What I Learned Exploring The Fizzy, Fermented World Of Homemade Kombucha

At $4 a pop, I couldn’t financially support my store-bought kombucha addiction. So I decided to try and brew my own.

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Kombucha

Photo, iStock.

Kombucha — a fizzy, fermented tea drink with floating, gelatinous blobs that tastes much better than it sounds — is the healthy drink du jour. It’s supposedly been around nearly as long as tea itself, but it wasn’t until recently you could easily find it on store shelves.

Its current popularity comes from its abundance of probiotics (great for gut health) and B vitamins. Kombucha evangelists claim that it can improve digestion, energy, and boost the immune system thanks to its amino acids, but no scientific studies have actually backed these claims. To me, however, there’s no denying its deliciousness.

After several rounds of antibiotics took a toll on my digestive tract a few years ago, I tried kombucha and quickly fell in love with its tangy flavour. But at about $4 a pop, I realized I couldn’t afford a store-bought booch habit. So, I decided to make my own — something that, granted, isn’t for everyone, as certain steps need to be followed to ensure safety.

Below, my notes on my first foray into the wonderful, bubbly, only mildly frightening world of home-brewed kombucha.

First batch

Before I begin, some due diligence: As with any home-brewing and fermentation, be sure to do your research first. Proper sanitization, general cleanliness and recipe-following is a must (and note, this story is not intended to be a guide). I ordered The Big Book of Kombucha and studied it cover-to-cover before I began brewing. Also, Kombucha is considered a raw product (unpasteurized), just like raw cheese and some ciders and fruit juices, so take the same precautions when consuming it.

To make kombucha on your own, you need to get both a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and some kombucha from someone who is already brewing. I got both from my sister-in-law, but if you don’t have a benevolent friend, some speciality stores like Tonica sell a starter kombucha kit.

I followed a recipe from The Big Book of Kombucha that makes a 16 cup batch in 7 to 21 days (shorter brew results in sweeter-tasting booch; longer is funkier, more vinegary). Once set up, I nestled the jar in my hutch to do its thing. (The ideal spot to ferment kombucha is away from direct sunlight, in an a well-ventilated area).

kombucha

From left: Starter kombucha in bowl; SCOBY; first batch of kombucha ready to ferment.

Helicopter parent

During the first couple of days of brewing, my book advised it’s best that the kombucha be kept warm, to keep fermentation going. Toronto was hit with a cold spell, so, like a good mother, I kept a hot water bottle nestled beside it.

kombucha

My kombucha nestled in my hutch and kept-warm with a hot-water bottle.

After a couple of days, I noticed the tea turned slightly cloudy, bubbles (a by-product of the fermentation process that give kombucha its natural carbonation) started forming and the jar was definitely smelling like kombucha — yeasty and vinegary, kind of like sweaty gym socks.

First taste

According to the directions in my book, after about a week my kombucha was ready to taste. Not going to lie, I was a bit nervous at this point to give it a taste, but I was pleasantly surprised. The tea was still sweeter than the kombucha I’m used to, but it definitely tasted like booch. Think: effervescent fruit juice, with an unmistakable vinegary tang from the fermentation.

Bottling!

I tend to be an all or nothing kind of person, so when I decided to brew my own kombucha, I ordered an entire a case of swing-top bottles (these have the best seal) from a local brewing supply shop. The whole process took me about an hour and a half, as the bottles needed to be carefully sanitized right before filling them up. Once it was all bottled, I put it all back in my pantry to do a second ferment for a few days – this increases the carbonation, since the gasses are now trapped.

Taste test

After a few days had passed, I put all the bottles in the fridge to slow the fermentation. Baby SCOBYs can grow in the bottle. My book says you can either strain them out, or, like I do, swallow ’em down.

I opened my first bottle to enjoy with dinner and whoa, carbonation! Not as much as store-bought kombucha, but it was definitely there. It also tasted really good, not too sweet, not too vinegary, almost like apple cider (and nothing like tea).

kombucha

Look at that natural carbonation!

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Grape flavoured booch!

Final thoughts

I’ve now made five batches. I flavoured the second and third batch with Concord grape juice, since my favourite store-bought one is grape-flavoured, and my most-recent batch with cherry juice. So far, I’ve calculated I’m saving A LOT of money (which helps me justify buying expensive juice for flavouring):

SUPPLIES:

  • Box of tea = $6 (4 batches per box of 20 bags) = $1.50 per batch
  • 2 kg bag of sugar = $3.50 (10 batches per bag) = $0.35 per batch
  • Water = free!
  • Grape Juice = $6 (3 batches per bottle) = $2

TOTAL (8 bottles per batch):

  • Cost per bottle unflavoured = $0.23
  • Cost per bottle flavoured: = $0.48

At first, I was completely terrified that something would go wrong, and it would all be for naught. Brewing and bottling is time consuming, because you have to pay so much attention to proper sanitary practices, but it’s not hard. It’s safe to say I’m addicted.

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