Known as the "Tea of Immortality", Kombucha has been recorded in history since approximately 220 BCE, believed to have originated in China. The name's origin has several theories, our favorite is coming from Japan during 415 CE, where a physician name Kombu treated the Emperor with the tea and it took his name "Kombu" and "Cha", which means tea in Japanese.
[caption id="attachment_91" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Dipping the tea in the boiling water[/caption]
SCOBY - A Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, the acronym for what creates the fermented tea, can look like a large shiny pancake. A pancake you probably would not want to eat.
The basic ingredients are sugar, tea, SCOBY, water and a tea towel (cheesecloth or filter paper will also work).
[caption id="attachment_86" align="alignnone" width="1280"] These are the basic ingredients you will need to make Kombucha[/caption]
Here is a link to a recipe we have successfully used.
White Labs Kombucha Recipe
The term Kombucha Mushroom probably came from the interpretation of the original Chinese name which was “Tibetan mushroom”, but it's not a fungus at all.
The sugar is fermented by the SCOBY culture, leaving a deliciously tart drink. The result can be between sparkling apple cider and champagne, depending on which type of tea you use.
[caption id="attachment_87" align="alignnone" width="1080"] The Mother SCOBY[/caption]
You can use black, green, jasmine, white and rooibos teas. Herbal and fruit flavored teas are not recommended when you make it at home. However, you can add fruit to your kombucha once it's finished fermenting for flavor.
Fermentation creates complex flavors that no other style of food has or can produce on its own, in the case of kombucha - fizzy, tart, fruity and satisfying. Yum!
[caption id="attachment_99" align="alignnone" width="1280"] We always enjoy taking a look at the tea & smelling it prior to adding it to the water - it changes so much during the fermentation[/caption]
It is helpful to think of fermentation as an ecosystem, with a variety of organisms all doing their best to survive. Fermentation depends on thriving colonies of friendly microbes to do its work.
The types of species in the system have a direct effect on the chemical composition of the environment. As microbes grow and reproduce, they convert sugars into alcohol and acid. The natural environment of the fermentation system determines what the food will taste, look, sound and feel like.
[caption id="attachment_90" align="alignnone" width="1280"] This container is great if you plan to make small batches and then eventually larger, for special occasions or more to share with friends! This holds 60 gallons.[/caption]
Kombucha is full of glucuronic acid, playing a part in one of the most important detoxification processes in the body. Glucuronic acid binds to toxins and transforms them so they can be easily eliminated by the kidneys.
Your liver produces this substance, but sometimes the body can’t keep up with the number of pollutants it comes in contact with. Kombucha also contains B vitamins and amino acids.
[caption id="attachment_92" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Make sure you use organic or high-quality teas, otherwise this could affect the flavor and quality of your end result.[/caption]
Some theories about health benefits of kombucha
Detoxifies the liver
Helps heal coughs during cold and flu season
Improves eyesight and cataracts
Speeds healing of ulcers
Fortifies the immune system
Helps ease joint pain
Relieves headaches and migraines
Studies show kombucha lowers blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.
People tend to lose weight more easily when they include fermented foods in their diets.
[caption id="attachment_105" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Rather than having the tea sit in the boil, lifting it up and down ensures the most flavor is added.[/caption]
Controlled fermentation is believed to predate written history.
Fermentation was developed through trial and error, as many things in history were. The temperature that's most favorable, what amount of sugar or salt was needed, results of buried or submerged food and how long it takes for fermentation to stop.
Organisms responsible for fermentation are in the atmosphere, whether we add them or not- such as large systems like the ocean or small systems like our guts.
[caption id="attachment_103" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Look at that brew![/caption]
Once microbes find themselves in the friendly environment of food with plenty of water and nutrients, they start to grow and reproduce. As they consume sugars in the food, they produce alcohol and carbon dioxide, changing the flavor and texture. Once eaten, microbes go directly to the gut, where they encourage the growth of even more healthy bacteria. Yay!
At some point in the fermentation process, equilibrium will be reached. The feverish activity of the first stages of fermentation will stop or slow significantly. Changing from cloudy to clear, as the inactive and dead cells settle at the bottom.
[caption id="attachment_100" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Making sure all the sugar is dissolving in the boil[/caption]
Fermented foods stored in the refrigerator can continue to ferment, although at a much slower pace. A method to stop fermentation is to get the temperature up to 180F, pasteurizing the food, killing microbes responsible for fermentation.
Two types of organisms that play a role in fermentation -
In general, fungi produce alcohol while bacteria produce acids. Some foods are fermented with a combination of both. By repeatedly allowing the same sequence of bacteria to grow in foods, bakers, brewers, cheese makers, vintners and food preservationists are able to produce food and beverages with consistent flavors and textures.
[caption id="attachment_101" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Making sure the boil is full of flavor - we use organic black tea, you can also use green teas, rooibos, jasmine, and white among other varieties. It is not recommended to use herbal teas as they will add oil to the mixture.[/caption]
Fermenting strikes the balance between creating an environment that allows the microbes to thrive and slows down or stops the bad microbes from turning into a food science project. Controlling the process successfully allows you to end up with something edible.
Fermented foods are an aid to digestion. They restore colonies of healthy bacteria (flora) in the gut, where food is digested and absorbed into the human body.
Why does balancing flora in your gut matter? When things get out of balance, the natural defense against harmful bacteria is not as strong, potentially causing problems such as
Poor food choices, emotional stress, poor sleeping habits, even environmental conditions can easily upset the flora in the gut.
The gut is the largest organ in the immune system and is responsible for nearly half the body’s immune response.
Your gut has the same amount of neurotransmitters as your brain!!!
This led scientists to call it the secondary nervous system.
Introducing fermented foods with beneficial living organisms can bring things back into balance.
[caption id="attachment_102" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Stirring the sugar until it dissolves while simultaneously adding the tea bag[/caption]
Our immune system has evolved to protect us from a wide range of dangers in our environment, with the first line of defense being your digestive system - not only taking in nutrients but filtering toxins out.
If you separated the bacteria cells from the body cells, bacteria cells would outweigh body cells - the digestive system contains nearly 80% or 100 trillion bacteria. Microbes in the gut communicate with immune cells, causing them to perform in a specific fashion.
In addition to promoting good digestion, microbes also support and activate the immune system.
[caption id="attachment_106" align="alignnone" width="1280"] White vinegar is essential to add acidity in the initial process[/caption]
Uncontrolled fermentation, wild yeasts, and strains of bacteria can result in something delicious but often results in something spoiled & inedible. In other instances, a controlled starter is called for, which is what we are experiencing today.
[caption id="attachment_107" align="alignnone" width="1920"] Using a cheesecloth as a lid allows the kombucha to breathe while keeping out any foreign substances -giving no opportunity to critters or bacteria to enter and ruin all your hard work. Make sure to use MANY layers of cheesecloth.[/caption]
Hardest part of fermentation? The waiting game.
[caption id="attachment_110" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Due to the larger batches we've been making - we add two SCOBY to our container, otherwise, the fermentation process takes much longer and the flavors tend to be less subdued.[/caption]
Our kombucha tends to have hints of apples & peaches, so we usually choose to not add fruits or other flavors.
We have a kegerator in our home that we hook the kombucha up to, serving it chilled on tap.
[caption id="attachment_112" align="alignnone" width="1280"] Isn't he cute? We clothe our kombucha to avoid any direct sunlight hitting our precious cargo. Secretly, we always name each batch of kombucha as another SCOBY grows each time![/caption]
Do you drink kombucha often? Have you made your own kombucha?
Share your thoughts, questions, and experiences below!
Cultured Food for Life by Donna Schwenk
Fermentation for Beginners by Drakes Press
The Cultured Cook by Michelle Schoffro Cook
Wine Bees Authors:
Kara - Founder & CEO Wine Bees
Level one Sommelier
Brian - Co-Founder & Director of Brewing Operations at Bravery Brewing