Fermenting is the last frontier for me when it comes to food storage. Let's face it, there's a little more to it than throwing some beans in a 5 gallon bucket and sealing them up in a Mylar bag. However, it really is an excellent, healthy form of food storage that should not be overlooked, after all natural yeast (fermented dough) is how our ancestors made bread for thousands of years, and a person can only store so much cultivated or commercial yeast. I wanted something a little simpler than trying to maintain a sourdough starter to tackle the final frontier, so I settled on one of my favorite drinks, kombucha tea. I was also anxious to learn how to make kombucha because of the price. Have you seen how much a bottle of kombucha sells for in your local health food store? Yeah, it's not cheap!
So I started out with a dehydrated culture. I wanted to make kombucha on my schedule and with a dehydrated SCOBY (the colony of bacteria and yeast that turn your tea into kombucha) the directions say you can refrigerate the SCOBY for a short time until you are ready to brew kombucha. The only problem was I couldn't get it to work!
My Failed Attempts:
I'm not about spreading negative energy, but I'm also not about hiding the truth. If you recognize what company I ordered my dehydrated SCOBY from that's fine, if not, no worries, I'm going to tell you how to get a SCOBY that works. I also want to mention that just because the dehydrated kombucha SCOBY didn't work doesn't mean I would not order say a sourdough starter from them.
So let's talk about what went wrong and why dehydrated SCOBYs are not the best choice.
Soon after I got my dehydrated SCOBY I followed the directions and started the re-dehydration process. With a dehydrated SCOBY the re-hydration can take up to a month, which surprised me. I know we live in an instant gratification society, but I still thought a month was a bit long to wait.....:) But, I waited.
The SCOBY seemed to re-hydrate fine each time. For the record, I have gone through a total of four dehydrated SCOBYs.
This was the first attempt at brewing. You can see that a new SCOBY formed on the top of the jar but it had a layer of mold on it. The thing is that when a SCOBY is dehydrated the culture is compromised. It's weak from the dehydration and re-hydration process. Remember that SCOBY is a living organism and dehydrating it or refrigerating it slows down and eventually compromises, not only the bad bacteria (that's what we are trying to accomplish by not having it "go bad"), but it also compromises the good bacteria as well. The dehydrated SCOBY can be used to brew kombucha tea (although, like I said, I've never gotten it to work) but the tea is weak in taste and usually flat. Read more about these dehydrated SCOBY brewing problems here.
Here are more dehydrated SCOBYs that I re-hydrated for another attempt.
After I re-hydrated the new SCOBYs I attempted to brew two batches of kombucha tea (KT)
Yup, that's mold. Yuck! The thing that really concerns me is that if you get mold on your first attempt it's hard to tell because you don't know what a healthy SCOBY looks like.
My other kombucha brew got a completely different kind of mold. At this point, you might be wondering about other dehydrated cultures like sourdough or kefir grains, maybe you've attempted to make them with dehydrated cultures without a problem. Turns out that the SCOBY from KT consists of a different kind of bacteria that seem to be more sensitive to dehydration and refrigeration (cooler temperatures).
I really thought I was doing something wrong because I could not get my kombucha to brew correctly. I had done research before I even attempted to brew kombucha, but I thought maybe I had missed something. Then I met Hannah Crum. You can "meet" her too in this interview she gave Jenny from NourishedKitchen.com. Meeting Hannah was like a breath of fresh air, and she completely took my hand and walked me through the entire brewing process. She explained that the dehydrated SCOBYs that I had been using were an inferior product for the reasons I mentioned above. Then she sent me one of her SCOBYs so I could see the difference.
How to Make Kombucha The Easy Way:
This is the full size SCOBY and tea blend I got from Hannah at Kombucha Kamp.
I followed the step by step directions to brew the tea. The instructions said to start with one gallon for the first brew, this is to acclimate the SCOBY to its new environment. To make one gallon of kombucha tea you need:
- 1 gallon glass jar
- 3 quarts of purified water
- 1 cup sugar
- 4-5 tea bags
- 1-2 cups starter liquid
- 1 SCOBY
- Cloth and a rubber band to cover the brewing jar
I used an electric kettle to heat the water. You can heat the water on the stove if you prefer; I would avoid the microwave for this application. Also use good quality water; don't use water straight from the tap because the chlorine in the water might harm the SCOBY.
Steep the tea.
Then add the sugar.
Place the tea into your brewing vessel. At this point you can wait until the tea is room temperature or you can mix it with water that is already room temperature to bring down the temperature.
Pour the remaining water into your brewing jar.
After you have made sure the tea is room temperature place the SCOBY into the tea mixture. If you put the SCOBY into hot water you will kill it! Remember, it's a living organism.
Pour the starter liquid into your jar.
The SCOBY in its new home!
Place a cotton towel over the jar and keep it in place with a rubber band. Don't use cheese cloth because it's too loose of a weave. The SCOBY needs air circulation, but you want to keep flies and gnats out.
This is the new culture that formed on top of the jar. Mold free!
It's so pretty I shot it from a different angle just so you could see more. This is actually a few days later than the previous picture. The entire process took about ten days. The brewing process is anywhere between seven to thirty days. Around day seven take a straw and place it under the SCOBY and taste your kombucha. If you like what you taste you're done. If you would like it a little more on the sour side keep brewing for a few more days. It will taste like vinegar around day thirty, apparently some people like it that sour. The longer it brews the more health benefits you will receive from your KT.
Here's a shot of the mamma and the baby SCOBY.
To bottle your KT and make another batch, brew your sweet tea as shown above. You can brew two batches at this point because you have two SCOBYs, but I wanted to give the baby a chance to grow a bit more before putting it into it's own batch. S0, after I checked to make sure the new batch was room temperature I placed both SCOBYs in the new batch. Also, at this point if you are not ready to brew another batch you can place your SCOBYs into a SCOBY hotel. They will keep for a good long without much maintenance. Do not keep it in the refrigerator! Also, you can take one of the SCOBYs and dehydrate it not to preserve the SCOBY, but to make kombucha candy.....:)
Here you can see the original SCOBY being lifted out. Always use wooden spoon (or glass, do they even make glass spoons?) to handle the SCOBY. The bacteria react badly with the metal and can damage your KT. The chemicals in plastic can also react with the bacteria in bad ways, so just stick with wood. If all you have are metal spoons make sure they are not reactive. Also, it's a good idea to rinse your hands with vinegar before touching the SCOBY.
Both SCOBYs in their new home.
Then take a cup of the old batch of KT and pour it into the new batch. That's your starter liquid.
Here I'm pouring the batch to be bottled into a half gallon canning jar so it will make it easier to bottle.
To flavor your kombucha you can use almost anything you like. I chose to flavor mine with apricot juice and papaya juice. I poured about a half of a cup of juice into my bottles. You can pour a little more or a little less depending on preference.
Then pour the KT into the bottles.
Let the bottles sit out for a day or two for a second fermentation. The second ferment produces carbonation so your KT is nice and bubbly like a soda. Then refrigerate. Depending on the bottles you use you might have to watch out for explosions both in the refrigerator (although the cooler temperature slows down the carbonation process) or in the location you let your KT do its second fermentation. The bottles you see above tend to just pop their top when there is a lot of pressure. Remember to also drink plenty of water with kombucha because even though we might think of it as a soda replacement it is a detoxifier and you need the water to flush the toxins out of your body.
I rescued my SCOBYs from the brew that had mold form on the top. Since the mold was not on the SCOBY itself I wanted to experiment and see if I could maybe get a batch of KT from the dehydrated SCOBYs. I let the SCOBY soak in vinegar for a few days then placed it into a new batch of tea. I would love to do a taste test between the dehydrated SCOBY and then one I got from Hannah. I'll let you know.