KOM­BUCHA

The com­pli­cated process be­hind it and how to make your own

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Amy Brothers

In a dark, barely used of­fice of The Den­ver Post, a jar filled with liq­uid sat on a desk. Float­ing in­side was a whitish glob, with dark, hair-like ten­drils hang­ing down from it, and strands of an al­most opaque mat­ter, like a jel­ly­fish, drift­ing un­der­neath.

Cu­ri­ous re­porters did se­cond-takes as they walked past the of­fice door. “What is it?” “It’s alive,” I’d tell them. “What’s it for? A science ex­per­i­ment?” “I’m brew­ing kom­bucha.” They weren’t al­ways won over by my con­fi­dence that this was com­pletely nor­mal. But I would still of­fer:

“I’ll let you try it when it’s done.”

Kom­bucha is a fer­mented tea. It’s made by in­tro­duc­ing a SCOBY (sym­bi­otic colony of bac­te­ria and yeast) into brewed black or green tea, and sugar. The mix is left to ferment for a week to a month. The re­sult is a fizzy drink that can vary from sweet to vine­gary, de­pend­ing on how long it fer­ments. Fruit, herbs and spices can be added for a se­cond fer­men­ta­tion, to add ad­di­tional

flavor.

The pop­u­lar­ity of kom­bucha in Den­ver is grow­ing. Den­ver’s Happy Leaf Kom­bucha not only has its own tap­room, but its prod­uct is also is show­ing up on tap in lo­cal brew­eries around town. And Amer­i­can Cul­tures Kom­bucha Tap­room in the High­land neigh­bor­hood serves up flights of the drink brewed all over the state.

I like the slight tangy flavor and fizzi­ness of kom­bucha. I also ap­pre­ci­ate hav­ing a dif­fer­ent drink to choose from on those all-day brew­ery crawls through Den­ver (kom­bucha is some­times on tap at craft brew­eries). Kom­bucha does have a tiny amount of al­co­hol, as a byprod­uct of the fer­men­ta­tion process, but no, you don’t need an ID to get it. To put it into per­spec­tive, most kom­buchas have be­tween .5 per­cent and 3 per­cent al­co­hol con­tent; a do­mes­tic light beer will have around 4.2 per­cent and most wines have around 12 to 14 per­cent al­co­hol con­tent.

While there is lit­tle science to back it up, folks who drink kom­bucha reg­u­larly swear to its health ben­e­fits.

Ha­ley Bet­tin, who works at Happy Leaf Kom­bucha, de­scribes it as “the cure-all that doesn’t re­ally cure any­thing. It just sets your body to heal it­self.” Which, in turn, might help with ev­ery­thing from acne to joint pain.

That may be be­cause kom­bucha is rich in pro­bi­otics, which helps with your over­all gut health.

“It just makes me feel bet­ter,” says Danielle Brooks, owner of Amer­i­can Cul­ture Kom­bucha Tap­room. She used to have ter­ri­ble heart­burn and said she was tak­ing so much med­i­ca­tion that it was de­stroy­ing her esoph­a­gus. Brooks says she started drink­ing kom­bucha, and the heart­burn went away.

Kom­bucha is also full of Vi­ta­min B, which helps with en­ergy and clar­ity, Brooks says.

“I’m a huge fan of drink­ing it at 2 o’clock to get me through the 2 to 5 part of the day. (But) it’s not like cof­fee, where you drink it and are buzzed and then crash.”

Her an­swer to kom­bucha crit­ics, who say it’s all hype? “Haters gonna hate.” My opin­ion: It tastes good, so to me any health ben­e­fits are sec­ondary.

My jar sat in the of­fice for nine days. Not ev­ery­one was stand­off­ish; a few had al­ready dis­cov­ered the drink in tap­rooms and on su­per­mar­ket shelves and were ex­cited to see how it was made.

I moved my fer­ment­ing kom- bucha to the con­fer­ence room for a se­cond fer­men­ta­tion. I strained out the SCOBY, and the dark yeast strains, added black­ber­ries and ginger, and let it sit for an­other three days.

This is the more at­trac­tive stage of the fer­men­ta­tion, when the mix­ture is bub­bly and slightly pink from the berries. More co­work­ers were sign­ing up to try it.

But there was a lit­tle voice in my head that ex­pressed con­cern: I’d read hor­ror sto­ries on the in­ter­net about kom­bucha that had gone bad.

There is a risk when brew­ing kom­bucha, says Ethan Tsai, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of chem­istry at Metropoli­tan State Univer­sity of Den­ver. When you’re try­ing to get a micro­organ­ism — yeast or bac­te­ria — to do the work for you, you pro­vide an at­trac­tive en­vi­ron­ment for all sorts of mi­cro­bial life, and can risk sec­ondary in­fec­tions, he says.

Tsai’s ad­vice to avoid in­fec­tions in home-brewed kom­bucha is to start with ster­il­ized jars and lids. “The law of the land as a brewer is clean­li­ness is god­li­ness,” Tsai said.

That means more than just wash­ing ev­ery­thing with warm soap and wa­ter. Tasi rec­om­mends caus­tic ster­il­iz­ing agents that you can find at most stores that sell home-brew­ing equip­ment. You can also buy kits to test what bac­te­ria are in the tea, to make sure they’re not harm­ful.

That’s not some­thing you need to worry about when buy­ing kom­bucha in stores. And Brooks says all of her providers pass health code reg­u­la­tions. “You can’t just brew it in your house and bring it here,” she says.

Bet­tin, who has been home­brew­ing kom­bucha for years, as­sured me that it’s pretty ob­vi­ous when a batch goes bad. It doesn’t look right or taste good.

But fer­men­ta­tion it­self is not bad, Tsai says. Beer is also a prod­uct of fer­men­ta­tion. “We have har­nessed (it) to do a lot of work for us.”

“Fer­men­ta­tion is just when some kind of mi­crobe … yeast or spe­cific bac­te­ria is used to me­tab­o­lize (or) to con­sume sugar and have it pro­duce some kind of acid, al­co­hol or gas,” Tsai says. It hap­pens in wine, when the sugar in grape juice is fer­mented into the al­co­hol, in bread when yeast pro­duces CO2, a gas that makes the bread rise, and in yo­gurt, when bac­te­ria cre­ates lac­tic acid.

Brooks rec­om­mends first-time kom­bucha home-brew­ers take a class, such as the ones of­fered through Happy Leaf Kom­bucha. (Check their web­site in Jan­uary.)

BBB It was time to try my kom­bucha. I poured it into a glass, and it bub­bled up to the edge.

It was sweeter than I ex­pected, but still had that vine­gar tang I have come to know in kom­bucha. I could still taste the black tea, with just the slight amount of fruit. Per­haps it could have used a few more days to ferment.

I poured some for my co­work­ers.

The two most com­mon re­sponses: “Will this make me sick?” fol­lowed by, “Ac­tu­ally, this tastes good.”

A few even came back for sec­onds. Amy Brothers is a dig­i­tal photo ed­i­tor at The Den­ver Post

Home­made Kom­bucha

SCOBY and the starter liq­uid are avail­able via on­line ven­dors or in­cluded in classes of­fered lo­cally. Adapted from kom­buchakamp.com. In­gre­di­ents 1 gal­lon glass con­tainer 3 quarts pu­ri­fied wa­ter (no chlo­rine) 1 cup sugar (no Ste­via or xyl­i­tol) 4-6 tea bags or 4-6 ta­ble­spoons loose leaf tea Kom­bucha SCOBY 1-2 cups of starter liq­uid (un­fla­vored kom­bucha from a pre­vi­ous batch, or pur­chased) Cloth or cof­fee fil­ter to cover jar Rub­ber band Di­rec­tions

Heat 4 cups of pu­ri­fied wa­ter in a pot. Just as the wa­ter starts to boil, take off heat and let cool 1-2 minutes. Add tea and let steep for 5-7 minutes. Re­move tea bags and stir in 1 cup sugar un­til dis­solved.

Pour into glass con­tainer and add the re­main­der of the pu­ri­fied wa­ter, which will lower the tem­per­a­ture of the wa­ter to luke­warm.

Add SCOBY and starter liq­uid. Cover con­tainer with tightly wo­ven cloth and rub­ber band.

Place the con­tainer in a warm (75-85 de­grees) room, in a ven­ti­lated area out of di­rect sun­light for 7-21 days. (The longer it sits, the stronger the vine­gar taste, and it may or may not get fizzy. Taste it through a straw af­ter a week to test.) The SCOBY may rise or sink to the bot­tom; both are fine, since the new cul­ture will al­ways form at the top.

With clean hands, re­move the SCOBY from the jar. Place it in a clean con­tainer and pour 2 cups of liq­uid from the top of the brew over it. This will serve as your starter liq­uid and SCOBY for the next batch. (Note: Never re­frig­er­ate the SCOBY and starter. If you see mold, throw it away.)

To store your kom­bucha, use clean bot­tles with tight-fit­ting lids. Avoid metal lids that may cor­rode.

Strain the liq­uid through a cheese­cloth into the bot­tles. If fla­vor­ing, place fruit, juice (to taste), flow­ers or herbs into bot­tled kom­bucha. Set aside for 1-3 days, burp­ing the bot­tles daily to re­lease car­bon­a­tion.

Move bot­tles to the fridge as they reach the de­sired flavor.

Amy Brothers, The Den­ver Post

The above kom­bucha is in­fused with black­ber­ries and ginger.

Seth McCon­nell, The Den­ver Post

Jenni Lyons fills a growler with kom­bucha at Happy Leaf Kom­bucha in Edge­wa­ter. Happy Leaf Kom­bucha was Den­ver’s first Kom­bucha tap room and re­cently moved to Edge­wa­ter.

Seth McCon­nell, The Den­ver Post

A sam­pler flight of five va­ri­eties of kom­bucha at Happy Leaf Kom­bucha.

Amy Brothers, The Den­ver Post

A SCOBY floats in a batch of kom­bucha.

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