How To Make Kombucha Tea from Scratch
The Magic Wart Juice
When I was in high school, like many others, I suffered from palmer warts. These are small warts that typically show up on hands and fingers (occasionally feet). They are gross and unsightly but generally harmless. Mine were always on my hands and I typically only had one at a time. My mom repeatedly scheduled appointments at the dermatologist, where I'd sit in the blue chair and watch as he froze them off with liquid nitrogen.
The process was generally painless in the office, but the resulting blister was often tender and even grosser than the wart itself. Because mine were always on my hands, bandaids were particularly difficult to keep on. Once removed, I'd be wart free for a few months, but then they'd generally come back to the exact same spot.
It was during the winter of my senior year when one afternoon at cheerleading practice, a teammate noticed one on my hand and freaked out, worried that if she touched my wart, she'd get one too. (No one said cheerleaders are known for their brains.) Though I calmly explained it was a virus does not spread to someone else through touch, she continued on her obnoxious rant and refused to touch me.
That's when my coach told me about her grandmother's "wart juice." She got very excited and started talking about how her grandmother makes this "weird mushroom tea" that "gets rid of warts" and "actually works." She had no idea what it was, what it was called, or how it worked. She simply knew that it had rid her entire extended family (of trolls apparently) of all their warts, for life.
Well I didn't need convincing. I was ready to try anything.
The next day she brought me a sun tea container full of a light orange liquid and instructed me to store it in my fridge and drink about 4oz a day.
My mom made me put it in the garage refrigerator, and I diligently went out every morning with my Dixie cup and had my shot of wart juice. It was a little sweet, but also distinctly tart like vinegar. It wasn't the worst thing in the world, but wasn't something I'd drink by the glassful.
Within three weeks, my wart was gone. It didn't dry up and fall off or anything. In fact, it sort of just shriveled up over the next few days growing smaller and smaller until it was gone.
I've never had another wart since.
Health Benefits of Kombucha Tea
It wasn't until many years later that I learned the Magic Wart Juice was actually Kombucha tea. Sometimes called Kombucha Mushroom Tea, this ancient Chinese elixir has actually been around for centuries, known in Eastern medicine as the "Elixir of Life."
So what is it about this stuff that makes it get rid of warts? Kombucha is basically a yeast and the tea is made from a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (this is the starter - also known as the "mother" or a SCOBY). Kombucha tea is made from combining a SCOBY with a strong and sweet tea (black tea with sugar is most common) and allowing it to sit in a dark warm place to ferment. As it sits, the SCOBY uses the sugar in the tea and turns it into vinegar.
A well made Kombucha tea will contain alcohol, vinegar, B vitamins, glucosamine, caffeine, and other substances which are thought to provide health benefits. Though there is no significant scientific evidence to support any claims, those who consume Kombucha tea do so for its antioxidant, antibacterial, and probiotic properties.
I can personally testify to its wart removal powers, however, there are many other reasons people believe Kombucha tea to truly be an elixir of life. As a powerful anti-oxidant, many drink the tea as a form of cancer prevention, an aid in diet and weight loss, and as a method to boost energy. There are those who also claim it has powerful mood stabilizing effects and works in the treatment of PMS.
As an antibiotic, many use the tea to boost immune health and raise their dosage during times of sickness. Others apply it directly to the skin to treat burns, scrapes, and pain.
As a probiotic, some believe Kombucha is more effective than over-the-counter treatments for urinary tract infections and yeast infections. It is also said to simply aid in digestion thereby causing all the wonderful benefits that come with that.
Finally, because it contains glucosamines, there are those who drink it to treat joint pain and arthritis.
Making Kombucha Tea at Home
Ten years ago, I moved to North Carolina and met the man who would very quickly become my husband. We started dating at the same time he transitioned from a job at a wilderness camp to a full time math teaching position. He quit smoking (for me) and was trying to stop chewing tobacco. His sleep habits were less than regular, he prepared meals very much in a single bachelor tradition (as in, pizza and beer were considered food groups), and he noticed he was not only feeling unhealthy, but putting on weight as well.
Then, he got a wart on his hand. (If you were unaware, palmer and plantar's warts are caused by a virus that stays dormant inside your own body and tends to flare up under times of stress).
I told him all about the Kombucha tea, and its surprisingly quick and positive effect on my warts in high school. We immediately took to the Internet and learned we could make the stuff ourselves. We ordered our "starter" from someone off Ebay, and paid a premium price of almost $40 including shipping. Over the next six or seven months, our Kombucha tea became like a pet to us. We were making a fresh batch every ten to fourteen days, experimenting with different flavors of tea, and drinking up to eight ounces a day. (Our favorite was peach tea mixed with a cup of orange juice.)
It seems that within the last decade or so, Kombucha tea has been commercialized in Western culture and you can actually buy it by the 16oz bottle in Whole Foods for about $3.29. The good news is that you can actually make your own (and even grow your own SCOBY) for much cheaper.
What You Need
- A Glass Jar
- Tea Bags
- Sugar (1c. per gallon of tea)
- The SCOBY
- Cheesecloth or a paper towel
- Small airtight containers (with lids)
- Fruit or fruit concentrate, herbs, ginger, etc.
How To Make Kombucha Tea
1. Brew a batch of strong tea. Organic black and green tea are most recommended but feel free to experiment with different flavors and varieties.
2. Add sugar. 1c for every gallon of tea. (Don't worry, this gets eaten by the culture and turned in to the good stuff.)
3. Let the sweet tea cool to room temperature.
4. Combine sweet tea and the SCOBY. I've read that metal can kill the SCOBY, so I always use my fingers or plastic utensils to transfer the SCOBY. Also, I always brew my tea in a glass container.
5. Cover (with cheese cloth, organic cotton/muslin, or a paper towel) and place in a warm dry area for 7-14 days. Note: longer brewing results in a more vinegar-y taste, shorter brewing keeps the flavor sweeter; also, Kombucha brews much quicker in warmth, so if you feel it is taking a while to get to that slightly sour flavor, make sure your fermentation location is not too cold.
6. Remove SCOBY and rinse it for your next batch.
7. Filter tea. This step is only if you want to avoid chunks, which are harmless.
8. Enjoy immediately or add fruit to flavor and do a second ferment. (See below.)
The Second Ferment
The key to a delicious Kombucha actually lies in the "Second Ferment" as it has become known by all the trendy dorks making their own. The second fermentation gives Kombucha flavor (that takes out the sour vinegar taste of the original brew) and adds carbonation, to make this drink like a light tangy soda. You can definitely get on Google or Pinterest for all the different (and very non-scientific) recipes for how to double ferment your kombucha, but here is what I do and it has been successful:
- Take my Kombucha batch around day 7, sometimes earlier, and transfer to smaller bottles or mason jars with tight fitting lids. Leave about an inch of air at the top of the container.
- Add crushed fruit or fruit juice, fresh herbs, or veggies. Ideas: strawberries, blueberries, beets, mango, coconut, mint, lime (avoid the skin!), ginger.
- Seal it with an air-tight lid and place it back in a warm dark place.
- After 1 day, check my brew. If it is forming bubbles (like soda) on the edges, I put it in the fridge and enjoy it a few hours (or days) later, cold. It should "pop" like a bottle of soda when you open it.
- If no bubbles, leave it for another day. The longer it sits unrefrigerated, the more carbonation it will accumulate, so don't leave it too long or the bottle/jar may burst.
How To Make Your Own SCOBY
Every time you brew a batch of Kombucha tea, the SCOBY will reproduce itself and typically grows at the top of the tea. If you know someone who regularly makes the stuff, it would be easy and probably free to get a starter SCOBY.
Otherwise, you can grow your own. I did so by buying one of those $3.29 bottles of bottled Kombucha at Whole Foods (a Saturday morning that reminded me of exactly why I typically avoid Whole Foods). I chose a brand that claimed to be "100% Kombucha," organic, and free of additives. Not that it matters, but I also avoided the flavors and got the plain kind. I simply treated the bottled tea as the SCOBY and added it to sweet tea in a mason jar, covered it, and left it in my pantry for almost twenty days. A very thick SCOBY developed at the top of the jar, and I had my first batch of very strong Kombucha tea.