| Amber Wakley
“Welcome to my kitchen,” Crystal Morawitz says with a wide smile as she looks up from a boiling pot on her stove. “I’m making kombucha!”
Hailing from Alaska and now living in the hills of Stafford Springs, both she and her partner [in crime], Rob Miltimore, are what you could consider to be modern day homesteaders. With a brood of backyard chickens, a budding garden, and hobbies that include preserving food and craftwork, they both strive for a self-sufficient lifestyle. They make what they can and buy locally what they can’t.
Brewing and sharing the process of kombucha is one of their favorite amusements. Pronounced kawm-boo-chah, the health-enhancing tea tonic is slightly effervescent, subtly sweet and tart in flavor with a slight vinegar aftertaste. Considered a “functional food,” the beverage is made of [most commonly] black tea and sugar. The sweetened tea is then fermented with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which turns the tea to a probiotic beverage. Known as an ancient Chinese “Immortal Health Elixir,” the fermented drink is centuries old, but is just now receiving its 15-minutes as a super-juice in the functional beverage industry. It’s filled with healthy organic acids, living probiotics and beneficial enzymes. Good for your gut, kombucha is known to aid digestion, detoxify, energize, balance and boost immunity – among other functions.
“You start by making a giant batch of tea – I begin with three quarts of water. I’m using four bags of organic black tea and three bags of organic herbal blueberry; whatever you use, seven bags total,” says Crystal while stirring her pot. “You can use any flavor you want, some use green teas and everyone has their preference. There are a lot of variations, but this is the way I know.”
Crystal lets the tea simmer in a large pot for about five minutes, slowly stirring sugar into the rolling boil. Once dissolved, she removes the tea and lets it cool COMPLETELY to room temperature. She then removes the bags, strains any loose leaves and pours the mixture into a large glass jar over the SCOBY and starter liquid before covering it with a breathable lid (you don’t want something tight). Crystal and Rob use a coffee filter with a hair tie around it, but a secured piece of cheesecloth would work as well.
“SCOBY is a living yeast, it’s kind of creepy, but kind of awesome,” laughs Crystal as she points to the gelatinous looking pancake. “When I first started doing this I didn’t want to touch it because it’s so bizarre. After every batch it makes another one of itself, it’s constantly reproducing, feeding off the tea and the sugar.”
Once mixed, let your kombucha sit undisturbed (many how-to websites suggest between 70-80 degrees) and out of direct sunlight. The beauty about kombucha is that it does everything by itself. It should sit for AT LEAST two weeks on the counter; you want to be able to smell a bit of vinegar out of the top. Crystal and Rob say they typically let it sit for about three or four weeks, this is the first ferment. After this first ferment remove the SCOBY (retain the SCOBY and enough liquid from the bottom of the jar to use as starter tea for the next batch), now you can add fruit juice, ginger, turmeric, fresh or frozen fruit – whatever you like – right into the tea. Crystal and Rob use a variety of produce including mangos, raspberries, strawberries, lemons and blueberries. After, they let it sit for another two weeks.
When the second ferment is complete, strain out the fruit. It’s now time to bottle the kombucha, using containers with a tight seal – Crystal suggests grolsch bottles. It’s now time to refrigerate the kombucha; remember, the longer it sits, the more carbonated it can become.
Rob suggests giving a kombucha a small taste test, versus drinking an entire glass. Some stomachs are more sensitive than others and since it is a yeast product with active cultures, the recommendation is to begin with just a small amount.
Crystal and Rob both stress the importance of sanitization and a sterile environment to avoid contamination. If at any point mold is noticed, throw the entire batch away. It’s recommended that you do some research to fully understand the process and potential benefits.
If you would like to learn more about the process of kombucha and try some of Rob and Crystal’s homebrew, visit them at the Stafford Community Farmers’ Market at Hertiage Park (3 Stafford Street) on Saturday, August 19 from 9am-1pm. Here, they’ll be conducting “Intro to Kombucha” and sharing their passion for brewing – their favorite part of the process! For more info visit staffordcommunityfarmersmarket.com