Lamplighter Food Column: Kombucha

By Brady McGinley ’20

In Lamplighter’s first Food Column, master kombucha brewer Brady McGinley guides us through a step-by-step process to make our very own brew at home.

Kombucha is a fermented, naturally carbonated, sweetened tea, often consumed for its various health benefits, or just for its unique and tangy flavor. It has been around for centuries, but has recently spiked in popularity as a health food, particularly for its probiotic properties. However, if you’ve ever seen shelves of Kombucha at the grocery store, you’ve noticed how expensive the drink can be. Despite the price of buying it in the store, making kombucha at home is both cheap and relatively easy, as long as you have some patience. A home brew requires only a few ingredients: tea, sugar, a starter culture (which is just a little bit of pre-made kombucha) and a SCOBY. The SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. I know, it sounds gross. And it doesn’t look any more appealing than it sounds. You can buy a SCOBY online or get some from a friend, or you can grow your own. In order to grow your own you’ll first need to brew some tea.

Start off by boiling water.

Start off by boiling about four cups of water, and then add around a half of a cup of sugar. I know this seems like a gross amount of sugar, but the sugar is actually the food that the microorganisms of the SCOBY live off of. Therefore, they will consume most of the sugar resulting in a mildly sweet final product. After the sugar has dissolved, add about one tea bag per cup of water. You can use either black or green tea, but I like to do a mix by doing slightly more green than black tea. Make sure that the tea is organic, and that the only ingredients are tea leaves, without any other flavorings. 

Use organic tea, as pictured.

After the tea has brewed, you can remove the tea bags. Then let it sit for several hours until the tea is room temperature. At this point you can pour it into a sterilized glass gallon sized jar. Make sure that everything you use throughout the process is very clean, otherwise you will develop harmful bacteria growth rather than beneficial growth. To the jar with the tea, add about one cup of unpasteurized unflavored store-bought kombucha. This will act as the starter culture to supply the bacteria and yeast needed to grow your own culture. Now, cover the jar with a paper towel or fine cloth, and secure it with a rubber band. You want to make sure that no debris or insects can get inside, but you also need to make sure there is airflow, as the fermentation process will give off carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Keep the jar in a dark place that is relatively warm, somewhere between 70-78 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.

SCOBY.

As time goes on, you will begin to see the SCOBY grow on top. If there are any black or green spots, throw the batch away, as it has grown mold and is not safe to use. After six weeks or so, the SCOBY will have formed at the top of the jar, indicating that you are ready for your first fermentation. It should look tan and gelatinous.

Again, brew more tea using the same ratios as before, except make enough to fill up the rest of the jar. Pour it in gently, and try to avoid making it too turbulent for the SCOBY. Again, cover the jar with a cloth and wait another 10-14 days. This is called the first fermentation. After the two weeks or so, you are ready to bottle your kombucha. Using a siphon, transfer the liquid to another clean vessel, leaving the SCOBY and a little bit of liquid in the jar, about three cups or so. 

Use a siphon to transfer your brew.

From the new container with the kombucha, pour it into individual bottles with fermentation-grade flip tops. Make sure the bottles are made for fermentation, as pressure will build up on the inside and some weaker glass bottles may burst and make a dangerous and messy situation. You can flavor the kombucha by adding fruit juices to the bottles, or you can leave it plain. Some of my favorite flavors that I’ve created are lemon ginger, blackberry rosemary, and pineapple cayenne.

Be sure to use bottles with fermentation-grade flip tops.

After you’ve poured the kombucha into the individual bottles, seal them and label them with their flavor. Then, place them in a warm, dark place for secondary fermentation, which lasts about 4-5 days. After that, keep them in the fridge, as the cold helps to stop the fermentation process. Since carbon dioxide is released during fermentation, the kombucha carbonates itself when it is in the airtight sealed bottles. So when you open one up, be ready for a little bit of a “pop!” Keep the SCOBY in a little bit of liquid to keep it alive, and start a new batch whenever you want. I’m on my fifth batch now, and don’t plan on stopping! Happy fermentation! 

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