More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Chinese considered kombucha an immortal health elixir. Some avid drinkers of the fermented tea beverage might say just the same today. In recent years, kombucha has gained widespread popularity among Westerners who drink the brew made from tea, sugar and a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) to help regulate their digestive flora, detoxify their bodies and boost their immune systems and energy levels.
Although the scientific community has not validated claims that drinking kombucha leads to better health, there is evidence that what is in kombucha — antioxidants, probiotics, Glucaric acids and trace amounts of B vitamins — is beneficial to the body.
“Drinking kombucha is a great way to get balance back into the body,” says Steve Dickman, founder and chief operating officer of High Country Kombucha. “The probiotics in it help balance the flora in the gut — kind of like yogurt — but kombucha is more aggressive than yogurt, so it takes everything to the next level and people really feel the benefits.”
In addition to helping to regulate gut flora, Dickman also says that kombucha helps to alkalize the body, like a lemon would. Kombucha is detoxifying, beneficial to the immune system and energizing, and it provides an organic alternative to sugary or caffeine-heavy drinks when people are looking for an energy boost, he says.
When choosing a kombucha, it is important to make sure that it is a raw, organic and authentic brew, Dickman says. Because of kombucha’s increase in popularity, a lot of companies are now labeling their beverages with the name.
“If it’s not raw, beware,” says Dickman. “In order to get the benefits, the kombucha must come from an authentic brew — it’s only good if it’s a living culture.”
While many brands of kombucha, High Country included, are available in local grocery stores, buying a $3 bottle of the beverage regularly can get pricey. So some kombucha fans have taken on the task of brewing their own.
“I started brewing kombucha two years ago,” says local homebrewer Ryan Danyew. “We were drinking it all the time and, for a family of five, that became costly. So, it made sense to start making it.”
The process is pretty straightforward and, as long as you follow a recipe and abide by some simple rules, it takes minimal time and effort to get a brew going, Danyew says. And, since the SCOBY replaces itself, which is why it is often referred to as a “mother,” once the process is started, it’s easy to make brew after brew as you work on perfecting your process and making a drink that suits your taste.
HOW TO MAKE KOMBUCHA
What you’ll need:
A SCOBY. The SCOBY multiplies each time kombucha is made, so there are many of them literally floating around our community. Danyew suggests asking friends or maybe even looking on Craigslist. Make sure that the SCOBY is delivered to you submerged in kombucha and has been kept refrigerated. Dickman also sug gests making a SCOBY from a bottle of kombucha. Follow the process outlined below and then, rather than adding a SCOBY, dump a bottle of kombucha into the tea and sugar mixture and a SCOBY will form during fermentation.
A glass jar (Danyew suggests starting with a gallon, although you can increase the size of the jar and batch as you become more comfortable with the process.)
A wooden spoon (Make sure that no metal is used in the process as metal will kill the live culture.)
A pot for boiling water
Black tea and flavored tea, if desired
Breathable cloth, like cheesecloth (Dickman stresses the importance of bleaching these and rinsing them well to ensure that they are sterile.)
Glass bottles (Save your old kombucha bottles and ask friends to save theirs.)
The process (for one gallon):
Boil one gallon of water. Remove from heat. Add 4 bags of black tea and 4 bags of flavored tea, like mango or peach, if desired. Add ½ tbsp. sugar. Cover and let cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, add the SCOBY and 4 to 5 ounces of kombucha (or a bottle of original flavored kombucha). Cover with a cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Store in a dark place for one to two weeks, checking after a week for taste. The longer the kom bucha ferments, the more acidic it will become.
Remove the SCOBY, submerge it in kombucha, and refrigerate it. Reuse it quickly, because the longer it sits, the less potent it becomes.
Using a funnel, pour the kombucha into bottles. Danyew suggests adding a small amount of sugar to each bottle of the kombucha to help it carbonate. Dickman, however, suggests bottling the brew a bit earlier (when its natural sugar content is higher) and skipping the extra sugar. Adding more sugar can literally make the brew explosive.
Put the bottles in the refrigerator and let sit for about four days before drinking. Because the kombucha is alive, it will continue to ferment and become more acidic with age. While it will never go bad, the taste will be compromised over time, so it’s best consumed within a couple of months.
While black or green tea must always be used because the culture feeds off the caffeine and tannins in those teas, there’s room for a little experimentation in the process, like adding a little maple syrup or juice when bottling.
“It’s fun,” says Danyew. “Just remember to start simple and, once you’re comfortable, increase your batch size and experiment. And take notes. Always take notes. You definitely want to be able to recreate a great batch.”