Kombucha!

I wanted to write about my experience with making kombucha, as it was all a mystery to me a year ago, even though I  had read about it a number of times.  I just didn’t seem to have time to look into it and experiment.  Everything I read said it was pretty easy to do once I got the hang of it.  So, somehow I found the time to do it at the most busy time in our lives, because my chronic stomach troubles were just getting worse.  I started buying the kombucha at the health food store, in 16oz bottles.  I liked it a lot for the flavor and it seemed to help my tummy, but it costs nearly $4.00 a bottle!  So, it was time to look into doing this myself.

I had been a long-time member of an online forum for homeschoolers and I had frequently seen threads posted about kombucha, where I read a lot of tips and tricks.  So, I went back and read over some of those.  I tried to get a kombucha culture from one of the ladies there, but it was much easier to just buy one on ebay.  I looked on ebay for a seller that came recommended, but you can do a search for sellers of kombucha cultures, as well.  I bought from the ebay member "Stichingtime" and it was a good experience.  She mailed 2 cultures to me by priority mail.  They came in a box, wrapped in a ziplock bag with a bit of the kombucha tea to keep them moist.  The ziplock was wrapped in paper towel and in the box was a set of instructions on making the tea.  The instructions were very emphatic about the use of clean utensils and containers, washing everything with hot, soapy water and then rinsing, with one last rinse in white vinegar.  I did all of that and then I made a gallon of green tea, adding a cup of sugar and letting it cool to room temp.  The cooling part is pretty important.  The hot tea will kill the cultures.

Storing the tea to sit somewhere in my kitchen was a challenge.  We were in the process of moving from one house to another and our old kitchen was being packed, but I did have one small, out-of-the-way piece of counter and put up a big sign in the area to NOT TOUCH.  (The kids have taken to calling me an HERBshiner)  I had bought the 2 quart canning jars from Rural King, as it was harvest season when I started this whole process.  I haven’t been able to find the jars any other time of the year.  (You could buy the huge jars of pickles at WalMart/Sams and after eating the pickles, use the jars for kombucha.)  I then poured the tea into the clean jars and dropped one of the cultures into each of the 2 jars.  The cultures are round, rubbery patties that are colored any shade from white to brown, depending on the tea strength when the culture was grown.  The culture dropped into the tea will sink to the bottom of the jar and it is now called the "mother".  I covered the top of the jars with an inverted coffee filter and then screwed on the lid rim without the metal top, so the tea can "breathe".  Then I covered them with a towel and put the jars in my kitchen laboratory.   

I tried to obey the instructions by not checking too much on their progress, but within a few days, I could see a "baby" forming on top of the liquid in the jars.  I let them form until they looked pretty sturdy.  It took about 2 weeks.  I could have left them longer, but I used the most common advice I had seen in my reading: 2-4 weeks.  I was too excited to wait longer than 2, to see how my experiment turned out.  I washed my hands and then rinsed them in vinegar before carefully removing the new "baby" from the top and the "mother" from the bottom.  Since I wasn’t going to use them again immediately, I put them together in a quart jar with a little of the kombucha tea and some extra vinegar to cover them.  The instructions said after refrigeration,  to use the cultures again soon and no longer than 3 months.  I’ve gone as long as 6 months and had them still work out fine.  Anyway, then I put a lid on the jar containing the kombucha tea and put it in the refrigerator.  I then tasted the kombucha….hmmm.  It didn’t have as much of a bite as the one from the healthfood store.  The instructions said that I could add some fruit and/or ginger to the jars, put on the entire lid now and let them ferment for up to 30 days.  I didn’t do that.  I just put them in the refrigerator.  I drank the kombucha until it was gone. 

In subsequent tries, I let the kombucha ferment a little.  One time, I added leftover apple juice that had already started to ferment after being left on the kitchen counter for a few days.  Now that was a really good batch.  This time, I have 4 big jars on the counter, to which I added shredded ginger root and apple juice.  Out of the 4 jars, 3 of them keep trying to grow more cultures, which I scoop out and put away. I was doing this while my 13yo son was standing nearby.  He wasn’t as thrilled as I was.  The instructions say that if the jars grow mold, then they aren’t working out and to throw them away.  I haven’t had even one grow mold.  One of the jars seems to be fermenting nicely, with small bubbles around the rim at the top.  It’s the jar that is the most full.  They all smell wonderful.  Soon, I’ll put them in the refrigerator to chill and then drink them. 

MMMMM…..…and much better for the tummy than Coke!

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