Recipe: A one way journey with Kombucha

You know that you’ve become a slightly-crazed hippyish hipster when you sprinkle chia seeds on everything, you start seriously considering making nettle tea and most of your conversations either involve wood sorrel or a “mother”.  When you give up well-paid and exhausting jobs in London to buy a small-holding in rural Northern Ireland (donkeys and chickens included) you know there is no turning back.

If you too would like to start along this potentially one-way journey in search of peace, love, happiness and fermented foods, then I cannot recommend anything better than kombucha. When your friends pop round for a tea and admire your jelly-fish like scoby bobbing about in its vessel, you can feel proud that you are continuing the ancient tradition of fermenting tea – and they can feel proud that they have such a cool hipster friend offering them a fruity pro-biotic refreshment. To be honest, you’ve not lived until you’ve spent a few hours cleaning kombucha off your ceiling after your first “over-carbonation” kombucha explosion incident.

The thing about kombucha is that it’s really, really tasty. You can read all you want about gut-bacteria-counts in healthy and not-so-healthy people. You can read about pro-biotics and health tonics. I’m definitely not the person sipping a spoonful of cod-liver oil each morning. My healthy eating has to taste good. And kombucha really does. If it’s good for my insides, then that’s a bonus.

A kombucha “scoby” (or “mother”) is a bit weird looking. “Scoby” is a surprising acronym. Nothing to do with scooby-doo. It’s a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts. It’s a weird jelly-looking, but actually quite robust, zoological mat.  I’d like to say no-one knows how the first one formed and each scoby has been created by carefully pulling a layer of scoby off an existing one (which is the easiest way to spread the kombucha-brewing love), but a scoby spontaneously formed in our mead recently – so that mystery is ruined for me. In fact, little mini-scobies spontaneously form on kombucha all the time.

Our basic kombucha recipe is as follows:

1. Day One

Brew 750ml of hot green or black tea (2-3 teabags or equivalent).
Add 150g of sugar and stir to dissolve.
Top up with cold water to 2 litres.
Put the cool sweet tea in a glass container with wide top and gently place your kombucha mother in.
Cover lightly with a cloth or kitchen roll to avoid things flying or dropping in.
The yeasts and bacteria in your scoby will start turning sucrose into glucose and fructose and various other things (a bit of alcohol, a bit of acetic acid). The longer you leave it the less sweet, more dry tasting it will become.

2. Approximately seven days later 

Remove the mother from the brew to use for next time. Put it in another container with just a little bit of the brew (use your hands or a plastic spoon, but never a metal spoon). It will happily sit in a bit of tea for weeks or even months. Leave the lid off slightly – or put it in the fridge.
Add flavourings of your choose (see below) to the brew.
Close the container.
Leave for a day or two (check regularly to release the pressure build up and to taste) until the brew takes on the flavour of what ever you put in it.

3. Another few days later

Sieve out the flavouring (using a plastic sieve, not metal)
Bottle the brew and leave at room temperature – I use glass flip top bottles and one small plastic bottle for judging the pressure build-up. By sealing the kombucha in a bottle, pressure will build-up and carbon dioxide will start to disolve in the brew, making your kombucha fizzy.

4. About 2-5 days later (depending on your climate /season)

Put your bottles in a fridge to stop them exploding – the coolth dramatically slows down the fermentation process, OR
If you don’t have loads of room in your fridge, and you’re not ready to drink it, open the bottle to release the pressure. It will then take another few days to re-carbonate (getting less sweet/drier each time you do this).

5. Then Drink

Having written all that out it seems like a total faff and a pain in the arse. But after brewing beer at home for the last 6 years, kombucha seems dead quick and simple. You don’t need to sterilise everything (though obviously everything needs to be nice and clean) and as long as you avoid metal utensils all the processes described above are easy as pie!

Some favourite flavours

  • Lime and ginger
  • Blood orange
  • Strawberries and other soft fruit (when in season of course!)
  • Apple or pear and ginger
  • Dried apricots (or other dried fruit)
  • Chai (cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon)
  • Elderflowers (fresh from the tree) and lemon

It really is worth it. Give it a go. Experiment with different flavours. And “how’s mother doing?” will take on a whole new meaning in your household.