Sunday, June 6, 2010


Kombucha is a slightly fizzy fermented tea drink with a sour and sweet flavor like vinegar. To brew it you need a "Kombucha mother" (aka SCOBY or "Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast."

There are tons of different health claims being made about Kombucha tea but I'm not sure which ones are actually true. I would reckon the benefits differ from person to person.

Back in 2005, my buddy Jon G. gave me my first Kombucha mother and for several years, I was constantly brewing my own Kombucha at home. Between 2006 and 2007, I was often consuming around 2 to 4 ounces of Kombucha per day and I liked the way it made me feel. After a while I became known as "the Kombucha guy" around Queen Anne Hill. Whenever customers would come into Teacup and ask about it, they would be turned over to me. During those years, I happily shared free "Kombucha babies" with at least 20 different friends and clients.

My favorite time to drink Kombucha is after a day of hard work because I feel like it relaxes and soothes my sore muscles. I only ever drink a small cup (no more than 4 ounces per day).

In late 2007, for no particular reason, I decided to take a break from Kombucha home brewing. So, besides a few bottles of really-expensive-commercial-stuff, I have barely had any Kombucha tea during these last three years.

Last week, my sister-in-law Kristel and I were talking about home brewing Kombucha and where to find a new Kombucha mother. Twenty minutes later a Facebook friend offered two Kombucha mothers for free. I took this as a sign from the universe that I should start brewing again, so Kristel and I picked up our new"Kombucha babies" that same afternoon. (Thanks again Laura!)

So now I am officially back in the Kombucha making game!

Here's a photo of my latest half-batch started on June 2, 2010.

Pasted below is the recipe I usually use. I adapted it from the most excellent book "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Kombucha Recipe:

A stove
A stock pot with lid
A strainer
A heat resistant ceramic or glass bowl that can hold about a gallon of liquid (Do not use a metal or plastic bowl.)
A clean towel that is large enough to cover your bowl

3 quarts of fresh spring water
3/4 cup of Organic Sugar
3 tablespoons of good quality loose leaf black tea
1 Kombucha mother (KM)
1.5 cups of mature liquid kombucha (MLK) (This is the broth that your new KM is floating in.)

  1. Mix water and sugar in a stock pot and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Turn off the heat, add the tea, mix really well and then put the lid on the stock pot.
  3. Steep for 15 minutes.
  4. Pour the liquid though the strainer into the bowl. Because the liquid is still really hot, pour slowly--you really don't want the temperature change to crack your bowl!!! Also, If you are wearing glasses they will probably get "fogged-up" and you wont be able to see what you're doing. I recommend taking them off before you start pouring. (You may want to have a friend help you with this step.)
  5. Wait for several hours until the broth is room temperature. You will kill your KM if it is still too hot!
  6. Add the MLK to the bowl of sweetened tea.
  7. Wash your hands really well and then reach in and grab the slimy KM. Gently drop it into the bowl.
  8. Cover the bowl with the clean towel. I like to use a rubber band around the rim to hold the towel in place.
  9. Allow tea to ferment at room temperature for 2 to 4 weeks. You can check the flavor from time to time using a clean sterile spoon or ladle. If the temperature in your house is warmer your batch of Kombucha will ferment faster, and if it's cooler it will ferment slower. The longer it sits the more acidic it will become.
  10. When the Kombucha is at the acidity you like, you can ladle it out into glass jars with tight lids and keep it in the fridge for about a month. Now it's time to start a new batch!
What to do with your new KM:
The new KM will form on the surface of the liquid Kombucha while the tea is fermenting. The longer the tea ferments the thicker it will become. It will take the shape of the opening of your bowl. The old KM will either sink to the bottom or it will "grow into" the new KM (on the surface). If it sinks then you now have two mothers. In this case you can do one of these 3 things: start multiple batches at the same time, give one mother away to a friend or just toss one in the trash or compost. Also, you can keep a KM in the fridge (floating in MLK) for several months between batches.


Nico said...

I'll be honest, the first time I tried Kombucha I thought it tasted really bad - like some cheap watered down liquor. Definitely fascinated with it's process and how it is made though! It's good to hear that you are only drinking small quantities of it because it worries be that with its gaining popularity (basically this fad)I am afraid that people will over do it (like here..

If someone can cite/tell me the the benefits from a legitemate source I'd like to know because so far Kombacha is low on my rankings for a healthy drink..

Anyways, interesting post! I always like to hear your thoughts on the strange brews.

Brett said...

Hi Nico. What a great comment. Thanks so much.

I have also noticed that kombucha is getting pretty popular these days... But I don't think that this is a bad thing. It may seem to be pretty trendy right now (but just a few decades ago even yogurt was considered a "fad health food" here in North America).

If you drink too much Kombucha, it's probably bad for you... but "just how much is too much" is certainly different for everybody based on their own culture and personal experiences. I believe that every food or drink probably has a "too much for your own good level."

I would agree that unproven health claims such as "Kombucha can help cure cancer" etc... are really not good... but that is all part of a much bigger food/drink/supplement/marketing issue that is for the most part insane and should not be paid attention to.

Fermented foods and drinks (kombucha, miso, beer, tempeh, yogurt, kimchee (and hundreds of others) have been a part of humanity probably since our very beginning... many of them will taste better in their unpasteurized form and contain so many good microorganisms... but if they were improperly prepared or if something bad happened during fermentation they can become quite toxic.

I bet that in most cases of people being harmed or killed by kombucha, there were additional circumstances (such as acidity leaching toxins into the broth from the brewing vessel, or bad bacteria getting in due to sterilization problems.)

I'd like to encourage "home enthusiasts" to make their own fermented foods as long as they educated themselves and do it safely.

Jon Gee said...

Brett excellent post...the mother I gave you came from my old friend Scott. He's the tea man I'm always talkin about.
We also learned how to make it from the Katz book and I kept it going for about 2 years. During that time I can remember only 4-5 batches that were really the medicine that kombucha should be. Every sip was transformational. Gwyn and I were living with Max and Autumn and when there was a good batch it would go QUICK.
No matter how much you sterilize your container and its environment, temperatures change, different yeasts make it into the tea...and sometimes it tasted more like a cocktail of bacteria rather than the standard balance of sweetness and sourness.

On commercial kombucha...there's a new one out there called Dr. Brew, from Townsend tea company (sp?). It's a step above all the others because they use oolongs and green teas mixed with herbs and roots like rosemary, sage, mint, and eluthero (which I believe is ginseng, right?)...

On drinking too much...The potency is such that small amounts are better for us...4 oz a day is perfect.

Let me know how it goes, can't wait to see Desmond again!!!!!

Girlwithrhythm said...

I have drunk up to a liter of Kombucha in one day. On average I drink about 8-16 oz. Also, I drink a lot of water during the day as well. I make my own using organic black tea, sucanat and a healthy, lovely SCOBY. I also only use water from a special purifier where they use reverse osmosis, uv light and three layers of carbon filtration. My tea is delicious and It has healed my intestinal problems, aids my digestion and overall gives me fizzy happy joy. Kombucha has been around for centuries and a simple Google search will lead you to it's amazing history. I love the stuff!

k said...

Hi Brett,

I am living in Taipei and am having trouble finding a Kombucha mother. I did manage to get one last summer, but eventually the mold got to it (hella humid here) and the same thing happened to my source.

Do you have any contacts in Taiwan from whom I might obtain a new one?

Xin Nian Kwai Le :-)