Seasonal, cultured, vegcentric cooking by Joey O'Hare

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Kombucha 101

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The natural rhythms of kombucha might seem like a faff at first, but they soon become second nature. The process is a tricky one to explain without getting a little lost and wordy, and for this reason I’m sticky to some pretty clinical bullet points here… Welcome to kombucha 101.

 

First few facts:

Kombucha is a carbonated, fermented tea.

It has a beautifully balanced, sweet-sour flavor, and all the complexity of a “drink drink”.

Kombucha is nicknamed ‘living tea’, as it’s packed with live bacteria and yeast. These probiotics are hugely beneficial to our gut health, and can aid digestion and overall immunity.

Work cleanly! Wash your hands and your jar well.

Avoid using metal.

 

The kit:

A SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria & Yeast) and 250ml, or so, of ‘starter tea’ – this is the liquid which comes with your SCOBY; you can pester me for my next baby, or buy one here.

Organic tea; I love to use green tea for a cleaner, lighter flavour

Organic sugar; nothing fancy, just caster sugar, unbleached if possible

A large glass vessel

Some muslin cloth and an elastic band

Several flip top bottles with rubber seals

 

The process:

How much tea to start with depends on the size of your staring SCOBY… ask advice from the kind soul who passed it on, but follow this ratio: 1 litre boiling water, 3 teabags, 100g sugar (or ½ cup).

Stir to dissolve the sugar. Allow the tea to cool completely and remove the tea bags. Pour the sweet tea into your large glass jar, and add in the SCOBY and all the starter tea it came with. Cover the lid of the jar with muslin cloth and an elastic band.

Allow this to ferment at room temperature from anywhere from 1-2 weeks. It will ferment quicker in summer, and slower in winter. Taste it each day and notice the shifting balance between sweet and sour. As the SCOBY feeds off the sugar the tea becomes less sweet. This is the first stage of fermentation.

When you are happy with the flavour it’s time to bottle and begin the second stage of fermentation – where the booch gets its unique flavour and its fizz!

Strain the tea into flip-top bottles, leaving a little room at the top.

DON’T BOTTLE EVERY LAST DROP! RESERVE 250ML TO KICK START YOUR NEXT BATCH..! Boil the kettle and get ready to brew your next batch of tea, using the same ratio of 1 litre boiling water, to 3 teabags, and 100g of sugar (or ½ cup).

Try adding some sliced, fresh ginger to each bottle? or elderflower cordial? blueberries? lemon? turmeric & chilli? Flavourings such as these help to carbonate the kombucha as well as create flavour. Though the SCOBY is no longer present, plenty of live bacteria and yeast remain in the tea, hence it’s nickname “living tea”. These continue to feed on the residual sugar and give of carbon dioxide, yet now that the tea is bottled and sealed the gas cannot escape. Adding a little natural sugar - such as that within ginger or berries - gives the bacteria and yeast extra nourishment, they give off a little more CO2 in return, and thus the booch has more pop! If you fancy keeping your kombucha plain I recommend adding two sultanas to each bottle which will work in the same way,

Go with caution here! Too much extra sugar and the pressure will build up beyond what’s safe… I’ve had two explosions in my time (and for this reason don’t keep your bottles at eye height!). Just two of three slices of ginger, 6 blueberries or so, 2 sultanas… easy does it.

Ferment the bottled kombucha for a further week. Again, it will ferment more quickly when it’s hot, and more slowly when it’s cool so adjust accordingly.

Finally, transfer to the fridge; once in the fridge the rate of fermentation is imperceptible and the kombucha is more or less fixed and final.

Finally finally… always open your bottles under a tea towel; I’ve learnt the hard way.

Josephine O'Hare