My Kombucha teaThe title says it all. What is this stuff? Well my first impression when I heard about this beverage was “Really? Cures cancer, restores youth, corrects acne…” The list goes on. Modern Day Snake Oil came to mind immediately. Then I had to process this for a bit to really understand what was this beverage that southern Californian coffee houses and Upper Manhattan hang outs were charging as much as $9 for an 8oz serving.

Well for starters I had to drop by the Wiki on Kombucha and see what they had to say.

Kombucha is a fermented tea that is imbibed for medicinal purposes. Although there is limited specific scientific information supporting any purported benefits and a lack of studies being conducted, much anecdotal information purporting its historical medicinal value has been reported. Kombucha is available commercially, but can be made at home by fermenting tea using a visible solid mass of microorganisms called a kombucha culture or mushroom.

Ok, right there in the very first sentence, I am already rolling my eyes “limited scientific information.” This means any further belief one must either experience it for themselves, or have a leap of faith. I’m ok with that. Faith has much to do with fitness results, gains in strength, and following a new dietary program. However this kid has to be really convinced that there are real necessary benefits for drinking this elixir– and there are. Let’s dissect what this stuff is.

First kombucha is a ‘tea’ that was fermented with a few dozen cultures of live bacteria; yes living. Think of the hundreds of companies that are selling products now laden with Probiotics and with catchy names as “Activa.” These living cultures of bacterias are living in most dairy products and even some meats. But why do I need these? A probiotic is a live microorganism thought to be healthy for the host organism. The FAO/WHO defines probiotics as: “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and bifidobacteria are the most common types of microbes used as probiotics; but certain yeasts and bacilli may also be helpful.

Lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria are a pretty amazing group of bacterias that are really helpful. For instance they can reduce inflamation, reduce swelling due to digestive issues, they inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacterias such as diharras, irritable bowel syndrome. They manage lactose intolerance, they can prevent colon cancers1, lowered cholesterol 2, lowered blood pressure, improved immune functions, and improve mineral absorption. The list can go on. What these do are assist in the continual break down of nutrients within the digestive system and allow for better absorption of these nutrients. They also aide in balancing the pH of the gut and assist in the gut flora to defeat the harmful microbes and replace them with useful microbes.

Perfect, now we understand what the roles are of the probiotics so where does this apply to kombucha? It’s simple, let’s think of kombucha as a replacement for fermented dairy. Why not just drink kefir, eat yogurt or pop a probiotic pill? Well, we could but most of us have a hard time with one ingredient in dairy called casein. Sure the lactose (milk sugars) have already been broken down by these bacterias because like with making beer, wine or any alcohol you need a food for the bacterias to devour and produce it’s byproduct– alcohol. In yogurt’s case, lactose was eaten by the lactic acid and bifidious. This is why people who are lactose intolerant (gee, another case for humans not to drink milk) can enjoy kefir or another fermented dairy simply because it’s been naturally removed. But what does not go away is a pretty intolerant3 substance called casein which are particles in dairy that are always present.

Back to kombucha, so we get that some are dairy intolerant and stay away from it. I place myself somewhere on the side of dairy free. Other than the occasional spoon of hand made ice-creams, or a slice of really ripe cheeses, I really see no purpose for making dairy my primary food for nutrition. So I started drinking kombucha. Remember kombucha contains a symbiosis of Acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) and yeast, mostly Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbrueckii and Zygosaccharomyces bailii. Ahh, there it is. All that good stuff I need to help with digestion and it’s packed in a really tart, sometimes sweet tea.

So where does one get kombucha? Most health food stores carry this nectar in a glass bottle for about $5 for 12 ozs. Ok, pretty expensive. Even if I were to drink once a week that is $260 a year. Well let me tell you it is as simple to make as well, making tea. Let’s look at how it’s made.

Materials you need are:

  • Stainless steal pot
  • 1 large grain sock (obtained from a brew shop), tea ball, or linen sack (real nylons can work here
  • A glass (preferred) 1 gallon or larger container
  • 1 clean cotton white t-shirt
  • large rubber band

To make 1 gallon:

  • 1 gallon of clean de-chlorinated water; bottled water works best here
  • 12grams of a real black tea (oolong or pu-erh works best), or green/white teas
  • 12oz (weight) organic cane sugar for black teas, 12oz of dark turbonado or muscovado for green teas
  • 12 oz of a store bought “RAW” bottle of kombucha
  • lemon peel, ginger or orange peel (all optional)

That is pretty much it. Simply boil your water. As soon as it boils, shut off the heat. Add sugar to the pot and stir gently. Add the tea, you place it in the grain sock or stocking and lower into the pot. Now let it cool. It needs to be at least 80°F or you will kill the bacteria. Let the tea steep as it cools. I usually leave the tea in the entire time and then pull the sock out when it’s cooled. At this point if you are going to flavor yours, add the lemon, orange, or ginger to the pot now. Let it steep. Go and clean the gallon container with warm water, not too much soap either. You just need to be “kitchen clean” for this.

Once cooled you have your clean gallon container, and pour in your store bought bottle of kombucha, and the followed by the tea you just made. Once you have everything in the container, cut a square piece of material out of the cotton t-shirt. You can even run a very hot iron with steam over this to sanitize this. Place the T-Shirt over the top of the container and tighten with a rubber band.

Let this sit in a kitchen counter for a week or so. You will begin to see a growth on the top of the surface, this is completely normal. What you need to look out for is mold. The green, red, or black hairy stuff growing on the top. I can not supply images of this since I’ve never had issues with this thus far. Here is a quote from the Wiki on Safety I am posting to cover my backside. Remember, I did not tell you to do this, I merely told you what I do. If you follow these same guides, great. Please note that you are on your own. (my lame legal disclaimer)

A healthy kombucha “mother”

SCOBY or mother

Safety and contamination

As with all foods, care must be taken during preparation and storage to prevent contamination. Keeping the kombucha brew safe and contamination-free is a concern to many home brewers. Key components of food safety when brewing kombucha include clean environment, proper temperature, and low pH.

There is a low rate of homebrew contamination which might be explained by protective mechanisms, such as formation of organic acids and antibiotic substances. Thus, subjects with a healthy metabolism do not need to be advised against cultivating Kombucha. However, those suffering from immunosuppression should preferably consume controlled commercial Kombucha beverages.

In every step of the preparation process, it is important that hands and utensils (anything that is going to come into contact with the culture) be dish soap clean so as not to contaminate the kombucha. Kombucha becomes very acidic (in the neighborhood of pH 3.0 when finished) and so can leach unwanted and potentially toxic material from the container in which it is fermenting. Food-grade glass is very safe. Gunther Frank says on his website that besides glass, acceptable containers include china, glazed (without lead) earthenware, stainless steel and food-grade high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP). Keeping cultures covered and in a clean environment also reduces the risk of introducing contaminants and insects. Mold contamination on the culture surface.

Maintaining a correct pH is an important factor in a home-brew. Acidic conditions are favorable for the growth of the kombucha culture, and inhibit the growth of molds and bacteria. The pH of the kombucha batch should be between 2.5 and 4.6. A pH of less than 2.5 makes the drink too acidic for normal human consumption, while a pH greater than 4.6 increases the risk of contamination. Use of fresh “starter tea” and/or distilled vinegar can be used to control pH. Some brewers test the pH at the beginning and the end of the brewing cycle to ensure that the correct pH is achieved and that the brewing cycle is complete.

If mold does grow on the surface of the kombucha culture, or “mushroom,” it is best to throw out both culture and tea and start again with a fresh kombucha culture.

kombuchaAfter about a week or more, taste the kombucha. If this tastes like a tart lemony, tea with a slight sweetness then it’s ready for bottling. If not, and is too sweet like a sweet tea, you need to check it in another week or so. It depends on your liking. Your culture will be new so the times of fermentation may vary. Mine take a week now, but at first it took two or more to get the right pH. Now comes bottling. It’s pretty simple. I save kombucha bottles, or 1 ltr carbonated water bottles. Simply pour them in the container with a tight sealing lid and let stand in a room temperature location for a few weeks to carbonate. If you do not like the carbonation, then place them in the refrigerator. It’s ready to drink.

One last note. There are resources on the interwebs that allow you to purchase a kombucha mother or SCOBY. Those are a great way to dive head first into this art-form, but they have a cost associated with them. You’ll pay about $38 + shipping and pray that they arrive not dead. My method works. Enjoy.

1. Brady LJ, Gallaher DD, Busta FF (February 2000). The Role of Probiotic Cultures in the Prevention of Colon Cancer J. Nutr. 130 (2S Suppl): 410S–414S.
2. Sanders ME (February 2000). “Considerations for use of probiotic bacteria to modulate human health” J. Nutr. 130 (2S Suppl): 384S–390S.
3. Volume 51 Issue 6, Pages 412 – 416 Published Online: 29 Apr 2007 Journal compilation © 2010 John Wiley & Sons A/S Identification of casein as the major allergenic and antigenic protein of cow’s milk

— Daniel Merk

POSTED BY Daniel Merk | 06:29pm 21st-Jan, 2010