Kombucha: ancient brews and my #kombuchastory

Amy loves kombucha. I had it – highly flavoured and mixed with chia seeds – in Austin a few years ago and was not impressed. Always willing to give things another go, last year I spent a fascinating couple of hours at Aizle learning how to make kombucha and tasting their raw and flavoured versions. It was very different from the commercial product I’d had and a lot more pleasant.

Kombucha tasting at Aizle: raw, grenadine in the front, spiced orange in back. Nice.

Kombucha tasting at Aizle: raw, grenadine in the front, spiced orange in back. Nice.

The what, now?

If you haven’t come across kombucha, don’t worry. It’s been brewed in the East for centuries but is only making it’s way into the mainstream in Edinburgh – and Europe in general –  more recently. In short, it’s a vinegar brewed using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (aka a scoby) that’s fed sweetened black or green tea.

Brewing kombucha

Sent home from Aizle with a scoby I set to and brewed kombucha.

There are two steps to most kombucha making:

  1. Brew the raw drink with green or black tea, water, sugar and scoby.
  2. Decant and flavour and leave for second fermentation (for bubbles).

My first batch sat for about a week. Then I saw a hideous mould growth on the scoby and discarded the whole thing, washing the scoby carefully. Doing some research (tip: research first, act second) I realise the odd brown stuff I’d seen was yeast. My scoby wasn’t off; it was thriving.

The second batch came along very quickly. When it was dry enough for me – which is quite tart indeed – I siphoned off 2/3 and topped the jug up with more sweet tea. The ready-to-drink kombucha I poured into another container mixed with spices and beetroot juice and left a few days to brew.

This is now the pattern: once a week I decant and top up my vinegar jar. Then I let a bottle ferment for a couple of days with fruit or juice. To consume, I make what I had all those years ago in Austin: I mix it with water and chia seeds to make a chewy and fairly filling drink that works well as a mid-morning pick-me-up.

Beetroot-blueberry kombucha and chia seed.

Beetroot-blueberry kombucha and chia seed.

Is it good for you?

If you look online, all kinds of health claims are made about kombucha. It’s up there with kefir and apple-cider vinegar among liquids that is supposed to have an amazing effect. Some say it’s a probiotic which will top-up your biota and keep your guts happy; a detox drink; a general panacea which clears up your skin and improves your mood. In the mix are also the kinds of claims that make me deeply suspicious: cancer healing, liver cleansing…

I’m a lover of evidence. I can’t find any reliable research that suggests that kombucha makes any difference to your health. There’s no evidence that it harms you either (as long as you brew it with clean utensils to avoid food poisoning but this goes for any and all kitchen activities).

The main reason to make and drink kombucha, then, is that you enjoy it. Which is good enough for me.

It's had a busy year and is reasting. I need to peel a few layers off before I top it up.

I’ve been busy so the scoby is resting. I need to peel a few layers off before I top it up.

The upshot: brewing is fun

I don’t know that I’ll drink kombucha for ever but I’m having fun with it for now. I love the firm, waxy feel of the scoby when I peel off old layers or fresh ones for sharing. I gave Amy a nice, slick layer and am looking forward to see what she makes of the process. The problem I have is that I really enjoy brewing it, and experimenting with flavours, but I can take or leave the end product.

Are you a kombucha fan or hater? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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