July 13, 2010

Nationwide raw Kombucha recall? Home Brew it. ~ Rod Warlick

Raw Kombucha is just getting harder and harder to find these days.

There’s a controversy involving elevated alcohol levels found by the Treasury Department, levels high enough to trip your SCRAM.  A voluntary withdrawal of eight major brands has created a supply vacuum, and some bottlers have yet to announce a return.  Others have released vague estimates such as “weeks not months” back to store shelves.

As the dust settles on this nationwide kombucha recall, explore your options:

Go pasteurized.  Slightly sweeter with no probiotics.  Companies like Coca-Cola and Red Bull are now in the kombucha market with pasteurized drinks.  This sounds more like a soda.  I’m looking for the real, raw stuff.

Wait it out. This isn’t really an option! I need kombucha now!

Make your own at homeIs this even possible? Isn’t it hard?

You may be wondering if you’ve got what it takes to DIY this 2,000 year old fermented tea loaded with probiotics and antioxidants in your kitchen, at home. As a homebrewer since 1993, I can assure you that you’ve definitely got the mental muscle, and maybe have both the tools and raw materials to get started right now. You’ll alchemize a simple sweet tea into a nutritious, fizzy, fermented, probiotic treat in just over a week.


Get it together:

  • – a large pot, 6-8 quarts, preferably stainless steel w/ lid
  • – large spoon,  preferably plastic or stainless
  • – measuring cups
  • – 1 gallon of good quality water. If you trust your tap, use it.
  • – refined white sugar, nothing fancy – just plain white sugar
  • – 8-12 tea bags – regular green and/or black tea, camellia sinensis. Black tea will give a more flavorful brew. I’ve used both, even together, half and half. Use 8-12 regular tea bags per gallon. Personally, I use 10 bags per gallon.
  • – 1/2 cup of fermented, finished tea from a prior batch OR 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • – the culture, SCOBY, the mother, pancake – this is the thing that looks and feels like a raw chicken breast, hold on tight, she’s slippery.
  • – 1-2 gallon glass, food grade ceramic or food grade plastic container – glass let’s you keep an eye on what’s happening.  This will be the fermenting vessel.
  • – thermometer – optional, although most kitchens have a thermometer in a drawer somewhere

Put it together…

  1. Add the water and sugar to the pot, stir to dissolve, bring to a boil, and then turn off the burner.
  2. Drop in the tea bags and steep for around 20 minutes.
  3. Remove the tea bags,  squeezing out the  trapped liquid.  Throw the used bags on the compost pile.
  4. Cover and bring your fresh nutrient tea to room temperature.  You can leave it out at room temperature, covered or place in the refrigerator, covered for faster cooling. If you’re in a hurry use the thermometer and make sure you introduce the SCOBY into the nutrient tea no warmer than 95 deg F. The culture is heat sensitive, so watch this.
  5. Add the 1/2 cup of fermented tea from a prior batch OR 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar.  Stir well.
  6. Add the SCOBY pancake and you’re almost done. Let the pancake go with the flow, it may decide to sink or stay on top.
  7. Cover the top of your container with a clean white restaurant-style napkin or even a handkerchief.  Make sure it’s clean and completely covers the surface.  Secure the cloth to your jar with a rubber band or string.
  8. Tuck into a cozy, vented, dark, warm 74-86 deg F place for 7 days.  Make sure your brew can breathe.  I’ve got two batches going right now sitting on top of the fridge, about 82 deg F.

You’ll begin tasting at day 7 – look for a slight vinegar aroma, a thickening of your “mother” culture, and a decrease in sweetness with time. Harvest by pouring into clean glass jars and refrigerate when the desired dryness is achieved.  This could be on day 11 or 12. It’s fine to extend the brewing time for a less sweet taste.

You’ll now have two cultures – one for your next batch and one for a spare. It’s a good idea to keep a spare around, just in case.  Tuck away a spare before sharing with your next door neighbor or the boss. The “mother” and “baby” are easy to separate – just pull them gently apart and store covered in the refrigerator with a splash of kombucha to keep them smiling.

How much money can you save making your own kombucha at home?  A gallon of homebrewed kombucha will run around $1.50 to $2.00 for the raw materials compared to $28 (this is eight 16 oz. drinks @ $3.50) going to your favorite health food store.  Not bad.

Need a SCOBY – check here to find a worldwide network of fellow kombucha home brewers willing to share with you, often for free.

What to do now? Enjoy your harvest and share that new SCOBY with a friend.

Rod Warlick is a kombucha homebrewer who enjoys writing, staying fit and learning new stuff about the world.

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