aside the floating SCOBY, and added a bit more sugar to keep everything growing properly, stirring very gently. The mixture bubbled, foamed, and gained a mucous-like floater as the tea fermented and the SCOBY grew.
- After two and a half weeks, I removed the SCOBY from the top of the jar and set it in a bowl with about 1/2 cup of my kombucha. I covered this with the cloth and put it into the fridge for the day. My kombucha smelled and tasted right, but was still missing the fizz. I then poured the kombucha into old, washed kombucha bottles, adding flavourings. Here were some I tried:
- 8 Tbsp of mint herbal tea and a frozen cube of fresh lemon juice
- 8 Tbsp of cinnamon chai herbal tea
- About 1 1/2 Tbsp frozen raspberries from the garden, crushed
- 3 Tbsp apple juice and a sprinkle of cinnamon
- A sprinkle of ground cardamom and a sprinkle of dried and ground vanilla bean
My kombucha was tasting a bit too dry (not sweet enough), and I wanted to provide a little extra fuel to create fizz, I added about a quarter teaspoon of sugar to the mixes that didn’t have fruit in them, stirring to mix. I left about 1 inch of air space at the top of each bottle (instructions varied between 1/2″ to 2 inches), then screwed them tightly closed and left the on the counter for their second fermentation. This is what will incorporate the flavour and create bubbles (bubbles were being created before, but the gas was released into the air with the jar open). After three days to two weeks, I’ll move them to the fridge to stop the fermentation process.
NOTE: I didn’t have enough kombucha to fill the vanilla cardamom bottle, so I’ll see if the excess air space has any effect on the outcome. I hope it’ll just be less fizzy.
I then cleaned the jar, rinsed with boiling water, and brewed up a new jar of tea. Once it was cooled, I added sugar again, the 1/2 cup of saved kombucha, and then the SCOBY. And the cycle repeats.
I can’t wait to actually drink my homemade kombucha, instead of just the little tastes I’ve been getting. As my SCOBY grows, it will develop new layers on the outside and the layers in the center will die. It will also create new SCOBYs, and that’s when the fun begins. Since only one SCOBY is needed in a batch of kombucha, I can try new things with the others. Extra SCOBYs can be stored in the fridge in a small amount of kombucha until needed, though their shelf life isn’t indefinite.
Jun is a raw honey- and green tea-based drink very similar to kombucha. It requires a slightly different culture, which ferments faster and may or may not include yeasts, and a mildly cooler room temperature. It is said that kombucha cultures can be “trained” to eat honey instead of sugar if you slowly decrease the amount of sugar and increase the amount of honey over several batches, but that nothing quite matches the taste of jun except a proper jun culture. Since you don’t usually find jun in stores, you would probably have to order this culture online. I plan to try to train an existing kombucha culture to honey. There are many sites that advise against using raw honey because it contains its own bacteria which may conflict with the existing SCOBY bacteria, but this is the only honey I have, and some people have reported success, so I’m going to give it a try. Perhaps it will kill off the excess yeasts and bacteria and leave only the desired bacteria for jun.
Please note that both kombucha and jun contain small amounts of alcohol (0.5% for kombucha and 2 to 7% for jun). This is created during the fermentation process.
Finally, what am I doing with the leftover green tea and hibiscus petals? You might remember a few weeks ago when I was brewing up my initial batch of kombucha and added the leftover petals and leaves to the herbal hair cleansers I was making. That soap nut-based hair cleanser was frozen into cubes for easy use. This time I boiled the tea leaves and petals a second time to make a one-time hair rinse. It turned out really dark red, so I think this one will be for my husband or daughter. The remaining leaves and petals go into the compost.
Have you ever made your own kombucha? How did it go? Comment below.