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Non Sequitur Fridays

Brewing Our First Kombucha

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Kristen Craft is director of partnerships at Wistia. Her last Non Sequitur was about getting the most out of farmer's markets.

Kombucha is one of those things that people seem to either love or hate. For those of you who aren't familiar with this beverage, it's a carbonated, fermented tea that's slightly sweet, slightly tart, and slightly apple-cider-vinegar-y. Admittedly, the first time I tried it, I thought it was pretty weird, but it grew on me. It's not that dissimilar from Belgian lambic or sour beers.

Personally, I drink it because I find the flavor refreshing. It's less cloying than a sweet beverage, but more flavorful than sparkling water or coconut water. But many people drink it because it's rumored to have a zillion health benefits: apparently, it's one of the best hangover cures and preventers around! Kombucha supposedly does everything under the sun, from preventing cancer to eliminating indigestion, to accelerated nose hair growth. No wonder it's been called the "Immortal Health Elixir"! Health benefits aside, it's pretty delicious.

Miracle elixir or not, at 4 bucks a pop, kombucha can be a pricey habit. You can usually only get it at Whole Foods and other already pricey stores, so I'm sure that drives up the cost. But let's be honest: that's really only half the reason Liat and I decided to brew our own. I think the other half is that she and I both love weird little science experiments.

We found a good recipe (with lots of photos, but, sadly, no video, which would have been super helpful) and got started.

First, we enlisted the help of a bunch of friends. Mercer provided some awesome black tea with blackberry. (Thanks, Mercer!) Robby provided the glass bottles in which to ferment our kombucha. (Thanks, Robby!)

Last, we just needed a SCOBY. Warning: this is the weirdest part of brewing kombucha. SCOBY is an acronym for "Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast". It's a gelatinous substance that both protects and ferments the tea. My friends Kim and Leigh Rowan provided the SCOBY, all the way from Oakland, California (thanks, Kim and Leigh!). Fitting, given that kombucha is basically the epitome of hipster/hippie food.

The first step of brewing kombucha is pretty easy: you brew tea (preferably black, though we've read that other teas can work too) and dissolve some sugar in it. You put the tea into a glass jar and cover the top with cheesecloth or a paper towel. Then, you let the tea ferment in a cool, dark place.

We wanted to get some time-lapse footage, but it turns out this is harder to do than we expected: The GoPro, which we often use for casual office videos, isn't really intended to capture footage over days or weeks. Other cameras have similar limitations in terms of battery life and storage capacity. We'd love any ideas for future kombucha brewing sessions! Maybe a series of photos, taken at daily intervals?

We started brewing on June 25th but saw very little activity during the first few days. We all know that adage "a watched pot never boils," but it's just too hard to resist; I like watching pots! At first, this was a disappointing little science experiment. But then, all of a sudden, stuff began to happen. We noticed more bubbles forming in our tea, and the SCOBY started to grow.

Recipes had told us to taste the kombucha 7-10 days later to see if it was ready to bottle. But the problem is, none of them told us what it should taste like. So we just winged it:

 

It tasted pretty good, so we decided to move on to the next step. This step involves a second fermentation, when the kombucha becomes carbonated. You add another sugar source (in our case, juice) and pour the kombucha into airtight bottles. We tried this with a combination of lemonade and black cherry juice, since it was all we had around. Then you let the kombucha sit for another 1-3 days.

When we got back from our 4th of July weekends, it was ready to taste. And it came out pretty good for our first try! The flavor was a good mix of sweet, tart, and sour, and the kombucha was slightly carbonated.

There were two things we wanted to adjust with our next batch: the carbonation level and the lemon flavor. Our kombucha wasn't all that carbonated; we believe this was because the bottle we used for the second fermentation was too large. Also, the flavor was a bit too lemony for our taste, so we want to dial down the lemonade next time around and also experiment with other juices.

Anyone else have info to share about brewing kombucha? Or have any ideas for good flavor combos? Please share in the comments! (Chris Lavigne: we're looking at you! We know you've sampled more kombucha that almost anyone!)

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