Kombucha

I am currently at Pun Pun Organic Farm outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. They promote self-reliance and provide many workshops for both Thai people and foreigners. They do everything from seed saving to natural building and are a really amazing community of people! Recently I have been getting more interested in fermenting and was very pleased when one of the women here wanted to show me how to make kombucha. So, I thought I’d do a blog so everyone can see how easy the process is to create this healthy and yummy drink!

First off, lets answer the question...

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is essentially just fermented tea that is made using a SCOBY (Symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). You might hear some people also refer to the SCOBY as “the mother”. It is said to have derived from China and the literal translation of the Chinese word for “kombucha” translates to “mushroom tea”. However, the SCOBY in kombucha is not a mushroom, it just resembles one.  So, in making kombucha when you add sugar and tea to the mother it results in B vitamins, probiotics, antioxidants, and wonderful fizzy yumminess!

Note: Many people are very passionate about the positive health benefits that come from consuming kombucha, however, there are some arguments on whether or not kombucha is scientifically proven to improve your health. So always remember it’s important to do your own research and be conscious of where your sources come from! Even with that being said though, I think it’s safe to say if you are a soda lover and crave the fizz that coke provides, kombucha is a much better alternative!

How do I make it?

The first thing you need is to acquire a mother culture or SCOBY. Fortunately, it’s easier to get one than you would think! So don’t fret if you don’t have any kombucha making friends to gift you one. All you have to do is go buy a bottle of kombucha from the store. Drink half of it and then pour the other half into a large sterilized jar. Put cheesecloth over the jar, held down with a rubber band so that no dirt, bacteria or bugs can get into it. Leave it out on your counter for a few days and it will start fermenting all on it’s own. You will notice a thin clear jelly layer forming in your jar, and that’s your mother!

So the thin layer that will show up is your very first mother, you COULD go ahead and make your first batch of kombucha with this, however it’s best to get her matured first. You can do this by just brewing black tea and sugar and adding it to the jar and letting it ferment for a few days. (You will want the tea you brew to be sweeter than anything you would normally drink) Start tasting it every day or two and see what’s happening. As long as it’s still sweet, it still has a ways to go. For your first round you will want to let it get past sour so that you will have a strong culture to work with. You will notice that your mother will get thicker and thicker and eventually turn white.

But aren’t I supposed to be staying away from sugar?

Well, since the mother is a mixture of yeast and bacteria, the yeast eats the sugar and turns it into alcohol. Then the bacteria eat the alcohol and turn it into lactic acid bacteria, which, like yogurt, the bacteria is supposed to boost immunity and overall health. So you are basically being left with little to no traces of sugar. Once you’ve gone from sweet to sour, you’ve got your kombucha! (This process of the yeast and bacteria is fermentation)

Once you have a nice, thick white mother culture you are ready to make the kombucha you will drink. You should pour off about 60-80% of what’s in your jar, leaving behind your mother. The amount you pour out depends on how strong your kombucha is. If it’s SUPER sour you might want to pour off just a little more. Also, if you have a garden, don’t throw it out! Pouring the kombucha on your growing vegetables works as a great fertilizer!

Now you’re left with a little bit of sour kombucha and your mother. You are officially ready to experiment! You can use any kind of tea, herbs, fruit juice etc to your kombucha. Just be aware, not everything you try will end up tasting good.  I recommend using a recipe for your first time so that you end up with something tasty! Here we made a chai kombucha and it turned out very delicious. Or as they say in Thai, “Aroi!”

Here is a chart from Pun Pun of the process. I will also type it out just as an overview!

  1. Boil water
  2. Add tea of any kind with sugar (make it stronger and sweeter than you would normally drink)
  3. Let it cool completely
  4.  Add tea to the mother and some mature kombucha liquid left over from previous batch
  5. Cover with cloth tied with elastic bands so that it is open to air. Leave for 7-15 days depending on local temperature. (I’ve found some sources online say as much as 30 days) If left in a dark place it will become fizzy.

Just make sure to taste it every few days to see how it’s going!

I will attach the recipe we used, but first let me note some things that were stated by the people here at Pun Pun.

  • Any sugar is good to use, however be aware that some sugar is sweeter than others so you may need to adjust your recipe depending on what sugar is available to you. Also, you cannot use honey or stevia as a replacement for the sugar, but they can be added for flavor. If you are interested in using honey check out Jun Tea.
  • After making multiple batches, if the mother gets too big, take the top layer out and give it away or use it for compost.
  • If the mother looks gross or ugly just wash it with kombucha or vinegar to clean it, however don’t use water.
  • Make sure to clean your container very well and sterilize it thoroughly so your kombucha doesn’t get contaminated.
  • If you see any mold on the mother, throw it away along with the kombucha. The mother should always be clean and white in color.

ALSO – some helpful tips

  • If you are adding hard spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves etc you should add those as your water is boiling for your tea. Soft herbs like mint should be added with the tea once the water is already boiled.
  • If you want to add fruit juice, add it to your culture at the same time you add your tea

Now, as I said earlier, there are many said health benefits! Including but not limited to:

  • Improved digestion and bowel health
  • Cleansing and detoxification
  • Increased beneficial bacteria in your digestive system
  • Immune support

Last note!

Please be aware that the sanitary conditions of brewing kombucha are extremely important. Drinking contaminated kombucha can make you sick so only drink kombucha that you know comes from a sterile and safe place.

Also – because kombucha is a fermented drink there are traces of alcohol. The longer it ferments, the higher the alcohol percentage. What you buy in the store has to be regulated so that it is under the legal alcohol limit but just be aware if you make it yourself that you won’t know the accurate levels of alcohol content.

So like anything – drink in moderation and enjoy!

Ingredients for Chai Kombucha

  • 1 Gallon of water
  • Brew tea with:
  • 4 Black tea bags
  • black peppercorns
  • Cloves
  • Star anise
  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • 1/2-1 cup of sugar depending on the kind of sugar you use, just make sure it’s extra sweet

I hope that you felt this was informative and helpful and that you take the initiative to try making kombucha on your own! Don't be discouraged if it doesn't turn out well your first time, it can be a lot of trial and error! Have a wonderful day!