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 Kombucha is a living organism.  The kombucha itself is actually a living symbiosis of different, beneficial bacteria and special yeast cultures.  It looks like tough, rubbery jelly and varies in colour from cream to browny yellow.  Because it is a living organism it grows to fit the shape of the container.  New layers grow on top of the old and can be peeled off to start new cultures.

 The first step is to obtain a healthy kombucha.  Ask around your friends, or sometimes you can buy them in organic stores.

In some parts of old China and Japan, it was often the custom for families to give a new bride a kombucha as a wedding gift.  This was nurtured throughout her marriage and then passed on to her own daughter.

Keeping a Healthy Kombucha

The Kombucha organism will literally last for centuries (because it continually renews itself) - but it must have the right conditions in which to grow.
  • allowing the Kombucha to be contaminated by cigarette smoke - nicotine will kill Kombucha.
  • allowing it to come into contact with metal - remove rings before handling your Kombucha; use only wooden or plastic spoons to stir; keep in a pottery or glass container.
  • extremes of temperature - Kombucha grows best in a warm environment (not hot). Keep it on the kitchen bench, or in a cupboard, away from sunny windows and ovens.
  • allowing dust to contaminate your brew - keep it tightly covered with a gauze, muslin or fine cotton cloth secured with a rubberband.
  • allowing insects to contaminate your brew - they'll be attracted to it, so keeping it tightly covered (as above) will keep them away.
  • using oily herbal teas - oils can spoil the Kombucha.

Recipe for Kombucha Tea

I have found my Kombucha brews best in large jars.

3 litres of boiling water
1 cup of raw sugar
4-6 tea bags (whatever flavour you like; I use Green Tea Berry, Black Tea Chai Spice, Black Adder Liquorice)
1 healthy Kombucha organism
1 cup of Kombucha fermented brew (mother tea) as a starter
NOTE: As you become acquainted with the process and the needs of your kombucha friend, you can alter the recipe for the health of the kombucha and your personal taste.

Use clean utensils.
Wash hands thoroughly.
We have a very hot water temperature, which is perfect for sterilising all objects involved.
Infuse tea bags in boiling water until desired strength; remove tea bags.
Dissolve sugar in hot water and add to tea.
Add the mother brew to the cooled tea mixture and then float the Kombucha on the top.
Cover tightly with cloth and rubber band.  It needs to breathe, hence a lid is not appropriate, but it also needs to avoid contamination.
Place the Kombucha brew where it can sit undisturbed for a week. It doesn't require any light, so it can be left in a cupboard during this time.

You know the Komucha is ready to drink when it is neither sweet (because all the sugar has been consumed) nor sour (because the organisms have not been starved).

After a week or longer of fermentation it is ready to drink.  However, I prefer to bottle for a second fermentation.

Second fermentation

Sterilise glass bottles (wine bottles work well), a funnel and a porous cloth.
Remove the Kombucha organism temporarily from the jar into a dish where it is safe from contamination.
Filter the brew through the cloth into the bottles, leaving half a cup of space at the top of each bottle.
Leave one cup of brew in the jar for next week's batch.
Dissolve 1/4 cup of sugar in 1/2 cup of water and add to each bottle.  The bottle should be full.
Seal the bottle and leave to brew for another week or two.
This second fermentation in the sealed bottle should produce an effervescent carbonated effect.
Repeat the above process, adding infused tea and dissolved sugar to the mother brew and floating the Kombucha organism on top.
I like to wash the organism in cold water before replacing it, rubbing off any dark spots or contamination.

You can bottle the resulting brew and store it in the fridge. if you leave it out, it will continue to grow and ferment. It will still grow, but at a slower pace in the fridge.
Any small piece of the Kombucha will also start to grow, so you may need to strain it again before you drink it.

Once you have the knowledge of how to keep the organism healthy and happy, you can try different tastes.  The brew should be neither too sweet nor too sour.  If it is too sweet, then the organism simply hasn't consumed the sugar yet.  If it becomes acidic then you have been brewing it for too long; feed it a little more sugar and leave for another few days.  Seven days is usually a good time to make a brew, but I like to check on them every few days to make sure there is no contamination and that they are not becoming acidic. 

How much should I drink?

Kombucha is a probiotic drink, so it adds to your intestinal fauna positively.
It is controversial amongst those who resent people taking responsibility for their own health.  The only possible side-effect I have found in my research is rare cases of lactic acidosis, which is caused by excess consumption of lactic acid (i.e. vinegar).  Only improperly over-fermented Kombucha is high in lactic acid.
Start with a small serve - 1/4 to 1/3 cup - take it first thing in the morning (to aid digestion) or last thing at night.
Gradually increase your intake until you find a suitable level - up to two cups per day is beneficial.
Often your Kombucha will be effervescent.  It depends on the mixture and the temperature. Water supply will also effect the taste.
Experiment with different combinations of teas and waters and enjoy the experience.

Care of your Kombucha

You will notice that your Kombucha grows new upper layers very quickly. When it becomes too thick, you can separate the layers where they naturally part and either give them away or use them yourself and discard the older, bottom layers.
When dividing and replacing your Kombucha, ensure that you've removed any rings, that your hands and all utensils are spotlessly clean. The Kombucha is easily contaminated and this will spoil your brew.
You can wash the Kombucha in cooled, boiled water to remove any darker strings that often grow.
Leave the Kombucha on a clean dish with a little of its brew while you clean the container.
Always keep a back up Kombucha in case your main organism is damaged in any way.
My Kombucha organisms grow so quickly I can't resist expanding my production and brewing more.

Other Uses for Kombucha

Don't simply throw out any excess organisms.  If you can't give them away, you can use them as;
  • poultices - if you have a burn or minor injury, cut small pieces of Kombucha and bandage them to your skin - the antiseptic qualities of the Kombucha help healing.
  • indoor garden compost - cut into manageable pieces and bury just below the surface in your pot plants to give them a lift.
  • outdoor compost - if you have a prolific grower, use the excess on your fruit trees and garden plants (bury just below the surface).

Thank you for the information, Jennifer Stewart:

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