I’ve decided to try my hand at fermenting tea this week! It’ll be 4 to six weeks before this batch, my first, is ready to bottle up and drink, but I’ll be documenting the progress of the project here as the weeks go on.
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage made using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, otherwise known as a ‘SCOBY’. It’s been around for centuries but it’s exact history is a bit foggy. No matter which sources I go to – they all say something different about it’s origin and spread. Most likely first consumed in China in about 212 BC, and from there spreading to Korea, Japan, and later India, Russia, Germany, the rest of Europe and North America. One thing’s for certain : this bevy is off-the-charts popular with your local health food store goers. It’s all the rage. Much has been said about it’s health benefits, but all claims have yet to be supported by scientific studies. Either way, I love all things fermented, tangy, and different. Health benefits or not this one’s growing on me quickly. Acidic, mildly sweet, with a smidge of carbonation from the fermenting process – it’s a winner, especially when infused with ginger as this batch will be later.
The symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast/SCOBY is a terrifying looking disc of blobbish, sluggish, shellfish-like, disgustingness- sure to turn you right off. It even sometimes grows slimy brown legs as if it’s about to kick up it’s heels and swim off like an octopus! How gross?!
I think if most people knew, truly, how all of their food and drink is prepared – they’d vow never to eat or drink again. At least for a time. We separate ourselves from our food a lot in the western world, and seeing something so disgusting and freakish-looking turn old tea into a delicious bubbling beverage.. is very exciting to me!
So here we go.
If you attempt to ferment a batch of Kombucha yourself you’ll need a SCOBY, which is essentially the same as a bread started. Without this you can’t make your own separate batch. You can purchase one online or from some healthfood/tea stores, or you can do as I’m doing – and create your own little colony of bacteria and yeast.
What you’ll need if you’re starting from scratch like me:
1 2 L glass jar (see note)
1 piece of clean fabric, 100% cotton, or triple layers of cheesecloth (see note)
1 elastic band
7 cups water
4-5 tea bags black or green, but absolutely plain and not flavoured in any way
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup storebought, raw, unpasteurized Kombucha tea. Again, plain. (see note)
2-4 weeks worth of patience
-Place half the water in a sauce pot, bring to a simmer, shut off heat, toss in the tea bags (green, black, or half and half) and steep for 10 minutes.
(The batch I’ve made is green tea)
-Add the sugar while the mixture is still hot, dissolve thoroughly.
-Once the tea has steeped and sugar’s been added, pour the other half of the water into it to cool it to room temperature.
-Once the liquid is room temperature pour it into your 2 L glass jar.
***Note: do not use plastic or metal containers for this fermentation. Leaching of materials is always an issue when dealing with fermenting liquids, acids, etc, and glass is the proper and safe way to do this. The cotton cloth or cheesecloth and elastic band is to cover the top of the jar during the fermentation period. This allows the gases that are created during the process to escape, but filters out unwanted natural yeasts and bacteria that may otherwise get into the liquid. Hold fast with an elastic band.
-Once you’ve poured your room temperature tea and sugar mixture into the glass jar, slowly pour the cup of Kombucha on the top.
***Note: when purchasing a bottle of Kombucha for this, look for one that has a sluggish looking blob/SCOBY already floating around in it, and ensure this blob makes it into your jar. This is the beginning of a new culture already growing, and will quicken the process of growing your SCOBY so that you can faster get onto making the brewed tea. If you can’t find one that’s already murky and sketchy looking don’t fret, it will still work just fine. Just insert an extra smidge of patience!
-Cover the jar with the fabric and fasten with an elastic band. Leave the mixture out at room temperature for about 2 weeks, but maybe more. Every batch will be slightly different depending on the warmth of your room. Leave the jar somewhere it won’t be bumped and jostled, this is important for the formation of your new bacterial pet SCOBY.
This part of the process is creating the disc-like SCOBY, the ‘starter’ with which you’ll then make the actual Kombucha tea. All sorts of things will happen over the next few weeks, but the process is slow. Weird brown blobs and strings may form along with bubbles and slimy sludge on the surface of the liquid. This is normal! This is what you want! Look for the stringy little yeast strands and the pale film that develops on the surface. Over time it will become opaque and solid. All wierd brown chunks are normal, but keep an eye out for actual mold. Green, black, or orange dots are mold and an indication that something’s gone wrong.
What it will eventually look like: this batch shown is made with black tea (photo credit holdtotheroad.com)
Your liquid should smell acidic and slightly sweet, but not putrid or rotten. Google search some images and you’ll have a better idea of exactly what you’re looking for.
This is merely STEP 1, and as far as I’ve gotten…. stay tuned as the weeks go on to see how it goes!