Last time in PART 1: Kombucha Tea – What is it and what are the health benefits?
This time in PART 2: 15 tips for making it correctly (Note: I've corrected an error I made below related to Fluoride in tea…)
IMPORTANT NOTE: I've recommended buying scobies in the past from Betsy, mentioned below and in other posts, but can no longer recommend this company. While I enjoyed talking to her and getting to know her a little way back when I wrote these posts, I've since heard too many stories of people ordering and not receiving what they ordered. This also makes me wonder about the other information from her, so just keep that in mind. 🙁
From now on, I'd recommend only buying scobies (your kombucha ‘starter') here, and they have GREAT customer service, by the way.
“HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M MAKING IT RIGHT?”
Betsy from Laurel Farms® said she is amazed at how many bad recipes are floating around. When talking to her, I found out that I did many things wrong in my first recipe, so I couldn't use my Kombucha starter again. I started fresh with one from her, so I knew that I was getting a healthy Kombucha (you can't tell by looking at it). Kombucha isn't difficult to make by any means, it's actually very simple, but it really does need to be done in a certain way, to be sure that toxins aren't forming and that you are getting all the health benefits possible from drinking it.
I'M NOT TRYING TO BE AN ANNOYING KITCHEN “KOP”, HONEST!
As you read through this (warning: it's lengthy), please try not to get frustrated or annoyed with me! I had a friend take a sneak-peak at this post yesterday and she thought these 15 tips were a bit nit-picky. I asked Betsy about this (she's been so gracious about answering all my questions this week!) and she said that although they try to make the instructions that come with their Kombucha starter very simple to follow, this really is a scientific process that must be done correctly. The growing medium has to be consistent in order to prevent toxicity and to get all the health benefits from the broad range of B vitamins, glucuronic acid, and other beneficial nutrients.
“WHO IS THIS EXPERT?”
The following information and tips are from Betsy. She has a best-selling Kombucha book out and was the first to bring the Kombucha to the U.S. in 1993 (from a remote village in Northern China). I've spoken to her at length in the past week. Not only is she very sweet, she's also unbelievably knowledgeable about everything to do with the Kombucha.
- You really should use distilled water or you could permanently damage your Kombucha. (Unless you're on a good well.) “Reverse Osmosis or carbon filter systems do not remove the ammonia and other small molecule chemicals added as a purifier to ALL municipal water systems. Also, home filtration systems do not remove the fungicides and other chemical protectives now being added to most municipal water systems since 9/11.”
- When you're done, you can give one to a friend, so they can make Kombucha tea, too. If you get one from a friend, that's great, just make sure they're aware of these tips, so you're getting a good starter.
- Even though you've heard how bad refined table sugar is for you, it is the only sugar you should use in the recipe because it produces the most vitamins and beneficial nutrients that way, as found by Russian researchers in the 1950's. (Mineralized sugars, honey or other sweeteners can kill or cripple some of the Kombucha's healthy bacteria.) Don't worry; most of the sugar is gone when it's done fermenting anyway. Update! I forgot to mention before: Use organic table sugar to avoid GMOs & pesticides though!
- You can use green tea, but if you do, you should use at LEAST one black tea bag “to give the Kombucha the dose of tannin it needs”.
- You should NOT use herbal, organic or decaffeinated tea. (And never Earl Grey tea! It contains “bergamot”, which is harmful to the Kombucha.) Betsy recommends plain Lipton black tea (“100% Natural”) – Lipton does not use tea brokers or middlemen. (They've owned their own plantations for over 200 years – this is important because all green and black tea is grown outside the U.S.) She tells me that Lipton tea is never sprayed with pesticides, so it is organic without the organic label. (Although they now sell black and green tea labeled “organic”, but at the store I see they are the exact same price.) Because of how most organic or decaffeinated tea comes into the U.S., it usually isn't really organic (50% are sprayed with pesticides at customs as a precaution), and this can cause the Kombucha to mold. Herbal teas diminish the health of the Kombucha, and some can even kill it. The caffeine in the tea is mostly gone by the time the tea is ready. (Correction: originally I had said, “By the way, she assures me that Lipton tea does NOT have Fluoride in it – that was an urban myth.” I misunderstood and had that wrong. There is naturally occurring Fluoride in all tea – from the soil that it's grown in. The urban myth was to do with a lady that supposedly died from drinking tea – that wasn't true.)
- When starting your tea, if you cool for more than 2 1/2 hours (or if you don't cool it long enough), it could cause mold. (It needs to be room temperature before adding in your starter.)
- It is best to make it in a bowl. The Kombucha needs the width of the container to be greater than its depth, so it has a sufficient surface supply of oxygen. You can store it in any plain glass container in the refrigerator. (We use 1 gallon glass jars.) To assure accuracy, Betsy checked over these posts, and she asked me to let you know that if you do make a bigger batch in a pickle jar, fill it only 2/3 full and cool the sugar tea water in smaller bowls before continuing the recipe, or else it will take too long to cool in the big jar and could cause mold.
- If you use the wrong kind of bowl, it can make your Kombucha tea toxic. Just like it works to de-toxify our body, in bowls made of plastic, some glass, ceramic, etc., it will try to detoxify the bowl! Only use PLAIN, CLEAR, UNLEADED, inexpensive, clean glass bowls. (Good brands: Pyrex, Anchor-Hocking, Libby, Ball.)
- You should not use cheesecloth to cover it, only thin, clean, white cotton.(Cheesecloth attracts fruit flies.) Betsy recommends flour sack towels (5 for $5 at many stores like Meijer, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc.), or a clean white cotton t-shirt. (Be sure they are washed before each use – no bleach or fabric softeners.)
- You don't want to use a heating tray, heating pad, or place your Kombucha near any electromagnetic fields. (To do so can destroy critical healthy bacteria in the Kombucha.) To keep it between 70*F and 90*F, try a small space heater kept a few feet from the Kombucha. (Betsy says those temps are ideal, but if your room is cooler than that it's OK, it just takes longer.)
- You should never grow your Kombucha in a closet, cabinet, or pantry, even if you've left the door open a smidge. (“If your Kombucha doesn't get enough oxygen, it will be thin and weak and could attract mold.”)
- When done fermenting, you should not strain it with a coffee filter, because it can leave particles and traces of chemicals in the Kombucha. (And you don't have to strain it at all, if you don't mind the “pulp”.) I just strain it with the white cotton t-shirt that I covered it with while it was fermenting.
- It is normal for the taste or amount of fizz to be different each time you make it, depending on the weather, the phases of the moon, seasons of the year, etc. (Isn't that wild?)
- You shouldn't store the Kombucha starter “mushroom” in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for more than 2 weeks. (It can substantially weaken or even contaminate them.) It's better to store in a covered glass container such as a mason jar or glass bowl (see #7 above for the type of glass) up to 3 months in the frig, covered with Kombucha tea – about 6 oz. or enough to cover it, but no closer than 1″ down from the lid.
- Betsy recommends you don't try to sweeten the tea after it's done fermenting or add anything else to it, because it changes the tea. She said it's fine for something different once in a while, but for major health benefits or if there are physical reasons why you are drinking it, just drink the original. She could only clarify by saying that additives may make it beneficial in different ways than the original tea. I spoke to someone who adds in frozen raspberries and crystallized ginger (after it's done fermenting) and it tastes like red pop! I may try it someday, but I'm afraid to mess with it, since I know how good the original is for us and my family already loves it just how it is.
I did most of the above things wrong the first time I made it. Betsy concluded that when I was done, I no longer had a Kombucha starter, but just a plain old “vinegar-yeast patty”!
“ENOUGH RAMBLING…HOW DO YOU MAKE IT?”
All this and more is thoroughly and simply covered in the packet from Laurel Farms that comes with their Kombucha starter. (Or if you get a starter from a friend, they will hopefully also give you this recipe with it.)
Check out the Laurel Farms website for more information and the RECIPE showing HOW TO MAKE IT correctly.
“I JUST DON'T THINK I'LL MAKE KOMBUCHA”
If you don't think you'll make it yourself, Betsy does recommend a couple brands: Synergy & Pronatura. (Remember there is that homemade difference, though.) Betsy also wanted me to tell you to be sure to save the bottles, they are great for storing your homemade Kombucha tea.
HAVE I SCARED YOU OFF?
I hope not! It's really not as complicated as all this might make it sound. Once you get your system down, it is fast and easy, and you can relax knowing that you're making something very healthy for you and your family. If you have more questions, comment below and I'll try to help. Remember, though, I'm very new at this; hopefully others who are more experienced will join in the conversation, too!
I don't make Kombucha tea anymore, this is why: Compare Kombucha tea to Kefir Soda Pop.
2011 UPDATE on Laurel Farms' customer service:
If you order from Laurel Farms please be aware that I've heard quite a few complaints about the time it takes for them to mail you your starter scoby.