DIY kombucha - fermented tea is a health elixir and gut-friendly beverage

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Do you know about kombucha, the fizzy, fermented tea that's known as a health elixir and gut-friendly beverage the world over?

You can call it junk science, but I have been drinking kombucha for years and it certainly helps me. I drink it for digestion and I always drink some if I feel a little (or a lot) under the weather. It's low in sugar and chock-full of gut-friendly bacteria. Trendy health folks are calling the stomach the "second brain," and calling on people to prioritize their digestive health — kombucha is a great way to do that!

Kombucha almost like a healthy soda — the sugar you add is eaten by your SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which is how the magic happens. Tea becomes effervescent after a couple of weeks with a SCOBY (it looks like a flat jellyfish that sits on top of the liquid), and a second ferment with fruit ensures that your kombucha will take on the flavor of that fruit while ingesting the sugar, creating a fruity, sweet beverage that is actually good for you.

If you don't believe me, buy some and try it before making your own. Because we live in cool Massachusetts, kombucha is sold not only at your local co-op, it's also at your local Stop and Shop or Walmart. Yes. They have more than one brand, even.

How to brew kombucha

INGREDIENTS:

First ferment:

1 gallon glass jar with wide mouth (a stand-in big mason jar, etc., will work just fine, but don't use anything metal)

12 cups water

1 cup sugar (NOT sugar substitute)

3 tablespoons loose, organic black tea or green tea, or a mix of both

1 kombucha SCOBY

7 to 21 days of observation

Second ferment:

2 to 3 tablespoons crushed-up fruit or fruit juice

Glass bottles with lids (enough of them to hold a gallon of liquid)

A dark, warm space

2 to 6 days of observation

DIRECTIONS:

First, make sweet tea: Boil four cups of water, then remove from heat and add tea. Ideally, you'll have cheesecloth or tea bags so you can keep tea leaves from running loose in your water. You can also filter your tea at the end to get the leaves out. Let tea steep 5 to 7 minutes, then remove tea bag. Add sugar and stir until water and sugar are fully combined.

Pour your sweet tea mix into your big gallon jar, then add eight cups cold water. Add your SCOBY and the bit of liquid it is sitting in (anyone who gives you/sells you a SCOBY should be giving it to you in a container with some raw kombucha tea from its last brew cycle). Stir once. Cover the jar lid with a bit of cheesecloth or a paper towel; adhere with rubber band. Place your jar out of direct sunlight in a room-temperature area, and wait.

After about a week, you'll see a white/translucent skin begin to form. You should begin tasting at this stage. Use a plastic spoon or pipette and try to get a few drops without disturbing the skin too much. When the taste is to your liking, it's time for the second ferment! (If you leave kombucha brewing too long, you just end up with something too vinegar-y to drink, but it's fine. Use it for salad dressings, cooking, etc.)

The second ferment: Make sure those bottles are clean. Use whatever fruit you want (avoid really citrusy stuff like lemons, oranges, etc.), mash it up, and add 2 to 3 tablespoons to each bottle. I recently did a second ferment with Reed's pineapple/ginger soda, which is 100-percent juice. It turned out well, but don't use anything that isn't 100 percent fruit juice — don't try to ferment with orange soda or something! Remove your kombucha SCOBY from the gallon jar and let it sit in 2 cups of liquid in a non-metal bowl. If you're not going to brew again right away, you can put it in a mason jar in the liquid and it'll hang out for three weeks or so before you have to feed it again.

Pour your kombucha into your jars (use a funnel). Leave 2 to 3 inches of head space in each. Close up your jars and put them in a warm, dark place for 2 to 4 days, then chill completely before drinking. You're amazing! You made kombucha!

* Do not drink kombucha if you're pregnant, have a compromised immune system, and so on.


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