Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SCOBY Watch Part 3: Brewing Kombucha Tea

It's been just over a week and a half since I started my Kombucha experiment.  In Part I, I used a commercial bottle of kombucha to begin growing a SCOBY.  After one week, I checked on my jar, and a SCOBY had in fact grown.  I decided that it was now big enough to begin brewing actual kombucha.

There are many recipes out there for brewing kombucha.  Here are links to the websites I used as resources for this process and they are all more or less the same recipe.

I rinsed the clean pot I used for boiling the water with white vinegar to be sure any soap residue/chlorinated water was gone from its last washing.  I've been searching for a good site explaining why using vinegar for this purpose is a good idea but haven't found one.  According to Wikipedia, it has antimicrobial properties and is widely used in home made cleaning solutions.  I've also read if you brew your kombucha for too long you basically have made vinegar, so maybe its a "like" substance so safer than chlorinated water from your tap for the SCOBY.  I'll trust the experts.  I filled my pot with 3 quarts of filtered water and put it on the stove to boil.

I washed my gallon container with soap and water.  Soap?  Yes, soap.  One thing most of these sites make clear is that you should not use soap on anything as it might damage your SCOBY and prevent the tea from fermenting.  I rinsed it several times with very hot water to get rid of any soap residue.  I also rinsed it out with white vinegar.  Walmart, where I purchased my jar, is not known for its cleanliness, so I used soap first.  If this batch fails, then I can blame the soap, but I washed my SCOBY growing jar in the same fashion, so I'm not that worried.

When I started to grow my SCOBY, I used organic black tea at the recommendation of the Healthy Home Economist based on her assertions that organic contained less fluoride.  I've not found anything to substantiate that claim.  I found an article about the fluoride content in tea generally.     I've seen more people advocating the use of plain old Lipton tea than organic.  So, just for the sake of experiment, I'm going to use regular Lipton and regular green tea.  If I don't like the brew or it fails, I can switch to a different tea, no big deal.

Once boiling, I put a total of 4 tea bags into the water, 2 black and 2 green, and turned off the stove.  I let the tea steep for 5 minutes and stirred the tea with a wooden spoon.  
I removed the tea bags and added 1 cup of white granulated sugar to the tea.  I stirred the tea until all of the sugar had dissolved.  White sugar?  Poison?  The SCOBY will use the sugar in the fermentation process and there will be very little left once the tea has completed fermenting.

I then poured most of the hot sweet tea into my gallon container.  I left some in the pot.  I put both vessels on trivets and left them on the counter to cool.  I set a timer for 2 hours to come back and check the temperature.   I've seen instructions to wait until its at least body temperature or room temperature.  I think the cooler the better as to not damage the SCOBY.   I stirred it occasionally to speed the cooling.

Once the sweet tea had cooled, at 2.5 hours, I poured the tea I had left in the pot into the gallon jar, and brought my SCOBY out from its home in the closet underneath my stairs.  It's a bit thicker than it was last Wednesday.

I think she's ready to brew some tea!
Even though I had clean hands that I rinsed with vinegar, I decided to put on latex gloves to handle the SCOBY to prevent anything getting on it that might damage it.  I carefully used my wooden spoon to lift an edge the SCOBY and I took it out of the jar.  

It's alive!
In most of the example pictures and videos I've watched, the SCOBYs have been pretty large and appeared to be floppy.  Mine was quite solid, gelatinous, but solid.  Most of the sites I've read have also said this would be unsettling, but I have no idea why.  If you've ever eaten or made jello, you should have no issue handling a SCOBY.  Of course, over time, I'm sure my SCOBY will grow larger and my opinion of the process may change, but for now, NO FEAR!

While holding my SCOBY, for lack of a place to set it, I poured all of the tea it grew in, my starter tea, into the gallon container with my fresh sweet tea.  The sites I've looked at have recommended anywhere from 1/2 cup to 1 cup of starter tea.  Food Renegade recommends using the entire jar of SCOBY starter in your first batch, so that's what I did.  

I carefully placed the SCOBY on top of the sweet tea/starter tea in the gallon jar.  I hope it doesn't sink, though I've read its not a problem if it does.  My SCOBY growing jar was a bit smaller in diameter than my gallon jar, so it looked a little sad floating/spinning in the jar.  

I covered my jar with a double layer of a flour sack towel and fastened it down with a rubber band. My jar has a nice lip that held the rubber band in place.
I am resisting the urge to draw a face on my jar.
I carefully moved the jar to its shelf in the closet underneath my stairs.  Why is it when I'm moving a gallon glass jar of tea across tile and white carpet, the kitties become intensely interested in my feet?  Once the jar was on its shelf, I took a peek and the SCOBY was still afloat!  Yay!

I wrapped my jar and there it will sit undisturbed for 5 days.  At 5 days, I will check the pH and have a taste.  It will be interesting to see what happens to my SCOBY.  Will she have a baby?  Will the tea be any good?  Stay tuned!