In the May 23 issue of Boise Weekly, Michael Sommer of Purple Sage Farms talks about his organic kombucha as a part of BW's ongoing Makers series.
Kombucha is a tea-based fermented beverage with many devotees who claim the drink has elixir-like qualities, can detoxify the body and energize the mind. Sommer said he doesn’t like to talk about the health benefits, though he agrees there are many, but instead focuses his efforts on brewing “an interesting and tasty beverage.”
“It’s an amazing relationship between bacteria, yeast, plants and humans. It takes all four of those groups of organisms to make this," said Sommer. "It’s really unique and its something to promote in all ranges of life, to promote symbiosis, things working together."
Want to know how to make your own kombucha? Sommer broke it down for us:
What you will need first is a starter, the symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY. Sommer said there are many well-known kombucha starters available online for purchase, and unless you know someone willing to give you a start, ordering your own is the best option.
“The awesome thing about kombucha is that it evolves very quickly,” Sommer explained.
There are five major elements involved when brewing: The ratio of dominate organisms in the culture, where the culture comes from (cultures used to certain brewing environments tend to work faster when used consistently in the same environment), the kind of tea used, and the kind of sugar used (kombucha can be brewed more quickly if the sugar is cooked beforehand, though Sommer said he prefers the taste of uncooked sugar in his brews), and finally, controlling the temperature (the optimal temperature for the cultures to “work” is 80 degrees Fahrenheit).
The first step to brewing is to create a healthy SCOBY. This is accomplished by placing your kombucha start in a sterilized glass jar or jug and adding spring water. Sommer said hard water could be used in a pinch. Then cover the jar with a cheesecloth type material, something to prevent contaminants from entering that will also allow oxygen into the jar. Use a rubber band to secure the cloth around the top of the jar.
After the start develops a sizable mass, its time to brew the tea you will be using. Sommer said all types of teas work, but the oils in herbal teas can kill the culture, so never use all of your culture in an herbal tea. The tea should be brewed strong, use about 4 tablespoons of tea for each gallon of water.
“Bitterness is good for you and the kombucha, so brew for over 10 minutes,” Sommer said.
The next step is to add sugar to your tea while it's still hot. The heat helps to dissolve the sugars.
“You need 1 cup of sugar to each 1 gallon batch of kombucha,” Sommer said. “The best sugar to use is the least processed you can find.” Sommer uses organic evaporated cane juice.
Now, it is time to cool down the sweet tea mixture. For Sommer, the trick is an ice bath in the sink. Again, the optimal temperature to shoot for is 80 degrees. You can use your best judgment, or a simple cooking thermometer.
Finally, you add the SCOBY. First, transfer the tea into a serialized glass jar. Next, transfer some of the liquid your SCOBY is floating in, into your tea mixture. The proper ratio of tea to this “starter fluid,” as Sommer refers to it, is 10:1. Finally, add a piece of the SCOBY. A small handful will do, Sommer said. Again place and secure cheesecloth on the top of the jar.
In three to five days, Sommer said you will begin to see a layer on top; this is cellulose and it's a good sign.
So, how do you know when it is ready?
“The tongue and nose are amazing sensory organs,” Sommer said. “Trust your own and make the kombucha how you would like to have it.”
Not interested in brewing your own? Sommer’s kombucha is available under the Purple Sage Farms label at the Boise Co-Op, weekends by way of the Purple Sage Farms booth at Boise’s Public Market and soon in other area grocery stores.