Picture this. You just claimed a spot at the bar of one of those typical urban cafes. The walls are bare brick. Overhead, you see industrial pipes that look as if the owners ran out of money halfway through the renovation. Lightbulbs are scattered throughout the space, giving off just enough light to make out the ironic dish names on the menu. As you squint, trying to decide on your order, the waiter appears: a fellow in his mid-twenties with a shiny beard and a man bun. “What can I get you?” he asks, “We have excellent Kombucha!” Now you haven’t quite been living under a rock, so you know Kombucha as that trendy – and frankly, overpriced – hipster drink, but… what is it really? And do you have to spend 8 dollars on a bottle, or can you make some yourself?

The Mmmystery That Is Kombucha

First things first, Kombucha doesn’t have anything to do with butchers (what, am I the only one pronouncing it as ‘Come, butcha”?) In fact, it’s completely vegan. It’s simply fermented sweet tea made with a so-called scoby, a blob very similar to a jellyfish or a failed experiment with agar agar. So why is the blob called scoby? It’s actually short for a much fancier name: “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast”.

What happens when you make Kombucha is that cute little Scoby takes the sweet tea and in a few processes turns it into an alcoholic beverage and after that into a slightly sour beverage with something called acetic acid. The taste is different every time, depending on tons of factors, such as the amount of sugar, the oxygen, the temperature and so on. If all goes well, you end up with something like a fancy lemonade, but that’s not what all the hype is about. Kombucha is supposed to be super healthy! So how does that work, exactly?

Healthy or Hipster Hype?

Kombucha is widely believed to be some kind of super drink, bringing people back from death and even restoring enough brain cells for them to make informed decisions in elections. I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

In fact, many people believe Kombucha to be a probiotic, a substance containing living microorganisms that are good for your gut and your health in general. Whether that’s true is a bit unclear. Some sources say it’s not: the acetic acid bacteria that are rumored to be probiotic need oxygen to survive, and your gut isn’t generally known as a place where you store all your oxygen. So, dead bacteria, no probiotic. Others say it is a probiotic. It’s really summed up in a New York Times article’s quote of Franck Carbonero, a microbiome scientist: “We don’t know if it does anything.”

Does that mean the Kombucha is a lie? No. First of all, the byproduct of the Acetic Acid Bacteria, acetic acid (who would’ve guessed), has the potential to for instance lower your blood sugar levels. Even without being a probiotic, Kombucha has shown promise in all kinds of scientific studies. Amongst other applications it appears to play a role in battling bacterial infections and inflammations, kidney and liver toxicities, diabetes and even the consequences of exposure to radiation. Sure, the research on Kombucha is still in its early phases (that’s why it’s such a great fit for Odder Being), but it sure looks promising!

Scoby Do!

If you read Odder Being, you enjoy experimenting (or someone who sent you this does). So why not try and make your own Kombucha? We’ll give you two recipes: with and without a starter Scoby (if you don’t have one, you can base yours off already brewed Kombucha).

Before we dive in – a word of warning. Though Scobi’s are generally very good at dealing with contaminations, contaminations may occur, screwing up your miracle drink and actually leading to issues such as dizziness or stomach issues.

Disclaimer aside, here’s what you’ll need to make 2 liter (roughly 2 quarts)

  • 7 cups of water
  • 1 cup of kombucha (unflavored & unpasteurized, homemade or store-bought!)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 bags of black or green tea (check packaging for amount)
  • 1 scoby (optional)

Step 1: Brew the tea

You know how to make tea, right? Well, do it, boil the water, add the tea; make sure you either use teabags or find some other way to remove the tea leaves. Next, add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Let cool to room temperature.

Step 2: Get It Started

In a clean 2 liter jar, combine the tea & the kombucha. Stir. Add the scoby if you have one.

Step 3: Cover Up

Cover the jar with a piece of cloth and secure with rubber bands. Make sure you use something that isn’t easy for insects to make their way through. It would suck to wait for a month only to discover your drink is a mass grave for fruit flies.

Step 4: Wait and See

Put the jar away some place out of direct sunlight, but still reasonably warm (room temperature is fine, assuming you don’t live in a car or a sauna).

If you’re working with a scoby, after 7-10 days you should have a nice batch of Kombucha (that will still need further fermentation, so keep reading!)

If you’re creating your first scoby, after 2-4 weeks your scoby should be firm enough. When it’s 5mm thick or so you can use it to repeat these steps to make Kombucha.

Step 5: Here We Go Again

Prepare the tea you need for a new batch, set aside a cup of starter tea and the scoby.

Step 6: Bottle Time!

Bottle your kombucha: pour the remaining liquid into bottles and once more leave at room temperature and outside of sunlight for 1-3 days to carbonate and ferment some more. Then, transfer to the fridge (that’ll stop all the weird chemical processes) and drink within a month (by then, your new batches should be ready anyway).  

Step 7: Rinse, Repeat

Literally. Clean the jar and start your new batch.