I’m into kombucha – like REALLY into kombucha. I discovered it when I lived in the US where it’s as common as orange juice. Ok, maybe not as common as OJ, but you know, up there. I’ve seen it make it’s way over to the UK, but let’s be real, most of the brands out there suck. Plus it’s sooo expensive.
But like, what even is kombucha?
Basically, it’s fermented tea. Yeah, sounds weird, doesn’t it. But when it’s done right, it’s 💯
For those of you who don’t spend as much time on Instagram as I do, you might not know that fermented food is very much a thing right now, with people making all kinds of batshit claims about the health benefits of food with live microorganisms in it. I’m going to write a more in-depth post about the whole microbiome soon-ish, but for now I just want to point out that we can’t really call fermented food probiotics.
Sorry, but no.
There are loads of different kinds of fermented foods like yoghurts, cheeses, miso, pickles, sauerkraut and kefir that contain live microbes, BUT to meet the definition of a probiotic they have to have a specific health effect and contain large enough numbers. Or if you want to be a dick about it – probiotics are are ‘live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host’.
To be clear, I’m not saying that fermented foods don’t have any health benefit – just that we can’t call them probiotics. Half the time we don’t know shit about which microorganisms are in there, we don’t know how many, their viability (i.e. do they survive digestion in the stomach – prolly not), and if they have an impact on health. Basically, there isn’t enough science, yet.
That said, they taste great – I mean, I love to pile sauerkraut over leftovers to give them new life. And like I said, I’m really into kombucha. And they’re also unlikely to do any harm – although I know for me drinking kombucha every day is a bad idea and gives me a belly ache. But, in general, traditional foods are pretty safe; they’re just not going to cure every little digestive problem you have. Again, more to come on digestive health.
But today I want to talk about actually making booch. Towards the end of last year I contacted the cool people at Mortier Pilon, to ask them if they’d mind sending me on of their fermentation crocks to play around with. To my delight (and total shock – I never get free stuff) they sent me a kombucha crock and a ‘kraut crock (which is my next experiment). All they asked in return was I write (honestly) about my experiences.
And not going to lie – I adore this thing. Yes it looks like a weird alien incubator, but seriously you guys, it’s the coolest thing I have in my kitchen (and I have a Vitamix AND a waffle iron!).
So how does it work? Let’s go through the steps.
What you’ll need:
- A 5L Mortier Pilon kombucha crock (orrrr a giant Kilner Jar w/ a cheesecloth & elastic band to hold it in place)
- A SCOBY ( I bought this Happy Kombucha one on Amazon)
- Sugar (must be white, refined – honey or brown sugar won’t work) (I used this one)
- Black or green tea (I used Clipper organic black tea)
- Flip top bottles
Wash your crock:
Ok, this might sound obvious, but just a couple of notes. Don’t pour boiling water into this thing, it will crack the glass. Even though the instructions that come with the crock say to steralise it. What it really means is give it a good scrub with hot soapy water, but the scientist in me was like, must eliminate any potential source of contamination. You don’t have to go totally crazy, make sure it’s as clean as you can get it and then turn it upside down to dry over a clean tea towel. Don’t stick your hands inside the jar. They’re literally teaming with microbes, you don’t want to start growing those bacteria instead of the SCOBY. Which leads me nicely to…
Make your SCOBY feel at home:
First of all, WTF is a SCOBY? SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The bacteria and yeast essentially eat the sugar and produce small amounts of alcohol (produced by yeast) and acetic acid (bacteria) (don’t worry, the alcohol concentration can’t get very high due to the bacteria converting it into acetic acid). Acetic acid is a compound found in vinegar and gives kombucha it’s sour, vinegary taste. Acetic acid concentration is thought to peak after about 4 days of fermentation, and then slowly reduces (at least this is what I’ve read, but don’t have a great source for it – and my own experience is don’t let your stuff ferment too long because it starts to taste like gross vinegar juice.
When your SCOBY arrives, you’ll want to get it settled in it’s new home; give it a few days to acclimate, ya know?
- Brew 1L of tea – boil filtered water in a pot, then added 3 teabags & 1/2 cup sugar – give it a stir
- Let it cool completely before pouring into your clean crock or jar – seriously if it’s even a bit too hot it will kill the SCOBY so let that shit chill way the fuck down.
- Cover with the screen or a cheesecloth and let it sit for 2-3 days – you can taste it every day to make sure it’s getting less sweet – this will let you know the SCOBY is alive and well and fermenting and stuff.
Making the Kombucha: Primary Fermentation
- make 3L of tea – add 5 teabags to 3L of hot tea
- add 2 cups of sugar and let it cool all the way to room temp
- add it to your your jar with your SCOBY & the first batch of tea
- let it ferment for 1-2 weeks, until you get the flavour you like – I suggest trying it every day or two until you get the balance of sweetness & acidity just right
Making it fizzy: Secondary fermentation
Because you need to let gas escape from the primary fermentation vehicle (jar or crock), if you want your booch to be fizzy then you have to bottle it in a jar or bottle that is airtight – I use a variety of pop top bottles and jars, the pop tops will be much fizzier than the jars.
- Make sure your bottles/jars are super clean and dry (turn them upside down to drip dry)
- add 2tsp of sugar to every 500ml bottle (adjust according to size of bottle)
- add kombucha from primary fermentation – this is where the Mortier Pilon crock is super awesome – there’s a little tap on the bottom of the crock to let you fill up your bottles without spilling stuff everywhere. Otherwise use a funnel and get someone to help you.
- Close the bottle or jar (as tight as you can make it) and let it ferment for another 4-5 days before it’s ready to drink.
- The longer you leave it the fizzier it will be as the SCOBY ferment the sugar and produce gas bubbles that get trapped.
- You can also experiment with flavours at this stage – add fresh fruit, fresh spices (like ginger), or dried flowers like hibiscus – I haven’t experimented with these yet, but I’m going to have a go with the latest batch I’m making.