Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Recipe: Kombucha!

I began drinking kombucha as an effort to replace my occasional soda cravings. I never keep soda in the house, but felt free to drink it at restaurants. That way, I was drinking one per week at the most, excepting vacations. That said, in the summer, I sometimes crave the fizz. I had tried it several years ago and found it pleasant, but intense, so I would drink maybe a couple of ounces at a time. Fast forward to six months ago, when I restarted Weight Watchers, and wanted a go-to that was reasonably healthy but did not use fake sugar. Fake sugar always makes me feel off, and it was hard to find sodas that were fizzy but low in sugar. I began buying kombucha from the store, and drinking it more and more. Now, I am drinking about 5 bottles per week, give or take.

Anyone who has purchased kombucha regularly knows that the stuff is PRICEY! Between $3-5 per bottle on sale. I realized that there was absolutely no way I could keep on purchasing it at the rate I had been, and my roommate had asked me before if I had ever looked in to brewing it on my own. I had scoffed at the thought, assuming it would take tons of supplies, money, space, and involvement. That was when I happened to come across two YouTube videos describing kombucha, and how it is madeKendra explained it in such a simple, direct way and upon seeing it, I realized that it really wasn't difficult or overly time consuming at all, and the supplies are surprisingly basic.

To summarize for anyone who might not know, kombucha is a fizzy drink made from fermented sweetened tea. It is made by introducing a bacteria and yeast culture, known as a scoby, to the sweet tea and letting it ferment. The result is a slightly sweet, sour, fizzy concoction that is easily flavored with fruit, herbs, or juices.

To begin my adventure, I ordered a Kombucha Kit off of Amazon. It came with the vast majority of the supplies Kendra suggested, and I had the few other items at home that I needed.

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After that, I made the sweet tea mixture. I steeped the tea in four cups of filtered water. I used their tea and their teabag, but plan to use a metal strainer in the future. I do not think this fabric one is as reusable as they describe. I also have so much loose tea that I have an entire stash I use to cold steep for iced tea, and there are some I do not like iced. I plan to try to use them for kombucha in the future. Waste not, want not!
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The oddest part of doing all of this is handling the scoby, the blob of bacteria and yeast responsible for creating the drink. I got one with my kit, though I know it reproduces and grows in such a way that like sourdough, you can easily pass the excess between friends. The one that came in my box was hockey puck sized, in about a cup of starter liquid.

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I got my setup together, added the water and made sure the temperature wouldn't kill the scoby before putting it in, and covered it with the cloth. I love the temperature gauge taped to the side of the container because it is cheap, easy to see, and easy to monitor.

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Over the course of this process I was convinced I had screwed things up somehow, it couldn't possibly be this easy. Setting up the brew took maybe 20-30 minutes tops. Again, it all just seemed too easy. So I checked my brew many times per day, waiting to see if the scoby would grow or if somehow it would all go wrong. I watched enough different YouTube videos on the process to know that the scoby should grow much bigger, have no mold, have some bubbles, forming near the top, and be whitish gray in color, maybe a bit tan, with strings all over the place. One day, I started seeing the scoby suddenly appear over the entire top of my container! It was very thin, but it was white, and looked healthy.

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By the end, it was thicker, and clearly visible from the top. I started tasting it at seven days, decided to flavor it on the eighth day. It smelled and tasted somewhat sour and vinegary, as it should, but had some sweetness left. I dislike kombucha that is too sour, so I was worried to let it go very long on my first go.  I had decided already to invest in a second gallon sized glass jar, so I could get a new batch started more quickly while the other flavored. I got one with a spigot so I wouldn't need to handle the scoby each time. The scoby is firm, rubbery almost, and not fragile, but it is still an odd texture.

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After getting the new batch started, I took the remainder of the old batch and added a few tablespoons of lemon juice and about two cups of cut strawberries to make a strawberry lemon flavor. Recipes seem to call for one cup of fruit, but I was worried it wouldn't end up fruity enough.
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Silly me! After letting it sit for maybe 15 hours, it was super sweet and strawberry flavored! Note for next time, crazy amounts of fruit not needed. I put the liquid in bottles using a funnel from home and a ladle, and they are carbonating on my counter as we speak!

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I let the air escape every 12 hours and pour a sip from one every day. This produced five 18oz bottles. I had left a fairly generous amount of starter liquid for the new brew, because I felt like it was better to be safe than sorry on that! So far we are on two days and it is not ready for the fridge yet, but it turned out very juicy and tasty!

I am excited for the final product, and have ordered a third glass jar to brew in, two gallons this time. Both my roomie and I drink enough kombucha that we could use a larger supply, and this will leave two jars available to make two separate flavors per batch, and hopefully 10-11 bottles per batch. I am sure we could accommodate more, but I have no idea if I will continue to consume it at this rate in the fall. I ordered more glass jars to accommodate more brewing as well. All of these supplies are completely reusable.

I am planning to let this next batch get a bit more sour. As you could see in my picture of the new batch, the puck of original scoby is still there, but a wider pancake is now also there. I can only assume that this means it will ferment faster. So, I will taste at seven days like I did the first brew, and taste every day after until it gets a little more sour. I am thinking of doing a fruit with mint combination for the flavoring. I used an oolong tea that is more mineral-y tasting than I prefer for hot or iced tea.

Thank you to everyone who actually made it here to the end of this very long, very involved post. I am excited about what kombucha will mean to help me make healthier, happier choices than soda! If you have ever made kombucha, please share any tips/tricks/comments you may have!

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