For those of you unfamiliar with Kombucha, it is a fermented drink, most commonly made with tea, that has many health benefits due, in part, to the healthy probiotic bacteria created in the making of it. It’s quite tasty, but not inexpensive to buy by the bottle at your local market or cafe. As a way to conserve my ever-dwindling money and have unlimited access to this delicious and healthy brew, I decided to see if I could find somewhere to learn how to make it myself. Enter Lion Heart Kombucha. The post that follows describes my adventure taking a Kombucha-making class at Lion Heart Kombucha.

After driving for about 20 minutes, and getting a little lost, Michelle and I finally turned on to a side street with potholes the size of our car that were clearly the result of an active mine field. We crept forward gingerly, weaving in and out in an effort to avoid the existing craters in the road and to prevent triggering any new land mines that may be hidden below what little remaining intact road there was. After finally clearing the war zone area, we made one more turn and found ourselves in front of a small, unassuming home on a quiet street. We parked and tentatively followed the walkway, unsure of whether this was, in fact, the right place. Before arriving at the front door, a young man stepped out on the front stoop and asked if we were looking for the Kombucha class. With an affirmative response on our part, Jared Englund smiled and warmly welcomed us into his home. Upon entering, our next greeting was from Amanda Englund and baby Lev sitting on the sofa, while baby Lev was partaking of the healthiest meal that nature provides, mother’s milk. This was clearly going to be a family affair.

As people slowly meandered in, we began to convene around the dining room table in preparation for the class. Jared began to hand out some information sheets and put out different-sized bottles of Kombucha, the largest of which was a gallon-size glass jar with terry cloth covering the opening. Inside was a brown liquid with what looked to me to be a brown cloth floating inside at the top. As the final members of the class arrived, we began the process of introductions and brief descriptions of people’s prior experience with Kombucha. Some people already had many batches under their belts, while Michelle’s and my prior experience was solely on the consumption side.

Jared, a kind and gentle young man who is a math teacher by day, started by discussing the many merits of regular Kombucha consumption from his own first-hand experience (but also supported by others they have spoken to):

–  Provides an energy boost from B vitamins
–  Replenishes the probiotics in your body, the non-dairy way
–  Improves digestion
–  Thickens hair
–  Clears skin
–  Balances body yeasts
–  Treats/prevents candidae overgrowth
–  Relieves menstrual cramps
–  Relieves allergies and airway congestion
–  Helps cure infections
–  Heals wounds faster
–  Is a great replacement for any addiction, especially alcohol or smoking

Jared and Amanda were quick to remind us that these were just some of the benefits and if we wanted to see more, we could go to a site that lists benefits submitted by regular consumers of Kombucha.

Jared then progressed to explain that Kombucha was made from a combination of tea, sugar, and a SCOBY. SCOBY, an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, is also known as mother, mushroom, or the more scientific name, zoogleal mat. It is a whitish, rubbery, pancake-like substance. Though when imagining a colony of bacteria and yeast, I think of something microscopic and insubstantial, as you can see from the picture, it is far from that. It can be thick or thin, very light colored or dirty brown, depending on its age. It is this bacterial/yeast mat, along with some of the Kombucha liquid from a previous batch, that is the starter for each new batch of Kombucha. We also learned that with each new batch of Kombucha, a new zoogleal mat, or baby, forms and grows on top of the original mother. This then is separated from the mother and used to create its own new batch. It is by this method that you can begin to produce many simultaneous batches of Kombucha.

We then began to sample some of the smaller bottles that Jared had put out on the table at the beginning that turned out to be various flavored samples of their Kombucha. There was blueberry, pomegranate, peach, plain green tea, and one other I can’t remember (maybe lychee). All were quite delicious.

Jared next took us all into his kitchen to show us the whole process step by step. He explained the preparation of the tea, which he said must be caffeinated, which would rule out fruit and herbal tisanes (this appears to be an unclear issue, which I will discuss in a follow-up post about my experience making the Kombucha), and the different types of sugar that could be used, stating his preference for unprocessed organic cane sugar. Since Amanda and he are constantly making Kombucha, he buys his by the sack. Jared informed us of the importance of temperature when making your Kombucha. While you need to use high temperatures for steeping your tea, you must allow the brewed tea and sugar mixture to cool below 98º F before adding your SCOBY and starter liquid. The higher temperatures will kill the bacteria of the zoogleal mat. After the mixture has cooled well below 98º F, you pour it into a gallon container (or whatever size you choose to use), making sure to leave room for and then add the mother and starter liquid. You then cover the top with a cloth and wrap a rubberband around the base of the opening to keep it properly sealed. Because it starts out with a high sugar content, it can be attractive to flies and other insects. The cloth allows the developing Kombucha mixture to breath (the bacteria eating the sugar will create carbon dioxide gas, which needs to escape), while also protecting it from external pernicious influences. Now comes the most difficult part of this entire process…the waiting. You need to let the mixture sit for 7-10 days to develop. The optimal temperature range for the bacteria to grow is between 70º-90º F. The only caveat is to make sure that the temperature of the space in which the mixture is kept doesn’t get above 98º F. If the temperature drops below 70º F, it won’t harm the mother, but it will slow the bacterial grow
th and take longer for your Kombucha to be ready. That is why you can store the SCOBY and starter fluid in the refrigerator for long periods and still keep it alive.

One additional bit of information that Jared and Amanda kept emphasizing to us was the importance of keeping everything that may come in contact with the SCOBY clean. Because you are creating an ideal environment for the Kombucha bacteria to grow, it is also ideal for other bacteria. If you happen to introduce any other strange or foreign bacteria to that environment, or the zoogleal mat, you could get mold that will ruin your batch of Kombucha and, more importantly, your mother, and you will have to throw both away.

This was a very enjoyable and educational experience. Jared and Amanda (and baby Lev) created a warm and friendly environment for learning and were open to all questions we had. Although there are a number of books and places online from which you can get information and directions, I would highly recommend finding someone local from whom you can learn first hand and get your mother and starter liquid. It is important to have this direct contact so you know where your SCOBY comes from and so you have someone you can ask questions of. If there is no one in your area or you don’t have the time, the second best thing is to get a full starter kit (including SCOBY and starter liquid, jars, and so on) shipped to you from someone who was recommended so that you still have a semblance of trust in what you are getting. Remember, the mother is a living, breathing organism. You want to make sure you get one that is relatively young and healthy and that you have someone you can ask questions of when they arise.

If anyone is interested, you can get more information from Jared and Amanda’s website, Lion Heart Kombucha. If you are local to Portland, I highly recommend attending their workshop and getting their starter kit with includes a half gallon jug of their delicious pre-made Kombucha. For those not close to Portland who are interested in finding someone they can trust from whom to purchase their mother and a starter kit, Jared and Amanda can do that for you as well. They have a method of shipping anywhere and keeping the mother safe during the trip. Jared and Amanda have been doing this for a several years now and have many hundreds of batches, and students, under their belts. They have both spent many hours experimenting with different combinations and ratios of ingredients to come up with a consistent and reliable process. Plus, they are great people.

This post is Part 1 of a two-part series. Part 2 will be The Making of Kombucha: A First Attempt.

Images: First: foodistablog ::  Third: ~Twon~ ::  Last: The Englunds :: Everything else: smbushberg