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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28 thoughts on “Tea of Immortality

    • Good evening, Deb. The soda habit is so hard to kick. I think I could completely go without now, but I can’t say the same for my husband. He has such a sweet tooth and likes his bubbly. One thing we really DO like is our home brewed gingerale, so if the kombucha just doesn’t work out, we can always rely on that. That being said, it really is gross looking, isn’t it!

  1. I admire your determination.
    I bought a bottle of it at the store to taste it….nasty is the kindest word I can apply to it.
    Carbonation leaches the calcium from bones hastening osteoporosis and bone issues. So I quit my coca cola as my beverage of choice 40 year habit . I want cold turkey to filtered well water. Cheaper healthier and it tastes great..the only work we have to do is refill the charcoal filters from time to time.

    • Yeah – I know. We really need to kick soda pop out of our diets, but I thought that using kombucha as a replacement would be good. Well, not yet. The store bought stuff actually tasted passable to me, but then I have more of a savory taste bud than sweet. We do drink our well water (up on our future homestead) but we don’t filter ours because we had it tested and it is pure and clean. Much better than the nasty chlorinated, floridated stuff we get in our tap water in our valley home! Thanks for stopping by today, Sunny!

  2. We make about 7 1/2 gallons of kombucha every 2-3 weeks…. and we drink it plain… OR our favorite way to make it is to put ginger (either fresh or dried) into the kombucha after straining and bottling and before the 2nd ferment. The ginger has so many good health benefits… and we like the taste. 🙂 Hope that might help a bit. Of course, it won’t taste like soda when you still drink soda, so it helps if you aren’t expecting that. 🙂 We drink it with meals (we rarely drink anything with meals, but the kombucha is good for digestion)…. We have tried other fruits – blueberries, strawberries, lemons, and more…. but we keep going back to the ginger and it is by far, our favorite.

    • Thanks for this tip! We love the ginger ale that I have been brewing, so I will try ginger in the kombucha next! Do you feel the kombucha has made a difference in your digestion? What kind of tea do you use?

  3. When I made kombucha in a glass mixing bowl, it tasted good. I currently make it in a 3 gallon cylinder glass jar that we bought at Target (with only one gallon of brew) and it tastes different and not to our liking. We are hoping to move this summer, so I’m going to compost my scoby and start over after we get settled in our new place. I will go back to using a large glass mixing bowl and see if it tastes better to us again. (I have only used scobys I grew myself.) I have heard that a container where the top is wider than the bottom is better to brew in. I’m starting to think that may be true.

    As for flavor, we prefer strawberry, though my daughter will drink it with any berries/mixed fruit. I love the GT bottles that have ginger, but I have not tried using ginger at home to flavor, yet.

    Not everyone loves kombucha! My son and husband hate it.

    • Good morning, Jessica! I haven’t given up yet, and I did read a blog post last fall that said something about brewing with a larger surface area. Thanks for reminding me of that! However, wouldn’t that make a huge SCOBY? I am going to try some different flavor combinations, different teas (maybe even an herbal with green tea), and different methods to see if we can tolerate one more than the other. Thank you so much for this information and your comment!

      • Yes, they do grow larger. My only issue with a larger scoby was where to put it while I bottled the brew. I carefully put it in a smaller glass bowl, it sinks in, or flops over onto itself, but as long as you don’t leave it like that for a long period of time, it will be fine. You can also cut it up if you need smaller scobys. I did that for a friend, and her scoby grew just fine in her container.

        Kombucha has so many variables, I wish it always came out as good tasting as the store bought stuff!

        • Me too! I hope to someday get mine to taste as good as the store bought stuff, which makes me wonder if the store bought stuff is as pure as they say it is!

  4. Really enjoyed hearing about your tries and struggles to make kombucha that tastes good. Will continue to be interested if you find something that works for you. I haven’t made my own yet, but have it on my to-do list!

    • Good evening, Dan. I am getting a lot of good advice in the comments and have a lot more tries ahead of me! I hope you try it soon!

    • Thanks, Lydia, I hope I do find a tasty kombucha! After everything I have read about it, I think I will continue brewing it regardless, for it’s probiotic and immunity boosting properties. By the way, I made the butternut squash and mushroom lasagna a few days ago – it was very good! Thanks again for all your great vegetarian recipes!

  5. Hi Vickie, I have to say you have braver taste buds than I, even knowing how healthy the tea is, I cant even tolerate a bad tasting cough syrup, Im kinda wosie like that. I bet you will figure out the best recipe for your liking. And Im sure you will help others with your tips on recipes too. Thanks for sharing on Oh My Heartsie Girl this week.
    Wishing you good health, have a great weekend!!

  6. Oh my, you made me laugh with the tissue thing! It does look really disgusting. I don’t think I could get past that, but kudos to you for giving it a good try. I think I’ll stick to plain tea and water 🙂 Thank you for sharing at What We Accomplished Wednesdays. Have a great weekend!
    Blessings, Deborah

    • Hello, Deborah! You know, I only tell it like it is – disgusting or not! Of course, I may end up drinking just plain ole tea and water also, and keeping the kombucha as a “medicinal” gulp for the morning.

  7. I have been brewing kombucha for years. My favourite flavor is lemon ginger. You can try adding frozen or dried fruit also. My niece makes a cranberry salad on thanksgiving that I also add to the kombucha. I freeze the salad in ice cube trays to use all year long.

    • Good morning, Lori. The lemon ginger kombucha sounds great, that will be my next flavor experiment! Cranberry salad in kombucha also sounds pretty good. What a great idea to freeze it for use later!

  8. Hi Vickie,
    I’ve been brewing kombucha for a couple years now and have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. When I enjoy it I brew a lot of it and when I get sick of it I just let it sit and the SCOBY gets huge (I’ve left it for over 2 months and other than getting really vinegary it was fine). Then when I start wanting some again I toss out most of the liquid and start over.
    The key for me in enjoying the flavor has been bottling it with a lot of juice. We press apples in the fall and freeze the juice and so I pull out a bag of juice, thaw it, split it up into several bottles, filling each about 1/3 full, then top up with the kombucha. This seems to work pretty well, making a beverage that most of my family enjoys. Even so, sometimes we dilute it in our cups with extra carbonated water or juice.
    Interesting info from the above comment about carbonation leaching calcium, I’m going to have to read some more about that.
    Cheers,
    Jon

    • Good to hear from you, Jon! My SCOBY is in hibernation right now, but once it gets a bit warmer, I will bring it out and try apple juice as you suggest!

  9. I have been drinking this tea now for about 20+ years. I will tell you that I only brew it for seven days in a dark place. I also mix the stronger tasting tea with cranberry juice. (all natural juice) and it cuts the vinegar taste. I will say that this tea is one of the best natural healing for the body. In 1990 I had a terrible shingle out break. This shingle out break happened again for the next two years. The doctors told me I would have it every year for the rest of my life. I begin drinking 4 oz. of this tea a day, and I have never had another shingle out break since then. Keep trying the tea, it does work to restore health.

    • Thank you, Laura, for this advice! In fact, it’s very timely because we have had a serious health issue occur recently in my family. Personally, I like the taste of Kombucha, but my husband is a bit leary when it ferments for too long! Have a great Christmas!

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