I have to admit I was a bit taken aback when I came across kombucha recipes in Andrew Schloss's Homemade Soda since I'd always thought of this fermented tea as more of a health tonic than an easy drinking soda. But when you think about it, kombucha does fall into the flavored carbonated beverage category, regardless of how good for you if might be. Since kombucha has been on my try-it-out-at-home list for quite a while, giving one of Schloss's fermented tea recipes a whirl seemed like the perfect excuse to delve into the world of kombucha mothers and babies.
The first step is getting your hands on a mother, that bizarre, space blob-looking starter culture from which your tea will ferment. It's not the kind of thing that's sold in stores, so kombucha brewing buddies and internet ordering are your best bet. You'll also need a kombucha starter tea. This can be store bought kombucha, a friend's homemade stuff, or white vinegar, if you can't find anything else.
Once you've got your hands on a mother the next step is to invest in a gallon jug of distilled white vinegar. Since you're going to be fermenting, sterilization is key, and white vinegar is going to make sure that your equipment is clean and bad bacteria-free. You'll also need a clean glass jar, 1 1/2 quarts or larger, and coffee filters or cheesecloth.
Now that you're all set up, it's time to brew. Kombucha grows in sweetened tea, in this case black tea mixed with sugar and vinegar. Once the brewed tea-vinegar mixture has cooled, the mother and starter are added and the whole weird looking liquid is poured into a vinegar-sanitized jar, covered with something that will allow air to flow, and left in a warm spot to do all of its ferment-y magic. At this point your best bet is to mark your calender and forget about it for the next 8 to 12 days.
If you're lucky when you uncover your jar 8 to 12 days later, you'll see all sorts of weird jellyfish-looking action. The mother should have made a baby, i.e. smaller blob, that's going to be attached with a series of wispy looking strings. At this point you should sterilize a straw with vinegar and taste your tea. You're looking for a tart flavor, along the lines of apple cider vinegar.
Kombucha mothers can be used again and again—just scoop it out and store it in the fridge for future use. The final step on your epic kombucha brewing journey is to strain your tea through a coffee filter, add the orange juice, and leave it for another 2 to 4 days to ensure optimal effervescence.
As always with our Drink the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Homemade Sodas to give away this month.
- 1/2 cup kombucha tea starter (see first step below)
- 1 kombucha tea starter culture (called "mother")
- Distilled white vinegar for rinsing equipment
- 1 quart spring water or filtered water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 5 black tea bags
- 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 cup orange juice
For the kombucha starter tea: In addition to a starter culture, you will need a starter tea to brew kombucha. For your first batch, this can be store-bought kombucha tea, or a starter tea obtained from a kombucha brewing friend. In a pinch, you can substitute vinegar. Then, every time you make kombucha, reserve a small amount (about 1/2 cup) of finished fermented tea mixed with an equal part of distilled white vinegar. This liquid is called "starter tea." Pour it over the kombucha starter culture ("mother") and store in the refrigerator.
Rinse out a medium stainless-steel sauce pan with distilled white vinegar. Add the water to the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the water boils, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat, add the tea bags, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes. Rinse a slotted spoon with vinegar and use it to remove the tea bags from the pot.
Rinse a large (at least 1 1/2 quart) glass jar with distilled white vinegar. Pour the sweet tea into the glass jar and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Stir the starter tea into the sweet tea and add the starter culture ("mother"). Cover the jar with a coffee filter, cheesecloth, or other material that will keep out debris but allow air to circulate. Secure with a rubber band. Set in a warm, dark place to ferment for 8 to 12 days (a spot in the basement near a water heater works well).
As the kombucha ferments a new starter culture (called a "baby") will form on the surface, while the mother will either float beneath it or sink to the bottom of the jar. Strings may extend between the two cultures. When the new baby is almost as big as its mother, it's time to taste-test the kombucha. Stick a straw partway into the liquid, cover the end still in the air with a finger, and withdraw the straw from the liquid, thereby removing a dropperful. Taste the kombucha that you've captured in the straw. If it is refreshingly tart, it's ready. If not, let the kombucha ferment longer.
When the kombucha is fully fermented, preserve the starter culture and starter tea for your next batch of kombucha. Rinse your hands with distilled vinegar, and then lift the mother and baby into a clean glass bowl or glass jar that has been rinsed with vinegar. Pour 1/2 cup of the unfiltered kombucha over the culture, and add the 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar. This liquid is starter tea. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 to 2 months. (If you're using a jar for storage instead and it has a metal lid, cover the jar with a layer of plastic wrap first, before putting on the lid, to keep the contents from coming into contact with metal.)
Filter the remaining kombucha through a damp coffee filter or several layers of damp cheesecloth into a clean glass jar. Stir in the orange juice and seal the jar with a plastic or plastic-wrap-lined lid. Let sit at room temperature for 2 to 4 days, until the kombucha is bubbly, and then chill for 24 hours. Serve over ice.