Chinese
Homemade Kombucha - First Fermentation

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Making kombucha, or sweet fermented tea, is easy to make at home! It's a fabulous, tart, refreshing drink to have on hand for you and your family, packed with gut-healthy probiotics and antioxidants. And did you know that kombucha originated in China? That's right, kombucha originally came from northeastern China around 200 BC. Kombucha subsequently traveled around the world, passing through Japan, Europe and Russia, celebrated everywhere for its health benefits.

The great thing about brewing kombucha is that you have to set it up first. Once you have everything set up, it's just a matter of keeping it active, very simple. I'm breaking up my homemade kombucha posts into three parts so I can be really clear and avoid the misunderstandings that confused me when I started my kombucha journey.

The first thing to do is create the SCOBY, a gelatinous mass that contains all the good bacteria and yeasts needed to fuel the kombucha fermentation. We did this in our first post about How to make a SCOBY. Once you have a viable SCOBY you are ready for the next step which is making the kombucha tea, first fermentation, which this post is about. In our next post we will talk about the last optional step: kombucha tea, second fermentation.
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You will discover the steps to make them kombucha tea, first fermentationthey are quite similar but slightly different from the making of the SCOBY.

If this is your first time making kombucha, start here: Following our homemade scoby guide, make a baby scoby! When finished you will have a jar of sweetened tea with a small scoby floating on top (see photo above). Well, to be precise, what used to be sweetened tea. During the month it took to create the scoby fermentation, the tea turned into a very vinegary liquid.

Now you're ready to brew your first batch of kombucha tea: 1) Keep the baby scoby in the jar, 2) use sterilized equipment to scoop out all the liquid except the amount needed to use as your “starter tea”' (Keep in mind that the liquid you collected is not really drinkable as it is a lot of vinegar. Some people use it for cleaning. That's right, it's that strong), 3) proceed with brewing your first batch of kombucha.

If this isn't your first time making kombucha, start here: For each time you brew kombucha tea 1) keep the scoby in the kombucha jar, 2) scoop out all the fermented tea except the amount of “starter tea” needed for the next batch, 3) enjoy the harvested kombucha tea as is 'is either move on to the second fermentation, 4) proceed to prepare the new batch of kombucha.

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You will now have a jar of kombucha with a scoby and starter tea inside. Now let's proceed to brew the first or new batch of kombucha tea

This part is pretty simple: make the sweetened black tea. It is recommended to use black teas for kombucha. Black teas are “oxidized” teas. Oxidation is the process of exposing tea leaves to oxygen until they turn black. In Chinese, black tea is known as 紅茶, which directly translates to “red tea,” so you will sometimes find black tea labeled as red tea. Same thing.

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Black tea bags (or leaves), sugar and boiling water are mixed to make sweetened tea. Leave to steep, covered, until the tea has completely cooled to room temperature. Remove tea bags or tea leaves, using sterilized utensils.

Pour the completely cooled sweetened tea into the kombucha jar that already contains the scoby and starter tea. Don't worry if the scoby ends up at the bottom as you add the liquid, it will eventually return to the top.

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Note that as you continue to brew the kombucha with the same scoby, it will grow, adding a layer each time. In the photo above you can see that the scoby is much thicker. Eventually it will become too thick and you will have to discard some or give some to a friend. You can also see the carbon dioxide bubbles formed by the fermentation process.

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Once you've added the sweetened tea to the wide-mouth jar, it's time to cover it tightly with a clean towel secured by a rubber band. This prevents dust from entering and allows fermentation gases to escape.

Place the jar of kombucha in a dark, quiet place to ferment. I use a bit of black fabric to wrap around the sides, leaving the top alone. The brewing time of kombucha tea will vary based on the temperature and also the desired flavor. The longer the kombucha ferments, the harsher the taste. The first time you brew tea you will need to taste the tea at intervals until you reach the desired acidity.

Test the kombucha brew by inserting a sterile straw. Cap the top end of the straw with your finger and pull it out. You will find kombucha trapped at the end of the straw. Taste. If it tastes just right of delicious tartness, you're ready for the next step. If not, let it sit for another couple of days and try again.

Once you're happy with the acidity, write down the number of days of fermentation needed so you can set a calendar alert for your next batch of kombucha without having to taste test. We found that 12 days was the perfect amount of acidity for us.

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At this point your first fermentation kombucha tea is ready to drink! Pour the kombucha tea into a new jar, leaving only the scoby and starter tea in the original kombucha brewing jar. Store kombucha tea in the refrigerator to stop fermentation (unless the second fermentation is carried out**).

For the next batch of kombucha, repeat the steps of making fresh sweetened tea as described above and add to the scoby and starter tea stored in the kombucha jar, cover and let brew. Set your calendar alert to the time you have decided for perfect fermentation. You have now created a system for making endless quantities of kombucha that is very easy to manage with minimal effort.

You'll find that your homemade kombucha tea is tart, slightly sweet, and full of all kinds of gut-healthy probiotic goodies. The amazing thing about this wonderful tea is that an injection of this substance is like an injection of energy to the brain, very invigorating!

Now you can move on kombucha, second fermentation** if you want, which I highly recommend, although it will take a little more time and effort. Kombucha tea, the second fermentation occurs when you mix external flavors into the kombucha and create a truly crisp, refreshing tasting drink. So delicious!! To do so, check out our next post on kombucha, second fermentation!
Homemade Kombucha – First Fermentation Recipe

(for 1 1/2 liters) Preparation time: 2 minutes Fermentation time: 12 days

Ingredients:

Directions:

*Kombucha starter tea can be purchased at the store. However, if you have already brewed kombucha, reserve 1 1/2 cups of kombucha to use as the “starter tea” for the next batch.

Add sugar, tea and boiling water to a large bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cover and let the tea brew until it cools to room temperature.

Remove tea bags or tea leaves, using sterilized equipment.

In a sterilized wide-mouth jar, add the scoby and kombucha starter tea. If you've already brewed kombucha, simply keep the scoby and 1 1/2 cups kombucha tea (to use as your “starter tea”) in the brewing jar. Pour in the completely cooled sweetened tea.

Cover the jar with a paper or cloth towel and secure with a rubber band. Let it ferment in a dark area for about 12 days until the acidity of the fermentation is to your liking. Test the taste by scooping out a little tea with a sterilized utensil. If it's not acidic enough, continue fermenting for another two days and try again.

When you're happy with the taste, scoop the fermented kombucha tea into another jar, leaving the scoby and 1 1/2 cups of kombucha in the fermenting jar to start the next batch of kombucha. Repeat the previous steps to create the next batch.

Enjoy your kombucha tea, first fermentation, as is or move on to second fermentation where you can add extra flavors and fizziness. Check out our next post on kombucha, second fermentation!

Deliciously delicious drinks at The Hong Kong Cookery:

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