One of my best friends has recently started brewing her own kombucha, and even though this is not "quilt related," it is DIY related and fun related and drink related – which are all things that are very much quilt related. Since I am such a big kombucha-drinkin' fan, I asked her to write a little something on the process. So, without further ado, I present to you a guest post on DIY kombucha by my very funny and clever friend, writing under a nom de plume, Tyler Gaul.
DIY Kombucha: The Wrong Way to Make Kombucha that Still Kinda Works
Suzy Quilts has always been a kombucha-friendly site – Suzy has often been seen sipping the booch from a wine glass (she’s such a class act, isn’t she?) Well today’s post is about how to brew your own kombucha, so you can boost your hip-ness up to Suzy’s level. (Okay, so that second part isn’t guaranteed. Actually, neither is the first part. This is a quilting blog telling you how to make an ancient fermented drink. Proceed at your own risk.)
[Note from Suzy: try to ignore the dorky double glasses situation I'm wearing in the picture above. I lost my contacts, it was mid-July, and also I was trying reeeal hard to push the trend. Unfortunately it did NOT catch on.]
What is Kombucha?
So glad you asked. It’s not a dog breed (Combai mixed with Chihuaua could be cute, though), but actually a pretty healthy drink that you don’t even have to be super "healthy" to like. Kombucha is sweet tea that has been fermented, sometimes flavored, and sometimes fizzified. And making it yourself isn’t really that hard.
[Another note from Suzy: PROMISE this is my last one. I thought I'd throw in that I started drinking kombucha because I was having a lot of stomach issues. Now, I can't say for sure that the probiotics and natural enzymes are what helped me get better, but maybe? It could be that the placebo affect is really strong for those who believe? haha! Ok OK. I'm done. Back to you, Tyler!]
Where Do I Start?
Your path to home-brewed kombucha starts where all good things start: Amazon.com. Yes, lots of other kombucha how-tos may talk about locally sourced, organic products, but guess what? If you want to make a more convenient and less expensive batch, you can. And Amazon can help. Here's what you need...
Above is a photo I took in direct sunlight, because it makes for a better photo! Then I learned you’re supposed to keep it out of direct sunlight. Oops. This was right after I put in a new batch. See that strip stuck to the jar? It tells me how warm the liquid is, so it doesn’t get too hot or cold. Except I forget what the too hot/too cold temperatures are. Anyway, I got it on Amazon.
DIY Kombucha Supplies
- A really big glass jar - You’re looking for a 1-gallon glass jar. Doesn’t actually need a lid. If it holds a gallon of liquid, and it’s made of glass, you are doing great.
- A piece of cloth - This cloth-scrap should fit over your jar mouth, and let air through. You guys are quilters. You probably have a cloth scrap. (If you’re not a quilter and don’t have cloth, paper towel works, too!)
- A rubber band
- Other glass jars with lids - Because I’m not always patient enough to brew my own kombucha, I buy it, too! And after I buy it, I save the glass jars to store my own. I take the labels off so people will know that I brewed it myself and give me hipster points. If you don’t want to buy kombucha-storing glass jars that come with kombucha inside of them, you can get something like this. Or if you lose bottle tops a lot because you’re a human, you could go for these.
- Tea - You can use different kinds of teas, but I always use black, because I brewed kombucha with black tea once and it worked. You can get organic, loose-leaf tea, or you can go anywhere and get black tea in tea bags. That’s what I do. (Also, if you get a box of Red Rose tea bags, there’s a tiny porcelain figure inside! Another thing for you to lose if you’re one of those people who frequently loses things!)
- Sugar - There are a few schools of thought on this one, but I’m just going to tell you what I know: use cane sugar. Like, just any package of sugar that says “cane sugar” on it (I feel pretty safe saying it that way.)
- A SCOBY - Brace yourself, because this is as elitist as this blog post gets. We’re going academic for a sec. A SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” and that is the very first time I said that without Googling the acronym over again. It’s basically just a cup of someone else’s kombucha – you can even use a cup of store-bought kombucha, but I get mine… ready for it… on Amazon. Why? Because it comes with a pellicle.
Whaaaat’s a pellicle? It’s a big slimy circular blob and I don’t actually know what it’s made out of. But I’m pretty sure it has magical properties so I never brew kombucha without one. But the way I understand it, the yeast and bacteria (the SCOBY proper) are all chillin in the liquid concoction people call “starter tea.”
This is the key ingredient, people, so don’t go chasin’ SCOBYs with less than 5 stars on Amazon. Amazon has its own SCOBYtown with a lot of options, but shop around and get the best slimy thing swimming in bacteria you can find. See below for a pic.
- Optional Flavorings – You can add literally anything to kombucha to make it taste less sour and vinegar-y than it naturally does. Juice works pretty well (think: apple, mango, pineapple) but I usually go for the spice route, because I live for the fall. I guess you could call this a recipe for cinnamon, anise, and clove kombucha because that’s the only way I make it. You can do whatever you want to, but know you’re going rogue.
Above pic - taking my SCOBY out to use for another batch.
How to DIY Your Way Through Kombucha Without a Lot of Fuss
(This part is going to be short and sweet so you can copy and paste it somewhere, or have it all on one computer screen for convenience… but I’ll give details after.)
8 Easy Kombucha-Makin' Steps
- On the stove: Add 5-6 tea bags to a pot of 4 cups of boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes.
- Remove tea bags, and add 1 cup of cane sugar. Stir.
- Pour sweet tea mixture into 1 gallon jar.
- Add 10 cups of cold water and let it cool completely.
- Add starter tea and pellicle carefully with clean hands. Stir.
- Secure cloth over lid with rubber band. Place jar in a warm, undisturbed place out of direct sunlight.
- Wait for 4-24 days
- Remove pellicle, place it in a glass bowl with 1 cup of liquid, and pour the rest into bottles.
Pretty simple, right? Okay, now for a few details.
More Deets on Those 8 Steps
- I chuck in 6 tea bags because I want the tea to be strong. I don’t even unwrap the little paper tabs or strings, I just stick them all in there. Like a lazy person.
- I usually take the tea bags out with my hands, and hope that when I snag one of them the rest will all get caught and I won’t have to burn my fingers more than I already just did.
- Sometimes, there’s more undissolved sugar left at the bottom when I’m transferring recepticles. Sometimes… I eat it? I’m so gross.
- This is a guess. I have no idea how much water you add. I have a line with a sharpie on the side of my jar that’s about two inches from where the neck begins to slope toward the lid, and I stick the thing under the tap and fill ‘er up until I get to the line. Additional note: most people use filtered or purified water. I live in a city that is famous for its hard water. It still works.
- Sometimes I get impatient and go on to the next step before it’s completely cool, but I heard that if the tea is too hot, you can kill all the bacteria and yeast in the starter tea and DANGIT I PAID MONEY FOR THAT THING and I don’t want to wait for another one to come in the mail. So I try really hard to be patient.
- This is also why I wash my hands and I’m really careful when I add the pellicle and starter tea. Ain’t nobody got time to order another one of those.
- I do this other thing that I’m not sure is recommended: I add about a tablespoon of white vinegar before I stir. I think it’s because I don’t fully believe in my own ability to brew this stuff, and I think this will make it go faster.
- My kombucha jar is sometimes in the sun, and sometimes disturbed, but dangit it’s right next to the stove so it better be warm enough.
- One time, I brewed this stuff and it took forever. I’m still not sure why. It took like a month. But usually it takes a week. And sometimes I don’t feel like brewing again so I ignore it even after it’s ready. It’s cool. It just gets a little more sour. Basically you can know it’s ready by sticking a spoon or a straw in there and tasting it. When you like how it tastes, it’s done!
- If you want to start over, you’ll want to save at least a cup of your liquid, and your slimy white thing in a glass bowl. If you make another batch right away, cool! If you don’t, you can save this in the fridge with a cover on it.
In between steps 8 and 9, bubbles, and then a film, and then a circular slimy white thing will start to form on top of your liquid. It’s a NEEEEEEW PELLICLE! This is where they are born! You’re doing it!
SO. After everything’s ready, you can flavor your kombucha however you want! Just pour it into your bottles (leave about an inch from the lip of your bottle) and add stuff. I put in half a cinnamon stick, half an anise star (I break off three or four of the seeds like I’m killing a starfish) and a few whole cloves. I get these things for mere pennies in bulk at a store near my house, but if it costed more I’d probably not use them at all. I’m cheap! There, I said it.
If you flavor it, OR if you want your kombucha to be fizzy, screw those lids on tight and stick it in a dark warm place to keep fermenting. Now, I’ve heard that if you let these go too long they can explode, so I usually only do it for a few days. Then, I stick them in the fridge, where the cold kills the magical creatures that are fermenting the stuff, and it’s ready to drink!
Above pic - Day 4: Bubblier, and thicker.
Above pic - Day 7: thicker and also smelling like vinegar. Family members are complaining.
Enjoying Your Kombucha
When I actually drink it, though, I pour it through a strainer. There are a few reasons for this:
- I don’t want to accidentally drink a whole clove.
- If you do the second ferment with flavoring, ANOTHER mini pellicle can start forming, and it’s like a little ghosty jelly thing and I hate accidentally drinking that, too.
- THIS IS THE TIME you get to put it in a wine glass.
That’s it! Waay too many words about a pretty simple process! It will probably take you less time to get your batch brewing than it took you to read this rambling description.
Below pic is my filtered, fizzy, flavored kombucha in a mason jar because my kids broke all my wine glasses, and I get even MORE hipster points!