Apple cider vinegar and Kombucha
Apple cider vinegar and Kombucha continuous ferments.

Today’s the day for feeding the Kombucha.

For those that don’t know, Kombucha is a living colony of bacteria and yeasts that turns tea and sugar into a healthy, nutritious, tasty drink.

The ‘Tea Beast’, as it’s called in some circles, is a flat, rubbery mat of slime that floats at the top of the liquid in the container that it’s kept in. It’s really a living colony of bacteria and yeasts that live together and eat tea and sugar. What a life!

The mat is called a ‘SCOBY‘. That’s an acronym for ‘Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts’. It sounds technical, but just feed it regularly and keep it kind of clean and it will reward you over and over with tangy, slightly bubbly, probiotic goodness.

The SCOBY is quite dense and heavy, but floats due to the carbon dioxide bubbles it produces.

Tea and sugar is all it needs
All it asks for is tea and sugar.

Farming Kombucha

Everyone who keeps Kombucha has different tricks, and tips for growing and feeding it.

In our kitchen, we do what is called a ‘continuous ferment’, which is where you add the new food to a large container where all the action happens. In this technique, once the brew in the container has fermented to our taste, we drain some off and bottle it for the secondary ferment. Then we add the mix listed below to the now almost empty container and start the cycle again. Some of the brew is always left in the container to mix in with and buffer any changes that come with the new tea and protect the colony. It also contains microbes that start work straight away. Eventually though, the dregs will build up and you’ll have to drain them out to clean up the container.

As with most things, I like to keep it simple, so heres my recipe for the weekly feed:

  • 5 tablespoons of tea (you will find your favourite tea through experimentation and tasting. I like a particular brand of Afghan green tea).
  • 6 tablespoons of sugar
  • a pinch of Himalayan pink salt
  • a pinch of Bicarbonate Soda
  • 2 litres of water (filtered or spring)

That’s it! No rocket science involved.

All I do is drain off a litre of already fermented liquid into bottles before adding the new food. A litre lasts me about four days, which is about the time it takes to get the new stuff ready. Then I just repeat the process.

I keep the container covered with cheesecloth to keep the bugs out. The little Vinegar flies love it and are attracted by the CO2 given off as the microbes do their thing.

Secondary fermentation

Secondary fermentation is a way to increase the fizziness of your Kombucha or to mix it with fruit juices to get extra taste.

To make a secondary ferment, bottle your Kombucha liquid in well sealed bottles for a couple of days, and put somewhere warm. The fermentation will continue inside the bottle and the CO2 will build up as it does. The result when you open it will be fizziness – just like tangy lemonade!

I like to add 1/4 of the bottle volume of fruit juice to the bottle before adding the Kombucha and sealing. This will give the end result a different taste. You can add cordials too, for added sweetness and this year, I’m going to try the syrup that goes into the Soda Stream bottles. Experimentation is the only way that you’ll find out what works and tastes best for you.

Kombucha SCOBY
A powerhouse of slimy goodness..

What to do with the excess?

Once you’ve got a happy Scoby, you’ll have it forever as long as you look after it with regular feedings. It keeps getting thicker and thicker and after a while, you’ll need to trim it down. To do this, take it from its container and you’ll see it has formed layers. These separate with relative ease. I divide ours in half once a month (less often in winter).

I feed the excess to the worms and chooks. Worms love it because its full of bacteria which they eat. Chooks love to wrestle with its rubbery goodness. It will also give an aerobic compost pile a boost as the bugs and microbes in it will have a feast! You can use the dregs from the container in these ways too.

There’s always folks asking for some, so you can give it away or sell it.

One of the best books on Kombucha.
One of the best books on Kombucha.

No metal?

There is some superstition around Kombucha It is said not to let it come in contact with metal. This is only partially true. When straining and separating the grains from the Kombucha liquid, it is OK to use a metal strainer and a spoon. The trouble with metal comes in when you are fermenting the mix or storing the liquid or grains. The acids and other substances created during the fermentation process can corrode metal and introduce metal compounds into the liquid, contaminating it and harming the culture. Of course, this only happens in microscopic amounts, it won’t eat a hole through the side of your favorite pot, but, we are talking about a culture of living microbes and a tiny amount can cause a lot of grief. Don’t ferment or grow in metal vessels.

You can find out about other simple types of kitchen fermentation on our fermentation page

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