All About That 'Buch...

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about my new favorite addiction, Kombucha, so I thought I’d take the opportunity today to catch you up on what’s been brewing over here. Ha ha ha. Get it? Brewing? That’s a fermentation joke! Don’t forget to tip your bartenders….

But seriously. I may need an intervention for my kombucha habit. I really love making this stuff! And this is coming from someone who doesn’t really care for tea; at least not traditional brewed black tea, or even green tea. I know all about the health benefits of brewed teas, and why we should be including them in our diets. But except to be polite, I almost never drink them. Unless they’ve been transformed into bubbly, sour, magnificent kombucha. 

I brew this so often I’m afraid the cashiers at my local grocery store think I’ve kidnapped a British family…that’s how much black tea I’m buying. I’ve brewed so many batches I now have a SCOBY hotel to store my extra mothers. I’m experimenting with all sorts of flavors, and methods of secondary fermentation. And I’m about to scale my production up by 5x. Yeah, I just might have a problem. 

If you're not familiar with what the heck I'm talking about, let me give you a quick lesson in kombucha.
What is it? Kombucha is a tea based fermented beverage. Sweet brewed black tea is combined with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts) in a glass or ceramic fermentation vessel, covered, and left to ferment for approximately a week. The SCOBY digests the sugar in the liquid, causing the development of healthy probiotics and a small amount of CO2, resulting in a tart, slightly fizzy beverage. It can be consumed plain, or flavored with fruits, juices, herbs, or spices. It can also be fermented a second time by adding more sugar--either through the addition of fruits or juices, or by adding a small amount of sugar to individual bottles. This results in more carbonation, and a much more soda-like beverage. 
Why drink Kombucha? That's easy! It tastes great, and it's good for you! When you consume kombucha you're getting a nice dose of probiotics into your system in a natural, tasty, refreshing  way. Hey, I love yoghurt as much as anyone, but on a 90 degree day at the beach, I'd much rather drink a kombucha than eat a bowl of fermented milk. 
Why not just buy it? Sure you can buy it almost everywhere nowadays. But it's expensive, and you'll be limited to the whims of the beverage buyer at your local shop. Maybe you love cranberry flavored 'buch, but the gal in charge of placing orders for it at your local IGA thinks it's disgusting and only orders in Ginger flavors....Even if you do have a vast and varied array of flavors available, it'll still run you around $4 for a pint bottle. I can make at least a gallon for $4. I like saving money and being in control of what flavors I have. Plus, it's a fun project. Kids get a kick out of how 'gross' SCOBYs look, and no one can help but get happy when they see the little bubbles dancing around in the fermenting jar. 
You can find a link to the podcast episode where I talk about my forays into fermenting, at the bottom of this article. 

I’ve been sitting on the fence about scaling up for a few weeks now. Usually I brew 2 quarts at a time, but I like a 10-15 day (depending on room temperature) initial ferment. Add in the time to flavor and do a second ferment for carbonation, and each batch is taking up to 3 weeks to finish. So I’ve been instituting serious rationing on consumption. But the whole point of starting this adventure was to have kombucha be available whenever I wanted it. Rationing wasn’t in my plan. Clearly, it’s time to increase the batch sizes. 

Being me, I’ve been researching the best way to brew large batches. I like to research things. Some people accuse me of falling down the rabbit hole, whatever…(I’ll just be over here reading about the fermenting practices of ancient Sumerians)… Anyway, back on topic. Originally I thought I’d just use my 5 gallon brewers bucket to ferment a large batch of ‘buch, but it seems the rather high acidity levels are cause for concern using plastics, even the HDPE plastics used in food production. I’m not sure I completely buy into that, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Some home brewers recommend using a glass carboy (which I also have) but I can’t visualize how the heck I’d get my SCOBY out of the carboy in order to brew my next batch. Do people just not clean their kombucha carboys ever again, leaving the SCOBY in there and just adding new fresh tea? Maybe, but I couldn’t find any definite answers about the effectiveness and safety of that method. What I’ve decided to do is to use 3  2 gallon jars to brew simultaneous batches of 2 gallons each. 

Here’s my reasoning. It’s much easier to get a SCOBY into and out of a wide mouthed jar. Also in the plus category, it seems that bigger batches can sometimes take longer to ferment—at least until your SCOBY catches up to the new size jar/bucket. I don’t want to wait even longer for a batch to finish. So jumping  from 2 quarts to 2 gallons will be a big enough jump for now. I plan on using my current SCOBY to brew my initial 2 gallon batch, and then using pieces of my reserve SCOBYs as I add more jars to the line up. 

That two gallon batch will net me 16 pints of ‘buch, and of course I’ll need to save out a pint to use as a starter for the following batch. Having 15 pints to play with will let me expand my flavor experimenting quite a bit. Thus far I’ve stayed fairly safe with ginger, berries,lime juice, and peaches as my flavoring agents. The favorites so far have been the ginger and the berry flavors. I thought the Lime-Ginger combo was good, but the peanut gallery didn’t care for it. At the moment, I’ve got one bottle of mango-ginger-spirulina going on a secondary fermentation. I figured that one wouldn’t be too popular around here, but wanted to try adding in the spirulina to see how it affected the fermentation process. 

Speaking of fermentation, right now we don’t have the air-conditioning running so I’ve been fermenting in the kitchen. Once the outside temps are hitting the 80s consistently, we will no doubt be turning the a/c on and I’ll need to move everything back upstairs to my office/guest room where I can separately control the temperature. In the meantime, I’m watching those bottles on the counter with a hawk-eye. I don’t need exploding kombucha raining down on people. pets, and possessions. Ew. 

I have to say, including kombucha in my diet as a daily food has had fantastic results. Aside from listing all of the probiotics you can typically find in ‘buch, I’ve found that overall I have better digestion, and elimination (I know, TMI), I feel more energetic, and my skin looks better. I have a mild case of rosacea, and when I’m regularly downing 16 oz of kombucha my cheeks and chin are much less rosy. And I have had a lifelong battle with my digestive system, so anytime I am feeling normal in that arena is a big win. I don’t buy into ‘Super Food’ claims, or believe that one particular nutrient is the key to vitality and longevity, however I do think including a variety of fermented foods in our diets can have positive effects on our health and overall wellness. I do not think it’s a coincidence that populations with long life spans and good health well into the later years also include significant amounts of living fermented foods in their traditional diets. So I’ll keep making and eating yoghurt, kombucha, and fermented/pickled veggies. Now that our local fruits are coming into season, I’m going to be trying out some lacto-fermented berries and stone fruits. Stay tuned for that! 

Have you tried fermenting anything yet? Let me know what you’re up to, especially if you’re brewing Kombucha. I think I’ve learned as much from hearing about other’s adventures as I have reading books and articles on the subject. 
If you live in, or are visiting the Wilmington NC area, shoot me a tweet or email and we can chat about your fermenting goals, or projects. I’d be happy to share my experiences with you and hear about yours.  

** Surprise Surprise! I got an unexpected jumpstart to leveling up, when my sweetie came home with a brand new 2 Gallon glass jar for me!  I had just started brewing the tea for a new 2 qt batch when he came home with it, so I quickly brewed up another pot of tea to give me the right amount. Very Very Happy!!!! 

If you missed it, you can listen to my fermentation themed podcast episode 6 HERE 

That's it for now...I'll be publishing a step-by-step guide to how I make my kombucha, soon so keep your eyes open for that!