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Tonya Kay

Tonya Kay photo courtesy Tonya KayTonya Kay is an actress, TV personality, professional dancer and danger artist living in Los Angeles. A vegetarian of 28 years, vegan for 18 of those and raw vegan for the last 11, Tonya Kay pioneers the green health movement with appearances, publications and green media (available at KayosMarket). Watch Tonya Kay's self-produced web series The Eco Tourist on EcoHearth's Eco Tube. You may have also seen her recently on TV's My Ride Rules, The Tonight Show, Criminal Minds, Glee, House MD, Secret Girlfriend and American Idol with Rhianna. She has performed live in STOMP, De La Guarda, with Panic At The Disco, Kenny Rogers and in countless music videos and commercials. Look for Tonya Kay in the new Muppets Movie, starring in MTV Network's Video Game Reunion, playing a lead in the scripted animal-activist feature film, Bold Native, performing the voice of Green Girl in the raw vegan superhero animated film Rawman and Green Girl and performing burlesque live in Hollywood, California, almost any weekend. In 2012, Tonya Kay will star in the films Off World and Within The Darkness. For more on Tonya Kay, visit her website.

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How to Make Kombucha: My Raw Kombucha Recipe
Monday, 02 March 2015 00:00  |  Written by Tonya Kay | Blog Entry

Bottled Raw Kombucha photo by Mikey SklarAs 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Tonya Kay Producing Raw Kombucha photo coutesy of Tonya KayI'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.

Additional resources:
Kombucha Phenomenon: The Miracle Health Tea: How to Safely Make and Use Kombucha
Build a Solar Food Dehydrator—Easy, Inexpensive, Detailed Plans

[Sign up to be notified each time Tonya publishes a new Clean and Green Everyday blog entry on EcoHearth. See a complete list of writing by Tonya Kay on or visit her Clean and Green Everyday blog. – Ed.]

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Comments (10)add
Written by Tonya Kay , December 26, 2011
I'm making kombucha with my mom right now and all she had was loose tea, too! I would suggest getting cheese cloth, a reusable tea strainer or those paper tea bags where you add the loose tea yourself, that way you can just remove the container. But if you just throw the tea loose into the pot like we just did, you'll want to strain it with a regular kitchen strainer, coulender (I don't know how to spell that!) or maybe your pot has holes in the lid for straining.
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Written by Lily , December 26, 2011
Hi, this question may sound silly, but do you strain the tea leaves before adding SCOBY? Thx.
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Written by Kristen , November 13, 2011
Grow your own scoby!

I found that using 2 bottles works better as you get a bigger scoby. We call it scoby wan kenobi.
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Written by Tonya Kay , July 06, 2011
This really neat thing happens with the saved SCOBYS. Of course, one has to keep them in ferment - the acidity level of the liquid is their homes. They must be completely covered in that acid liquid, too. But they continue to work their work - so ALL the sugars are eaten by the SCOBY and over time new probiotics are formed. So a week long ferment has certain strains, but if you can ferment for one month, that's a whole other level of kombucha and some of my saved prize SCOBYS have been fermenting in their own liquid for over two years and I swear the probiotics in that liquid taste thick and creamy like milk. But in a good way because it's not milk - it's kombucha ferment!
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Written by Don , July 05, 2011
Thanks Hannah!
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Written by Hannah , July 05, 2011
Very nice post Tonya, love your suggestions about experimenting with different sugars and of course keeping your extra cultures in a jar (I call it a SCOBY Hotel :) If your readers cannot find a clean starter culture, I provide free shipping every weekday of new cultures.
Thanks for spreading the Kombucha love! :)
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Written by J Birch , July 05, 2011
how long can you keep the scoby babies in the cupboard? and likewise with the leftover ferment from each batch to be used for later? Do you need to be making consecutive batches constantly to use this method? Much love :)
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Written by Don , July 05, 2011
Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, yum!
I'll keep this on file so I can try it after I've mastered the original recipe. My old tai chi teacher used to pass Kombucha tea around after class and it was delicious.
We've got to figure out how to make the cultures themselves into a cracker or something. Then we could have SCOBY snacks!
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Written by Sarah , July 05, 2011
Mmmm cant wait to try it!!!!
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Written by hbt , July 05, 2011
Seems simple enough, although it sounds more like an art than a science, so it may take some practice for me to get it exactly right.
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