go with your gut (or, the fizzy, fermented world of kombucha)

rying to explain kombucha to unfamiliar friends is a daunting task. i work in public relations and even i haven't been able to satisfyingly sell them on the flavor alone - something about "yeasty," "fermented" and "bacteria-laden" (the good kind!!) tea just doesn't seem to do it. breaking out your huge glass jar of tea with a big floating scoby on top didn't help my case either. however, what does work - and what initially sold me on kombucha - is leading with the massive purported health benefits of kombucha. 

so, what are these health benefits?

if public relations taught me one thing, it's don't bury the lead. the lead in this case being the vast and wonderful health benefits of sipping on fermented tea. a google search for "health benefits of kombucha" yields over half a million results - ranging from claims that it cures cancer to helps with day-to-day digestion troubles. i'm not a trained dietitian, so i don't want to wade into waters of what's true or not true, but i do know that personally, kombucha was recommended to me by a physician and helped with some digestion issues i was experiencing. 

the american nutrition association cites that kombucha has been attributed to enhancing hair health, boosting energy, accelerating healing, lowering cholesterol or blood pressure, reducing menopausal symptoms, enhancing muscular function, aiding in weight loss, decreasing anxiety, and much more. an important caveat here though - these claims are not scientifically verified, just reported as benefits experienced by others.

in other articles i've read, kombucha has been recommended as a way to support healthy digestion, which is why i gravitated towards it. we can thank all the probiotics for being part of the reason many call kombucha the "elixir of life."

and what...exactly...is kombucha?

it's a fizzy, tangy, tart, acidic and bubbly brew. its roots are in asia, dating back to approximately 220 bc. kombucha is a sweetened tea (sometimes enhanced with other flavors - my fave is ginger) that is flush with good-for-your-gut probitotics, as it's fermented through the scoby (acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), also known as the "mother."

let's get brewing

first things first is brewing supplies mise en place. 

  •  scoby or mother - you can buy one, or phone-a-friend who would be kind enough to give you a portion of theirs. my "starter," or scoby, came from a home-brewing coworker.
  • glass jar (anywhere from a large mason jar size to quart-size jar)
  • large wooden or plastic spoon
  • tight-weave cloth or paper coffee filter
  • rubber band (size of rubber band needed depends on how large your glass jar is)
  • starter tea, or white or apple cider vinegar if it's your first ever batch
  • white sugar (don't be tempted to use honey or agave!)
  • black or green tea (can be loose tea or bagged)

for brewing directions, i recommend this cultures for health guide, accompanied by the video below from vice's munchies

some pro-tips

bon appétit published an awesome guide to avoiding common kombucha mistakes. i discovered this a bit later in the kombucha-brewing game, but i strongly recommend reading before you brew. 

my go-to brew

my tried-and-true favorite kombucha relies on 3-4 black tea bags, one-quarter cup organic white sugar and a tablespoon freshly grated ginger. after brewing the black tea and letting the sugar dissolve fully, i let rest until room temperature, then add the sweetened tea to my glass jar with the starter tea and scoby already in it. i cover it with the cloth and rubber band for seven days, then pour into a different glass container where i let it do a second ferment for 3-4 days with the freshly grated ginger. (of course, the scoby and new starter tea will still be in the large glass jar). after you have your starter tea, you can repeat until your hearts content!

"elizabucha," (h/t matt for the name) on the left with the fermenting black tea, dissolved sugar and scoby, and on the right, my kombucha in a jar for its second ferment with ginger.

"elizabucha," (h/t matt for the name) on the left with the fermenting black tea, dissolved sugar and scoby, and on the right, my kombucha in a jar for its second ferment with ginger.

happy brewing!

if you're tentative about homebrewing your own kombucha, listen to the podcast that gave me the inspiration to take the plunge: gastropod's "kombucha culture" episode is fascinating. however, if you're maybe not quite into the idea of having a jar of it be a constant presence on your kitchen table, then i recommend taste-testing either dc's own capital kombucha (the mint-lime flavor is spectacular) or GT kombucha (may i recommend the gingerade variety).