SCOBYs are terrifying. (Part I: What is Kombucha)
Ahhh, Kombucha! Touted by some as an "immortal health elixer", this delightful, fizzy beverage is at the top of my favorites list!
While I tend to doubt the claims that kombucha will solve all of life's problems and help bring us unicorns and happiness, there's no doubt for me that kombucha is a good source of probiotics and it can be an excellent replacement for sodas.
As a bonus - Once you get in the swing, you can get as creative as you want with the flavors. Lavender blueberry? Why not! Tamarind ginger? Sounds cool to me! I've had some amazing successes and amazing failures, and both cases are pretty fun...
So, what is Kombucha?
If you haven't heard of it, kombucha (or "Booch") is a sweet-and-sour, slightly fizzy drink that is made from fermented sweet tea. Although it's presence in the West is pretty recent, Kombucha has been consumed in China for as long as 2,000 years and there are similar beverages in Russian history that continue to be popular as well, like kvass.
Fermented tea? How does that work?
The key to making Kombucha is the SCOBY, or the Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, that digest the sugar and compounds in the sweet tea and turn them into the organic and amino acids, vitamins and enzymes and other products that make kombucha.
As stated in the title, SCOBYs look terrifying! Understanding that is the key to brewing kombucha. I've heard so many stories of people giving up and throwing their whole setup out because their SCOBY has weird brown stringy things or bubbles on it. That, my friends, is a SCOBY for you!
Picture a pale, slimy alien. Now shave it. That pretty much describes a SCOBY!
The SCOBYs in the pictures above are EPICALLY larger than normal!
Your SCOBY will not look like this unless you ignore your 'Booch for about 5 months. The good news? You can ignore you kombucha for that long and it's totally okay - but you will end up with vinegar and SCOBYs. LOTS of SCOBYs. These are pictures from when we went back to the neglected 'Booch setup to restart it after a long absence....
Okay, I'll bite.... how do you make it?
I'm so glad you asked! Making kombucha is actually quite easy! It involves the following general steps:
1.) Make Sweet Tea. Add SCOBY. Wait. The is called the "Primary Fermentation," and it's what actually makes the kombucha from tea. You can stop here if you want! The plain kombucha is slightly sweet and sour, and I quite like it.
2.) Do a "Secondary Fermentation." If you add fruits or other flavorings to the plain kombucha and put it in a closed container, you can get the sweet and fizzy beverage that most people think of when they picture kombucha! However, you are building up pressure when you do this, so there are a few basic safety items to consider.
Er.... could I have a little more detail, please?
Why yes! Look for my upcoming post: "SCOBYs are Terrifying. Part II: Primary Fermentation" (I'm building suspense! And also the post was getting pretty long....)
But, before you can start, you need to find yourself a SCOBY!
You can buy them from various places online, but your best option is to find a friend who brews kombucha and take a spare from them.
NOTE: We all have spares. We keep them in a "SCOBY hotel." Seriously, that's the common name....
Some places to buy online:
https://store.kombuchakamp.com/Kombucha-Mushroom-Cultures/ (Where I got my first SCOBY!)
I've always used a fresh SCOBY (like the one from kombuchakamp), not a dehydrated SCOBY (culturesforhealth), but I've heard that both work and I've had luck with other products from culturesforhealth, so I thought that I would include them as well.
So, get yourself a SCOBY and get ready to start brewing!