Making Flavored Kombucha

IMG_3427Last year I posted my recipe for kombucha and since then I have had numerous requests for how to add the fruit in a second fermentation. I decided to write a new post on the process since I have been doing some experimenting with new flavors. If you are a fan of kombucha you really should consider making your own. It is SO MUCH CHEAPER and you can create your own unique blends!

First, a little science/nutrition about just what the heck is kombucha and why you should consider adding it to your list of things to consume regularly! Basically, kombucha is a sugar-tea that is fermented by adding a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast). The scoby is the “home” for the bacteria and yeast that transform sweet tea into tangy, fizzy kombucha . For you super curious folks, the main yeast component in the soby is Saccharomyces along with some other yeast varieties, and the main bacterial part is Gluconacetobacter xylinus.  There, how’s that for TMI?  I am a big fan of eating fermented foods for gut health, so I try to include a variety of fermented things like veggie kraut, tempeh and kombucha in my daily diet.  There is a bit of alcohol in kombucha (usually less than 1%) so be aware if you are sensitive to alcohol.IMG_3481

Some people are very worried about the scoby going “bad” or nasty bacteria growing on it, etc.  I have no desire to get sick from something that is supposed to be healthy so I make sure I wash all my jars, pots, bottles with very hot, soapy water every time I use them.  While the scoby is a pretty strange looking thing, it is easy to tell if is has gone bad.  It should be slightly off-white in color (the tea will stain it a slightly brownish color on the underside).  Every time you make a batch a new layer of scoby grows so the top is always a white color.

Strings coming off the bottom and random pieces of brownish “stuff” are fine. I strain mine into the bottles so that “sediment” gets tossed in the compost. If there are black spots or orange or green mold growing on it do not use it.  Start with a fresh scoby if you have any worries.  I have  been making kombucha weekly for over a year with the same scoby I started with and have never had any problems, though every few batches, I peel off the bottom layer and feed it to my chickens.  Otherwise, your scoby keeps growing layers and gets thicker and thicker.  I like to keep mine about an inch thick which is several layers compressed together.  The photo below shows the layer I peeled off.  Note: The little square things are pieces of ginger I added to my last batch. They do not affect the scoby at all.

IMG_3494
“A healthy SCOBY should be white with just a bit of brown stain from the tea”

So enough talk about the strange, alien-looking scoby.  Let’s make some yummy kombucha.  It only takes about 20 minutes, once every 5 – 10 days or so to make a new batch, so once you get into the routine it is so easy to always have kombucha in your fridge.  If you need to take a break for longer than a month, you can leave your scoby in about a quart of the sugar-tea mixture and put it in the fridge.  That will slow down the fermentation but not kill your scoby and keep it from getting too vinegary tasting.  When you are ready for a new batch, take it out of fridge and let it come to room temperature.  Make a new gallon of tea, add the sugar and a cup of the old liquid, along with your scoby and you are back in the kombucha making business👍IMG_3463

Ingredients:

  •  4 quarts water (this makes enough so you can save about a cup of the sweet tea for the next batch.  Just put it in a small jar and keep in fridge. I have also forgotten this step and it seems to come out just fine, so I will let you decide if you want to add this step!
  • 1 cup sugar (regular granulated sugar works best but I try to use organic sugar).
  • 10  tea bags – black tea, green tea, or a mix (or 3 TBSP loose tea).
  • 1 -2 cups starter tea from last batch of kombucha (optional: after your first batch you will have some starter tea to use.  The first time you can add a bit of store-bought UNPASTEURIZED kombucha if you want but it is not necessary). 
  • 1 scoby – you can buy one online (not expensive) or get one from a friend who makes kombucha.  I like to share my scoby with friends along with my recipe, like sourdough starter.
  • organic fruit, herbs and spices for the second fermenting (good ones: are blueberries and ginger, lemon (add 1 TBSP juice to each bottle) lavender and ginger, mango and blueberries with some mint leaves, raspberries, peaches, or whatever you want to try.  Just blueberries by themselves make a very delicious and beautiful kombucha. Make sure all your fruit and herbs are washed and preferably organic.IMG_3502

Equipment:

  1. Stock pot that holds at least 1 gallon – do not use cast iron or aluminum.  Stainless steel or enamel are good.
  2. 1-gallon glass jar (I have 2 gallon jars that I rotate, so I can always start with a clean jar for each new batch)
  3. 1 unbleached coffee filter (do not use cheesecloth, the holes are too big and things can get inside.  Coffee filters are cheap and allow oxygen but nothing else.
  4. 1 rubber band (to secure the coffee filter to the top of the jar during fermenting
  5. funnel (to pour tea into your bottles without spilling it everywhere).

Directions:

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a big pot on high heat. Once boiling, remove from the heat and add your teabags or loose tea.  Stir in one cup of sugar until it dissolves.  (You can use other sweeteners from what I have read, but I have not tried them, yet).
  2. Allow the pot to sit and the tea to steep for about 20 minutes, then remove and discard tea bags.  If you are using loose tea you will need to strain out the tea leaves into another pot.  (This is why I use tea bags, one less step!).
  3. Let the mixture cool down to room temperature (which usually takes about an hour or so).  When it has cooled, carefully pour it into a sterilized gallon glass jar, leaving enough space for another cup of liquid and the scoby.  Very gently slide your scoby into the jar full of tea and add about a cup of your previous kombucha tea that you saved (before you added any fruit or herbs). If this is your first batch you can add some store-bought plain, unpasteurized kombucha if you want, but it is NOT necessary.IMG_3416
  4. Cover the jar with the coffee filter and secure with the rubber band.  Let it sit in a cool, dark place or at least out of direct sunlight for 5 -7 days.  The longer it ferments the more vinegary it tastes, so keep that in mind.  You can stop at this stage and drink it, but you probably won’t have much fizz and it will be a basic kombucha flavor.  I highly encourage you to take the next step!!
  5. SECOND FERMENTATION & ADDING YOUR FLAVORS: After 5 – 7 days of the first fermentation you are now ready to do the really fun part – adding flavors and making it fizzy!

    IMG_3504
    From left to right: blueberries/ginger/lemon zest; mango; lemon juice/ginger/blackberry balsamic vinegar
  6. Take 4 or 5 clean bottles with air-tight lids.  I recommend buying some beer-making bottles (inexpensive on amazon.com) to ensure you get a nice fizz.  Line them on the counter and fill each one with about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of fruit of your choice.  I suggest blueberries as a start because they are easy and make a very delicious brew.  You can use fresh or frozen fruit.  I push the blueberries into the bottles until the entire bottom is covered, then I mash them a bit with a chopstick. I also like to add about 2 – 3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger into each bottle because I am addicted to ginger, but it is also good without it.IMG_3501
  7. Pour half of your big jar of kombucha through a strainer into a large measuring cup, keeping the scoby from coming out.  Leave at least 2 cups of liquid in the jar with the scoby. Put the funnel in the top of one of the jars, pour the kombucha tea into the bottle, leaving about 2 or 3 inches of headspace.  Do this with all the jars.  Seal the caps on the bottles and leave in cool, dark place for another 5 – 7 days until you can see some carbonation happening at the top.  You don’t want to leave them out too long or they will get too fizzy and when you open them all your precious kombucha will explode all over your kitchen.  Yes, I have learned this the hard way and was wiping blueberry kombucha off my ceiling and cabinets for days.
  8. IMPORTANT: When you think it is ready, BEFORE you open a bottle put it in the refrigerator and let it cool.  I discovered this brings down the effervescence a bit so you don’t have my experience of exploding kombucha.  If the one bottle isn’t fizzy enough for you, just recap it and put it back on the counter with the other bottles for another day or so. You should see tiny bubbles around the top of the liquid.
  9. Keep the bottles refrigerated once it has reached the fizzy stage and open carefully in the sink, just in case.IMG_3416
  10. ENJOY!!!! If you have any great flavor combo’s please let me know.  I would love to hear what people are doing with their kombucha.
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