Tea of Immortality

In my quest to find a healthier, more self reliant lifestyle, I came across a beverage that has been called the “tea of immortality”, otherwise known as kombucha.  My husband and I are trying to completely kick the soda pop habit, and since kombucha has a natural fizziness to it after it’s second ferment, I thought we would see if this would be a viable alternative.

The history of kombucha is long and varies from country to country, but the truth is that kombucha has found it’s way around the world.  In Germany it is called heldenpilz, in Russia it is known as kvas, and in China they call it cha Ju.  I thought that anything known by so many different names and passed down by so many different cultures must be worth investigating. Kombucha is supposed to be one of the best probiotics around, and as we all know, good gut health means everything!

I got my Kombucha starter from Cultures for Health.  What you get is a dehydrated SCOBY, which is actually an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.  You can also call it a tea mushroom, Manchu fungus, tea mushroom, etc., but for purposes of clarity, I will call it a SCOBY.  The SCOBY is what turns sweetened tea into kombucha.

how to brew kombucha

I started out with black tea, since this is generally the most recommended type of tea to use for kombucha.

The instructions for re-hydrating your SCOBY are clear and simple. For full instructions or if you want to order a dehydrated SCOBY, you can visit Cultures of Health.  I am not an affiliate of theirs, but I think their website gives out all the information you might ever need on fermented foods.  I used black tea for my first try, which is the recommended tea. You should not use tea that has added oils in it for flavoring, such as Earl Grey, and herbal teas don’t work unless they are used along with regular tea and a mature SCOBY. The sweetened tea, with vinegar and the dehydrated SCOBY is then covered with a coffee filter or clean cloth, placed where it can breathe in room temperature (not in a closed cupboard), out of direct sunlight and where it won’t be moved or vibrated for 30 days.

Brewing Kombucha

A rehydrated kombucha SCOBY, ready to make some kombucha.

After one month, I took the now rehydrated SCOBY out of the jar and, following instructions, placed it in a freshly prepared tea, sugar and vinegar solution.  Did I try the kombucha from the first batch? You bet!  Did I like it?  NO!  It was very, very vinegary!  I could easily swallow a tablespoon per day if this is what I needed to do for good health (I have done this with apple cider vinegar and fire cider), but drink it as a beverage?  Absolutely not!

The good thing is that I knew from reading about kombucha that the longer the sweet tea is allowed to ferment, the more acidic and vinegary it will become, and this batch had fermented for 30 days.  No wonder it was so vinegary!

With the second batch, which is really the first drinkable batch, I let it ferment for the suggested 14 days.  It was apparent that the SCOBY was very happy, because I could see the trail of yeast and bacteria descending from the SCOBY, and a new scoby was forming just under the first scoby!

Brewing kombucha

Look closely at this kombucha brewing. The SCOBY is the thin white layer on the top of the tea, with a new SCOBY developing underneath. You can see tendrils of the SCOBY reaching down into the tea/sugar/vinegar mixture. Looks kinda creepy, doesn’t it?

I will be honest with you.  Looking at this made my stomach a bit queasy!  All my life I have thrown out foods that were moldy.  I know, I know, mushrooms are a fungus.  And cheese, well, cheese is also made from mold, which is a type of fungus.  But seeing the trailing mold running through something I am supposed to drink?  Well, let’s just say I was a bit…  um…   repulsed.  The SCOBY itself looks like something out of science fiction. Everytime I held one, I kept waiting for it to start breathing!

But, you know me.  I am willing to try something if it means better health, frugality or even self-reliant living.  (Doesn’t that all pretty much mean the same thing? 😀 )  Since I was trying to find an alternative to commercial soda-pop, I was willing to give it a good try.

Brewing Tea of Immortality

When you buy a dehydrated SCOBY from Cultures for Health, they include a package of pH testing strips. These strips ensure that you kombucha is ready to drink by being acidic enough.

After the 14 days of brewing, I tested the kombucha to make sure it was acidic enough to drink.  It was.  Then I tasted it and…

drum roll…

it was still vinegary.

Not as strong as the 30 day vinegar taste, but vinegary just the same.  I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.  I wondered if perhaps this kombucha culture had a bacteria and/or yeast that made a particularly vinegary and acidic tasting tea, because most SCOBY cultures aren’t exactly the same as the next.  Some have more of this yeast and some have more of that bacteria.  I had read that you can start a kombucha SCOBY from store bought kombucha, and since the store bought kombucha didn’t taste as vinegary to me as the ones that I had home brewed, I wanted to see if I could get a SCOBY started with the store bought stuff.

How to brew kombucha

You can see the scoby starting to develop on the top of the sweet tea/vinegar mixture. By golly, you CAN get your own scoby from a bottle of raw, unfiltered, unflavored kombucha!

I bought a bottle of kombucha from our local health food store and, sure enough, there was a glob of “stuff” at the bottom.  I followed the instructions just the same as I did for the rehydrated batch of SCOBY, but instead of adding a rehydrated scoby, I added the entire bottle of purchased kombucha with the glob SCOBY in it.

Yes, I know.  It does look like something you would blow into a tissue!  In fact, I enjoy showing the kombucha to everyone who comes to our home.  Their first reaction is “what do you do with it?” and when I tell them I drink it, their second reaction is always “eeewwwww”.

I get a kick out of it every time!  😀

How to brew kombucha

Two layers of kombucha SCOBY the newest is always on the bottom.

My experiment with the store bought kombucha worked!  Within one week I could see a new SCOBY growing on the top of the tea!  In fact, it seemed like this SCOBY grew a lot faster than the dehydrated one I had purchased.

So now I had two SCOBYs.  I decided to let both of these ferment in new sweetened tea/vinegar solution for just 10 days and then try it.  At Cultures for Health, they don’t recommend fermenting for less than 10 days or the brew may not be acidic enough to kill off all the bad bacteria and such.

The result after 10 days?  Not bad.  Not really good, but not really bad either.

The next step is to try a second ferment to get the natural effervescence like a soda-pop, and also add some flavoring to hopefully mask the taste. 😉Home brewed kombucha

After perusing several blogs on the internet, I decided to try two different flavors:  cherry vanilla (supposed to be reminiscent of Dr. Pepper) and blueberry lemon.  I had one growler (a bottle commonly used by beer brewers with a flip-top “bail type” stopper) from a long extinct craft brewery in Sonora, California, and purchased two more at Ikea for only $3.99 each.

Brewing Fermented Sweet Tea

The kombucha is allowed to ferment a second time with flavorings, so that it will get that “soda pop” fizz and taste better.

I poured the kombucha into each bottle and using a funnel added a handful of blueberries and a few lemon slices to one bottle, and a 1″ piece of split vanilla bean with a handful of dried cherries to another.

After one day I tested the bottles kombucha by opening them and ♪♫♪♪ pfffttt-plunk ♪♫♫♪  they had fizz!  In fact, the blueberries quickly rose to the top of the bottle carried by wings of little bubble angels.  However, I knew from reading other blogs that it was imperative that I let it go through at least 3 days of a second ferment – just to get that really good fizz.

 

Three days later, I put the bottles in the refrigerator in anticipation of drinking the now flavored and fizzy kombucha with dinner.

Fermented Sweet Tea

A cold glass of the Tea of Immortality!

How did it taste?  Well, let’s say it isn’t my favorite.  It isn’t good, but it isn’t bad either.  I think I can easily drink about 2-4 ounces a day, just for it’s health benefit. At first we thought we liked the blueberry/lemon best, but then the cherry vanilla ended up the clear winner. However, this won’t be gracing my table anytime soon to serve alongside dinner.  My husband’s palate is even more sensitive to the vinegary taste than mine is, so no, this won’t be a sodapop substitute for us.

Not yet.

If you know me, you know that I don’t give up so easily!

I want to try a few more rounds of brew using Oolong tea, green tea and white tea and see how that tastes.  I also want to try brewing the kombucha with a little less vinegar to start with, and see if that makes a difference.  So, stay tuned – there will be more to post soon!

If anyone has any suggestions or blog posts about kombucha and flavored kombucha, please leave a comment below!

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