Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, short for SCOBY is the newest member of my family. One of my closest friends gifted me this SCOBY and ever since, he’s been quietly bubbling away in the dark corners of my kitchen. Kombucha is brewed tea that is left to ferment with a thick-pancake-like mat on top called SCOBY. This cream-to-light brown coloured jelly-like substance is alive and happens to be the good bacteria and yeast mix that will create what is touted to be the world’s miracle drink, and this process will take a little over 7 days.
Like most fermented things, Kombucha too is probiotic. This means that it is very good for your gut, which is connected to your immune system. The process for making kombucha is fairly simple- you brew a batch of sugary tea, slip in the live bacteria and let it sit covered with a breathable cloth- not muslin- for 7 days, till bubbles appear, which indicates activity. The yeast feeds on the sugars in the brew and produces food for the bacteria in turn. The natural carbonation that occurs because of this interplay is trapped within the jar or bottle by the SCOBY mat. The mat also prevents any evaporation. The final fermented beverage tastes something between sweet-sour to a bit vinegary with the slightest hint of alcohol to it.
When you’re starting off, you have to follow your gut when it comes to smell and taste. The fermenting kombucha should smell sweet-vinegary to sharp. If it smells of anything but, sulphurous or of rotten eggs, things have gone wrong and there’s a good chance you’re going to have to beg, borrow, steal another SCOBY and start over. Healthy SCOBY may have certain small brown spots, sediments collecting at the bottom, brown yeast strands attached to the base, or all of the above. Certain globs of yeast, which are perfectly normal may resemble mould, and that’s why you mustn’t get worried and follow your instinct. The optimum temperature to ferment kombucha is between 24 and 29 degrees celsius, so a dark space in the kitchen is perfect.
After the seven day fermentation process, the SCOBY and the kombucha tea are separated and a reserve cup of the fermented brew is carried forward to make another batch of kombucha. The strained tea is poured into plastic bottles where the second fermentation occurs for a day to three days with flavourings, if adding. The fermentation continues at this stage, firming up the outside of the bottle a bit due to the continued carbonation. To stop the fermentation, that is when you have reached a taste that’s a pleasing balance of sweet and sour that is to your liking, simply transfer the bottles to the refrigerator. SCOBY continues to grow with every batch and if yours gets too thick, you can simply peel off the extra layer and start on yet another batch of kombucha, or gift it to a friend who might be interested in incorporating kombucha into their daily diet. You can play around with several dark teas for your kombucha too, as well as flavourings. Kombucha that is fermented to a vinegary sourness can be swapped for vinegar too, and this naturally occurring vinegar is great in salad dressings too.
It’s very important to get your kombucha from a trusted kombucha brewer because they will not only walk you through the process along with their own personal tips and techniques for brewing, but will also ensure that it is packaged safely for travel with the tea, which is crucial.
To make this batch of Winter Kombucha, I added some ginger syrup from a batch of candied ginger, orange peel, cloves and a cinnamon quill during the second fermentation step.
My basic Kombucha recipe uses:
Water 7 cups
Sugar 1/2 cup
Regular Indian Tea 4 tea bags or 1 tbsp loose tea
Tea from the SCOBY 1/2 cup- 1 cup
Syrup from a jar of candied ginger 1 tsp, or more
Orange peel 1 long peel
Cinnamon quill 1
Heat the water till just below boiling and add to this the tea and let it steep for 5-10 minutes. To the hot tea, add the sugar and stir till it is completely dissolved. Let this cool. If using loose tea, strain out the tea after the sugar has dissolved.
If the water is hot to touch, wait till it is lukewarm. In a wide-mouthed glass jug or a large mason jar, pour in the tea. Slip in the SCOBY over the brewed tea with clean hands and top it up with the tea from the previous batch of SCOBY. Cover this with a flimsy kitchen towel or paper napkins and fasten with rubber bands. This is to ensure that the kombucha can breathe. Do not use muslin cloth.
Keep in a warm place out of sunlight. Start tasting after 7 days to begin understanding how your kombucha tastes. Once you reach the flavour you like, decant only 1/3rd of your first batch in some bottle and keep at room temperature to carbonate, or transfer to the refrigerator if you want to stop the fermentation at that stage.
Top it up with sweet tea again and continue for another 7 days. The next time you can decant more, but leave behind the 1/2 cup-1 cup mixture and continue brewing as required.
Once decanted, add in the flavourings for your kombucha, taste and leave for it to carbonate at room temperature for a day or three before transferring to the refrigerator. Serve to unsuspecting guests as flavoured tea and if they do like it, tell them what it really is.