Adventures in Fermentation

Obviously, kombucha is a wonderful thing …


… though a worryingly large financial investment at $5ish per bottle.

I’ve always known that kombucha was possible to make at home, but I’ve been consistently scared to try it. I remember the first time I heard about kombucha. Ages ago, my old roommate Tara showed me the Fall 2007 Edible Brooklyn article all about the process of making it from scratch. The people who did it sounded like they were part of a cult, all praising the beauty and life of the “mother” culture, this pancake of bacteria that was responsible for the immortality of the beverage.

Despite my misgivings, I couldn’t help but feel tempted when I saw a flyer last month for a kombucha workshop to be held at Common Crow, the local natural foods store. I attended said workshop, and I left when the hour was up with my very own $25 kombucha kit, consisting of a gallon jar, a bag of organic raw sugar, 4 organic black tea bags, and a test tube full of kombucha “scoby,” the baby starter culture. I followed instructions to boil 3 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar and steep the tea bags for several minutes in the resulting syrup.

I poured the hot tea syrup into the gallon jar, filled the rest with water, dropped the scoby in, and covered the top with a napkin and dishtowel. I placed it in the sunniest spot I could find in the apartment:


(It really did wonders for my decor.)

The workshop leader said it would take about a week for the mushroom to cover the top, at which point the real fermentation could commence. The scoby spent some time growing and spreading over the bottom of the jar …


… and I saw the beginnings of the “mushroom” growing over the top of the jar as expected.

Here it is after 10 days:


At three weeks on the nose, after a crazy long day involving a treacherous and endless car commute for a training halfway across the state, I arrived home and saw the glowing beacon of kombucha and remembered that it was time.


I gingerly removed the towel covering the top, took a whiff of the apple cider vinegar-esque aroma, and peered inside.


Promising! You can sort of see the thickness of the mushroom covering the top:


I stuck a stainless steel spoon inside and used it to lift the “mother” off the top:


It was definitely thicker than expected. I tried to peel the two halves apart, as suggested during the workshop, but they did not want to separate. And the whole thing was sort of quivering (!!!) in my hands as I pulled, so I decided it really wanted to stay together and left well enough alone.

The fungus went into an empty almond butter jar in enough kombucha juice to cover it until I’m ready to make another batch, and the rest was ready for consumption.


(The next batch will only take two weeks because the mother is already formed and perfectly sized to cover the top of the jar.)

Since the acidity of the kombucha is purported to leech unsavory chemicals from plastic and metal, the kombucha is best stored in glass. I found a tutorial online that suggested buying a six-pack of little glass seltzer bottles and re-using them for easier portability, so that’s what I did!

In the process, I discovered that a kombucha-club soda spritzer is delightful, so to speed along the bottling, I experimented with a number of soda: kombucha ratios.

Here they are in varying degrees of club soda dilution:


Erik had to work fast in order to empty enough bottles for me …


… but he also got to reap the rewards via a bottomless glass of kombucha spritzer.


End result? A stocked fridge and the promise of a wonderfully balanced digestive system.


I feel like a real, live kitchen scientist. Maybe tofu will be next?

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