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Kombucha?  A few years ago I hadn’t heard of it, but as my interest in probiotic and fermented food has grown, I’ve given it a try with some locally produced Katalyst Kombucha from my food co-op, and sampled the homemade kombucha at one of my favorite cafes in my area, Cup & Top.  It’s a fermented tea, sour and sweet… tangy, bubbly, and brimming with probiotic bacteria and yeast.  It’s supposed to promote detoxification and help deter and outcompete bad bacteria in your gut.  I haven’t drunk enough to make any claims in that regard, but I was curious to see if I could start home-brewing my own.

First of all, I had to turn to Wikipedia to clear up my confusion over the words “kombu” and “cha” which seemed to imply seaweed-tea to me… but Wikipedia says Kombu was the name of an ancient Korean physician who used this in his treatments.  Now that I was sure I didn’t have to use seaweed for this 😉 I had to get past the idea of the culture being a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), a.k.a. the mushroom or mother, or worst of all a zoogleal mat.  Shudder.

Scientific curiosity must overcome my knee-jerk reactions… I had to learn how something so yummy could come about from a zoogleal mat.  Starting with a bottle of raw, commercial kombucha, and a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz I followed his directions to boil a quart of water with 1/4 cup sugar (something to feed the SCOBY), then steep 1 Tbsp. tea or two tea bags for 15 minutes, then strain out tea leaves, let tea come to room temperature, add the mother, then let sit, covered with a cloth at room temperature for a few days to a week.  He suggested a pot wider than the depth of the liquid.  Glass or ceramic container – I just left it in the glass saucepan I had done the tea in.  However, I did not have a fully formed mother, just a strand of culture from the bottom of my kombucha bottle… so I was very unsure it would work.

With a little hand-holding from a member of a local permaculture listserv I’m on, and a half-dozen YouTube videos on kombucha, I waited for something to develop, and it did!  After a few days there was a scum on top that looked like mold, and I feared my experiment was over.  I was advised to have patience, that this was the new mother coming into formation.  After about a week there was a 1/4″ thick SCOBY floating on top of my tea!  I never would have expected to feel so much joy in my first zoogleal mat.

Without further ado, the pictures of the thing itself!

After the mother fully formed, I kept it in a pyrex storage dish in my fridge, soaking in some of its kombucha.  The rest of the tea I put in a Grolsch swing-top bottle to ferment for one day at room temperature.  It didn’t turn out very bubbly at all – perhaps I should have given it more time, but I was scared of it exploding.  The results were also very sour.  I sweetened with a little honey to drink.  The longer you leave the culturing process, the more the sugar gets consumed by the SCOBY.  I just started my second batch today – with green tea rather than black this time, and starting from a full-sized mother.  I’ll start sampling it tomorrow to see how the sweetness progresses, and to see how the mother calves and grows a new colony!  I’m expected it will take less time this time to get finished kombucha.  Thank you zoogleal mat!

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