Monthly Archives: February 2015
Warmth is essential to the kombucha process, and there are many simple ways to keep your kombucha brew warm. It will ensure that your brew stays healthy, producing acids that lower the pH to fend off mold. But it will also ensure that you're able to harvest your 'buch without waiting forever.
The ideal brewing temperature for kombucha is between 70 and 80 degrees. Lower than that range, you are running the risk of allowing mold to form. Higher than that range, you might get finished 'buch more quickly but it will also potentially become vinegar more quickly.
It's best to find places in your home that are naturally producing or retaining heat. Beyond that, you can dress up your brew with heat mats, cooler-incubators and clothes to your heart's content. You could even build a box special for fermenting. Any combination of these methods will do wonders for your 'buch and keep you from pulling your hair out in these cool winter months.
These are just a few suggestions and you are encouraged to branch out and think for yourself based on your home environment. If all else fails, just take it to bed. I won't judge you.
For heat mats and other kombucha brewing accessories, click here.
Think back to the first time you tasted kombucha. I remember my first bottle, back in 2004. I was visiting a food co-op with a good friend of mine (who I can credit with many of my bizarre but healthy eating habits). He had purchased a bottle and gave me a taste; it was a berry and ginger brew, and it truly was love at first sip. The stuff was effervescent, packed full of ginger intensity and luscious fruitiness. Immediately, I wanted to know more. Many questions arose in my head - What the heck is this stuff? What's this strange mass floating around in the bottle? Why does it smell like vinegar? It says it's probiotic, that's nice, but how is it made? Little did I know at the time that the next decade of my life would be spent in intimate collaboration with this, my new favorite "fizzy lifting drink."
A few days later, I bought my own bottle, loved it again, and started talking to friends about this strange new beverage. A chef pal of mine mentioned that some coworkers of his had stashed culture to make kombucha in a refrigerator at his restaurant. I jumped at the opportunity to start making it. When he brought the cultures home, they were pretty off-putting - stored in a plastic container, looking like some sort of decaying aquatic animal; smelling like apple cider vinegar, I was skeptical of the possibility of ending up with something safe and palatable.
The thing that turns most people off about kombucha, if they can get used to the vinegary taste, is its appearance. There are inevitably going to be stringy bits of yeast and clumps of SCOBY in a store-bought bottle. In a raw, living beverage that's completely normal. One of the reasons kombucha is so good for us is due to the probiotic qualities that must be preserved; as a result of not being pasteurized, the culture will continue to proliferate, given the right conditions (warmth), inside a closed bottle. It is this aspect of bottling that caused issues in 2010 when kombucha everywhere was pulled off the shelves. As a result of FDA tests, it was discovered that bottled kombucha from many producers had exceeded the 0.5% ABV limit.
And during brewing there's a whole other aesthetic that is the growth and proliferation of the SCOBY in the brew jar, on top of the tea. Once you've seen kombucha brewing, you can understand that there's definitely a reason that grandmothers of old were said to keep the culture out of sight of children, lest they be reticent to drink the healthful beverage. I always describe it lovingly - imagine a jellyfish crossed with a mudskipper. Awwww.
Things you'll see
You'll be seeing some anomalous things and inevitably start to wonder what's going on. Most shock that new brewers have is at the brown blobs that form in a kombucha brew, which are simply coagulated yeast cells. Often, you'll notice one of these blobs forming just under the surface of your brew, at the edge of the jar. Just think of it as your resident blob!
Your SCOBY might grow tendrils (Cthulu fhtagn!), which are also yeast, that will hang down into your brewing liquid. Don't be troubled either if you see a big brown spot in the middle of your SCOBY, sometimes cellulose (which makes up the SCOBY) will be thinner in some places, especially when your mother SCOBY floats at the top of the brew jar, and new SCOBY grows around her.
If your brew is moldy, it is easy to tell. There will be dry, fuzzy spots that will usually grow in concentric rings. There is a wide possibility for the color of the mold, generally, it could be white, blue, black, green etc.
Ways to steer clear of mold
There are very simple ways to keep kombucha and mold separate:
- Don't skimp on ingredients. Use at least 1 cup of sugar per gallon and 12 grams of actual tea per gallon (white, green, black, oolong or puerh).
- Don't brew oily herbs with your tea - the volatile oil content of herbs will affect your brew and can lead to mold. Since oil floats in water, and your SCOBY wants to float as well, this can effectively keep your brew from breathing and producing beneficial acids that lower pH and thus keep mold at bay. If you want to use herbs in your kombucha, use actual tea along with it - about 12 grams per gallon.
- Keep your brew in a warm place. Warm brewing temperatures not only result in your kombucha brewing more quickly, but will make sure your culture can respire and create the acids that keep mold at bay. Cold temperatures are often the culprit with many mold issues.
- Keep your brew away from cigarette smoke.
- Always use already-brewed kombucha or vinegar for your starter (required for every brew). For a gallon, 12 ounces of kombucha or 3 TBSP of distilled vinegar are two easy starters you can use.
- A dry SCOBY will become a moldy SCOBY. Keep your culture in a sealed container if you aren't going to be brewing for awhile, rather than just leaving it in the brew jar to starve - doesn't your mother deserve better?
If you have mold
- Don't drink it, discard the culture. Weep and plead with another friendly brewer to give you another culture or to give you some 'buch to drink while you are restarting.
- Add strange items and take photographs, share with friends or with us on our Facebook 'Buch Brewer's Group.
- Remember that it's always important to keep a backup SCOBY for just such an occasion. Once you start brewing, put some of the culture in the fridge, submerged in kombucha, to save you from having to order another one if your brew goes south.
- Don't freak out. Don't stop brewing.
If you have any questions or want to send photos of your possibly moldy brew, post them to our Facebook page or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy brewing!