Perhaps because of the time we spent in the south of Bali where 'superfoods' are readily available pretty much everywhere, we have grown incredibly fond of one of the most unique beverages we've ever tasted: Kombucha. Served in gorgeous Bordeaux glasses with a few cubes of ice, Kombucha is the perfect drink for those times where you want to taste something that reminds you of prosecco but that's mostly alcohol-free, a tiny bit tangy, and kind of funny in your mouth.
If you've never had it, there's no way to describe it. But considering the growing body of alleged benefits turning Kombucha into something of a superdrink, we thought we'd explore this fermented product from the lens of Ayurveda a share a few home-brewing tips!
The Hipster Version of Tea
In a way, Kombucha can be defined as 'the hipster version of tea.' A fermented product that dates thousands of years of age already, Kombucha is technically speaking a culture: the result of the symbiotic interaction of acetic bacteria and yeasts (tea fungus or Scooby) to turn a batch of sweetened green or black tea into an entirely different sizzling drink.
In the world of the esoteric sciences Kombucha is frequently consumed, which partly explains the recent hype around this drink. In less than a decade, this 'tea' has acquired all kinds of 'superfood' connotations. It supposedly aids with digestion, cures swelling of the joints, prevents ageing, lowers diabetes, reduces heart disease risk, or even protects against cancer... Indeed, there is some evidence to support its overall tonic power but more backing is needed to speak of it as 'cure-all' type of drink.
Interestingly, however, from point of view of Ayurveda, Kombucha must be considered (and therefore consumed) as one would any other type of vinegar. As an acidic food product, it is able to prevent fat deposition and improve the overall function of our metabolism (boosting our Agni), which attests to its digestive tonic properties and its ability to perhaps reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, or even slow down the ageing process. But it is an acidic product, which basically means that it must be consumed in small doses, preferably diluted with water, and always using a straw ––highly acidic products can damage the enamel in our teeth! Furthermore, as a tonic for our digestive fire, Ayurvedic Pitta Types must be particularly careful when consuming this drink. We don't want to carelessly add more fire to the fire, right?!
Regardless, Kombucha doe have notable antibacterial properties which means it can help curtail the overpopulation of 'bad bacteria' in our gut (our beloved microbiome); is rich in vitamins of the B kind (which are essential to brain function and energy production), glucuronic acid (which helps excrete toxins from the body, thus keeping us 'young'), polyphenols (which have an antioxidant function) and probiotics (the kind of stuff you want to consume more off). So, not at all a bad product to start introducing into our diet. But all of this is only true of those Kombucha brews that are made at home.
Indeed, commercial forms of Kombucha must undergo pasteurisation in order to render the final product 'safe' for general consumption, which necessarily kills most probiotic bacteria ––aka, it loses its supposed digestive, rejuvenating and overall 'miraculous' properties. Additionally, commercial Kombucha is normally enhanced with a variety of 'extra products' that include (unrefined) forms of sugar for that little extra sweetness that basically counters its alleged diabetes prevention role.
Brewing Kombucha at Home
The best way to consume Kombucha, then, is to start brewing it at home; and this is precisely what we've been doing for the past three months. For that, all you must get a hold of includes:
-– A Scooby (the 'tea fungus' or 'Kombucha' proper).
-– Some organic green or black tea.
–– Water (1.5 ltrs per batch).
–– Organic brown sugar to feed the Kombucha during the fermentation process (60-80 grs per litre).
–– Whatever fruits and spices (preferably organic) you wish your Kombucha to use as flavour once the first fermentation round is over.
–– Two or three mason jars.
Getting a hold of a Scooby is probably the most 'complicated' part of the whole process. But since most Kombucha go through a process duplication during the first fermentation round, it's really truly not that hard. Anyone who may already be brewing Kombucha at home will be able to give you a Scooby after almost every new batch they brew. But even if nobody in your circle of friends is brewing Kombucha as yet, there are a few companies out there shipping you perfectly safe and healthy Scoobies at a reasonable cost.
Phase I: Brewing
Once you have all the necessary 'equipment,' the Kombucha is placed in a container (mason jar 1) filled with 1.5 litres of room-temperature, green or black tea to which we would have previously added 120-160 grs of sugar. The jar is left open for proper ventilation and placed on a dry spot for approximately two weeks. You can place a thin layer of cotton muslin over it or else a paper towel to prevent dust from falling into it.
After the 10th day, our Kombucha will be ready for tasting. This means that we can begin to taste our beverage daily for the next four days until we find the right 'bite' or the right combination of acidity and sweetness. Once we feel our Kombucha is 'ripe,' we transfer the Scooby (which by now will probably have doubled) into a new recipient (mason jar 2) with another batch of room-temperature, sweetened tea to start the process of brewing all over again.
The one thing to remember at this point, though, is that we must make sure to add some of the liquid that has been fermenting with our first Scooby over the past two weeks as a starter, to help speed up the brewing process. That and to make sure to hold our Scoobies with bare, clean hands. The remainder of the liquid ––our fermented Kombucha proper–– is now ready for phase II.
Phase II: Flavor
In a new mason jar (jar number 3), we add whatever fruits and spices we want to use as flavor for our drink. So far, we've experimented with apple, cinnamon and figs; blueberries, grape, and mint; and ginger, lime and mint. All of them were absolutely delicious, but you can literally add any fruits and spices you wish. The fermented Kombucha is then poured over our fruit/spice mixture and left for an extra round of fermentation for two days. After this, the kombucha must be filtered and bottled, and placed inside the fridge for a full day. We do this to stop the process of fermentation, as a sort of home-made micro-pausterization, so our Kombucha is fully safe to drink.
The key to the whole process, then, is to use glass containers to prepare and store it and to touch our Kombucha/s only with clean hands. We want to avoid transferring any kind of 'unfriendly bacteria' or using metallic containers of different alloys, because these could damage the fermentation process.
Phase III: Enjoy!
After 24 hrs in the fridge, our effervescent home-made Kombucha elixir is ready to drink and as long as we keep it refrigerated, we'll be able to enjoy it for up to a full week. From our own experience, drinking small doses is advisable at all times. Depending on the actual fermentation, Kombucha can have a pretty strong effect on our digestive system, so think 'shot size' when you calculate how much to drink; and as a general rule of thumb, this being a Pitta activating kind of drink, take it easy and consume it wisely if you're prone to Pitta imbalances, particularly during the hottest months of the year.