Monday, January 12, 2015

Kombucha Revival

Once upon a time, I had a SCOBY.  It lived on my counter, and I fed my SCOBY and kept it warm, and in return for my attention I was allowed to drink it's fermented fluids... wait, that sounds so gross.  Gross, but tasty!  Anyway, I tended my SCOBY and enjoyed my drink for quite a while, but as usual, I got distracted, and for a period of time I neglected my SCOBY.  Worried that it was dead, or contaminated, I guiltily composted it.  No more kombucha tea for me, boohoo.  

But luckily, my friend, coworker, and fellow kambucha drinker, had a genius idea to grow some SCOBY's from some store bought kombucha.  I didn't even know you could do that!  She brought in a couple of jars, poured in some non flavored kombucha, put a do not disturb sign on it, to keep curious co-workers from shaking the aromatic jars in her office, and a coffee filter over the top to keep out any dust, and we patiently waited for signs of life.  As you can see in the picture above, in less than a week, we had a brand new baby SCOBY!  We were back in the kombucha brewing biz.  

This was a fun experiment to have at the office, because when someone would ask what it was, I would get to say "it's a SCOBY, you know, a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, of course."  I could have said it's a biofilm, which it is, or even better a zoogleal mat, but that's not really any more appetizing.  In the photo above you can see the baby biofilm on the jar at the top, right before I pour it into a batch of fresh brewed tea, below.  

I actually had two biofilms, because the first one sank to the bottom of the jar during transport home, and after a few days another film grew on the surface.  They look sort of like jellyfish, don't they?  

These biofilms are a social structure of yeast and bacteria.  According to Wikipedia, the organisms in a biofilm actually cooperate and compete with each other.  So my SCOBY is really a whole team of critters, all working together to make a sour drink for me.  How friendly.  

After a week in my big jar, a new bigger SCOBY formed on the surface.  When I touch the SCOBY, it feels like a piece of wet leather.  I think it's the bacteria that form the cellulose that gives the biofilm it's firm texture.  The sugar in the tea gets digested by the yeast and bacteria to form a little alcohol, gluconic acid, and acetic acid.  Acetic acid is what's in vinegar, so the kombucha gets more vinegar flavored the longer it's in the jar.  

For my first flavor experiments with my first batch, I poured off most of the kombucha tea into six wide mouthed jars.  

I put some tart charry juice concentrate in two of the jars, pear jam in two of the jars, citrus marmalade in one of them, and just for fun, I put some spicy tomato jam in the last jar.  These flavorings also have the added benefit of a little extra sugar, which re-energizes the organisms in the tea, and creates a little fizz in the tea as it ferments with a lid on.  

Two of the jars received a spoonful of chia seeds.  I've compared chia kombuch to frog eggs before, but I've grown fond of the slimy yet crunchy texture, so wanted to see if I could reproduce the chia kombucha that's available in the store.  

The tea recipe that I used is four big black tea bags and three small green tea bags steeped in one quart of hot water.  Once the tea is a nice dark color, I removed the bags and dissolved a cup of white sugar in the hot tea.  Then I added two quarts of cool water, and poured it into my big jar which contained the SCOBY and about a pint of kombucha from the last batch.  

The final verdict?  The tart cherry juice concentrate was my favorite flavor, followed by the citrus jam.  Since I generously share my kombucha with Brandon, whether he wants some or not, I can tell you that he drank them all without complaint.  The spicy tomato jam was just as good as the pear jam, but neither had a very distinct flavor in the sour kombucha.  The chia seeds were good too, but did not occupy the entire jar like they do in the bottles from the store.  They clumped together at the top, and had to be stirred in, which sort of released all the fizz from the drink.  And, although I liked the ease of the mason jars for cleaning and adding chunky jams and seeds, the caps don't seal tight enough to capture all the fiz.    

I'm excited to have my kombucha back, and even more excited to know that it's so easy to grow a new SCOBY, just in case I get distracted again.  

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