Fun with Fermentation

The Power of Kombucha

By Holly Lowery | Photography by Mary Grace Johnson 

“Kam-boocha.” “Kom-booka.” “Koom-baka.”

Despite the fact that most people have a hard time pronouncing kombucha (come-booch-uh, for the record), that hasn’t stopped the drink from making an appearance in an increasing number of households lately.

So why all the fuss?

Kombucha is a great source for your daily dose of probiotics. Probiotics are a combination of bacteria and yeast that keeps your digestive system working at its peak. They’re essentially a tune-up for your gut. Having a healthy gut has been linked to improved immunity, decreased inflammation in the gut and even improvement in mood. And the process of fermentation actually makes digesting your food more comfortable and efficient.

Kombucha is fermented sweet tea, made by combining sweet black tea with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), and left to aerobically ferment — meaning the tea is exposed to oxygen during the fermentation process. The yeasts convert the sugar into alcohol, and the bacteria turn the alcohol into more beneficial bacteria. After two fermentation phases, you’re left with a sweet, tart, probiotic-rich drink.

If the health perks aren’t convincing enough, maybe you’ll be swayed by the infinite combinations of flavors and uses. For example, one of the most popular flavor combinations I’ve tested amongst friends is a maple-lavender kombucha. The sweet, floral qualities are refreshing on their own, or served in the evening as a cocktail mixer with some gin and fresh lavender sprigs.

My favorite way to get my hands on kombucha is home-fermentation, because it allows me to experiment with final additional flavors, and also with the first fermentation process, which determines the balance of sweetness and acidity.

To make your own kombucha, you’ll need:

  • Fermentation vessel (preferably glass)
  • Tight-knit cloth or coffee filter
  • Rubber band
  • 1 gallon low mineral water
  • 1 oz black tea
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c plain kombucha
  • A warm, dark place (70 to 75 degrees)
  • Bottles with plastic lids

The process (yields 1 gallon):

  1. Combine the water with tea and sugar. Let steep for at least one hour.
  2. When tea has cooled to room temperature, pour into your fermentation vessel (1 gallon glass jars work well, as you can later seal them in the second fermentation stage), leaving enough room for your SCOBY and plain kombucha.
  3. Add the plain kombucha. It acts as “starter liquid,” giving the yeast a boost and triggering it to start producing alcohol.
  4. With clean hands, add your SCOBY to the tea/kombucha mixture. It might not sit on top; this is completely normal and will probably change as fermentation continues.
  5. Cover the vessel with a cloth or coffee filter, and secure with a rubber band. This is extremely important, especially in the summer months, so as not to attract fruit flies. Kombucha needs oxygen to produce bacteria, which is why the cloth is essential in this phase of fermentation. It allows the oxygen to get in, without letting in any other harmful substances or critters.
  6. Place your batch somewhere warm and away from sunlight. Kombucha thrives at around 70 to 75 degrees, which makes it perfect to brew in the summer heat. Leave the batch for six to seven days. At the six-day mark, begin taste-testing to see if it’s reached your desired balance of sweet and tart.
  7. Once it tastes good to you, remove the SCOBY and reserve 1 cup of starter liquid for your next batch.
  8. Add your final flavors to this batch.
  9. To carbonate, add a bit of sugar, either in the form of juice, cane or fruit sugar. This will reignite the yeast and create carbonation during this second stage.
  10. Seal your fermentation vessel with a plastic lid. If you want to transfer your batch into separate bottles, do that now. Seal them with a lid to trap in the CO2, and let sit for another two to three days.
  11. While this batch is finishing, you can start a fresh batch with your leftover starter liquid and SCOBY. Repeat steps 1 through 7 to create a continual supply of kombucha.
  12. You can keep your kombucha in the fridge for upwards of one month. After that, it’s still safe to consume, but will taste more like vinegar the longer it sits.

Enjoy! SWM

Holly Lowery is a Syracuse-based health coach. She and her brewing partners are in the midst of developing a microbrewery and taproom in the downtown Syracuse area. Keep watch this fall for the KTTL Storehouse & Fermentory taproom to experience their lineup of raw kombucha, kombucha beer, craft beer and fermented food offerings.