The DIY renaissance began with home cooks preserving and pickling. Fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut quickly followed. Naturally, bottled home brews found a fast following too. Emma Christensen caught the DIY bug when friends gave her and her husband a gift certificate to a local home brewing store as a wedding gift. That kicked off Christensen’s passion for brewing beer at home. And in her first book, True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home, the recipe editor for the popular cooking website The Kitchn shares her ongoing obsession with crafting all kinds of fermented beverages.
“That first batch of beer we brewed was pretty awful,” Christensen confesses. “But there was something about that almost-magical process of creating beer out of just a few ingredients that I completely fell in love with. If anything, the awfulness of that first batch just made me even more determined to get it right.”
More than 50 refreshing ideas fill the book, but Christensen is particularly fond of kombucha, which she describes as tasting like tart green apples mixed with sour stone fruits and an underlying sweetness that binds the beverage altogether. The fermentation process produces a fun fizz, too, plus a negligible amount of alcohol that won’t get you tipsy. And, of course, the process of fermentation serves to preserve seasonal ingredients for future enjoyment and nourishment. Christensen brews a fresh batch weekly, and her book includes recipes for thirst-quenching seasonal drops such as White-Tea Pomegranate Kombucha, Honey-Green Tea Kombucha, and Blackberry-Sage Kombucha.
A basic kombucha recipe calls for loose-leaf tea or tea bags (black, white, and green, are all options), sugar, some starter tea from a previous kombucha batch or store-bought brand, and the all-important culture or SCOBY, which can be acquired from a kombucha-brewing buddy, purchased online, or even homemade. True Brews includes a recipe for SCOBY, an acronym that stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”
SCOBY plays a similar role as the starter needed for sourdough bread. The SCOBY’s job is to gobble up most of the sugar in kombucha tea, transforming it into a bubbly, slightly sour drop. Be warned: SCOBY can seem a little weird at first sight. Slightly spongy and rubbery, this substance looks a bit like a floating mushroom or jellyfish. That’s all good.
Experimenting with add-ons like herbs, spices, fruit, juice, or honey is encouraged. Kombucha ferments at room temperature in around 7 to 10 days and refrigeration stops the carbonation process. The slightly effervescent elixir should be enjoyed within 30 days. With practice, bottling a finished batch of kombucha and preparing the next one only takes about 20 minutes or so, says the author. And there’s no need to buy fancy gear: A stockpot and glass jars suffice.
Some people swear by kombucha for its purported health benefits: Kombucha contains probiotics, the kind found in other fermented foods like yogurt, which are thought to promote good gut health and aid with digestion. Conclusive scientific evidence to support such claims isn’t available yet, notes the author, though it makes sense that exposure to diverse microbial organisms is good for overall wellbeing. But health benefits are not the only reason to sip this drink, says Christensen, who also makes her own yogurt and sourdough bread. “It’s the tangy taste that has me going back for more.”