Fermented Foods

Adventures in Kombucha – Continuous Brewing

So it’s been a few months since my I started my Kombucha Adventures, and I wanted to give a quick update… we are in full-on brewing mode over here!

 

At the beginning, I was doing the batch method of brewing, where I would start over and make a new batch of kombucha every time.  For me, this would be a good option if I just wanted the occasional batch of brew.  It is kind of time-consuming due to the washing/sanitizing of everything and the messy clean-up.  I’m pretty sure I personally would come to dread this process if I were going to do batch brewing weekly.

 

My hubby and I decided we wanted to start drinking kombucha regularly, so we switched over to the continuous brew method.  In a nutshell, you brew it in a vessel with a spigot and dispense the kombucha directly into bottles.  Then you simply top off your vessel with more sweet tea.  SO much easier (and cleaner!).

 

The first thing I had to do was find a brewer.  This is something I didn’t want to ‘go cheap’ on.  I wanted something opaque since I was going to be leaving it out on the counter full-time, and more importantly, I needed to find a brewer that wasn’t going to leach anything into the kombucha.  Some ceramics contain lead, so it’s important to find something that is food-safe.  Also, kombucha is very reactive and will ‘eat away’ at metal, so I needed to find a brewer with a plastic spigot, not a metal one.  I’m sure you could find something cheaper at a store/yard sale/Goodwill, but for me, it certainly wasn’t worth risking having an unsafe brewing vessel.  I ended up purchasing a vessel specifically for fermenting kombucha.  It cost about $40 + $10 shipping.  But it is well worth the peace of mind knowing I have a safe vessel!!  Mine is 2.5 gallons.  Here is what it looks like:

 

 

Not the cutest thing, but it certainly works.  It doesn’t have a lid since the kombucha needs air to brew, but it did come with a piece of cloth and a plastic ring to hold the cloth on.

 

Using this method, we make 1 gallon of kombucha about every 5 days!!  That’s a lot of booch!  But if my hubby and I both drink 8 ounces a day, that comes out to roughly a gallon a week.  I share the rest with my mom.  :)

 

It took me a couple of cycles to get into my groove, but now it’s so simple to maintain!  Here’s what I do when the kombucha is ready to bottle, about every 5 days or so…

 

1.  Dispense it straight from the spigot into bottles.  You can add flavorings to the bottom of your bottles, but we have been enjoying it plain.  We dispense about 1 gallon into bottles.  I just eyeball my brewer… when it’s about halfway down, I stop draining it off.  :)

 

Kombucha Bottles

 

2.  Make a batch of sweet tea!  I use 1 gallon of distilled water, 1 cup of organic cane sugar, and 5 tea bags (or 5 teaspoons of loose leaf tea).

 

Sweet Tea

 

3.  Pour the sweet tea in the brewer.  That’s it!  I told you it was simple!

Benefits of the continuous brew method

  • Quicker and less messy
  • Since you are only dispensing half of the kombucha, there is kombucha left in the brewer that is left to ferment longer.  There are beneficial acids that only develop after a few weeks; in other words, the continuous brew method contains beneficial acids that don’t have time to form when doing the batch method.
  • The pH of the continuous brew leaves a much smaller chance to develop mold or other problems that could contaminate your kombucha
  • You can read more about continuous brew benefits here!

 

Some Notes

  • It is so inexpensive to brew your own kombucha!!  For one gallon, it simply costs the price of 1 cup of organic sugar and 5 tea bags.  I’ve been using distilled water as well, so an extra $0.89 for that.  :)  Compared to the $3.50 or so it costs in the store per bottle, it truly costs a fraction to brew your own.
  • Brewing can take longer or shorter depending on the time of year.  Fermentation will happen more quickly in warmer weather, slower in cooler weather.
  • The time it takes to ferment is subjective.  It’s best to taste it every day and find your balance between sweet and sour.
  • A few cycles we were letting it ferment for 7 days, and it started tasting like vinegar!!  :(  With the warm weather, that was just too long.  5 days is our sweet spot right now.
  • You can keep doing this process, only cleaning out the brewer once every 4-6 months!!  Which leads me to my next point…
  • The SCOBY haircut!!  No, I am not kidding.  Stay tuned!

 

 

**Disclaimer:  We are not physicians.  As stated in our disclaimer, information found on this site is meant for educational and informational purposes only, and to motivate you to make your own health care and dietary decisions based upon your own research and in partnership with your health care provider. It should not be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.

Adventures in Kombucha – Day 9, Tastin’ the Booch

If you haven’t been following my little Kombucha Adventure, you can read the craziness that was the brewing and bottling process of this unique drink!

 

By Day 9, the kombucha had been bottled for 2 days and was ready to drink.  I moved all my bottles to the fridge to stop/drastically slow down the fermentation process.

 

Kombucha

My first batch of kombucha was really tasty!  I would describe the flavor of kombucha as a cross between a wine and apple cider.  There is a unique component to the flavor, kind of a tartness.  For some it might be somewhat of an acquired taste, but I don’t think it would be completely off-putting to anyone.  I would say this first batch was a surprising success, for my first time out anyways!

Here are some things I learned from making my first batch of kombucha:

  • Don’t burp the bottles continuously – I was so paranoid about the bottles exploding that, between my husband and I, we probably burped the bottles 4 or 5 times in 2 days.  This did nothing but let out much of that refreshing fizziness and carbonation.  In the future, I am vowing to only burp them one time a day MAX.  Maybe none.  We’ll see how brave I get.
  • Be careful of the containers I use – As you probably saw in my last post, I didn’t have great bottles.  Two of them were recycled salsa containers.  Well guess what… when I opened one and had a drink, I thought, “Hmmm.  This one tastes different than the last.  It tastes kind of like… tomatoes??”  Oh yes, that would be because it was bottled in a salsa jar.  The glass jar was completely clean and sanitized, but even with vigorous washing, the lid still smelled like salsa.  In turn, my kombucha tasted like salsa.  My hubby said it tasted like V-8.  Not what I was going for!  I’m now collecting recycled store-bought kombucha bottles for bottling my next batch!
  • Pour the kombucha into the bottles slowly – Part of the ‘fun’ of kombucha is the carbonation!  When I was bottling it, it was coming so fast out of the jug into the bottles that they were overflowing with foam (think beer).  I should have poured it much slower, because in addition to the obsessive burping as noted above, I think I lost a lot of carbonation in the bottling process.  It was much more carbonated straight out of the jug on day 7 than it was after day 9 (it should have been more carbonated with the addition of the fruit sugar in the bottling process!)
  • Get creative with flavors! – I used strawberries and lemon juice to flavor this batch, and in reality, those flavors didn’t come through at all.  I either need to add more next time or choose stronger flavors.

 

You live and learn, right?!

 

So what’s next??  As I mentioned in a previous post, every time you brew a batch of kombucha, a new SCOBY is formed.  You can brew your next batch with more than one SCOBY, or you can make a SCOBY Hotel.  You did not read that wrong – a SCOBY Hotel.  I am not making this stuff up, folks.  You basically get a glass container, put your extra SCOBY(s) in there with some kombucha, and they can stay in there pretty much indefinitely.  It’s their hotel.  :)

 

The advantage of a SCOBY Hotel is that if you have a batch go bad, you kill your SCOBY somehow, or you want to share a SCOBY with a friend, you have some in the reserves.  Oh yes, I will have my very own Hotel here soon.

 

But first, I decided to make my next batch using 2 SCOBYs, the one I purchased and the one that was created with my first batch.  We’re already in the middle of the brewing process, so hopefully by the time we finish drinking our current bottles, we will have new ones ready to go.

 

At this point, I can definitely see the advantage of Continuous Brewing compared to Batch Brewing (I’ve been doing the batch method so far).  In Continuous Brewing, you use a glass vessel with a plastic spigot (think sun tea container!), and you have kombucha continuously on tap.  You simply dispense it as you like, into bottles for continued fermentation or straight into your glass to drink.  Then when it gets low, you simply add more of the sweet tea mixture into the top of the vessel.

 

With continuous brewing, your kombucha brews much quicker and is pretty much always ready to go.  In addition, you don’t have the messy bottling process with the funnels.  If you want to flavor your kombucha, you simply add your flavorings to the bottle and hold the bottle right under the spigot to dispense.  Apparently there are health benefits of continuous brewing as well, in terms of the different beneficial acids, etc. that are created.

 

If we continue drinking kombucha regularly, I will probably switch over to continuous brewing.  I need to read a little more about it, but it can’t be scarier than the process I’ve already done, right?!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Update:  I started doing the continuous brew method!!  It’s quicker and less messy if you want to make kombucha regularly!

Adventures in Kombucha – Day 7, Bottlin’ the Booch

So today was the much-anticipated day number 7 of the kombucha brewing process, the day we got to bottle it for its second fermentation!  My little girl was asking all day, “Do we get to taste the kombucha?!”

 

Since it had to sit undisturbed for 7 days, I had only peeked at it in the pantry occasionally over the course of the week.  I did see the new SCOBY that had formed at the top as expected.  It forms a ‘seal’ over the top of the kombucha, above the first SCOBY…

 

Brewed Kombucha

 

 

You can see that an air pocket formed under the new SCOBY as a result of the carbon dioxide gas being released in the fermentation process… but wait, what is that there on the edge?!

 

Brewed Kombucha with Yeast

 

 

Imagine my surprise when I got up close and saw this…

 

Closeup - Yeast in Kombucha

 

 

Oh. My. GOODNESS.  What in the heck is that?!?!  Is it mold??  This is what the top of the new SCOBY looked like just above that brown mess…

 

Closeup - Topside of Yeast in Kombucha

 

Mold is a very rare but dangerous thing that could potentially happen when brewing kombucha.  If it happens, you just have to throw everything out.  I immediately emailed pictures over to Kombucha Kamp to see whether this was mold or not, and I got a response along the lines of, “Nope, not even close to mold!  You have a beautiful new SCOBY!”  Hahahaha!

 

Those hideous brown strands are dead yeast from the process and are completely normal.  Mold would appear – well – moldy!  It would be fuzzy and blue/green/black in color.  It would look like mold on bread or a piece of fruit.  Phew!!  My little girl was very relieved we got to continue our kombucha adventure this afternoon as planned.  :)

 

After confirming my kombucha brew looked good (and not moldy!), the next step was to stick a straw under the SCOBY to taste it!  After seeing all that brown yuck, I was really grossed out and just didn’t want to.  I asked my little girl if she wanted to, and she was a definite ‘No.’  So I had to.

 

Wow!  It was surprisingly good!  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My instructions said that it would be ready for it’s second fermentation in bottles when the main kombucha tonic smelled like apple cider vinegar.  Well that it did!  It tasted kind of sweet, kind of tart, and definitely fizzy.  I thought that even at this first stage, it tasted better than anything I have bought in the store!

 

My 5-year old was hilarious.  She wanted to try it, but she was totally put off by the smell.  So I stuck a straw in, covered the top of the straw with my finger to trap some liquid in, and let her taste it through the straw.  She really liked the taste!  “Mom, the smell is just horrible, but it tastes good!”  It definitely has a sweet-ish, vinegar-y smell, but it was surprisingly tasty!

 

At this point if the brew is too sweet, you should let it continue to ferment so the yeast and bacteria can continue to consume the sugar.  But it tasted nothing like the sweet tea we started with, so from my amateur perspective, it was ready for bottling and for the second fermentation.  Now is the fun part!

 

To create new flavors and to make the kombucha more fizzy, you can add an endless variety of flavorings when you bottle it!  This being my first time out, I decided that the ‘Strawberry Lemonade Kombucha’ recipe sounded pretty good.  Basically, I just needed to add 1 teaspoon of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and 1 cut up strawberry to the bottom of each bottle.  Here were my supplies…

 

Bottling Supplies

 

 

But first, I had to get those awful-looking (or ‘Beautiful,’ however you want to look at it) SCOBYs out of the jar.  With clean hands, I had to reach in, pull them out, and put them in a bowl.  Well, in the process, the brown part got stuck in my fingers, and I. WAS. SCREAMING.  To a 3- and a 5-year-old, watching your mom running around the kitchen and screaming at the sink is just hilarious.  To the said mother, it is not.  Boo.

 

Here are the ‘beautiful’ SCOBYs, ready to brew another batch!

 

Scobys

 

 

YUUUUUCK!  Anyways, I also had to ladle out 2 cups of the kombucha liquid with the SCOBYs to use as a starter for my next batch.  Now I was ready to bottle…

 

Ready to Bottle Kombucha

 

 

Next, I just added the lemon juice and the strawberries to the bottom of my glass containers…

 

Flavoring in Kombucha Bottle

 

 

… then using a funnel I poured the kombucha into the bottles until it almost reached the top.  I figured I had about 10-11 cups of kombucha to bottle, and I found 4 glass bottles/jars to use.  For some reason, I made quite a mess during the bottling process.

 

Kombucha Mess

 

 

You probably can’t really tell from the photo, but my island was covered in wet.  Here are the finished bottles, ready to start their 2nd ferment!

 

Bottled Kombucha

 

Yes, I need to find better bottles.  I thought I would have had the chance to get some this past week, but it didn’t happen.  I really want some of those bottles made for brewing beer with the wire stoppers on top, but I need to keep searching.  These will have to do for now.  :)

 

I just need to cap these tightly, put them in a warm-ish, dark spot, and wait another 1-3 days for these to become flavored, fermented, and bubbly!  Then I will put them in the fridge to stop the fermentation process, and they will be ready to consume!  In the meantime, I need to ‘burp’ my bottles to make sure they don’t explode.  Yes, EXPLODE.  The carbon dioxide can build up so much in the bottles that the glass breaks, so you have to ‘burp’ the bottles periodically.  As a novice brewer, they say to do it every day.  The recommendation is to store them in a cardboard box so, should they explode, the mess would be contained.

 

Just what have I gotten myself into?!

 

Click here to read the update to this!

Adventures in Kombucha – Day 1, Brewin’ the Booch

Okay, if you are like most people I know, you have never heard of kombucha.  When I told some friends and family I was going to make my own kombucha, pretty much everyone’s reaction was the same…

 

“Kom – boo – WHAT?”

 

Kom – BOO – cha.

 

It is a fizzy, fermented drink made from tea, sugar, and a culture of bacteria and yeast.  Now before you go running away, hear me out.  It’s really not very different than wine or beer, except that the final kombucha product has a negligible amount of alcohol, if any.  The bacteria and yeast consume the tea and sugar, and the final product has been known as a health elixir around the world for thousands of years.  Kombucha is said to be chock-full of probiotics and bio-available C and B vitamins, among other things.  Kombucha Kamp is a great resource if you are looking for more info on this unique beverage!  As is Wikipedia.  :)

 

There is lots of anecdotal evidence that kombucha increases energy, improves digestion, and helps promote a clearer mind.  There is a whole list of anecdotal health benefits over at Kombucha Kamp.  It’s very interesting!

 

Kombucha is popping up in stores, I’ve even seen it at my Super Target!  It is pricey, though, generally running from $3.50-$5.00 per bottle depending on where you live.  I’ve seen lots of talk online lately about making your own, so I thought, “What the heck?”  I’m kind of up for anything when it comes to health-related stuff, so even though it sounds totally weird, I decided to make my own kombucha!!

 

Believe it or not, this is what I had to buy to get my brew going…

Kombucha SCOBY

I’m sure you are ready to leave this blog right about now!!  Haha!  I know, it looks like an alien.  What is that a picture of, you say??  It is a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.  This is the ‘magic ingredient’ that actually ferments the tea and sugar.

 

It’s kind of like when you were a kid and made friendship bread – you’d get a container with yeast bread starter, add some flour and water, let it sit and ferment, then pull some dough out to bake your bread.  Then you’d pass the remaining yeast bread starter on to your friends so they could make some and pass it on.  Same thing.  :)  See, it’s not that crazy.  Okay, a little.  :)

Anyways, I thought I would chronicle my kombucha-making adventure here on the blog!  I know it’s weird, and I might totally fail on my first try.  But you never know until you try, right?!

 

I bought my SCOBY online, and I was super excited the day it arrived.  It came with full instructions, so below I’m going to share what I had to do in order to make my first brew!

 

Brewing the Booch

 

1.  After purchasing my SCOBY, I purchased a 1 gallon glass jar (I got it at Target for under $6!).  I sterilized the jar with hot water and vinegar.  They do not recommend using soap for this, just the vinegar and water.

 

2.  I heated 4 cups of purified water on the stove.  When it started to boil, I turned it off and let it cool for a couple of minutes so it didn’t shatter my jar when I poured it in.  I added the hot water to my jar, then added 5 tea bags (black tea is recommended).

 

 

 

3.  After letting the tea steep about 5 minutes, I removed the bags and stirred in 1 cup of organic cane sugar.  (By the way, that is my husband’s hairy arm, not mine.  Just for clarification.  Ahem.)

 

 
4.  I added 8 more cups of purified water, which cooled the sweet tea brew down.

 

 
5.  When I was sure the sweet tea brew was not warmer than body temperature, I added the SCOBY and the starter liquid (the liquid in the bag, which was basically fermented kombucha).  If you add the SCOBY when the liquid is too hot, it could kill it since the SCOBY is a living organism!!

 

Tea with Scoby

 

 

 

6.  Then I had to cover the container with a cotton cloth and secure it with a rubberband.  It needs to be able to breathe but also keep dust, fruit flies, etc. out.

 

 

7.  Now is time to wait!  I put this jar in my pantry since it calls for a dark, warm, ventilated area (we open the pantry several times a day!).  I have to wait at least 7 days for this to ferment.  During that time, the SCOBY will convert the sweet tea to kombucha, and it will grow a NEW SCOBY at the top!!  So we are in full science-experiment-mode around here!!

 

Now, the directions say that talking and singing to the kombucha will encourage positive growth.  Okay, peeps.  I’m definitely not there yet.  There was an article cited somewhere that talked about a scientific study of plants – when you separate them and yell negative things to one but use encouraging words and singing with another, the one that was spoken nicely/sang to will flourish while the other will not.  Since the SCOBY is a living organism, they tell you that talking nicely and singing to it will help the process.  I think I will skip that step for now.  :)

 

Anyways, after I put this batch together, I read NOT to use Earl Grey tea for kombucha because the bergamot oil in that particular tea can kill the SCOBY!  I panicked and emailed the place where I bought it, and she told me it should be fine for this one brew.  So I will definitely choose a better tea for next time!!  No need to go SCOBY-killing my first time out!

 

So anyways, this was my Day 1 Adventure in Kombucha-Making.  I will keep you posted on the process.  If you hear me singing to my SCOBY, you have my permission to let me know that I have officially gone crazy.  ;)

 

Click here to read the update to this, Day 7!

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