So today I bottled my first batch of homebrew kombucha. Never heard of it? Me either, till a few months ago when my co-worker started touting it's amazing health benefits. I hear it can cure cancer and detoxify your liver and improve digestion and possibly cause you to crap out gold bricks. I can't attest to the veracity of any of these health claims, and neither can most of the rest of modern science, but it seems like plenty of folks believe in the power of fermented tea. I wanted to give it a try myself, but it costs over four bucks a bottle at the store.
I did a little internet searching and discovered that kombucha is sweet tea that has been fermented by a mother or SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). That's the mother up there in the green dish next to my bottled tea. It is kind of jellyfish looking, without all the tentacles. Not that much different than a sourdough starter, really. My friend had a mother to give away, so I adopted it. That's one of the cool things about this scoby, every time you brew up a batch of tea the colony reproduces so you have one to give away. Kind of like Amish friendship bread. I gave my first baby scoby to my friend Steve, and the next one is going to Haley, and then whoever wants one can have one...
Truly, the beverage tastes rather like cider that is on it's way to vinegar. You can control the vinegaryness by changing the length of the fermentation, and also the flavor changes during the secondary fermentation (after bottling). I added lime juice and honey to mine, hopefully the yeasts will eat up the honey and make my tea a little fizzy. But it's all really a big adventure experiment! Which could possibly make me really sick if I don't watch out for mold, I know. There is a bunch of literature about how to make it on the internet! I'm not too worried.
I was drawn to the whole endeavor not by the miracle health claims, but more by the idea of kitchen science. When I was sterilizing the bottles this afternoon (which I plucked out of the recycle bin at work) I was thinking about my Dad. I bet he would have liked the idea of kombucha. He would have been able to tell me all kinds of stuff about pH and sugar to alcohol ratios and how the ambient temperature affects fermentation. I miss him every day. Now every time I make kombucha I'll think of him when I write out the little masking tape stickers that label the batch date and the length of fermentation and what flavorings I added. It tastes a bit like vinegar now, but maybe it will mellow as it ages. I hope the same it true for my broken little girl heart, and maybe one day I will be able to think of him and only smile, and not cry salt tears too.