Guest contributor is Evelyn Wallace.
What do you do when you want to make your own Komboucha, but you don’t have a friend to give you a starter Scobie and cup of cultured liquid?
Having managed to kill off several Komboucha Scobies from friends who told me how easy it was (I think they left out a detail or two), it was time to consult the Internet. Sorting through dozens of YouTube videos and several websites, I met the Komboucha Mama. Hannah Crum is an
Author, Master Brewer, Komboucha Kamp Founder, Community Educator, Commercial Consultant, Trade Association President, and Kombucha Ambassador to the world. Her website Komboucha Kamp is so full of resources, it’s like a “. . . For Dummies” program. I found myself feeling like I did when I first discovered tea shops that sold whole leaf teas from different countries around the world. Until you go there, you don’t know what you don’t know. And I never imagined that there was an actual history to Komboucha. But now, as a tea lover, I’m excited to try it with some of my favorite tea blends.
First Things First – Komboucha Kit Arrives
The basic kit comes with the Scoby packed with 1 cup of starter liquid, a cotton muslin reusable teabag filled with Hannah’s Special Tea Blend, and an instruction sheet. The tea blend was a bit surprising to a tea person. It was like the kitchen sink of tea blends; black, green, white, yerba mate, and rooibos. Unique puts it mildly. But I can appreciate the sweetness and color boost from the rooibos but I remain curious about blending black, green, and white tea plus yerba mate. The amount in the bag is equal is the equivalent of 4-6 teabags of cut tea leaves. While it was tempting to start with one of my favorite teas, curiosity got the better of me. And in the spirit of following the instructions, it seemed best to go with Hannah’s blend. And I have to admit that it’s very tasty.
Instructions for brewing the gallon of tea are to use purified water, to brew the tea as a concentrate, to stir in the sugar or sweetener of choice while the tea is warm enough to dissolve it easily, and then top off the gallon jar with more purified water. At this point, the temperature of the water is critical. Since the Scoby is a living thing, the water cannot be too hot. Not hotter than human body temperature but preferably, closer to 80 degrees. Adding the Scoby is slippery but easy.
Scoby: Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast
The Scoby was about a half-inch thick and it felt rubbery. It was tea-colored, a lovely amber-ish. Slipping it gently into the jar, it floated on the surface. The instructions said that it was okay if it sank to the bottom, but I felt better about seeing it on the top.
The last step was covering the jar with a cotton cover. The fabric must be loose enough and thin enough for the Scoby to breathe. But the mesh should be tight enough so that tiny bugs don’t get in. Then secure it with a rubber band or tie it with twine. Komboucha Kamp does offer an elasticized brewing cap that looks more attractive and easier than my flour sack towel and heavy-duty rubber band. But I’m waiting to see if my efforts are successful before ordering accessories.
Then we wait! Seven days before tasting. Hannah recommends tasting it with a straw. Slide the straw under the floating Scoby to sip. It should have a nice balance of sweet and sour. The actual timing is a personal preference. Between 7 – 21 days is suggested. Taste every few days until it’s right for you.
Hannah’s Book; How To Make Komboucha
So determined was I to learn about brewing my own Komboucha with my own tea blends, that I ordered Hannah’s E-Book. Her history of Komboucha shattered many of my assumptions about the origins. While not as ancient as Camellia sinensis, legends do take it back to China, approximately 220 BC, calling it the “Tea of Immortality.” But the book also contains more contemporary tales and global stories. Who knew that Komboucha was international?
The book answered one of my questions; is it necessary to use real tea – Camellia siensis. Hannah’s answer is “Yes”.
Tea contains several nutrients and compounds that feed the Kombucha culture. Along with the sugar, it is the main fuel source for the SCOBY. When you brew Kombucha with herbal infusions (also called tisanes), you may get a delicious, healthy fermented beverage, but over time, due to the lack of necessary nutrients, the culture will atrophy and eventually die.
Fortuately, the Komboucha Kamp offers susggestions for adding some fun herbal and fruit flavors to the basic tea brew.
So … what was I doing wrong? And how did I fix it?
Because the Scoby is a living organism, the environment is critical. Komboucha thrives between 75-85 degrees. My granite counters and household temps below 70 degrees F made it less likely to thrive. It didn’t die but, it never developed the sharp flavor or the effervescence. When I sampled it, it didn’t make me sick, but it was nothing like the ready-to-drink brands.
Another possible error is that I wasn’t setting an intention or expressing gratitude. The directions say that this is optional, but now that I’m starting over with a more determined effort to grow a tasty and healthful batch of brew, I decided to write about the process as my statement of gratitude and to visit my new housemate daily with an intention that we both enjoy health.