Learn how to create your own kombucha tea, a delicious concoction with major health benefits and a great side for wild game meals
Kombucha tea is a fermented, slightly alcoholic probiotic drink with the lore of its origins dating back to the Qin Dynasty in ancient China. Legend has it that the “Tea of Immortality” was being consumed as far back as 220 BCE.
This effervescent beverage has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. Properly brewed kombucha is delicious, refreshing, and provides a wide array of purported health benefits if consumed regularly and in combination with an already healthy diet. These benefits include improved digestion, increased immune system function, reduced inflammation, and more. While regularly buying kombucha can get pricey, making your own is inexpensive, very rewarding, and the perfect complement to a wild game meal. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Introduction to SCOBYs and how to get one
SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Think of them as living islands, compact colonies made of bacterial organisms. Typically pale cream to brown, these active cultures resemble several tentacle-less jellyfish layered atop one another and compressed into a gelatinous hockey puck.
Doesn’t sound overly appetizing? Stick with me.
Similar to kimchi, sourdough bread, and greek yogurt, kombucha’s myriad of health benefits stem mainly from it being a living food—just one serving of kombucha contains billions of live probiotics. When you place a SCOBY in sweet tea and leave it alone for an extended period, these microscopic, gut-friendly bacteria feed on the sugar and convert it into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and various acids. The result of this chemical process is kombucha.
If you know someone who makes kombucha tea, I would recommend asking them for a layer off one of their SCOBYs. These are living cultures that grow continuously if cared for, and most kombucha brewers would be more than happy to help someone else get started by thinning their SCOBY. You can also find kombucha starter kits at many health food stores or order one from several reputable online sources. Growing your SCOBY involves combining sweet tea with store-bought kombucha and letting the mixture sit somewhere cool and dark for about a month.
Regardless of how you obtain your SCOBY, you’ll notice it is transported in an acidic liquid. This liquid is referred to as “starter fluid,” a potent dose of aged probiotic tea preserved from a previous batch of kombucha. Starter fluid is crucial to keeping SCOBYs fresh during storage and, as the name implies, starting new batches. As far as flavor and acidity go, one could claim that starter fluid is to kombucha as espresso shots are to medium roast coffee.
Foraging for flavor
Implementing local or foraged fruits and herbs is a great way to increase the diversity of flavors in your kombucha throughout the year.
For this recipe, I foraged wild blueberries and raspberries in northern Michigan, combined them with locally sourced boysenberries, ginger, and raw honey gifted to me from a friend who recently took up beekeeping. I usually prefer using black tea for my batches, although just about any standard style tea will work just fine. The recipe below is a great introduction for those new to home-brewing kombucha.
While any store-bought ingredients would work fine for this recipe, I’m of the mindset that fresher is always better and any excuse to spend more time outside is a good one.
Wild Gingerberry Kombucha
- Half gallon (64 oz) glass jar, wide mouth
- Four 16 oz glass fermentation bottles
- Breathable cloths or paper towels
- Rubber bands
Ingredients for first fermentation
- 1/2 gallon clean water
- 3 black tea bags
- 1/2 cup natural cane sugar
- 1 SCOBY 2-3 cm thick for ideal brewing
- 1/2 cup starter fluid
Ingredients for second fermentation
- 1/2 gallon kombucha from first fermentation
- 2 cups local or foraged berries
- 1 tbsp honey
- Fresh ginger to taste, small knobs or freshly shredded
Making the tea
- Bring water to a boil in a large pot and remove from heat. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Pour the sugar water into a 1/2 gallon-sized mason jar. Place tea bags in sugar water and steep for at least 30 minutes. Set aside to cool until it reaches room temperature (this may take several hours, but do not move onto the next step until the tea has cooled).
- When the sweet tea has cooled to room temperature, remove and discard the tea bags.
- Pour the starter fluid in with the tea and place the SCOBY in the half gallon mason jar with it. Your SCOBY may float or sink, depending on the efficacy of your fermentation process. While most do float, there is not usually anything wrong with a SCOBY that remains submerged in its brew—this is typically just a sign that carbon dioxide is not being released at a high enough rate to keep the SCOBY floating, and your batch may need to ferment for a longer duration than would normally be required. Chilly weather can also play a role in causing longer fermentation times.
- Cover the top of the large mason jar with a breathable cloth or paper towel and secure a rubber band around the mouth. Place your batch somewhere cool and dark for about 1 week, or until the tea has fermented to your preferred level of flavor and acidity. (Before beginning this step, remove the SCOBY and repeat steps 1 and 2. Be sure to save at least a ½ cup or so of starter fluid for your next batch. You can either begin your next batch now or keep the SCOBY stored in a large mason jar with starter fluid for later use.)
Make the flavoring syrup
- In a small saucepan combine ½ c water, berries, honey and ginger. Mash berries and cook over medium heat until the mixture reaches a syrupy consistency. Let cool.
- Pour kombucha into fermentation bottles and distribute flavor syrup in equal amounts among each bottle. Leave 1-2 inches of air at the top. As your kombucha ferments a second time you may need to “burp” your batches, or intermittently let some carbon dioxide out every few days to keep carbonation at a manageable level.
- When your batches have reached a flavor and carbonation level that suits your taste, strain the kombucha to remove excess fruit pulp. Refrigerate in airtight glass containers. Your homemade kombucha can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.
- Serve cold with a wild game dish.