Monday, January 6, 2014

Creating Kombucha II: The Reaping

I promised to check back in about my kombucha progress, and now I'm late to my own deadline.  In my defense, I was kept rather busy with things like Christmas and New Year's and a very cold trip to Quebec (more on that later), but I do owe an update.

The first batch I made, I used 20 black tea bags and a cup of sugar, and I let it sit for about 2 1/2 weeks.  The result was a little bit sour and flat; certainly the taste fell within the ballpark of "kombucha," but it was no great achievement.  It did, however, produce a new SCOBY, which grew separately from the mother.

You can kinda see it here; it's the gross-looking piece that's sitting on top of the other gross-looking piece.

So I pulled that out and gave it its own mason jar to grow in.  I did a little troubleshooting with the help of this excellent page from Phoenix Helix, which has all sorts of helpful hints about how to optimize your kombucha brew, and I made some tweaks in the new batch.

My second batch of kombucha was a little light on the black tea, since I was running low.  I used 14 black tea bags and one cup of sugar in each jar, and I let them sit for just about two weeks apiece.  When I bottled the tea after two weeks, I kept the bottles at room temperature for a day before refrigerating.  This allowed the tea to ferment in the bottle a little longer, so that it would be nice and fizzy when I went to drink it.  Here is the result:

After I guzzled half of it, of course.

It was delicious.  Well, delicious by kombucha standards, which is never going to quite match up to, say, tiramisu.  It was a little on the sweet side, likely because it could have used a little more tea to even things out, but it was nice and fizzy and there was no sour tang at all.

One of these bottles does not contain the equivalent of 20 tea bags and a cup of sugar, by the way.  That would be more like brewing Red Bull than kombucha.  The tea and the sugar are what feed the SCOBY, and the fermentation process gets rid of most, if not all, the caffeine and sugar.  For more information on how that works, you can also check out Phoenix Helix, which is really quite comprehensive in its coverage of kombucha brewing.  I'm still just a rube with a couple of mason jars.

Anyway, the next step is to brew three jars in a batch.  A person could continue multiplying their kombucha output indefinitely, since each fermentation produces a new SCOBY mother, but at the moment I only own three mason jars so I'm limited in my options.  It's good to use the same SCOBY over and over, letting it grow and peeling off the dead bits, so that you're working with a nice big wad of healthy bacteria and yeast each time.  Although I guess you can't let it get too big, since you'll need some space for liquid in there, too.

A fresh batch with an XL mother.

I've been drinking a bit every day.  It's still too early to claim any definitive health benefits, but I'll keep posting updates on my venture into the world of brewing.  One final note: It's good to keep the SCOBY rich and gross with live cultures, but contamination is dangerous, so I make sure to wash the jars and bottles thoroughly between uses.  This also affords me the opportunity to pull the SCOBY out and place it in a bowl, where I can examine it more closely and marvel at how bonkers nature actually is.

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