Kombucha - just the name of it sounds mystical and healing. I can't remember the first time I drank it beginning nearly three years ago, but I know that I got hooked immediately. Not only did it feed my "sour" tooth, but I have always loved fizzy soda drinks. Not only does kombucha fit all of those categories but it provides amazing health benefits. If you read the promotional material put out by G.T. Dave's Synergy brand, it does everything from providing essential vitamins and minerals to curing cancer. For me, it has rebalanced my electrolytes, dramatically improved the quality of my skin and hair, and provides a general sense of well being. But what is this so called elixir made of, you might ask?
Kombucha is a fermented tea, made with either black or green tea and heavily sweetened. This sweet tea is then added to a "mother" kombucha culture, sometimes referred to as a kombucha "mushroom" but I think it has more of a jellyfish like consistency. The culture is actually a collection of micro-organisms which feed off of the sugar in the tea, thus "fermenting" it. Contrary to snide comments, the fact that it is fermented does not produce alcohol. But it does produce effervescence and the fermentation process serves to increase the health benefits of the green tea, extracting even more antioxidants and other essential minerals compared to drinking green tea alone.
(Kombucha mother in kombucha liquid)
While you can now purchase kombucha in most natural food stores (Whole Foods, Food Co-ops) it is usually about $3.69 for 12 oz, not exactly a soda replacement price! But the great news is that it is so easy to make kombucha at home. It is easy to google "kombucha starter" and find lots of people who will offer to sell a starter culture in liquid for less than $5. But if you can find some bottled kombucha in "original" flavor, you can use that to get started. In fact, the picture of my kombucha above was started with a 12 oz bottle of "original" style kombucha. It just takes longer to begin fermenting.
While this is a long explanation, kombucha is really simple to make. You heat water, add sugar and tea and allow steep and then cool. Then you strain out the tea and pour it into the culture and it does its job in less than a week. And Voila! You have this wonderful drink! Very little effort, very simple recipe.
Now for the Recipe. I make my batches in a 2 gallon glass dispenser that I found at a thrift store in Minneapolis (pictured below) but many people I know buy a 1 gallon ice tea dispenser which are easily found at Target, etc. If possible, find one with a metal spout as I have heard (although not witnessed) that plastic ones will get eaten away by the fermentation process, and thus begin to drip.
Half Gallon of Original Kombucha
While it appears to be made with a lot of sugar, you will not actually be drinking the sugar since it will be converted to effervescence. The standard ratio is 2:1 water to sugar and 1 teaspoon of loose leaf green tea per 2 cups water.
8 cups water
4 teaspoons loose leaf green tea (use organic since you really don't want to be fermenting tea that has been sprayed with chemicals)
4 cups sugar
12 oz original kombucha or starter with liquid
In large pot, bring water almost to boil and add sugar. Stir to dissolve and remove from heat. Add tea and allow tea to cool completely. Strain out tea leaves and combine tea and starter culture in glass container and cover with cloth, secure tightly with rubber band. Set covered container in warm, unlit space to ferment. I place it on top of the refrigerator, where it benefits from the heat of the motor. Kombucha will ferment in 5-8 days, depending upon your conditions. A shallow "mother" will begin to form on top and you will see strands of mother floating throughout the liquid. Never drink all of the liquid as you need at least 1 cup of liquid plus the mother to make another batch.
Most commercially sold kombucha combines the original recipe with fruit juices, which masks some of the sour flavor but also adds additional health benefits since the fermentation process increases the potency of whatever it is fermenting. You can flavor kombucha with most anything (to a point of course) and when adding additional flavors, such as fruit juices, it helps to let is ferment a few days longer. Also, you should always place flavored kombucha in a separate container, to prevent the original mother from being permanently flavored with whatever additions you put in.
A couple of summers ago I was selling "natural sodas" at the farmers' market in Northfield, MN and I used kombucha as the "fizz." So I developed a few recipes for flavoring kombucha. My favorite is with hibiscus and rose hips, both of which are high in vitamin C and together have a flavor akin to fruit punch, but not nearly as sweet. They produce the beautiful fruit punch colored kombucha featured at the top of this post. You can purchase dried hibiscus flowers and rose hips in the bulk herb or tea section of whole foods or a food co-op. Again, you'll want organic since this will also be fermented.
1/2 Gallon of Hibiscus and Rose Hip Kombucha
1/4 cup Hibiscus flowers
2 tablespoons rose hips
1 cup sugar
4 cups kombucha, original
In a 1/2 gallon mason jar, combine all of the ingredients and top off with water. Stir or shake well to combine the sugar. Cap tightly and allow to ferment in warm place for 3-5 days. Decant, strain, and place in refrigerator and enjoy.
A Word on Fermentation
Kombucha, left to ferment, will go very, very sour. If you refrigerate it, it slows the pace of fermentation. But if you leave kombucha out, especially in a warm, sunlit spot and capped, it will over ferment and go to vinegar. In addition, if you happen to bottle as I have with reusable bottles, if left in a heated space for too long, they will explode (it happened to a few of my customers from the farmers' market!) For myself, I drink it so quickly that this is not an issue, but be forewarned!
Love and hugs!