Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holy Mother!

When you get a kombucha mother of your very own for Christmas, you realize what lucky food nerds you and your friends really are.  Matt and Sallie made this batch and its accompanying mushroom, and now it is in my care.
Here is what Matt says about the care and feeding of my new creature.  He has been getting to know this SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) for quite some time.

Hey girl!  I'm glad you are getting exited about this brewing.  If we are right about about the benefits, it is well worth drinking it every day, and even if it's merely tasty that's good too.  Frankly though, I don't think humans would have bothered keeping it alive for 3000 years if it was a hoax.  It is like a sourdough starter in that it is derived from elements in the environment but to keep it in a form usable to us we have to husband it and keep it somewhat carefully to keep it alive. Check out "Kombucha: the Miracle Fungus"  by Harald Tietze, he points out that fact, among many other interesting things.  One is that Kombucha is actually considered a lichen, a symbiotic combination between fungus and blue green algae, which have been recently discovered to be not algae but single celled bacteria- one of the earliest forms of life on this planet.  So, we probably share considerable DNA with Kombucha!
So the basics:   Brew tea and add sugar.  Generally, 3/4 to 1 cup sugar to each gallon of tea.  Most people say to use simple granulated white sugar, the cheaper the better.  A lot of people that would never use it for food use it in kombucha because it is so transformed in the process that they are not worried about the organicness or whatever.  Also, you can theoretically use any natural sweetener but some work better than others.  There is some controversy about using honey.  A lot of people say it doesn't work, but maybe that's because of introducing wild yeast and such which might change the balance of the kombucha strain.  I have used it and it seems to work fine.  Expensive though and hard to judge what would be the equivalent of a cup of table sugar.  It seems to be organic cane sugar is probably the best if you can find a bulk cheap one.    If you use honey, don't use it every cycle.
The tea is also simple but complicated.  Black tea works fastest and has the richest flavor.  Green by itself will work, but tends to be astringent, light and slow to ferment.  My favorite mix is 2/3 Irish Breakfast and 1/3 Green.  I usually use about 6-10 bags per gallon depending on how dark I want it.  So boil the water, turn it off, add the tea, let steep and cool for an hour with the cover on, then add the sugar, cover, swirl and leave overnight to cool.  Do not add ice to cool as there is bacteria in your freezer (gasp)!  Then, in the morning you take you your SCOBY out of the pitcher or jar with clean hands and put it in a clean bowl with some of the liquid from the last batch (it can sit in the fridge like that with some saran wrap on it for many weeks with no problem.  Empty the gunky stuff from the bottom that you didn't want to drink and rinse the vessel.  Best not to use soap, but if necessary just make sure it is completely rinsed.  Never use anti-bacterial soap in the vessel or on your hands when prepping, if at all possible.  The scoby is very hardy, but you could damage it a little.  Pour the sweet tea, cooled off to below 80 degrees, into your vessel then carefully place the scoby on top so it floats. It may not want to float right away, especially if the room is cold and the scoby came out of the fridge.  If that's the case just let it be.  You want it to be as unwrinkled as possible as the layering effect is strongest once the  scoby is flat and tough and smooth.  If it gets all wrinkled (or folded in quarters as yours was) you can try to stretch it out, tear it in half or just leave it and eventually it will form a new top layer that is more smooth.  This will happen if you take a scoby out of a bigger vessel and put it in a smaller one.  It is fine, will still work the same, but essentially the thing breathes and it seems to thrive on surface area, plus it does best if the whole surface of the liquid is covered.  As you experiment with different vessels you will see how the ratio of the surface area to the volume of liquid effects the brewing.  The higher the ratio (i.e. the larger the surface of the vessel) the faster it will brew, but the flavor may be best when brewed a little slower than full-steam ahead.  Other factors of the speed of brewing are air temperature, temp. of what the vessel is resting on, season, health and balance of scoby, amount and type of sweetener, type of tea...yikes! Really, though, you can't go wrong.  Just expiriment, drink it at all stages so you know what's going on, and enjoy! 
Cheers to your health my friend!


  1. Lucky girl... wish I was so lucky to know a food nerd with a kombucha mother ;)

  2. Ohhh, you do! You know I want to share this adventure with ya!

  3. I cannot wait to see how this goes!! I've been intrigues by this forever!

  4. please do share your adventures! i had a kombucha mother, but it met an untimely demise due to poor storage. can't wait to hear more!

  5. This is a great read, Erin! Really enjoy all your blog posts!