Its appearance and name aren’t the only funny things about the fermented tea-beverage called kombucha. And, while it has only recently made an appearance in American markets, kombucha has been around for hundreds of years in places like Japan, China and Russia.
Kombucha is made by placing brewed tea in with a “mother culture,” which is a mushroom-shaped cloud made up of yeast and bacteria. The term SCOBY for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast is also sometimes used to describe the mother. Regardless of what you call this weird-looking thing, it is the main ingredient in making kombucha at home. One culture can be divided as many times as needed. Just allow enough time for re-growth between divisions.
Last summer, the cloudy tea drink was pulled from retail shelves over concerns over its alcohol content. Kombucha sold at stores contains less than .5 percent alcohol. The alcohol content can exceed that, depending on proportions of yeast and sugar.
The temporary kombucha prohibition is over now, but that’s no reason not to break out mason jars and glass barrels and experiment with home brewing. Making kombucha at home is less expensive than what you buy in stores and easy to do, and the results can be delicious.
To make kombucha at home:
- Obtain a mother culture or SCOBY. Starter cultures are available online, or if you know someone who has some, it can easily be divided for your benefit. If a culture is properly divided, it will generally grow back to its original size within a week or two.
- Boil water. Use the water to brew your tea of choice (green, black, white or herbal). Discard tea bags or leaves. Add sugar and boil for five minutes or less, until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature.
- Add sweetened tea to the mother culture in a large sterile container (such as a mason jar), along with a small portion of previously fermented kombucha. The starter from a previous batch can be obtained from the mother culture supplier.
- Cover the container with muslin or a kitchen towel and a rubber band. Air is required, but don’t leave it open, or insects will invade. Leave in an undisturbed in a warm place (74° to 84° F) for about a week. Experiment with brew times to reach desired flavor.
- Bottle in clean containers, filling to the top. Save about 10 percent of your tea as starter for the next batch. Keeping the bottled brew at room temperature for five days allows for carbon dioxide buildup, which gives the beverage its fizzy character. Thereafter, it should be refrigerated.
Kombucha is widely available throughout Santa Cruz for purchase. , , , and offer good selections.
Tasting the flavors of professional brewers is a good way to get ideas and perfect home brewing techniques.
To find interesting specialty teas, visit and Chaikhana Tea Culture.