Kombucha. Comb-boo-cha. Ever heard of it? It's the hippie, new age, magical "elixir of life". It's actually just fermented sweet tea, but I prefer "elixir of life", don't you? I'd heard about kombucha maybe a year or two ago and had seen bottled versions for sale at the co-op and eventually at the grocery store. After figuring out what it was, exactly, I bought a bottle of the stuff and gave it a try. Fizzy, light, pleasant. Like a weird little soda.
Then we all started food swapping and everyone brought freaky awesome things like tomato jam and homemade flax crackers and kombucha. I tried a sip of homemade kombucha brew and was hooked. Luckily for me the starter culture needed for brewing kombucha, a SCOBY, is readily available if you have kombucha-brewing friends because every time you brew a batch, you grow another SCOBY. By the way, SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. Mmmm, delicious. Except, it's really weird-looking. When I brought it home, Chris asked me if it was a "pig's ear floating in formaldehyde". It is not.
So, we've got this fermented sweet tea beverage that some people claim can save the world and others aren't so sure about. I think it's tasty, and I haven't felt any negative effects from it and I only have a glass or two a week. Sometimes I put a splash in my smoothies. Read up. Make your own decision about it and then you can decide whether you'd like to homebrew some yourself or buy it at the store. Be forewarned, a regular storebought kombucha habit will get expensive, real quick.
There are plenty of tutorials out there for brewing your own kombucha, this one from Bonzai Aphrodite looks pretty good and so does this one from Apartment Therapy's Re-Nest. I used directions that a friend got from another homebrewer and it turned out magnicently. The basic idea is that you brew a whole bunch of sweet black tea, you add the SCOBY and then you let it ferment awhile. An additional delicious step is to do a second fermentation with fruit juice, like pomegranate juice. That is what I did and what I plan to keep doing because it makes it a fizzy, fruity little drink. From start to finish, my brew took about 3 weeks: 16 days for the first fermentation and another 5 days for the second fruit fermentation. I did notice that the bottles I opened later were even fizzier and more awesome, so next time I'll probably try and wait another week. The longer you let it ferment, the more vinegary your kombucha will be, but mine wasn't vinegary at all after that amount of time.
It's a unique taste, but you'll grow to love it.
It is technically a tiny bit boozy, because of the fermentation, but I've never heard of anyone drinking it for a buzz. Or being successful at getting buzzed from it even if they tried.
There are usually little particles floating around, but that's ok. You remove the actual SCOBY after fermentation so don't worry about that.
The SCOBY is super gross looking. Just deal with it.
SCOBYs are living things so you have to keep it alive; that means keeping it in starter tea (which is really just kombucha itself), keeping it in glass and away from plastic and keeping it in the fridge.
The "starter tea" that you keep your SCOBY in smells nasty and vinegary. Try not to spill it all over your kitchen floor, swearing and throwing things in the sink will surely follow.
Once you get your hands on a SCOBY, you can continuously make new batches of kombucha. After you are done brewing, there will be a new SCOBY (the "baby") attached to the original one (the "mother"). You can carefully separate these slimy things, keep them in a bit of your kombucha and then use one of them again for you next batch. Each SOBY only has 4-5 batches in it, but by that point you'll have saved new ones to used so you'll be fine. You can also let your SCOBY grow into a super SCOBY by leaving the "baby" attached to the "mother". (This is so weird, right?) That's what I did the first time, but I'll separate the new "baby" next time and try to pawn it off on someone.
Super weird, right? Your first step ought to be buying a bottle of it at the store to make sure it settles with you and that you like the flavor. I find my brew to be more delicious than store-bought though, but you'll at least get a basic idea. Give it a shot, try it with a fruit juice second fermentation and email me if you want more specific directions :) I like to have a small glass of it a few times a week and pretend that it is superhero juice.