Homemade Kombucha, feat. art by Soey Milk

My friend, artist Soey Milk (check out her gorgeous paintings here), turned me on to making Kombucha about a year ago. She came over one night for a party, and as a hostess gift, she brought me something unusual: an empty gallon mason jar, along with a pint size mason jar filled with her homemade, vinegary Kombucha and a sweet little SCOBY — the label hanging from this jar read “HOTEL SCOBYFORNIA.”

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this gift. It was a bit out of my league —  I had no idea what to do with any of it. I felt like I had been gifted a pet, and I was vastly unprepared to care for it. But she reassured me that she would send along instructions in a few days, and that the process would be easy and would likely become a near obsession. So, I placed the empty gallon jar, and the HOTEL SCOBYFORNIA off to the side and awaited instructions.

Here’s what started popping up on my phone a week later:

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You can have a printable version, with Soey’s permission, here: Kombucha by Soey Milk

Damn it,  I was right. Judging by these images, I had been gifted a pet. This cute SCOBY was now in my hands, and I had to take good care of it. I tensed up and, in true Beverly fashion, overcomplicated the entire thing in my head. With slight panic, I began the process, according to these instructions, and I inundated poor Soey with text question after text question because I was so afraid of screwing it up.

But she wasn’t lying when she said it was simple. It truly was. And for the 21 days that I let my first gallon ferment, it did become a near obsession. I watched that SCOBY grow into a family of SCOBIES, sending Soey pictures along the way to prove that her baby was in good hands.

I’ve been brewing Kombucha from that original batch ever since, and I have created a wonderful Southern Sweet Kombucha that I love.

The health benefits of drinking Kombucha are largely anecdotal, though the stories have been accumulating for centuries, and people swear by this probiotic brew for helping with digestive health, feminine health, detoxification, pain and immunity. Packed with organic acids, enzymes and good bacteria, this tea also boasts a wide range of B Vitamins, which is hard to get as a vegan. Check out this article to get a breakdown of how this tea could benefit your health. Or do a Google search. There’s a ton of information out there.

Also, please research some of the health risks, as some people may have a sensitivity to the tea.

Finally, be sure to keep this tea sterile by using very clean pots, jars and utensils, as mold can grow, and if you see any mold at all — THROW IT ALL AWAY.

Now for the fun stuff.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED for the tea:

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STAGE ONE

For the tea brew, as indicated in Soey’s instructions, you’ll need

a clean, glass gallon jar (here’s the kind I use)

1 gallon (16 cups) of water (filtered, if you can)

8 green tea or black tea bags — it needs to have caffeine — I use regular old Lipton because I like mine to taste like Southern Sweet Tea.

1 Cup of organic sugar (organic because non-organic, refined sugar isn’t vegan)

And you’ll need some starter Kombucha or a SCOBY. You can purchase SCOBIES online (here, for instance), or you can buy a bottle of store bought Kombucha and use a cup of that as your starter. You basically need the yeast that’s growing in it to start growing in yours, so buy non-pasteurized and use all of those strands that you find in the bottle.

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

Boil the water. When it is boiling, cut the heat, add the sugar and the tea.

Soey had a great idea tying the tea bags to a long wooden spoon and laying the spoon across the pot.

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When the tea cools completely (hot tea kills the yeast you’re trying to grow), pour it into the gallon jar with your starter Kombucha and/or SCOBY.

 

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Cover the mouth of the jar with a cheesecloth or a paper towel and secure it with a rubber band — you need something breathable during fermentation, but you also need to be able to keep out insects and debris. I don’t keep paper towels in my house. I use these reusable bamboo towels that are like paper towels but sustainable, and they work great for Kombucha.

Label with the date, so that you can keep track of the fermentation easily. I just write the date on the bamboo towel cover. Soey doesn’t keep hers in a dark place, but I do. So it’s up to you. If I didn’t, I might develop a rather unhealthy obsession over watching my SCOBY grow.

In 2-4 weeks, your Kombucha is ready. You can decide how vinegary you like yours. I let mine ferment for a month. I really like strong Kombucha. My mom brews hers for 10 days.

Now you get to bottle it.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED:

2-3 bottles with tight fitting caps or corks. (I got mine from IKEA.)

1 tsp organic sugar per jar for the second fermentation

whatever herb or fruit you’ll use for flavor. I use fresh spearmint and dried ginger.

Your Kombucha!

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STAGE 2

When you bottle your Kombucha, it needs to go through a second, much shorter, fermentation process so that it can get fizzy. This takes only 3-7 days, depending how fizzy you want it to be.

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I put a teaspoon of sugar in each jar so that the yeast has something to eat, and that creates a fizzier Kombucha.

 

 

The enzymes (or something) in Kombucha break down herbs and fruits really well, and therefore, you can get great flavor in your Kombucha by adding some to the bottles for the second fermentation. I use fresh spearmint from my garden, and dehydrated ginger, and it’s delicious.

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You can either ladle your Kombucha into your bottles, or if your gallon jar has a spout, that makes filling your bottles very easy.

Just be sure to leave the SCOBY in the jar, along with about 1 cup of Kombucha, so that you can add another gallon of sweet tea and start brewing your next batch.

 

Fill your bottles until they have only about an inch left at the top. Cap or cork your bottles, and the second fermentation will begin, driving the gas back into the Kombucha to make it fizzy. The longer it ferments in the bottle, the fizzier it will be. Definitely follow Soey’s advice and burp your bottles because they build up a lot of pressure. When they are as fizzy as you like, refrigerate them, and they are ready to enjoy.

By the time you finish drinking this batch, your second batch may be ready.

I would love to answer any of the questions you may have. If you’re like me, you may have a few when you begin, so don’t be shy about sending them to me. I would also love to hear your suggestions.

And don’t forget to go look at Soey Milk’s art.

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