Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Kombucha Experiment Part 1: Growing a SCOBY

I recently incorporated kombucha tea into my daily routine.  I had seen it mentioned in several places in the paleo blogosphere.  It is a fermented tea that is full of gut healing probiotics and other nutrients.  I’m generally interested in anything I can do to further promote healing in my gut.  After years of dietary abuse from eating foods that attacked my gut and abuse imposed in the form of modern medicine to “treat” the IBS that resulted from eating a poor diet, my gut needs all the healing it can get.  

I'll admit the first time I tried kombucha tea, I wasn't sold.  Its a bit tart and some may think its sour.  You have to get past the little brown floaty bits in the drink. Its grown on me, and I now see it as a daily fizzy treat.  

Lab Equipment

Store bought kombucha is not cheap.  Depending on where you shop, I’ve found it GT’s Kombucha Tea, a popular brand, from around $2.50 to $3.50 a bottle.  I don’t spend that on coffee daily and I drink a fair amount of coffee.  I started to research making my own Kombucha at home.  Yay! Experiment time!

There are several good websites out there selling starter SCOBYs (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) and other brewing equipment.  While it seems once you get started, making your own is actually pretty inexpensive, the cost of buying the starter SCOBY is a bit high for a brewing project that I don’t know will work out.  

As I started looking at the brewing packages these sites offer, I saw a variety of stances on what you "needed" to start brewing kombucha and what method you should use, batch or continuous, to brew it.  Packages I saw ran from $25 to $250.00+.  Reading all of these sites recipes and recommendations nearly put me off trying to make my tea all together as some would make it seem you needed an environment as sterile as a surgery suite to get a good brew or all sorts of special equipment.  

And then I found a series of 4 videos on kombucha making on  I'd seen a few videos from Sarah about broth making and have found quite a bit of useful information on her site in my paleo adventure.  She seems to value precision and cleanliness, as I do.  She put my mind at ease about what was needed to make quality kombucha.  In her videos, she shows it's quite easy, you don't need anything special, and the SCOBY doesn't need any real special treatment.  I decided I can do this, but $25 is still a lot to spend on one part of a new experiment.  So I went back to my search engine and found yet another great site from a fellow Texan that described how to grow your own SCOBY!

Following Kristen's recipe, my kombucha experiment has begun.  First, I gathered my ingredients.  
In the comments to the Food Renegade post on growing the SCOBY, Kristen recommended using plain Lipton Black Tea.  Sarah at The Healthy Home Economist suggests using only organic teas in brewing kombucha because of fluoride content in non-organic teas.  I know Sarah wasn't addressing growing a SCOBY, but I decided I'd head that bit of advice.  If this attempt goes bad, I'll try again with Lipton.  

I boiled a cup of water in the microwave, added the sugar and the tea bag to dissolve and steep respectively and stirred with a wooden spoon.  After 5 minutes, I poured the sweet tea into a glass jar to cool.  
A watched jar of tea never cools.
A few hours later, I checked the temperature of the tea and it seemed to be room temperature.  It was probably cool enough a lot sooner than I checked it but I didn't want to risk killing the microbes in the starter commercial tea with an environment that was too hot.  I poured my commercial tea into the sweet tea.

I covered the jar with a flour sack towel and secured it with a rubber band to keep out any undesirably critters.  This towel was way to large but will shield my SCOBY hatchery from day light, which I've read is a good thing.
Behold, the Sheik of Kombucha
All of the resources I've come across have said that you need to find a calm, dark, warmish environment to leave your SCOBY undisturbed.  You need a similar environment for actually brewing your tea as well.  Again, my small kitchen problem rears it's ugly head.  To make room for my kitchen gadget/equipment collection that my kitchen doesn't have room for, I've turned my closet underneath my staircase partially into kitchen storage.  I decided to move some pots around and make a shelf for my SCOBY.

SCOBY ghost in my closet.

So, now all I have to do is wait and leave the jar alone.  I put this in the closet on August 14, so I'll check it at the week mark and report back.  I'm crossing my fingers for SCOBY growth.