Whether you love it, hate it, or merely look at it with curiosity and skepticism, kombucha is a full-blown phenomenon in the beverage world. Rising to prominence in the mainstream vernacular in the mid-aughts, the vinegary, fermented tea has proven refreshing in both flavor—fizzy, uniquely tart, and a little boozy—and effect. People swear by the stuff for improved digestion, a pick-me-up in mood, and even weight loss.
While most of us think of it as coming in a bottle plucked from the refrigerated shelves of a health food store, kombucha is also simple to make at home, as long as you don't fear a little DIY fermentation. To get our SCOBY on (the SCOBY is the crazy alien-looking culture that hangs out in your tea and slowly turns it into kombucha), we hung out with Mission Chinese Food's Angela Dimayuga, a bona fide 'buch-making pro and enthusiast. She tells us why SCOBYs are basically pets, that it's OK to get weird, and how Lindsay Lohan can influence your kombucha game.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Angela! Why kombucha, and how did you get into drinking this stuff? Angela Dimayuga: I love kombucha and always have! I started drinking kombucha in 2008 right before the GT Dave brand hit the market really hard. I read about it on really crappy websites and found someone on Craigslist who was interested in sharing a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Once you have a SCOBY and start brewing batches, you become rich in SCOBYs. Fresh layers grow quickly. [The guy] mentioned via email that he was "up to his ears in SCOBYs" so I biked over to his house in East Williamsburg and was so excited to start my own. I really liked the effervescence, refreshing flavor, and the fact that it has great health properties from the acetic acids and probiotics produced. The flavor is absolutely the primary reason I love it, and the health benefits secondary. The reason I jumped on making it my own was because I really wanted to try making it on my own as a hobby and fun project. This was definitely something I wasn't able to toy with in a restaurant as a line cook, and I also wanted to experiment with fun flavors beyond the basic offering of GT Dave. This was my first foray into fermentation, my gateway fermentation project! I'm now really passionate about fermentation. My newest venture is natto!
SCOBYs are like living pets. What's your relationship to yours? Does it have a name? I actually had a descendent of my original SCOBY for many years. It was about eight years old. It actually just died recently. By death I mean it had a bit of mold on it from being dormant for so long, so I had to throw it out. White or black mold can be pretty pesky; if there is a small amount, you might be able to scrub it away, but this one needed to go. I didn't have a name for [my SCOBY], but it was very large and very thick. I had it in a five-gallon container which was about 15 inches wide, and the thickness was honestly about 3 inches. It had no name, but I was only a little sad about it because I coincidentally had a backup fresh SCOBY that my girlfriend was given recently as a gift. I started a new batch and and honestly it was just as good! These cultures are really resilient.
I did consider drying it out. On my weird trails of researching on the internet back in the day, I've seen people dry out the SCOBY layers to make vegan "hides" and some have even sewn durable clothing with them!!!!
When you're starting out brewing kombucha, what are the biggest rookie mistakes? Don't be alarmed about my moldy kombucha mother. It was the first time it happened in eight years. That being said, kombucha SCOBYs are very resilient. Mine only had to be thrown out because I left mine dormant at room temperature for an abnormally long time. If you check on it once every two weeks and keep the top of your SCOBY moist with liquid, it will be healthy.
The biggest rookie mistake is that people are afraid to taste their kombucha during their brewing process. You can taste it anytime during the fermentation process, and that's how you'll ensure your end product is delicious. It's just like cooking, but slower. Imagine you're in charge of making the gravy at Thanksgiving—you don't just cross your fingers and hope the gravy tastes good during the meal. It's really simple... just taste it at any point, and you'll know it'll be good. Another rookie mistake is that people assume their kombucha will be fizzy like the bottled stuff you get over the counter. It won't be unless you double-ferment it in bottles.
Walk us through the process of how you make your kombucha. What's in it? A summary of the procedure: 1. Obtain a SCOBY and starter liquid. 2. Make a sweet tea. 3. First stage of fermentation: Add your SCOBY and starter liquid to tea and place in a non-reactive container with a towel or cheesecloth lid. Ferment for about two weeks. 4. Second stage: This is the fun part! Bottling! This is when you add your flavor agents, and seal with a cap to seal in the effervescence create fizziness. Ferment for about two weeks. 5. Refrigerate and enjoy!
Any final thoughts? This recipe is made to be altered to your personal tastes. Freestyle with it! I also like to make large batches. At home, I multiply this recipe five times and like to give away new flavors to friends. They are also very refreshing served over ice.
Kombucha is slightly alcoholic! Remember, Lindsay Lohan got away with claiming her blood alcohol level was too high when she was under house arrest because of the kombucha she was drinking? It is a very small amount, but present. I myself, have never felt drunk off of kombucha, but be advised.
Thanks for the tips, Angela!