The ABCs of Kombucha Tea
“Stop by on Sunday to pick up the SCOBY and learn how to care for it.” That was the text message I received from Aunty Jackie that began my relationship with kombucha tea and brewing the fermented drink. I was intrigued, but also a little concerned that I was being tricked into caring for a cartoon dog that rode around in a van with a gang of kids that solved mysteries. I was relieved to find that I was in fact caring for a slimy disc floating in a honey-colored liquid contained in a jar. How hard could this be?
What is Kombucha
Kombucha is a fermented drink with origins in ancient Asian medicine. That slimy disc found in brewing Kombucha is the mysterious-sounding SCOBY, short for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. When tea is left to ferment with the SCOBY for a week or so, a carbonated brew is created.
The immediate and lasting health benefits linked to kombucha consumption are unquestionably impressive, including decreased risk of cancer and liver disease. The fermented brew is full of enzymes, B and C vitamins, polyphenols, antioxidants and alkaloids in a living form. Kombucha delivers beneficial, organic amino acids and compounds such as acetic acid, lactic acid, gluconic acid and glucuronic acid that aid in restoring balance in the body.
Why Runners Should Drink Kombucha
It’s happened to the best of us. Cramps, irritated bowels, or bloating hit halfway through a workout, sabotaging a perfectly good run. Fortunately, the probiotics found in fermented foods like kombucha have the potential to improve digestive function and ease nausea, cramping, irritated bowels, and other stomach issues.
Drinking kombucha improves the health of connective tissues related to running, including cartilage, fascia, tendons, ligaments, and bone. Each sip increases waste elimination and nutrient digestion, so we can better absorb nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, fluoride, magnesium, protein, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin K, which contribute to strong bones.
Post-workout tissue inflammation is common among runners, and can delay recovery and even lead to overuse injuries over time. Touted for its ability to decrease inflammation, kombucha can help runners better control post-exercise inflammation. Additionally, kombucha increases energy and immunity, supports detoxification, and improves metabolism.
You can find kombucha teas on grocery market shelves, or brew them yourself!
Brew Your Own Kombucha
Spend a few minutes on any Pinterest board related to gluten-free recipes, natural foods, and probiotic health, and you’ll likely find photo after photo of glass jars filled with this amber-hued brew. Natural health enthusiasts and foodies alike are taking kombucha to the next level by infusing their drinks with flavor. Ready to grow your own kombucha and reap the benefits? It’s as easy as ABC!2
2 Gallons of Hibiscus Kombucha
Brew and Prep Time: 30 minutes
Ingredients and Supplies:
1.5 cups organic sugar
10 to 12 bags of black tea
1 cup starter liquid
16 cups of distilled or filtered water
One 1 to 2 gallon glass beverage dispenser
24 to 34 oz glass swing bottles (2 to 4, depending on how much liquid your dispenser holds. Bottles should have glass tops that seal tightly)
3 to 4 tablespoons of dried hibiscus petals times the amount of bottles being prepared
1 pot for boiling water
1 cloth to cover dispenser
1 rubber band
A) Begin the Brew
The tea feeds the culture needed to create kombucha. Use an organic tea that is free of oils that could otherwise compromise the culture you are growing, and select from black, green, oolong, or white tea for your brew.
- Boil 8 cups of water in a pot on the stovetop. Once the water comes to a boil, remove the pot from the heat.
- Add tea bags to the hot water and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. This is the foundation for your new brew.
- Pour 8 cups of water into the dispenser, then add 1.5 cups of organic sugar and stir.
- Next, remove tea bags and pour tea into glass dispenser and stir.
- Be sure that the tea has cooled first, which may take up to an hour. Never pour hot tea in the dispenser, as it may crack the glass. Tea that is too hot can also damage the SCOBY if you expose your culture to it.
- Add the kombucha SCOBY to your new brew, followed by the starter liquid on top of the culture.
- Cover the top of the dispenser with a cotton cloth instead of the lid it came with, and fasten with a rubber band to prohibit contamination and the formation of mold.
- Keep your container in a location that is dry and dark, with a sufficient flow of warm air (keep the fermenting kombucha out of the sunlight). I keep my brew in the back corner of my kitchen counter where the temperature is about 80°F, which is the ideal temperature for fermenting kombucha.
- As sugar and tea are transformed to acids and other beneficial matter, your brew will progressively get lighter. Be patient, waiting 7 days before testing the kombucha brew.
B) Kombucha Taste Test
- When 7 days is up, a juvenile SCOBY should have formed on the top of the brewing kombucha, while the mother will be growing under the brew.
- Pour a sip of the kombucha in a glass. Ideally, the brew should taste tangy and tart, not sweet or sour.
- If the brew is too sweet, let it sit for another day before tasting again. Depending on conditions, brewing can take a total of two weeks.
- Repeat the taste test daily until the level of sweetness has diminished, and the fermentation process is complete.
- If the brew is unpleasantly tart or sour, decrease the brewing cycle by a day or two going forward.
- Apply some patience, as it may take a few cycles to perfect your kombucha.
C) Bottle your Bucha
- Clean your hands with vinegar again, preferably a mix of equal parts water and white vinegar kept in a nearby spray bottle.
- Using a laddle, remove 2 cups of liquid from the top of your dispenser and pour it into a clean bowl. Remove the SCOBY culture and add it to the bowl as well.
- Cover the culture with a clean cotton cloth and set the bowl aside momentarily, as you will use this as your starter liquid for the next batch you brew.
- Flavoring is accomplished through a second fermentation. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of dried hibiscus petals to each clean, glass bottle, then pour the remaining brew from your dispenser into the glass bottles until it is empty.
- Seal each bottle tightly when you are done flavoring.
- Leave your bottles out for another 24 hours to absorb the flavor and ferment further, then refrigerate until you are ready to drink your brew.
- Protect your kitchen from possible explosions by covering flavored bottles with cloth towels.
- When bottling is finished, start boiling water for your next batch of kombucha. Once you have boiled another 4 cups of water, and your tea has steeped and cooled slightly, return the SCOBY and starter liquid you set aside back to the glass dispenser, and begin the fermentation process again.
I recommend cracking open a cold bottle of kombucha instead of a beer after your next hard run!
Start off by drinking 4 ounces of kombucha and make note of any adverse responses during the first week. Decrease or increase consumption accordingly. I drink about 17 ounces daily with nothing but positive results!
Throughout the fermentation process, both caffeine and sugar area absorbed by the kombucha culture, contingent on the ingredients and length of the brewing cycle. The amount produced is insignificant, as Kombucha contains only a few grams of sugar and a few milligrams of caffeine at most per 4 ounce serving.
The brown “strings” in your brew are yeast strands, and they form as carbonation occurs, affirming a balance that is healthy. Although they are occasionally strained out of the brew before bottling, it is recommended that you drink them instead, as the strains of bacteria and yeast contained in kombucha enhance gut health.
The alcohol content in kombucha is minimal, but if you don’t refrigerate your brew after the fermentation period, the alcohol content could rise above 1 percent.
Aunty Jackie’s Kombucha Tips
Flavor your kombucha with the fruit or dried herbs of your choice, but be aware that blueberry, strawberry, and ginger can cause CO2 to build up quickly, so don’t fill your bottles to the very top. Leave a little space to account for carbonation, and open the bottle with as much caution as you would use opening a bottle of champagne.
Bottles should not have plastic or metal lids, which can cause contamination as the acidity will corrode metal. Remove jewelry when brewing and bottling to eliminate any chances of metal coming in contact with the fermenting kombucha. If your dispenser has a metal spicket, don’t be concerned, as it will not interfere with your brew. Consider cleaning it with your water and vinegar mix before refilling the dispenser to remove any build up from pouring the kombucha into bottles.
Always keep your dispenser and bottles clean. Keep the spray bottle with equal parts water and white vinegar handy, and cleanse your hands with the spray before touching the SCOBY, ladle, or bottles.
To prevent the growth of mold, keep your brew covered while fermenting (no peeking!) and spray the cotton cloth covering your dispenser every few days. To take an extra measure of precaution against contamination, wear rubber gloves when handling the SCOBY and brewing the kombucha.
As it turns out, caring for Kombucha is not that difficult. If you want to improve your health, there are a growing number of brewing kits available, and endless kombucha recipes to try. Be patient, have fun, and enjoy brewing up a gallon of goodness!