Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SCOBY Watch Part 4: Kombucha Bottling & Tasting!

** Updated 9/19** Please scroll to the bottom for my second batch update.

When I last reported on this ongoing experiment, on September 27, I had put a gallon jar of tea and my homegrown SCOBY in the closet underneath my stairs to ferment. 

The recommended ferment time I've seen is 5-7 days.  At this point, as this is your kombucha, you are basically trying to find a brew time that gets the tea to your desired level of sweetness or lack thereof.

As I'm new at this, I want to do all I can to insure that my brew is safe to drink.  I bought some pH testing strips online so that I could test the pH of my brew.  Ideal pH for kombucha is between 3-2.  At five days, I brought my jar out of the closet, took off the cloth cover and was sad to see that my original SCOBY had sunk, but glad to see that a brand new SCOBY was growing on top of the brew!

I tested the pH of my tea by sticking one of the pH testing strips into the tea under the new SCOBY.  It was a solid 3.0.  I decided to give it a few more days to ferment.  On day 7, I tested again and it was still at 3.0.  I also decided to taste the tea.  I stuck a plastic straw underneath the SCOBY into the tea and placed my finger over the top of the straw and pulled the straw out.  I put the straw in a small glass before removing my finger from the top of the straw.  I took a sip, and it thankfully tasted like KOMBUCHA!  Yay!  It was a little on the sweet side for me, so I decided to let it go a bit longer.  

On Saturday, September 8, a full 12 days since I started to brew this batch, I again took brought the jar out of its dark home.  I tested the pH again and it was still 3.  I tested 2 times, and it was indeed still a 3.  

I've read that a batch of kombucha can go dormant.  As the pH didn't appear to be dropping, I decided it was time to bottle this batch.  I had saved many of my commercially brewed kombucha bottles for this purpose.  They are glass and have a strong lid.  First, I put a large pot of water on the stove to boil for sterilizing the bottles.  I put a smaller pot on to boil to make new sweet tea for my next batch of kombucha.  

I am not even going to talk in detail about the comedy of errors that went on in my kitchen trying to sterilize these bottles in any detail.  It sounds like a easy process:  boil water, stick glass jars in for 5 minutes and remove.  I hadn't thought about how I intended to get these bottles out of the water.  My standard kitchen tongs really didn't work well once these bottles were full of water.  I have a ball canning discovery kit, but it didn't really work when putting the empty bottles in the water: they float!  Before I do this next time, I will get a jar lifter.  Thankfully, I did not burn myself.  

Tea to the left and bottle processing to the right.
When I buy kombucha, I like the ginger flavored, so I prepared some nickel sized slivers of ginger for each of my bottles. 

Hello ginger!

I washed a glass bowl and rinsed it with vinegar to hold my SCOBYs while I removed the brewed tea.  I put on a latex glove and removed the newly grown SCOBY from the jar.  

I removed my original SCOBY from the bottom of the jar and put it in the bowl with the new SCOBY.  I poured off a little over a cup of the brewed kombucha and poured it over the two SCOBYs.  This tea will be my starter tea for my next batch.  Notice how much lighter in color my tea is compared to where it started.  

I then used a plastic funnel to pour the kombucha from the gallon jar to the glass bottles.  As I needed both hands and I got caught up in the moment, there are no pictures of the funneling.  Sorry.  As with the sterilization, I need to improve my pouring technique as I spilled a bit.

When all was said and done, I had 5 bottles of kombucha ready for a secondary ferment: 4  ginger flavored and 1 plain.
So close to tasting!  
At this point, you could drink your tea, but since I want flavored tea and a little more fizz, I am going to let these bottles sit for another 3 days to ferment further.  As there is potential that these jars could explode, hopefully not, I put them in a plastic tub on my tiled laundry room floor.

Kombucha resources talk about burping the bottles every few days, but I think that only needs to be done if you're planning to leave them unrefrigerated for longer than 3 days.  Out of curiosity at the end of day one, I burped the unflavored bottle. There was a nice fizz release sound.

Don't worry, I did not forget about my SCOBY on the counter.  Proceeded to follow the steps outlined in SCOBY Watch Part 3 to get a new batch of kombucha going.  I put both of my SCOBYs in the new batch.

A recommendation I have after going through the bottling and re-brew process, is to have a second brewing jar.  When I decided to do this all at once, I didn't think about the lag time waiting for the new sweet tea to cool.  It would have been nice to get the sweet tea made earlier in the day, put that tea in a fresh jar so it would be cool by the time I'm ready to bottle and start a new batch.  I felt like my little kitchen was being held hostage by tea for most of the day waiting on that tea to cool.

On Tuesday night, I put the bottles into the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
Time to chill!
On Wednesday morning, though I usually don't drink kombucha before swimming, I did, as I just couldn't wait to taste it.  I decided to try a ginger flavored one first.  I decided to test the pH again and it was still 3.  I question the accuracy of these test strips.

The Paleo Review: Meh.  One of the criteria I use when determining whether I'm going to make something myself is whether or not I think I can make it better than store bought.  Another criteria I use is whether I can make something cheaper than I can buy it.  This home brew kombucha is definitely cheaper than buying it at the store since I grew my own SCOBY, so that criteria is met.

Of course, my home brew isn't going to taste the same as store bought, but I can't say I like the flavor of my brew better.  Mine tasted fine, and I don't know how to describe the difference, but I just liked it less.  Could I get used to the taste of mine?  Maybe.  Do I want to?  I haven't decided.  I'm going to do some more research on how I can change the flavor.  I'm also going to try the unflavored bottle tomorrow and see if that tastes better to me.  I will update the post once I do.

And as a reward for making it all the way to the bottom of this post, I will have a huge announcement this coming Monday!  I'll try to come up with some sort of real hint by Friday!

Second Batch Update:  After posting, I did try the unflavored bottle from the first batch and I was equally unimpressed with the taste.  I decided to pour all of my bottles out and hope that my second batch would be better.  Kombucha is a treat for me and I don't ever want to feel like I'm obligated to drink something that I don't love.

Yesterday, I went home at lunch to bottle the second batch that had been fermenting for 10 days, 2 days shorter than the first batch.  After removing my SCOBY from the jar, I poured off a little of the tea to try and it tasted good.  The second batch seemed to have a bit more zing.  My hope is that if I continue to brew my SCOBY will become stronger and the tea will improve.

First, my bottle sterilization process was made much safer and easier by using a jar lifter.
Be super careful with boiling water!

I made my sweet tea for my third batch of kombucha in the morning before I left for work and poured it into a gallon jar to cool.  I did purchase a second brewing jar as I discussed in the original post.  I am glad I did.  Once the tea had cooled, it was nice to just move the SCOBY and some starter tea to the new jar and put it away.  

My SCOBY, which remained floating this time, did grow a thin baby.  I put it and my original SCOBY in the jar with the third batch.  It still seems just like jello and nothing to be scared of or grossed out about.  

I then funneled the second batch of kombucha into the bottles.  I could tell there was more carbonation in this batch as I had a little bubble over while filling.  This didn't happen with the first batch and I don't think I was any more or less careful in the pouring this time.

I got 6 - sixteen ounce bottles out of this batch. I put them again in my laundry room in a plastic bin to ferment for 3 days.  I'll update the post again once I've tasted the second batch.  

At least it looks tasty!