We embarked on our fermentation journey several years ago, with our first batch of kombucha. I received my scoby from a good friend, and that scoby supplied us with several years worth of delicious fermented brew. Then we moved cross Canada and had to start again from scratch. I had heard that Used Victoria or Craigslist were good resources for scobys, but I decided to ask at my favourite local restaurant and was able to “score a scoby” so to speak from them. This scoby (and its many babies) lasted us almost a year until I got forgetful and let the brew go a bit too long. That scoby sadly moved on to bigger and better things (aka kicked the bucket) and I decided to experiment with growing my own from a bottle of unflavoured GT's Kombucha, with great success. I am going to share my go-to kombucha recipe, which works really well with or without a scoby (aka Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast). What I mean to say is that a scoby is definitely necessary, but I found my usual technique to be bang on when it came to growing my own scoby, with a few additional tips.
So what's the big deal about kombucha anyway?
Kombucha has a multitude of advertised health benefits, but the one that drew me the most was it's status as a probiotic beverage, beneficial for healthy gut bacteria & digestion. I have also read that kombucha is beneficial for liver detoxification and boosting your immune system. Like with anything, it is good to do some research yourself and figure out what works and doesn't work for you. At the very least I find it to be a delicious alternative to pop (aka soda) that definitely works to sooth my tummy. Please keep in mind that it does contain sugar and caffeine, along with trace amounts of alcohol leftover from the fermentation process. Also mass consumption can lead to some, shall we say unfortunate digestive consequences (aka running to the bathroom).
Kombucha has definitely become a trendy drink of choice over the past few years, with a wide variety of flavours available not just at out of the way health food stores but conventional grocery stores also. Gone are the days when my only source of “bucha was the guy at the farmer's market who had a brew station set up in his basement. The grocery store varieties tend to be on the sweet side, and they can have a prohibitively high price tag attached, especially if kombucha consumption is a regular habit you would like to adopt. If you are ready to move into the wonderful world of home fermentation, look no further than the recipe below, originally passed on to me by my lovely friend Johanna!
Brew Your Own 'bucha
If you don't have a scoby yet, purchase 1 – 2 bottles of plain kombucha (no flavouring added – I used the plain variety by GT, as indicated above). One bottle should be fine, but I wanted to make sure I had enough bacterial growth so I used two. Make sure your jar is clean and dry (I use a lemonade dispenser jar with a spout from Winners, minus the lid). If you do have a scoby hang tight – I will touch on when to add it a bit later.
Boil filtered water to the temperature required for the tea you are using. I use a combination of three different teas so I usually brew to the temperature required for green (slightly less than black). Filtered water is really important, plain tap water can be chlorinated, which gets in the way of the fermentation process. I have read that overly alkaline and mineralized water can be an issue too, we use reverse osmosis and this has worked really well. A Brita (or another kind of pitcher filter) would be a good bet also.
Brew 6 cups of tea, using 2 tsp black tea, 2 tsp green tea and 2 tsp rooibos for 20 minutes. I like using loose leaf, but this works with tea bags as well. The black tea is important as the leaves are fully oxidized and it contains nutrients which help the scoby to grow (as per Cultured Health – an awesome fermentation company out of the US). I like using a combination of all three teas, then we reap the benefits of green tea and rooibos as well. Make sure to use straight up tea without any flavouring, added flavours will throw off/inhibit the fermentation process and you'll be able to add lots of variation in flavour with your second ferment!
After the 20 minute steep, remove the tea leaves/bags, add 1 cup of sugar and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Let the sweetened tea mixture cool to room temperature. I like to bring the kombucha I am using to grow a scoby closer to room temperature also, as having the two liquids at the same temperature appears to help the fermentation process. In my experience – once you have your scoby and are brewing a new batch, if the temperature of your liquid and your scoby is too different the scoby won't float, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but any variation makes me a bit nervous so I like to keep things consistent.
A note about the sugar: I like to use coconut sugar as I can get bulk bags of it, and this is what we use for anything requiring solid sugar. Maple Syrup and honey are options that I would consider to be too expensive (at 1 cup per batch) and I prefer to stay away from super refined sugar. That being said, cane sugar and plain old white sugar also work. I haven't experimented with brown but I am sure that would be fine too.
Now that your sweet tea has cooled, add it to your jar along with the bottle(s) of kombucha, or if you are using a scoby, add this to the jar along with another 6 cups filtered water and a cup or two of your last batch (or the liquid included with your scoby – I bought a heritage scoby here that was kept in kombucha liquid so I added that as well). Adding some of the last batch of kombucha isn't absolutely necessary (I didn't do this right away), however I have read that it helps inhibit mold growth, which I see as a very good thing!
Cover your jar with a cheesecloth and elastic, and let it ferment for 12-16 days. The number is variable as this can change due to the time of year (faster in the summer, slower in the winter). I would check after about 10 days to see how things are coming along. Once your scoby has developed and the brew has reached your desired level of tartness, pour the liquid into a large bowl and reserve the scoby and about 2 cups of this batch of kombucha to start your next batch. If your kombucha is overly tart, you can bottle and use it in lieu of vinegar, just be sure there is no mould present. You are now ready to proceed to the second fermentation below.
Step 7: Second Fermentation
This is the fun part! I like using 1 litre bottles with sealable tops (I used to get greek olive oil at Coscto and cleaned and re-used the bottles for my second ferments). You can easily find these kinds of bottles at stores like Canadian Tire, or Capital Iron here in Victoria. Add your desired flavouring to each bottle, fill with kombucha (leaving an inch or two at the top of the bottle) and seal. Let the liquid continue to ferment for another 2-4 days at room temperature (depending on the time of year) and then move the bottles to the fridge.
Here are some of my favourite flavour combinations (I haven't added exact proportions because I like to play around with ratios):
Apple Pie: organic apple, diced + cinnamon stick + pinch vanilla bean powder + dash maple syrup
Blueberry Pie: organic blueberries + pinch vanilla bean powder + lemon zest + dash maple syrup
Cherry Pie: organic cherries + pinch vanilla bean
Kiwi Kraze – sliced organic kiwi
Ginger: ginger slices
Mango: mango slices + lime zest (careful when you are opening this, mango has lots of natural sugar and depending on how long you leave your second ferment this can be a bit explosive!)
Raspberry Mint: raspberries + mint + ginger
Tonic Kombucha: ginger + lemon zest + fresh squeezed orange juice + turmeric + goji berries + camu camu
Chaga Chai: chaga + cinnamon + cardamom + cloves + ginger + coriander
Ruby Red: rose petals + hibiscus + goji berries + macqui berry powder + vanilla bean
Herbal Infusion: rose + lavender + vanilla bean
Choose Your Own Adventure: whatever combo you can dream up!
Other Uses for Kombucha:
This is a great seasonal recipe for a Kombucha Soda, perfect to bring to parties or to have at home. We've tried a bunch of different fruits, I like to go with what is fresh and in season.
Blackberry Kombucha Soda
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen blackberries (or even better, fresh picked!)
½ tsp vanilla bean powder (or extract)
2 tsp maple syrup (to taste, this will change depending on how sweet/tart your kombucha is)
4 cups kombucha (we used ginger and it was delicious!)
Process in a high speed blender until smooth. Warning: this can get very bubbly depending on how fizzy your kombucha is! If you get a case of the fuzzies, let it settle for a bit before serving. If you are using fruit with lots of seeds (blackberries, raspberries etc.) you might want to run the drink through a strainer, to avoid an overly chewy experience.
Where to find a scoby in Canada (outside of Used Fill_In_The_Blank City, Cragislist, or your buddy)
Crudessence (out of Montreal) - They are the makers of Rise Kombucha, a great bottled kombucha sold in grocery stores across Canada
Cultures for Health - Based in the US, I believe they also ship to Canada.
Reference Books for Kombucha and/or all around fermentation:
The Art of Fermentation – Sandor Ellix Katz
Cultured Foods For Your Kitchen – Leda Sheintaub
Batch - Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison
I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about kombucha fermentation, don't hesitate to comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd also love to hear any favourite kombucha flavour combos you might have!