Whoa, I Think I Just Made Kombucha

A friend surprised me a few weeks ago by lending me her continuous brew kombucha set-up. Apparently a "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast" (SCOBY) isn't so appetizing to a pregnant lady. "Sure, thanks!" I naively responded. I've had a couple of bottles of kombucha tea over the years...kind of fizzy, kind of yeasty and stringy, yum. I'll give it a shot!


What really excited me was how much money I could save by brewing the kombucha at home instead of buying it at the store. That stuff can be really expensive, and I can be really cheap. I'm also down with anything that reduces the amount of additives, preservatives, and other artificial baggage that comes with my beverages.

A week later, she shows up at my house and unloads the blessed gift--the kombucha, not the baby--in my kitchen. She starts heating up water, stirring in loose-leaf black tea, requesting all sorts of wooden spoons, cane sugar, and glass bowls. I'm trying to keep up, tossing things over to her so she could work her magic on a new batch of kombucha tea for my tasting pleasure. "It's easy--here's the directions!" Technically she stayed for another hour, but I felt like she ran out right then. I was so less prepared than I knew.


All week, I tried but failed to resist lifting the lid and looking down into the brewing tea vessel. I imagined all sorts of bacteria riding along from my exhaled breath and taking up shop in the floating white SCOBY. It's a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, and I'm surely going to disrupt the balance in there. Sure enough, at the end of the week, I panicked and almost threw out the entire 2-gallon batch of tea. Relax, Juli...maybe the black spots aren't mold...how could they not be mold? I've left a colony of bacteria and yeast on my counter all week!

Compromise with myself: I'll pick off the top layer of SCOBY (where suspicious black spots appeared), throw that out, and then move on to tasting the brew out of the spigot on the bottom. Deal! Except yuck...apparently my turbinado sugar was a big deal, because it was all wrong. I was drinking apple cider vinegar out of a pretty glass. Next compromise: I will bottle this product as apple cider vinegar and use it for marinating meat, pouring in my laundry, and catching random fruit flies in the kitchen.


With the first batch of kombucha a near failure, I pressed on. That's the great part about a continuous brew kombucha set-up. You get to try again. Immediately. You actually kind of have to try to again immediately, because that SCOBY is calling out to you, "Feeeeed meeeee!" Armed with the recipe and faced with the challenge of having to do this all by myself this time around, I readied the supplies. Wooden spoon, glass bowl, big boiling kettle of water, sugar, loose-leaf black tea, and a cup of the old batch to use as "starter liquid" for the new batch. And, Go!

I followed directions, poured in fine evaporated cane juice this time instead of big brown bad boy turbinado sugar crystals, and put the lid on that thing for another week. I slept better, knowing that black specks in the SCOBY were most likely the remnants of the loose tea that I couldn't strain out with my low-quality kitchen equipment. This time, I tried even harder, yet still failed daily, to resist lifting the lid, breathing my germs inside the brew. Despite my breath germs, Kombucha Tea Batch #2 was a huge success!

"Holy cow, I think I just made kombucha!" This is stuff you can sell in a store, people!


Now to challenge myself again, I attempt what is called a "second ferment" of the tea. I bottle up the delicious tangy tea and dump cherries or blueberries into the jars. I leave these jars on the counter for another three days, and then I refrigerate them to stop the fermentation process. Success again! The result was a super tasty, kind of fizzy, fruit infused kombucha batch that I slurped up in the next three days. Looks like I need to squeeze three gallons into that vessel for Batch #3....

Here's a detailed plan and recipe if you want to try this at home: How to Make Kombucha Tea. I promise, it gets easier!