As promised, I'm going to tell you how to make kombucha, but not just any kombucha. Here’s my top-secret, uber-economical, super-green and wildly delicious raw kombucha recipe developed over years of toil and research (aka: learning to get out of nature's way). To start your own home raw kombucha fermentation project, I recommend first doing three successful test runs on cane sugar. Then once you have the standardized fermentation process down, you can start having some fun by varying my raw kombucha recipe.
What is Kombucha
Kombucha is an effervescent tea beverage that's been consumed for centuries for health and medicinal reasons. It is commercially bottled and available at many health-food stores. But it can also be produced at home by fermenting tea using a culture (often called the "mother") made up of yeast and beneficial bacteria. I wrote more about the history and benefits of kombucha in this previous blog entry.
Background on Fermenting Kombucha
Before beginning, keep in mind that the two most common causes of a raw kombucha batch gone bad are:
- Too much sugar in the initial recipe, leading to an extended ferment that creates a vinegar pH instead of kombucha pH; and
- Mold growing on your raw kombucha culture or SCOBY (an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast).
To avoid these two maladies, follow your recipe and check your pH to treat the former; wash your hands and equipment, and cover your open ingredients to avoid the latter. Please don't worry—if your SCOBY gets moldy, it will be obvious. If that happens, throw it out, pour away all the liquid, sterilize your equipment and start a new batch. In the five years I've been fermenting, I've seen mold on my SCOBY all of three times. And it was easy to spot and take care of. Now that we know the risks and rewards, let's get started with my really raw kombucha recipe:
How to Ferment Raw-Style Kombucha
- Bring 3½ quarts of water to boil and add 5 - 7 bags of black, green or white tea and 1C sugar. That's your standardized beginner recipe. But for experienced fermenters who would like to increase the healthiness of their drink, I recommend going raw by switching it up like this: fill a 4 - 5-quart glass jar (easily obtainable from a thrift store) with 3½ quarts of pure water. Add 2 - 3 tsp. of shade-dried black, green or white tea, 1 cup of coconut palm crystals, 1 cup of unheated honey or 1½ cups of raw agave. Let it all dissolve naturally, stirring periodically with a consistently sterilized spoon to increase surface area and speed dissolution. When not stirring, be sure to cover your jar with a thin cloth (I use a clean T-shirt cut to the size of the lid) secured with a rubber band because this part of the process is where you'll pick up bacteria or spores if you are going to at all.
- Poor cooled, room-temperature liquid into the fermenting container. If you’ve taken take my recommendation and didn’t use heat, you’ve bypassed this step already.
- Add SCOBY and vinegar. To the cooled liquid, add the kombucha SCOBY and ½ quart of previously fermented raw kombucha, if available. If not, use distilled vinegar.
- Cover with clean cloth or paper towel and sit aside in an undisturbed spot out of direct sunlight. The fermenting jar can be in darkness, shade or light, just not direct sunlight. Wherever it is, make sure it is somewhere with a consistent room temperature between 70 - 89 degrees where you will not be tempted to touch it. Every time you move the ferment, it causes it to start all over again, slowing down the process considerably. Don't even look at it! Just get out of its way and let it go through its natural life process. Living foods know how to ferment all by themselves.
- Check your ferment's pH with pH strips (should be 2.7 - 3.2) on day 8 if 80 degrees F and day 12 if in the 70s. When using lower-glycemic raw sugars like coconut crystals, raw honey or raw agave, the ferment time is extended, so check your pH levels later, between days 12 and 18. I personally no longer need to use pH strips. I slide a glass straw down the side of my jar without disturbing the kombucha SCOBY and can actually taste the accurate pH. And now I can also just smell it—there is an "I'm ready" smell that wafts momentarily through the kitchen on the exact day my raw kombucha is ready, I have found. Now that is a relationship with your food!
Bottling and Preparing for the Next Batch
When your raw kombucha is at its accurate pH, it has digested all the sugars and left behind fermentation, which is slightly alcoholic, though still under legal limits, so it can be sold in stores without an ID requirement. Pour fermented kombucha off into sterile, recycled glass bottles, keeping ½ quart of the ferment available to start your next batch. Every time the mother SCOBY completes a ferment cycle, she has a "baby." Collect several babies and store them in their own juice in the cupboard in case a batch goes bad. I ended up gifting away baby SCOBYs on both Freecycle and Craigslist because, really, that's the only authentic way to start fermenting kombucha—for someone to gift you one of their babies, that is. And seriously, the coolest people come over to receive gifted SCOBYs. It's a fine way to meet your future beau or best friend.
I've moved toward the gourmet in my raw kombucha fermenting career. Once you have the standardized ferment down and can consistently produce successful kombucha batches from raw sugars, consider experimenting with herb flavoring and secondary fermentations (yes, like sparkling wine!). Just steep your favorite herbs in 2 cups of water and add that into your final bottles. Secondary fermentation is a little more tricky, but basically it involves dissolving another sugar in about 2 cups of water, adding that to your final bottles, screwing the caps on tightly and then allowing them to sit at room temperature for five additional days before refrigeration. Watch out though; there is a chance that they will erupt when you open them!
My absolute favorite personal recipe is a green-tea/coconut-palm-crystal raw kombucha, flavored with rose and stevia and secondarily fermented on ginger water. You can make your raw kombucha harmonize with your personal tastes. And best of all, you will develop a relationship with your food that multiplies threefold the reputed nutritive qualities of that food. Eat life = receive life. Eat consciousness = receive consciousness. Eat love = receive love.
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