One of the things on my to do list for 2020 was to start brewing kombucha. I stocked up on kombucha supplies and reading material for Christmas, and in early January, a friend that lives nearby gave me a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and a lesson in kombucha brewing. I was eager to get started, even though I knew it would take our kombucha a little time to really get going. The fermentation process is temperature dependent, and we don't usually keep our house very warm during the day if we're not at home, but I still couldn't wait to get brewing. I decided to go with a continuous brew kombucha set-up. You can also brew it in individual batches, but I had a feeling that we'd enjoy always having kombucha on hand, so the continuous brew set appealed to me more that the batch set-up. Now that I've been doing it for about a month and a half, I wish I would have started sooner. I put off learning about it for at least a year because I thought I didn't have time to add one more thing to my busy life, but the time investment is pretty small so if you've been wanting to try it and haven't yet, I definitely encourage you to give it a try!
The supplies that you need are pretty minimal. Here is what I used to get started - an active SCOBY and some starter liquid (if you can get this from someone that lives near you that's the easiest way, but you can also order it online), "The Big Book of Kombucha" by Hannah Crum & Alex LaGory from the Kombucha Kamp website, a 2-gallon glass brewing container with a stainless steel spigot and a cloth cover, loose leaf tea (I'm using Assam black tea), an electric kettle and large stainless steel bowl for brewing sweet tea, and glass bottles to use for flavoring and storing the kombucha (I use pint mason jars for flavoring and swing-top glass bottles for storing in the refrigerator). As I mentioned, the fermentation process is temperature dependent, so we keep the kombucha brewing vessel on the bar at the edge the kitchen with an electric radiator style space heater nearby to keep the room temperature close to 70 degrees. You can also buy a heating band to put around the brewing vessel, but we decided to just keep the room a bit warmer than we usually would in the winter, and as the indoor temperature warms up as we get closer to summer, this will no longer be an issue. If you get an extra SCOBY with your initial set-up, you can store that in a separate small jar with a little starter liquid, and keep that on hand in case you need to re-start your kombucha.
After a week had passed since we got our SCOBY set up in the brewing vessel with the starter liquid and a gallon of sweet tea, we began sampling small amounts every couple of days to see how the kombucha flavor was progressing. At first it will start out sweet because of the high ratio of sweet tea to the starter liquid, and as fermentation starts to occur, the flavor will become increasingly tangy. You want it to be a nice balance of tangy with still a little sweetness, but not one flavor overpowering the other. When the flavor is to your liking (it took ours about two weeks), you can pull off about a third of the total volume of kombucha using the spigot in the continuous brewing vessel and then top the vessel back up with another gallon of sweet tea. For our first three bottles, we flavored one with frozen raspberries from last summer's garden, one with fresh finely grated ginger, and one with frozen raspberries from the garden. Our favorites were the raspberry and the ginger, which both had great flavor. The blueberry was pretty mild in comparison so we didn't like that one as well. After another couple of weeks we pulled off 4 jars to flavor and one to keep plain. The flavors we tried this time around were raspberry & ginger, apple & cinnamon, raspberry & mint, and lavender. Our favorites were again the ones with the raspberry and ginger. The apple & cinnamon was pretty mildly flavored, but I think it would be good if I upped the amount of flavoring ingredients. The lavender was also pretty mild, but good, and I think if I had fresh lavender available to use instead of dried lavender, the flavor would be stronger so I'll be trying it again this summer when I have lavender blooming in the garden.
We both really like the taste of the kombucha we've brewed, and it's fun to try new flavors - the possibilities are literally endless. Not to mention the colors of some of the bottles we've flavored are downright gorgeous! As much as I enjoy the kombucha, I'm equally excited about watching the growth of the SCOBY over time. When we started out, the layers of the SCOBY were folded over each other with an overall roundish shape, and it sat on the bottom of the brewing vessel. Over the course of the first couple of weeks it gradually rose to the top of the brewing vessel, and a new SCOBY began to form on the top of the vessel. As the new SCOBY began to grow, it got thicker, and as the fermentation process got going bubbles formed around the edge of the SCOBY. Now the old SCOBY has flattened in shape quite noticeably from when we got it, and the old SCOBY is in full contact with the new SCOBY at the top of the brewing vessel. It really is fascinating to see how the growth of this living organism changes over a relatively short period of time. I've named our SCOBY Rapunzel, because as it matures it will get even more interesting looking as yeast strands form and hang down from the bottom of the SCOBY. I will admit to having conversations with Rapunzel ;) I talk to my chickens and my plants, so why not my SCOBY? I hope this has given you some insight into the process of brewing kombucha, and if you've been reluctant like I was to give it a try because it seemed like it would be complicated or take too much time, you can see that it's really pretty simple, and the satisfaction of brewing tasty kombucha at home is pretty sweet!