Kombucha is a nonalcoholic fermented tea originally from Northeast China or Manchuria. From there it spread to Russia and beyond. I used to drink it purely for health, not pleasure; it suits my digestion and cures my gloom. But to my surprise, our children like it—Rose, at one and a half, called it her “cocktail”—and I like it too. Home- brewed kombucha is cheaper than store-bought and typically less fizzy. Alas my brewing habits are modest. My chef friend Emily Duff, however, has a fridge brimming with living drinks, so I asked her to write recipes for kombucha, kefir, and other grown- up soft drinks made with real flavors and real sugar.
To make the first batch, you’ll need a little store-bought kombucha and a SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. The SCOBY, which also kick-starts fermented foods such as ginger beer and sourdough bread, is best found on the real food underground. A moist, mushroom-like living colony resembling a pancake, it devours the caffeine in the tea and the sugar, creating the good things in kombucha: B vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidant glucaronic acid. In Chinese, it’s called kouba, or “yeast mother.” The mother will make a few batches of kombucha, yielding a “baby” each time, until it wears out.
To start your first batch, ask a friend for a fresh baby—and then give your own babies away. (The fermented food world is keen on these timeless household transfers.) You’ll need a one-gallon glass jar or a large glass bowl and smaller glass soda bottles with tight lids.
3 qts water
1 c organic whole cane sugar
4 black or green organic tea bags
8 oz raw organic kombucha
1. Boil the water.
2. Add the sugar and dissolve for about 5 minutes.
3. Add the tea bags, turn off the flame, and cover. Let it cool.
4. When the liquid is at room temperature, remove the tea bags and transfer it to a 1-gallon glass jar or bowl.
5. Add the kombucha to the cool sweetened tea.
6. Place the SCOBY on top of the tea. Crisscross the lid with masking tape and date it. Cover it with a tea towel and move it somewhere neither hot nor cold.
Makes 21/2 quarts