Kombucha, Baby!

Boulder, Colorado has a reputation of being a crunchy, granola sort of place. But even when I lived there, I never made my own yogurt or kimchi or kombucha. Why would I? There was a Whole Foods supermarket within walking distance, with shelves stocked with organic goodies, and still I had a paycheck to buy them. The weekend Farmers’ Market was amazing. And I could buy kombucha by the case at Costco.

Things are different now in cruising life. Grocery stores are few and far between, and unless you’re content with the basics, like rice and flour and dried beans and sugar, you’ll pay through the nose for imported goodies. So when my friend Cheryl on SV Leef Nu offered me a kombucha scoby, or mother, I said yes. And worried about the details later.

And there certainly were some details to work through. I knew the basics about kombucha: that it is naturally fermented tea, that it contains healthful probiotics, and that is makes for a flavorful, low calorie beverage. But I had no idea how to make it or store it! Cheryl sent me some info from a class she took. And I found a very detailed recipe and process captured on TheKitchn. But my biggest barrier to entry was the fact that I don’t own a container at least a gallon or larger in which to ferment the tea. So after several days of growing increasingly guilty that my kombucha mother was just sitting in a grocery bag under the nav table, I went on the hunt. Luckily, we were in Rock Sound, Eleuthera at the time, and there were several stores available within walking distance. Over a 48-hour period, I pretty much visited every one of them: both grocery stores, the school supply store, the hardware store, and one sort of everything store that contained a few home goods. There, I handed over $30 for a bright orange, insulated, 2-gallon jug. It’s the kind that you see used for drinking water at construction sites. I walked the mile and a half back to the dinghy dock with a backpack full of groceries, a bottle of rum, and a massive orange jug. I got pretty good at the wave to all the passing cars on my way back. I guess I didn’t look pathetic enough for any of them to offer me a ride.

Once back on Sanitas, I pulled out the biggest cooking pot we own (previously only used for making popcorn) and brought 3.5 liters of water to a boil. Once boiling, I added 8 black tea bags, and 1 cup of sugar and turned off the burner, leaving the whole thing on the stove the rest of the day to steep and cool. (The recipe says you can speed up the cooling process by sitting the pan in an ice bath. Yeah right. The author sure doesn’t live on a sailboat) When the mixture was more or less cool, I filled up the big orange jug. Then took the brown, gelatinous scoby out of its ziplock bag for the first time, complete with its vinegar smell and several brown stringy things and slid it in on top of the strong sweet tea. I screwed the lid on tight, then unscrewed it about a half-turn to let some air in, so the poor little scoby could breathe. Then I shoved it under the salon table for about a week or so, and hoped for the best.

Ten days later, the scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) had fermented away the sugar, leaving a tart and tangy brew. I filled three plastic soda bottles and added mint to one, basil to the second, and left the third plain. Time to get that big old pot out again and make a new batch. Gotta keep the kombucha mother happy by giving her more sugar! After a few days of secondary fermentation in the bottles, I moved them into the refrigerator and started drinking the kombucha as a welcome change from plain water or chemical tasting drink mixes. Success!

I’m now on my third batch, tweaking the proportions a bit this time to try to make four liters at a time instead of three. And my kombucha scoby has grown so much that I had the opportunity to split it, and to share the scope and recipe with another cruiser. I’ve gotta say I’m pretty impressed with myself! Now Capt. Mike and I just need to keep on top of it, drinking enough of the finished kombucha that I can have empty soda bottles ready to fill each time a new batch is done.

(PS: in the past two weeks, I have also made homemade hummus, and almond flour blueberry scones. Who is this person?)

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