Fermenting for Fun and Flavor
Leslie Sullivan gets the kombucha she wants and saves money, too
By Kathy Ursprung
It’s hard to find a brew pub or sandwich shop that doesn’t offer at least one flavor of kombucha on tap. Grocery stores have refrigerated sections of the beverage.
But long before kombucha was the latest trend, fans of this bubbly, fermented tea brewed it at home.
Leslie Sullivan makes a batch almost every week and drinks it daily. She makes it to suit her taste for a less sweet, more acidic version of the drink.
“Making it is as simple as making sweet tea, then floating really disgusting, floppy goo on top, and letting it sit and ferment,” Leslie says.
The goo is a SCOBY—a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast—and is the secret to the fermenting process.
The origins of kombucha are uncertain. One story places it as far back as China’s Qin Dynasty in 221 B.C.
Leslie learned about kombucha six or seven years ago from her sister-in-law, who also brews it. Back then, Leslie had a soda habit of two or three cans a day.
“I loved the carbonation and the caffeine,” she says.
That quickly changed.
“I tried kombucha and I loved it,” she adds.
Leslie traded in her soda for kombucha and its reputed health benefits. She has not had soda in about seven years.
“I can’t stand it,” she says.
As a teacher, Leslie is regularly exposed to colds and childhood illnesses.
“I can honestly say, in seven years I really haven’t been sick,” she says. “I love the fact that there’s crazy amounts of probiotics in kombucha.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, probiotics are good bacteria that are either the same as or similar to the bacteria already in your digestive tract, which is believed to play a significant role in your overall health and immune system. Probiotics can help improve the bacterial balance in your digestive tract if
it gets out of balance through poor diet, prescription drugs or other factors.
While the basic process of brewing kombucha is simple, “You will mess it up,” Leslie promises.
Despite following all the instructions provided by her sister-in-law and in a book she recommended, Leslie had a batch explode all over her pantry during its second fermentation stage. She partially filled the bottles with raw kombucha and filled the remainder with organic juice. She tried a juice with greens, which had too high of a sugar content, causing the explosion.
She has since learned to do the second ferment in a cooler to avoid calamity in the rare event a batch pops its tops.
Kombucha gets mixed reviews in the Sullivan household.
“My oldest likes to drink kombucha,” Leslie says. “My youngest doesn’t like anything fizzy. My husband says it’s not sweet enough for him.”
Leslie makes her kombucha in gallon batches, which produces about eight bottles of the finished product. It takes anywhere from a week to a week
and a half to complete a batch. At any given time, she has a batch downstairs undergoing the second ferment, one on the counter in first ferment and some in the refrigerator.
Every once in a while, she will buy commercially prepared kombucha.
“There are two brands in the store that I can do,” she says. “But I don’t like them near as much as what I make—and they’re so expensive!”
At home, Leslie can make the beverage according to her specifications using her preferred fruits and vegetables.
“Three or four years ago, I started doing less juice and started putting fruits and vegetables in them,” she says. “The one in there right now has strawberries and a bit of lemon juice, like strawberry lemonade. My favorite thing is blackberries and chunks of ginger.”
She also uses citrus zest—orange, lemon or lime—removed with a vegetable peeler.
Leslie tends to eat the fruit from the bottles, and filters out things such as ginger before drinking. She also usually filters the drink after its first ferment
to remove the strands that tend to float down into the beverage from the SCOBY. Although drinkable, they can put some people off. The second ferment gives the drink the effervescence Leslie loves.
After the initial investment for a SCOBY, fermenting jar, funnels and bottles, the only costs for producing kombucha are teabags, sugar, and fruit or
juice. Leslie usually uses standard black tea, but green or white tea can be used.
“There are so many people who make it now, you can generally find someone who has a SCOBY baby,” Leslie says.
Leslie Sullivan recommends “The Big Book of Kombucha: Brewing, Fermenting and Enjoying the Health Benefits of Fermented Tea,” by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory.