Friday, August 29, 2014

Make Kombucha Tea

Kombucha brewing.  The scoby is so thick because I have not made more since I stopped drinking it.

Kombucha is black tea and sugar cultured with a “scoby” or “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” a white, rubbery bacterial/fungal matte that has been kept alive, divided and multiplied for perhaps thousands of years since it was discovered in Asia.  It’s also called Manchurian Tea and the scoby is also called a “mushroom.”
After a week of culturing, it has a sweet-tart flavor that becomes more tart as the week passes.  It has a vinegary scent that is off-putting, but once one tastes, one can become quickly addicted.  This drinker likes it best diluted with ice and flavored with fruit juices, like apple and tart cherry.
It’s good to drink because the scoby converts the sugar and tannin in the tea mostly to vinegar with maybe 1% alcohol, very good for the digestive system, and otherwise good for health. 
It cannot go bad, just more tart, because it is alive and keeps growing, excluding other microbes, much like wine and beer, other cultured drinks that ancient man developed to make surface water safe and preserve juices.  A bottle or glass left sitting for a day will start to develop a clear gel mass that eventually floats to the top and forms a new matte; it is normal, safe to drink and slides smoothly down the throat.  If flavored with fruit juices, however, the juice favors yeast growth, and it can become quite fizzy and alcoholic, much like beer.
It takes about a week for a batch to culture enough to be sweet-tart, and it’s best to drink it within another week, by which time it is quite tart, and the new layer of matte is ripe and separated from the previous layer, ready for use in another batch.   It is good to have two batches going at once, one starting while drinking the other.  I drink about a gallon a week, and make it in gallon jars.
Prolonged contact with metal will weaken the scoby and eventually kill it, so Kombucha is best made in glass containers, such as gallon “sun tea” jars with spigot.
Fill a gallon jar with hot water; add a cloth tea bag with 2 tablespoons of bulk black tea, or use five regular paper tea bags without staples; steep on a hot plate or in the sun.  Or you can use boiling water and not heat it further, for a quick start.  Bulk tea grows bigger mattes than pre-packaged tea bags.
Remove the tea bag(s) and stir in 1 cup of raw sugar; let cool; add either a scoby matte or 2 cups of live, unflavored Kombucha.  Cover loosely and keep out of direct sunlight.  After a week, it is drinkable, and it is best drunk within a week.
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March Post Script:  After drinking too much of Kombucha daily for perhaps 8 years or 9 years, I've figured out that it was causing side effects.  I was told in the beginning that one should drink just a small glass first thing in the morning, before eating anything.  I like it so much that I just drank a pint all day long, putting it over ice first, and then diluting it more with water as the day goes on, so as not to ingest too much sugar.  I like the way a little sugar and acid make water less dry on the throat.
For a long time I had constant soreness in the muscles in my arms, a common side effect of statins, which are used to lower cholesterol.  I have never bought into the anti-cholesterol fad, any more than the anti-fat fad.  A few days ago, I got to thinking about red rice yeast, which is rice fermented in a fungal culture that turns it red, a natural source of statins.  It can cause the same sore muscles that synthesized statins do.  I thought that Kombucha culture might make statins as well.  So I looked up "Kombucha, statins."
          I found the American Cancer Society page on Kombucha, which didn't mention statins, and  said that there is no proven medical use for Kombucha. They also said that it is dangerous, based on two case histories, one of a couple of women who drank probably too much and got lactic acidosis, and a man who tried it once and got lactic acidosis.  
          A few case histories with no proof of cause are not very much evidence.  I figure that's par for the American Cancer Society, which is prejudiced against home remedies.  There are too many people saying how much it improves their gut function, particularly heartburn and acid reflux, to say that it is not good medicine for some people.
          I hadn't heard that a major part of its acidity was lactic acid, the acid that builds up in muscles from heavy exercise and makes them sore.  According to, "As lactic acid builds up, symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate or irregular heart rhythm, and mental status changes can occur."  I do enough strenuous exercise at work that I probably shouldn't have much lactic acid in my diet.  
          I next found an abstract of a study of how well Kombucha reduces cholesterol and increases anti-oxidant activity in mice.  They found that it did both, which fits with it having statins in its mix. 
            Lactic acid is produced in the muscles when they get low on oxygen.  They then have to use an anaerobic process to turn glucose to ATP, which your cells actually use for energy.   I just read an article in Science News, For athletes, antioxidant pills may not help performance.”   It turns out that oxidative stress is needed to build endurance and muscle strength.  Anti-oxidants in foods like blueberries and black currant juice seems to be helpful, but not the excessive amount found in pills.  But eating a lot of either every day is probably too much, just like drinking Kombucha all day, however diluted, is not good for me.  My arms aren’t sore now.  I probably shouldn’t drink it at all.