What IS kombucha, and why is it good for you? And what are the benefits of brewing your own? (And how on earth do you go about doing that!?). Bodhi to the rescue!
Kombucha has really risen in popularity in the past few years. Effervescent, sweet and thirst quenching, it’s widely considered a great detoxifier and elixir for gut health.
But what IS kombucha, and why is it good for you? And what are the benefits of brewing your own? (And how on earth do you go about doing that!?)
We help to demystify this fizzy little beverage.
It’s thought that kombucha first originated in China hundreds of years ago, but by the early 20th Century it had spread to Russia, Germany and across Eastern Europe. In recent years, it’s exploded in popularity all over the world, and is now homebrewed globally and sold commercially by scores of companies getting in on the kombucha action.
Kombucha is produced by fermenting black or green tea and sugar using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or “SCOBY”, commonly called a "mother" or "mushroom".
Sorry, who is SCOBY?
A SCOBY is a funky-looking disk-shaped culture blend of acetic acid bacteria and osmophilic yeast species, which facilitates the fermentation process to turn sweet tea into kombucha. It generally floats at the top of a kombucha batch. Each scoby is unique and is the result of the environment it has been kept in.
Creating SCOBY from scratch is pretty tricky, so most homebrewers buy their first SCOBY (you can buy it online!) or borrow a bit from a mate who makes their own. It’s then placed in a sweetened tea mixture and left to ferment at room temperature for a few weeks, and then bottled for a while longer to contain released CO2 and encourage carbonation.
And how is this healthy?
Referred to as ‘The Tea of Immortality’, kombucha is thought to offer numerous health benefits for those consuming it.
Like other fermented foods, kombucha contains live probiotic bacteria, which can help balance the gut microbiome and improve digestion. It also contains antioxidants which protect the body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, coming from the tea. Kombucha also contains vitamins and minerals produced when the yeast breaks down the sugars, including vitamin C and B vitamins B1, B6 and B12.
How do I make it at home?
Our restaurant manager Mark is a big kombucha fan, and has mixed and experimented with his own concoctions for years. He shares his go-to recipe for making kombucha plus a few tips...
How to make kombucha recipes
“For your first batch, use white sugar, and then use raw sugar for future batches,” says Mark. “The recipes below will start you off for your first growth. If you buy your scoby then it will come in a sealed bag with some liquid - make sure you add this liquid to your first batch. It will not only contain a large quantity of bacteria and yeast but also a lot of acid which helps create the right environment for the next batch. After you have grown your scoby to a good size in the first batch, halve the ingredients for subsequent batches.”
2 litres water
125gm white sugar
4 black tea bags
Boil water in a clean saucepan, add sugar and stir until sugar has fully dissolved.
Add tea bags and leave until it cools completely.
Add the sugar tea mixture to a jar and add the scoby plus any liquid it comes with.
Cover with a cloth and secure with an elastic band and leave for 1-3 weeks so the scoby has a chance to grow.
When it has formed a 0.5cm-1cm thick white disk, then you can start your first fermentation!
With very clean hands, take the scoby out of the jar and put on an equally clean plate/bowl. Then throw away all of the liquid apart from 1 cup which you will use in your first kombucha batch.
Repeat the above steps 1 and 2.
Add this mixture to a jar, along with the 1 cup of liquid reserved from the initial mixture. Then add the scoby and cover as you did before.
After about 5 days, start to taste the mixture and when it is at the desired taste you can remove the liquid, but leaving 2 cups and the scoby for the next ferment.
Here’s where you do the second fermentation with fruit and flavouring ( See below recipe for more details).
When the scoby has grown to a good size you can split it between 2 jars and follow the recipe below for future batches.
4 litres water
250g raw sugar
8 black tea bags
2 cups from previous batch (1 in each jar)
Boil 1 litre of water and put in a bowl along with the sugar and stir until sugar has dissolved.
Add tea bags and leave until it cools completely (it has to be at room temperature otherwise you will kill the scoby)
Split mixture between two jars, add 1 cup of previous batch to each jar, and then top with 1.5 litres of tap water in each.
Cover with a cloth and elastic band (make sure you cover well so that nothing can get in - FYI fruit flies love kombucha!) and leave for 4 days
Taste once a day to see if it's to your taste. Once it’s ready, strain (remove and keep the scoby) and decant into fermentation bottles/jars (use glass, not plastic or metal - I like these jars) leaving a gap of 2 or so inches at the top for the next step - the second fermentation. Save 2 cups of liquid for your next fermentation!
Here’s where you can add flavour. I like to use fresh fruit: apple, kiwi, passionfruit, pineapple or orange. Mash the fruit and add it to each jar.
Leave the jars in a cool, dark place for 3-10 days. I start to taste around day 3 and stop when I am happy with the flavour.
Due to the carbonation process, the pressure can rise in your jars and they may explode, so best to “burp” them every couple of days to release the pressure. The more fruit you add, the quicker the fermentation.
Once completed, strain the fruit and place the bottles in the fridge. Once chilled, it’s ready to drink! Mine is usually gone within the week.
What not to do
Given there’s a balance of yeast and bacteria to contend with, you can definitely stuff up your scoby and kombucha in more than a few ways! Check out Bodhi owner Heaven Leigh’s 8 Don’ts of Making Kombucha.
More about fermenting
As a well-read kombucha enthusiast, Mark says there are a lot of books out there about fermentations, but there are his favourites:
Fermentation - “This was my starting point book for fermenting, covering how to make your own sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha and more.”
Ferment: A guide to the ancient art of making cultured foods - “Love this book. A great guide to making fermented foods and drinks.”
The Noma Guide to Fermentation - “A comprehensive guide which contains a range of recipes, some are very advanced.”