Thursday, May 27th, 2010...2:06 pm
Kombucha, the Alcohol Alternative
I have always enjoyed relaxing with two glasses of wine in the evening. When I get to the end of that second glass, though, I often find I am enjoying myself too much. It is difficult for me to pull myself away from the woozy cloud of comfort and go to bed. Often, I pour a third, and, now and then, even a fourth. I am not intoxicated, but I have definitely been drawn by the alcohol to drink more than I want, and even to stay up an hour too late.
Soda pop isn’t healthy, and neither are snack foods. I can’t drink coffee, as I drink it too much as it is during the day, and tea is just too boring for my palate. And, to my taste, alcohol-free beers have the flavor of swill.
A little while back, I heard about a funky Russian/Chinese health drink that is fermented easily at home, called “kombucha” (the “ch” and “u” pronounced like the sounds in “choo-choo.”) The guy who told me about it said it wasn’t sweet, so I immediately thought of it as an alternative to my nightly red wine ritual.
The long and short is I brewed it myself and found Kombucha to be a spot-on alternative to wine. It tastes winey, but it has effervescence, like beer. It is healthily packed with probiotic organisms (think “pub yogurt,”) that I swear I can taste. And it contains only a minute amount of alcohol! Proponents believe kombucha boosts the immune system, helps digestion, fights cancer, among other unsubstantiated, but possible, benefits.
I’ll tell you how I made it. Kombucha is made simply by allowing microorganisms to grow in sweet black or green tea. The microorganisms are most easily obtained by purchasing a cold bottle of kombucha from an upscale supermarket or any natural foods store. Any kombucha can be used as a starter with which to brew more kombucha.
Though you can adjust these proportions to taste, these are the ones I used: 2 gallons of water, 1/3 cup of black or green tea leaves, 3 cups of sugar.
You use about 40 ounces of the water to boil and brew the hot tea, then strain the tea out and dissolve the sugar into the hot tea.
Once the sugar is dissolved, you get another container big enough for all the water and made of either glass or plastic (only use plastic with a 1 or 2 recycling code on the bottom.) This container should have a fairly wide mouth. I use a couple of those plastic pretzel jars you get at Costco and a big picnic jug with the spout at the bottom, which is ideal for draining the finished product. You can brew the tea in a metal pot, but never use metal to hold the kombucha–it reacts poorly with the kombucha acids–and never use it with a ceramic container, as some ceramic has lead in the mix, and the kombucha acids can leach the lead into the drink.
Next, you fill the big jug with the remaining water–cold from the tap, and you pour the hot tea in, making a jug of lukewarm-to-cool sweet tea. Now that it’s not hot (too much heat kills the microorganisms,) pour the bottle of kombucha in.
Place a paper towel over the mouth of the jug, and a rubber band around it to keep out fruit flies, but to allow oxygen in. Place the jug in a warm place away from sunlight (the warmer it is, the quicker the organisms will grow, but direct sunlight can kill them,) and give it 7-10 days to brew.
Over this period, you will notice a big, ugly mushroom growing on the surface. Kombucha-lovers call this the “mother,” as it can be moved from any batch to easily start a new one.
Your kombucha will be ready when it develops a brief initial vinegary bite to the taste. If it’s too sweet at first bite, you haven’t let it sit long enough to let the organisms eat up the sugar; if the taste after the initial vinegar bite is too sweet, you need to use less sugar next time.
Once the taste is right, pour it out, leaving a small bit of kombucha and the mushroom behind as a starter for a new batch.
Cap your kombucha tightly (to keep in the effervescence,) and refrigerate it. The cold and lack of oxygen stops the organisms from advancing any more, but keeps them alive, which is what gives kombucha its health benefits. Some people seeking a buzz will cap it but not refrigerate it, which will cause alcohol to ferment, but this self-defeatingly causes the organisms to die from alcohol poisoning.
Keep all your implements clean, and don’t add other juices, fruit, etc… to this mix or you’ll get stuff that isn’t healthy growing in your mix.
Na zdorovyeh! (Phonetical “Cheers!” in Russian.)