One of the many things brewing in my living kitchen is kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that has been around for thousands of years. It consists of a mother, or scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), and green or black tea with sugar. The culture eats the sugar and produces many healing compounds including, amino acids, B vitamins, glucuronic acid, and gluconic acid. Regular consumption boosts the immune system, aids digestion, supports the liver and has been said to help in the healing of numerous afflictions from cancer to arthritis. I grew my own scoby from a bottle of GT Dave's Raw Kombucha, but at the moment there is a nation wide scarcity due to some labeling issues. That makes me even more glad that I have a scoby and brew my own at home. You can't buy it at the store right now. If you have a friend that brews kombucha you can get a scoby from them, as a new scoby is produced with each new brewing cycle. Otherwise there are several places on-line that sell and ship scobys.
Here's my scoby. Your scoby will grow to the size and shape of your container. I use a 1 gallon glass jar. A brand new scoby will be creamy white. This one just finished brewing a batch of kombucha and is colored by the tea it was floating in, so it looks a little darker than a brand new scoby. The scoby you're using to start your brew is affectionately called the 'mother'. The new scoby that forms on top of your brew is the 'baby'. Once you have a baby, you can put it in it's own brew where it is now the mother, and a new baby will form. Or you can give it to a friend who wasn't lucky enough to get in on the GT Dave's before it was pulled from the shelves. Always keep your scoby in some kombucha tea. If you order one it will arrive swimming in some tea. I only put it on the plate for the picture so you could see it clearly.
Here's some tea. I brew a very strong pot, and then add water go get it to a gallon. This is about two quarts of water and 6 tea bags. For 1 gallon of tea I use about 1.5 C of plain white sugar. Do not use honey, as it can kill your scoby. I find I get the best taste with white sugar, but I've made it with Sucanat before and it turned out just fine. It was just a lot stronger tasting. I steep my tea bags for about 1/2 an hour, then add my sugar, stir to dissolve, and cover with a lid to cool to room temperature.
Here's my sweet tea, ready for the culture. It's next to a 1/2 gallon jar of finished kombucha. You can see how much lighter the finished product is. This is because the culture eats the tea as it ferments. In this picture I'm only making 1/2 a gallon of kombucha. I'm using a small scoby and don't want it to have too much tea to convert. For the next batch I'll use this scoby and the new 'baby' scoby together and brew a full gallon.
Once the tea was ready I added about 2 cups of already brewed kombucha. This brings the pH of the tea down to optimal brewing levels and discourages the growth of mold. If you ordered a scoby or got one from a friend it should have come with some kombucha tea. You'll use this as your starter, so put it in with the scoby. Sometimes your scoby will float, sometimes it will sink, and sometimes it will float a little sideways like this one is doing. All of these things are fine and will not affect the outcome. The new baby will always form on the top. Cover your jar with a thin cloth. Cheese cloth is too poreus. I use a flour sack kitchen cloth. You want to keep bugs and dusties out of your kombucha, but it is a living thing and needs to breathe.
We keep our house pretty cool, even in the summer (I'm a weenie when it comes to heat) so I typically brew for about 2 weeks. When it's finihsed you'll have a nice new scoby on top of tea. It will taste tart and a little effervescent. You can slip a straw down the side of the jar into the tea, place a finger over the top of the straw to trap the liquid, and bring it up to taste. If it still tastes very sweet, it's not done culturing so leave it for a few more days and taste again. Once you have a good sweet/tart balance, it's time to bottle it. I strain it into glass canning jars. Be sure to leave a few cups of tea to use as starter for your next batch. I also do a second fermentation in the glass jar with the lid on at room temp for anohter 2-3 days. This helps build more carbonation. Then I pop it into the fridge and enjoy!