Whole Hearted: What's the Scoop on (Kom)Booch?

Micol dissolving sugar. Captured by Bailey Becher.

I got on the kombucha train back in 2016 when people were like —

“What the heck is that juice drink in the big glass bottle that fizzes and smells kind of funky?” I would reply, “It’s just Kombucha,” hoping that they wouldn’t ask me any more questions, as I simply didn’t have the answers.

Kombucha tastes like a combination of drinking vinegar and Champagne. It is always extremely carbonated, (be careful when opening, I’ve had many kombucha explosions!) and can be made in a variety of fun flavors. Although I didn’t know the true benefits of kombucha at that time, I continued to drink it, because it made my stomach feel really good. It also kept popping up on health blogs and in more and more grocery stores. I loved trying new flavors and new brands and comparing them.

In November of 2017, I was studying abroad in London and came across an ad for a “Kombucha Making Class” at one of my favorite cafes called Farm Girl. I signed up, not knowing that this class would change my life and spark a new hobby that would last with me for years.

The class was led by a self proclaimed “Fermentation Queen” by the name of Lise Aanes. She explained that kombucha is simply fermented tea. First we tasted her own kombuchas, she had a variety of creative flavors such as blueberry ginger and star anise. We then went on to learn about the benefits of fermented foods, and then finally got to make our own kombuchas. I’m going to take you through the steps that I learned straight from this Fermentation Queen.

1. Place the SCOBY and the starter kombucha in a clean bowl or jar.

2. Boil 500 ml of water and add 70g of unrefined cane sugar. Put into large jar ( I use a gallon jar).

3. Stir with a non metal utensil until sugar is dissolved.

4. Add 3-4 tea bags of your choice (I use green tea usually but you can use any tea as long as it is caffeinated!).

5. Let the tea steep for 5 minutes and then discard.

6. Mix the sweet tea with 500ml of cold water, then let the mixture cool down

7. When the mixture is cooled down (make sure it is really room temp- you don’t want to kill your SCOBY!) put the SCOBY into the mixture.

8. Cover with a paper towel and fasten with a rubber band.

9. Fermentation will be anywhere from 5 days to 3 weeks, depending on the heat of the room and also how sweet/sour you like your kombucha. Start tasting it after 4 days and see how you go! Once it is time to bottle, save 100 ml for your next starter kombucha.

10. If you want to take a break from brewing, simply keep your SCOBY in a jar in the fridge covered in kombucha. If you plan to pause your kombucha making for more than a month, feed the SCOBY once a month with approx 1 tbs of sugar dissolved in water.

So, now that you’ve seen the process, let’s dive into what makes kombucha such a special and unique beverage. The first sip of kombucha was taken in China in 221 BC during the Tsin Dynasty. Then it was called, “The Tea of Immortality”. The kombucha culture, or in other words, the living bacterial organism that ferments the tea has a name! It is called the scoby.

Scoby stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. It is an organism that breathes, eats, and excretes. It’s a little circular mushroom of health! Kombucha cannot be made without the scoby. Everytime a new batch of kombucha is made, a new scoby grows. As a result, the kombucha community relies on itself to maintain the scoby and pass them along so that more people can join the community!

Once the scoby is placed in the sweetened caffeinated tea, (either green or black, totally your preference!) that tea becomes a bowl full of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. The sugar that in the tea gets eaten by the scoby. As it is digested, a host of good acids are released. This is why kombucha has quite a sour taste. The more you leave the scoby in the tea to ferment, the more sour it will be because more of the sugar will be eaten. Alternatively, if you leave the scoby in the tea for less time, the kombucha will be sweeter.

Glucuronic acid, acetic acid and lactic acid which are all released during the fermentation process all happen to be the body’s most important detoxifying agents. They kill potentially harmful microorganisms that may have found a home in your gut. These acids also help kill infection causing bacteria and candida yeasts! So if you happen to be prone to yeast infections, kombucha could be a fantastic solution for you. In addition, during the process of the scoby eating the sugar, probiotic bacteria is created. This is why often times you hear the word probiotic closely following kombucha.

Probiotics are useful because they help cleanse your gut. The healthy bacteria from the probiotics serve to combat any unhealthy bacteria that may be living in your gut, as well as help digest food, and reduce inflammation.

If the kombucha making process sounds daunting (it truly isn’t, I assure you!) you can still make your gut happy by trying a bottled brand! Kombucha has become so mainstream now you will be able to find it in any health-section of your grocery store. My favorite “mainstream” kombucha brands are GT’s Kombucha and Health-Ade. GT’s is the original kombucha company, GT started making kombucha back in the ‘90s, when he was just fifteen. I think that this company has perfected the process. They are definitely my go to when I just need a classic ‘booch. My go-to flavor: Trilogy

Health-Ade is brewed in Los Angeles, and they have their marketing and brand identity on point. The packaging stands out and they’re always posting fun GIFs and partnering with influencers on social. They also are known for some really interesting and funky flavors like Reishi-Cacao, Beet-Lime, and Bubbly Rose. My favorite Health-Ade flavor though has got to be the Blood-Orange-Carrot-Ginger.

There are also many local kombucha brands out there, so if you see a locally owned brand, support them too! For example, did you know that Ithaca is home to Ithaca Kombucha Company?

Happy kombucha-ing!

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