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How to make kombucha

How to make kombucha

Kombucha is a slightly sparkling sour tonic beverage, similar to the popular Russian drink kvaas (which is made from fermented rye bread). Kombucha, however, is a fermented, sweetened tea, cultured with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) which as the name suggests, is one big wobbly culture made of all manner of bacterial goodies. SCOBYs have garnered quite a reputation amongst kombucha-lovers for their somewhat unappetising appearance – once one's been floating in the tank a while, it’s a rather terrifying looking thing that wouldn’t look out of place in any of the Alien films. SCOBYs are beautiful things though – full of nutrients with a texture and flavour somewhat similar to lychee. They float in the tea solution, left to feed off the sugars in the tea, creating a slightly sparkling liquid with minuscule levels of alcohol.

Kombucha is said to have originated in China and has become popular in many countries since, particularly the USA. More recently it's been grabbing attention on these shores, thanks to a wave of interest in healthy probiotics. Although some of the more outlandish health claims surrounding kombucha haven’t been proven, the ‘good bacteria’ in the beverage is good for the immune system – though if you’re drinking shop-bought, make sure it hasn’t been pasteurised or all of the good bacteria will have been killed!

Kombucha shouldn’t just be left for the health-conscious, though – its unique flavour is being embraced by inventive chefs searching for new, exciting flavours to add to their culinary repertoire.

The recipe below is from chef Dean Parker, head chef at The Manor in Clapham, who uses kombucha for all kinds of creative recipes; soft drinks, vinegars, sorbets, dressings and cocktails to name a few.

During his experiments in kombucha-making, lemongrass tea provided some of the best results, but don't be too wary of playing around with flavours: 'Earl Grey has been successful although the acidity levels rise quicker, despite the fact the mother usually tends to die off in other citrus teas. Green tea is another one we do weekly, as well as a dark roasted malt tea which we use to make vinegar (alternatively you could use roasted pearl barley).'

How to make kombucha

Ingredients

  • Kombucha

  • 1l water, filtered
  • 100g of sugar
  • 4g of loose-leaf tea
  • 1 kombucha SCOBY, these can be found online for around £10 and are re-usable (providing they are looked after!)
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1
Before you start, make sure all of your equipment has been sterilised. Boil the water and sugar in a pan and pour over the loose leaf tea
2
Set the tea aside overnight, then strain and submerge the SCOBY in the tea (only handle it with very clean hands or latex gloves), using a sterilised weight to make sure it is fully submerged. Usually this is done in a large glass jar with muslin cloth tightly covering the top (do not place a tight-fitting lid on initially as the build-up of gasses could make it pop off)
3
Leave to ferment at an ideal temperature of 15–20°C for 5–7 days depending on the temperature and humidity (in the summer it will ferment faster than in winter)
4
Taste after 5 days, then every day after until you’re happy with the balance of sweetness and acidity – the longer it is left, the sharper it will be as the sugar gets eaten up by the SCOBY
5
Once you’re pleased with the flavour, you can transfer to bottles for a second fermentation or carbonation process. Use either swing top bottles or plastic bottles (which have more give than glass, so there's less chance of them exploding if there's too much pressure)
6
You can re-use your SCOBY by putting it straight into another batch of tea or store in tea in the fridge – but discard that liquid when you’re ready to start your next fermentation. The SCOBY will grow with each fermentation – you can remove the extra layers and any straggly bits to stop it from growing too big
7
Leave the decanted bottles for 1–3 days to carbonate at room temperature. If using swing-top bottles, open them slightly each day and you’ll be able to hear fizzing once it’s started to carbonate. If using plastic bottles you can tell when they’re ready as they will have expanded slightly and have less give when squeezed. Place in the fridge to stop further carbonation and drink after one month. You can drink straight away but the flavour does benefit from a little ageing

Variations

Aside from using different flavoured teas, you can flavour your kombucha by adding fruits and aromatics during the second fermentation – strawberry, ginger, elderberries, herbs, apple, spices and even lavender make excellent flavourings. Just make sure the SCOBY has been removed before adding any of the flavours as they can damage or even kill it.

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