Kombucha covered sized

My first batch of kombucha sitting on the window sill

About two years ago I was introduced to a drink called kombucha. I had heard of it before but had no idea what it was.  An herbal concoction maybe?  Something from Pakistan?  Okay, okay, maybe not Pakistan!  Actually, it is from China.  Buying kombucha is not cheap.  The drink usually goes for about four dollars per serving.  Making it, however, is about as inexpensive as making your own tea. You could call it a tea with benefits.

Kombucha is most often a tea-based drink that has been allowed to ferment.  This fermentation creates a small amount of alcohol but is credited with creating a probiotic mix that some people have claimed has helped them with digestion problems.  Some people credit kombucha with various health benefits.  Kombucha emerged from China and has had a long track record.  Currently there are no testing or research done by western researchers that look into the benefits of kombucha. There are people online who do credit kombucha with a broad range of health benefits and when researching this topic for writing this article what I found as one of the biggest  benefits was  related to gastrointestinal health.

One individual mentioned how his wife had what appeared to be an undiagnosed case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Another individual credited kombucha, along with other fermented products like miso, kimchi, etc., with her gastrointestinal problems. Some simply say that something that has been used for as long as kombucha can’t be bad and probably has some very good health benefits, otherwise, we would have done away with it by now.  This is very much the situation with things like cheese and yoghurt, all of which involve a discovery of milk products which have gone bad as the basis for a food product.  Besides the health benefits they believe kombucha has, many drink it for the taste.  Let’s just say that the taste can be a bit sour, like vinegar.  I have to admit to an odd affinity with kombucha.

Making kombucha is easy.  The main ingredients are tea and other fruit add-mixtures such a citrus or ginger.  Sometimes a fruit juice is added.  Truth be told, kombucha does not work well using things like honey or molasses.  To get kombucha to begin consuming the energy in your brew you need to supply it with sugar.  The more ordinary the sugar, the better!  Along with tea and fruit and sugar is the essential ingredient which is called the SCOBY.  The SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.  What this means, most often, is that you wind up with a combination or organisms that are all cooperative (or symbiotic).  You most often find a welter of good benefits from one organism that has a symbiotic relationship with other organisms so that all the organisms within a symbiotic relationship will provide benefits often.  The SCOBY, then, is a living organism and in order to find one you need to know someone who can provide you with a tissue culture.  Some people have had success using the kombucha from health food stores that still has some of the “mother” on the bottom of the bottle to use as a culture.   I have used a living culture for my own kombucha.

Kombucha side sized

You can see the SCOBY floating below

My first batch of kombucha was over two months ago and I was excited.  I made the tea, had a clean container, put everything together in just the right way and placed my kombucha mix in my studio where I have lots of hot equipment running all the time and this helped jump start the digestion process of my kombucha.  Within a matter of several days my kombucha developed a tan leathery skin that grew in size over the weeks.  By the second week, however, I noticed that I had two small white spots on my SCOBY.  I surmised that this was mold and that this as NOT a good thing.  Doing the only thing I thought I could do, I tried to excise the mold from the SCOBY.  Now, I know that mold is microscopic and if you have one spot, you probably have thousands of others waiting to spawn….but I tried this anyway.  The SCOBY promptly dipped below the surface of the kombucha and drifted down into the brew.

A week later a while new skin developed on the kombucha but was quickly overtaken by a white mat of mold.  Being new to this, I looked this up to see if this was good or bad mold. Some of the pros have said that certain molds are okay.  I certainly seemed to have the “right” kind of mold on mine.  The only thing was that there were stories out there about people getting really sick from drinking kombucha that was not brewed right and had all the wrong microorganisms alive in it. Of course, this is enough to make any unseasoned kombucha brewer a little uncertain so I chose to record the look of my kombucha and then start over with a new batch.

Komucha top

The mat of mold up close

What I have learned from all of this is that I need to make sure that I keep everything used that comes into contact with my kombucha sterile, and this includes the cheesecloth that I use to cover the brew so it can breathe.  The new batch I am making today will be even more scrupulously clean in its surrounding (surfaces around where the kombucha are brewed and stored for example). I am looking forward to this new batch and will keep you updated!

UPDATE 10/19:

The new batch was prepared after having cleaned everything prior to inoculation, which is when the brew has cooled sufficiently to not kill off the introduction of the mushroom and bacteria into the mix.  Its important to be able to keep the kombucha warm enough so that the organisms begin working right away.  This means having a temperature of about 80 degrees, with a range between 75° F. and 85° F. as optimal. Once you hit 100° and above, the brew is slowly killed.  In my case, I was intersted in seeing if I could run a continuous brew where I would tap some of the kombucha for use and then I would add more tea and sugar, leaving it alone to brew the necessary number of days.  My thinking was that I could get a container that has a drain cock on the bottom of the container so I could draw off whatever amount I needed while keeping a steady fermentation going.  No sooner had I considered this, I came across an article explaining how beneficial continuous fermentation is over single run batches.  This has seemed the way to approach it for now and so this is how I am now set up.  The advantage I have read is that this keeps the development of mold down since once a good mix of spore and other flora are developed, that this naturally keeps any unwanted intruders at bay. Again, we will see how that goes!


RIght now the brew is being kept warm in a warm spot in the house and I am eager to note any change in the brew mix…