Recipe for Ginger-Lemon 'Booch'
(+ a beginner's 'how-to' guide to making kombucha
I recently started making my own kombucha tea. Kombucha is not available commercially here in Argentina, although there do appear to be some home-brewers in Buenos Aires. Kombucha is one of those strange and wonderful health foods that we missed from the US. Each visit, we would make a point to hit the nearest health food store and pick up some bottles of GT’s Synergy Kombucha.
For those who don’t know what kombucha is, it's basically fermented tea, sometimes called mushroom tea. In order to make it you need to start with a scoby (also called a ‘mother’), which is the special fungus required to ferment the tea into kombucha. (Much like making yogurt from milk, just a longer process). So, on our most recent trip to the US I got brave and ordered a ‘scoby’ to bring home.
People make a lot of health claims about kombucha— from the special vitamins and nutrients it has, to the probiotic and gut-health benefits. It is definitely a probiotic drink, but I don’t really know much more than that; except that I would definitely put it in the cleanse-detox-clean food category. (Check out this link to read some of the purported health benefits of drinking kombucha tea.) What I do know is that when I drink it my system feels settled. The perfect mix of energized and calm. (Like totally ZEN, man.)
This not going to be a complete dissertation on how to make kombucha. There are already a lot of great resources available. (See links throughout this article.) However, I am now on round three of home-brewing my own kombucha and wanted to share a few notes that I didn’t read about anywhere else, that might help some of you newbies out there. Also, selfishly, noting all of this on my food blog helps ME keep all of what I have learned in one easy-to-find place.
A few thoughts to get us started...
• Once you have your scoby, it's super easy to make kombucha. The hardest part is waiting the 12-14 days required to brew a batch from start to flavored and bottled. (I’ll be buying another jar soon so I can increase production.)
• After you’ve completed one batch you’ll ‘get it’. On round one there are so many questions about whether or not it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. I was pretty worried I’d somehow damage my scoby, putting me back at square one. (Flying to the US to get another one?)
• On my first batch, the WORST thing that can happen DID. And it turned okay. (See below.)
• The cup of sugar, which seems like a lot, mostly gets eaten up by the scoby. This is not AT ALL sweet tea. In fact, it should have a decidedly vinegar-like taste when it’s ready to bottle. The tea also gets a lot lighter in color; assumedly the scoby eats up some of the tannins as it ferments too.
• It’s fun! I make yogurt, nutmilk, granola, and now kombucha too. I’m totally turning (have turned?) into an earth-muffin.
Recipe for Ginger ‘Booch’ (or How to Make Kombucha Tea)
In my opinion, this home-brewed kombucha turns out just as good at the commercial stuff. Really. I’d have to taste test to compare objectively, but I believe this is just as good as GT’s Ginger Kombucha. Though you can make any flavor you like. Our favorite is straight up ginger. And ginger-lemon is a close second.
If this is all totally new to you, I recommend that you read through this page over at the Kitchn, along with the assorted links. The author has done a wonderful job of teaching the whole process of making kombucha. No need for me to repeat it all here. I will give you my recipe, based on hers, with a few special notes to help with the beginner’s learning curve.
Also, instead of a live scoby, you can buy a dehydrated starter to get your first batch going. After that you’ll be making your OWN scobies. Before long you’ll have scoby babies to give to friends; or to start your own second or third brewing jars; or go into the kombucha brewing business! (People get very creative with their extra scobies... though I don’t think I’ll be making scoby jerky anytime soon! If I had a dog, I might consider making dog treats, like many people do.)
In theory you can also get started the slow way, by using the little brown strands from a bottle of plain commercial kombucha. With time, those strands will grow a new scoby. Check out this link for a great overview of how to grow your own scoby using the three possible methods.
First off, let’s clarify that 1 quart = 1 liter. And 1 quart or 1 liter = 4 cups
Special equipment required-
Four quart/liter jar or large container (needs to hold 16 cups of fluid)
Cheesecloth and rubber band (or a clean dishtowel and string, etc.)
One scoby (This is the live one I bought, but there are only a zillion other providers to choose from)
(do go purified and organic on everything if you can)
3.5 quarts/liters water (14 cups)
1 cup sugar
4 bags black tea
4 bags green tea
2 cups kombucha tea (as starter, see notes below)
Step 1- Brew your tea. I’m all about efficiency, so this is how I do it:
Fill an electric tea kettle with water and bring it to a boil. Mine holds 1.75 liters of water (7 cups), yours might be different. Just keep track of the amount of water.
Pour this over the sugar and tea bags in a large pot or bowl. Then stir gently to completely dissolve the sugar, waiting about 3-5 minutes for the tea bags to turn the water a deep brown color.
Then add the rest of the water— room temperature or cold— to equal 3.5 liters in total (14 cups). Allow a few more minutes for the tea bags to steep in the fresh water, then toss out the tea bags. I don’t steep longer than 10 minutes, usually a bit less. Green tea can get bitter if you overdo it on the heat and brewing time.
If the water is still hot to the touch, feel free put the bowl/pot in a sink of cold water to speed the cooling process.
When the tea is warm or tepid, but not at all hot, add the kombucha starter tea. (Heat could kill the cultures.) If this is your first brew, your fresh scoby should have come in a container with some starter tea. It might not be the full 2 cups, but that's okay. It will work fine and after this first batch you will just use two cups from your last batch to start the next one (and so on).
Pour the cooled tea into a clean four liter/quart jar and slide the scoby in. It doesn’t matter where in the jar the scoby sits (it doesn’t have to float or do anything special). It’ll do it’s own thing while it does it's thing.
Cover with a piece of cheesecloth or something else to allow the liquid to breath and keep outside things from going in.
Step 2- Put the jar somewhere out of the sunlight and in a cozy spot.
This was actually the trickiest part to figure out—
The first batch I made, I put the jar on the kitchen counter by the refrigerator. After about a week I looked in and there were tiny spots of black mold growing on the top of the tea. Every kombucha maker’s nightmare!
I did some research online and since the spots were small and isolated (and the scoby unaffected down in the bottom), I scooped out the mold spots and added a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
The tea still tasted sweet (aside from the dash of vinegar I had added), so it obviously hadn’t been fermenting like it was supposed to. Remembering how I make yogurt, I guessed it was too cool in the kitchen. It’s certainly not cold, but probably is only 72 degrees in the room, maybe even a bit cooler at night.
After some brainstorming (with my husband’s help), I put the kombucha in the hot water heater closet, on a shelf above the hot water heater.
Checking back a few days later, I could see it was happy in it's new home. Before, there had been a few quarter-sized whitish patches on the top (which was what the mold was clinging to). Now there was a whitish, gelatinous layer over the entire top of the tea. (And no new mold!) It was finally growing it’s own new scoby (kombucha mushroom) like it was supposed to!
After 10 days of fermenting there was a complete, though thin, scoby on top of the tea; with the original scoby still down in the jar somewhere. And now the tea tasted a bit sour, like kombucha should.
This is what the scoby looked like by batch two...
Don’t forget to make a note of the start date for your batch, and keep it in sight somewhere you’ll see it. Check your kombucha every 2-3 days. (As my new scoby grows, it is starting to fill the jar opening. The pressure from the fermentation makes it pop up... so I press it back down into the tea as needed.)
After a week or so you can start tasting the tea and then move on to the final step when you like the flavor. Ten days is how long it takes in my house, but it could take fewer or more in yours.
Before you start drinking the tea, the final step is to flavor it and bottle it with sealable caps so that it gets fizzy. If you skip the final step, it will taste like sour flat tea. Okay, still healthy, but not very exciting.
Step 3- Make Ginger Kombucha Tea (or Lemon-Ginger, your choice)
Fresh ginger root
Bottles with caps that seal
Note: I use two 1 liter bottles and two resealable beer-type bottles. I prefer glass, but you could use plastic. I find that screw-cap wine bottles work perfectly. I also have two bottles with plastic sealing lids (not screw-style). The first time I used them, one of the lids popped off from the pressure. The other top did not pop off, instead the bottom of the bottle cracked and leaked all over (cheap Argentine glass!). Beware and check the bottles daily as you experiment with what works best for you.
• Remove the scoby(s) from your brewing jar. (You can keep more than one scoby in the fermenting tea until you have something else to do with extras.) Set aside on a clean plate (using clean hands).
• Also, remember to set aside 2 cups of the plain fermented tea to start the next batch.
• Pour the kombucha tea into sealable containers. (If they don’t seal, you won’t get any fizz). I pour the tea into a pitcher first so that I can actually get the tea into the bottles and not all over the kitchen.
If you like plain kombucha, you can skip the next three bullets. For ginger lemon kombucha, read on...
• Cut up a large chunk or two of fresh ginger (about 2 inches by 2 inches in total, approximately). I cut slices to a size that easily go into the bottles, yet not so small they come back out with every pour or are hard to pluck out of a glass.
• Divide the ginger equally between the containers. (In my case, I divide one third between the two smaller bottles and then put one third and one third in the full liter bottles.)
• For the ginger-lemon variety, add about 1/3 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice, also divided equally.
• Seal the bottles and put them back in your warm spot for another 3 days. Do check on them daily and feel free to taste as you go. Technically, they start getting fizzy after about a day, so you can experiment and discover your favorite flavor. I find three days is perfect for the strength of ginger flavor and fizziness we prefer. (So that makes 13 days start to finish for our favorite brew.)
Step 4- Put the bottles in the fridge to chill (optional), and enjoy homemade ‘booch’ at your leisure!
Get a new batch of kombucha started using the 2 cups of starter tea you set aside. Go back to Step 1 and repeat.
It might seem like a lot of work, but the actual active time involved is maybe half an hour total. A little more maybe on the first batch, spent just in worrying. :) But, truly, once you’ve done it, this is so easy. It’s also a definite cost saver for those who like to drink a lot of kombucha. For me it wasn’t so much the cost, but the total lack of availability in Argentina. As I’ve noted before, moving to another country involves a lot more than the move! Learning to make the special foods we miss has been an interesting, and satisfying, adventure in the kitchen.
PS. If you are in the Salta region of Argentina and need a scoby to start your own kombucha, let me know!
Ask me anything or leave a comment here.