Friday, November 29, 2013

The Kombucha Files

David Gilbert introduced me to kombucha a while back. It took me a while to get comfortable with the idea - and importantly to introduce it to Madame. It is a somewhat bizarre drink made from fermented black or green tea. It uses a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) to do its thing.
Now SCOBYs look gross.

and they work on sweetened tea. How appetizing sounding - and they produce this slightly fizzy, somewhat sharp tasting drink that is the color of weak iced tea. So far not a single redeeming feature. I needed to work on my sales skills apparently.
So I bought some commercial kombucha, invited madame to try it. To my delight she liked it. Then I sprang the kicker - its price. In the store it is at least $2.50 and usually more for a 12oz bottle. So we clearly weren't going to be drinking a lot of it. That's more than I pay for a halfway decent beer.
 I set up a clandestine meeting with "Jennifer" and offered to buy a SCOBY from her in return for lunch. She acquiesced, and the deal went down in a North Dallas Thai restaurant. I was so excited by the deal that I forgot to pick up my credit card, so had to return the next day to retrieve it. But that is another story.
I   was now the proud owner of a beautiful SCOBY. I snuck it home under cover of darkness, plied Madame with Champagne and broke the news. "We have another pet...." Even the Champagne didn't calm the situation as much as it might have done. So, anyhow I got the process underway before leaving town the next day for a weekend in San Antonio.

The Basics

To make the basic kombucha itself, I used a 2 gallon glass drink container with a spigot at the bottom. This was to be fermented for 10 days or so - until all traces of actual tea taste were gone. I cleaned out the container and then rinsed with white vinegar. I made 2 gallons of black tea, sweetened with 1 1/2 cups plain white sugar. Cooled the mixture to about 75F and pured it into the drink vessel. Added the SCOBY and covered with a sheet of parchment paper that I had perforated with about a dozen holes using a wooden skewer.
The SCOBY sat there looking for all the world like a jellyfish. Although to my surprise it moved around a bit. It started all curled up, but then unfurled itself and floated.
I left town the next day, as planned. The pet just sat there all weekend - in the kitchen doing its thing.
After examining it daily for 10 days, I noticed a slight cloudiness and a definite lightning of color. I figured something was happening. I drew off a teaspoon of the liquid, and to my surprise it actually tasted like kombucha! Definitely onto something here. But that was just the beginning.
I was planning to use a continuous process - make a couple of gallons initially, then draw off a gallon or so and replenish the jar with some new sweet tea. Initially though, I just drew off 3 US pints to experiment with. After that I went to the continuous process and it is working very well. Every three or so days I am getting a gallon of kombucha. So the next question - how to flavor it?
Most of the kombuchas that I have had are flavored somehow. Some fruity, some just sharp and sour. So time to become an alchemist. Turning a thin, sharp, brown liquid to a delectable drink.

First Batch


3 US pints of kombucha (above) 
1/2 Cup frozen blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
2" piece of fresh ginger - grated
3T tamarind
6 pieces of candied ginger diced finely
1 cup water


Into a small pan put all ingredients except the kombucha. Bring to a simmer - and allow to reduce. Strain the flavorings into 3 1 pint plastic bottles - divided evenly. Add the kombucha, seal the bottles. Leave to ferment for a second time - around 3 days. It tasted really good!

Second Batch

For the second batch, I figured that it was time to experiment. So I made some banana/lime, tamarind/kaffir lime/ginger, ginger beer, tangerine juice/clove and hot chili.

The basic method is the same for each. I used 2t sugar for each pint made. To get the tamarind to behave, you need to break off a chunk of the paste and boil in water. Strain out the solids. 
The banana/lime was simply 1 mashed banana and the juice of 1 key lime divided between 2 12 oz bottles.
The ginger beer was 4t powdered ginger into a 1 pint bottle.
The chili was a single cayenne (with required sugar) into a 12oz bottle
The tangerine/clove juice was the juice of 2 tangerines (with required sugar) and 1 clove into a 12oz bottle

These flavors are all good. Of course very different from each other. The banana was interesting - it was a litte sweeter than the others, but with a very pronounced banana flavor.

I will keep experimenting and playing with flavors - since it looks like we will have a galon or so every 3-4 days!

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