Last month my boyfriend’s mum sent me SCOBY to start my kombucha brewing journey. Kombucha is fermented black tea loaded with probiotics and antioxidants. It helps improve your overall gut health and contains a high content of B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12, known to increase energy levels and contribute to overall mental well-being. Its high vitamin B12 content is one reason supplements sometimes contain dry kombucha products. The gut-repairing function also plays a role in mental health. Depression is thought to be a symptom of leaky gut, specifically due to the way that bad gut permeability contributes to inflammation. A 2012 study published in Biopolymers and Cell examined kombucha as a functional food product for long-term space exploration. The ability of kombucha to regulate the “communication of the gut-brain axis” suggested it would be useful in preventing or minimizing the effects of anxiety and depression.
God alone knows how the boy got past Heathrow security with what is essentially a living organism, I’m glad he did though! I remember once making a shea butter mix for my mum that was taken away by airport security, it could also be because it was in my hand luggage and was a touch heavy even though it was in a small-ish jar, we will never know.
First things first, what the heck is SCOBY? SCOBY stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (damn look at me remembering that off the top of my head!) This is the essential ingredient that you’ll need for booch brewing. The SCOBY is a biofilm of cellulose that is produced by the bacteria and yeast during the fermentation process. The yeast and bacteria use oxygen to survive (like most living organisms) and will most times form on the surface of the brew and not the bottom, in order to be closer to the source of oxygen. My boy’s mum put the SCOBY in a recyclable plastic water bottle with a little bit of the starter tea which is a fancy term for the previous kombucha brew. As the SCOBY develops it might look bumpy or like an alien but that’s all very normal! The one thing to look out for is fuzzy white, green or black spots on your SCOBY which will tell you that your batch is contaminated, don’t be a hero and try to save anything. Bin the whole lot including the SCOBY.
A few tips on how to ensure that your bath doesn’t get mouldy:
- Always include a sufficient amount of starter tea to the sweetened tea along with the SCOBY. I like to keep a cup or two in my brewing jar as I have a continuous brew and I just top up with fresh strong black tea.
- Keep the kombucha brew away from other fermentation projects to avoid microbial cross-contamination. I’m not at the point where I have a lot of different ferments on the go, but this is an important one to remember.
- Keep the kombucha brew in a warm environment. A temperature range of 25-29°C (75-85°F) will keep the kombucha culture active, the room where I keep my booch gets cozy very quickly and thus I end up with very active microorganism. Too low temperatures can cause the SCOBY to become sluggish and lazy, creating a less acidic environment that will welcome pathogens.
- This one goes without saying: use clean containers and utensils at ALL times.
- I was lucky with this one: use live SCOBY and starter tea. Dehydrated or refrigerated SCOBYs are harder to reanimate, although I will say I was in Cape Town for about a week and a half, and during this time the SCOBY stayed in the fridge yet the minute I was ready to brew, it somehow just came to life.
I will include a link at the bottom of this post to give you a lot more thorough information on everything you need to know about brewing kombucha. In this post I’ll share my recipe. Please note, you can grow your own SCOBY from store bought kombucha provided that it is unflavoured and unpasteurised. All you have to do is follow these instructions on The Kitchn 🙂
What you’ll need:
- SCOBY + a generous amount (2 cups minimum) of starter tea or already fermented raw and unflavoured kombucha.
- A clean brewing jar, my boy got me a 3.5l jar from Pick n Pay (for my South African friends)
- 12 black tea bags
- 200g white sugar
Place your SCOBY with the starter tea in your jar. In a pot measure 3 litres of water and bring to the boil. Place all 12 tea bags and the sugar in the water and allow to brew. I leave my bags in right up until I’m ready to pour it into my brewing jar. This means I end up with a very strong booch brew. If you wish, you can brew the tea for 5 minutes and remove the tea bags. Once the tea has cooled, pour it into the brewing jar, cover with muslin cloth and your lid and let the SCOBY do its thing. You can allow your tea to ferment anywhere from 7-14 days, this is called the first fermentation. I then begin my second ferment (where all the fizz can multiply) on day 8, at this point you can choose to flavour the booch that you’re going to bottle. Removing it from the jar that contains the mother SCOBY, slows the fermentation down and will keep you from ending up with kombucha vinegar. My first ferment, I whizzed up 500g of frozen strawberries with the juice of 1 orange and half a lemon and poured about 100ml at the bottom of each bottle and then topped up with kombucha. I then placed these bottles in a corner hidden from the sun and started drinking after 3 days.
This time I made a green tea and lemon syrup by combining 6 unfermented green tea bags with 3 cups of sugar, the juice of one lemon, and water. Let the whole lot simmer for 30 minutes. Once the syrup had cooled down, I poured a generous quantity at the bottom of each bottle and topped up with my kombucha brew. I prefer the Tetley tea bags as its green tea in its best and purest form (not sponsored ha-ha). It has just the right taste of earthiness but is mild and doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds. I do have doubts as to whether I’ll be able to taste the green tea in this brew as when I tasted the syrup, the flavour was quite mild. Experimenting with flavours is my favourite part of the kombucha making process and I can’t wait to see…taste what I brew next!