I remember the first time I ever tried kombucha. I was doing a photography apprenticeship with one of the coolest people I have ever met–a miss Lisa Warninger. I would go over to her place to do photo editing or whatever she had for me that day, and then we’d walk over to a nearby health food store for lunch. One day, she introduced me to kombucha. She told me that she liked weird tasting things and that I should try it, too. I seriously had no idea what it was, but the label promised that it was healthy, so I bought one.
I couldn’t even finish the bottle.
It was definitely weird. It was definitely sour. I didn’t like it.
Then, a couple years ago I was making a lot of changes to my diet and trying to become a more “traditional” eater. I had started buying raw milk and doing all kinds of weird science experiments with it in my kitchen (clabbering it, making sour cream, cultured butter, etc), and in general getting more comfortable with the idea of eating strange things. So, one day when I came across a citrus flavored kombucha at the store, I thought, why not?
It was so amazing.
Delicious. Wonderful. I definitely loved it.
I’m not sure what made my taste buds change so drastically. Maybe it was because I was eating a healthier diet. Maybe because I was eating a lot less sugar and no processed foods. Granted, this was a flavored kombucha, not plain, but still, I shouldn’t have liked it that much. I bought another bottle. Then another. I tried different flavors–they were all good. My little boy shared in the enjoyment with me and I smiled knowing he was getting some good probiotics into his body.
And then I discovered it was made with tea.
Yeah, I know, I was drinking something and didn’t even know what it was. The list of ingredients didn’t say “tea.” Instead, it said “GT kombucha,” and I didn’t know what kombucha was made out of. And then I found out–it was a fermented tea.
I was torn because here was such a nutritious beverage, but my religion has a health code that proscribes tea. Some people in my church think that is because of the caffeine content, and I had learned that the caffeine in the tea gets eaten by the kombucha microbes, so maybe it was okay? But no, I decided that for me, it was not okay. I later learned that tea contains tannins and oxalates and other stuff that isn’t good for the body, which makes me extra glad I decided not to drink it.
One day I was telling my friend Carrie about the kombucha, and she suggested making rooibos kombucha. I, of course, had no idea what rooibos was, so I looked it up. Rooibos (pronounced like the name “Roy” and the word “boss”) comes from a bush in Africa and means “red bush.” Rooibos tisane (herbal tea) has been consumed in Africa for a long time and has traditionally been used medicinally for colic, asthma, allergies and skin conditions. It can also aid digestion. It is rich in antioxidents, flavonoids and other good stuff, and has low tannin levels. (see wikipedia, “Rooibos”) “Research by Japanese scientists has shown Rooibos tea to have beneficial effects relating to constipation, liver function, blood sugar levels, skin diseases, depression and anxiety. This tea may also have other stomach and indigestion benefits, possibly relieving nausea, vomiting, and heartburn” (babybellies.ca). It is safe to consume during pregnancy.
I then looked up how to make rooibos kombucha and had a hard time finding information on it. I did find one article that suggested rotating between tea kombucha and rooibos kombucha in order to keep the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) healthy. In my experience, I have learned that it is indeed important for the SCOBY to feed off of tea in order to be healthy, but I didn’t want to be throwing away tons of tea kombucha in order to have my rooibos kombucha, so I’ve figured out a way that produces the least amount of waste.
The rooibos kombucha is different. It has a more earthy flavor, it’s a red-orange color, and unfortunately, it doesn’t fizz very much. But I believe it’s healthier. And it does taste good.
Step #1 – Grow some healthy SCOBYs
You’ll want more than one, so you can keep one in the tea kombucha to keep it going and grow babies out of, and one to brew your rooibos. If you don’t know how to brew kombucha, click here. SCOBYs reproduce themselves, which is the saving grace of making rooibos kombucha.
Step #2 – Brew some rooibos
You’ll want 4 Tbsp of loose rooibos leaves in 3 quarts of water. I usually only boil half the water, then add the rest of the water later, to help it cool faster. You will want to boil the rooibos leaves in the water for about 10 minutes.
Step #3 – Add some sugar
After the rooibos is brewed, you can add 1 cup of sugar right to the pot. I like to use organic, unrefined cane sugar (other unrefined sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup apparently slow the fermentation process–raw honey might actually ruin it–and they would also affect the flavor). The microbes will eat most of the sugar. Stir the sugar in until dissolved.
Step #4 – Jar it with a SCOBY
You will want to use a gallon size jar or a large glass bowl. It is important for the container to have a wide opening so that air can get in. Strain the sweetened rooibos tisane you made through a fine mesh strainer into your jar. You should be pouring in 3 qts of liquid here. Do not pour hot liquid onto a SCOBY unless you want to kill it. Make sure the tisane is no warmer than tepid. Place a SCOBY into the jar and cover the jar with a clean cloth or a coffee filter and secure with a string or rubber band (this keeps bugs out).
Step #5 – Brew your kombucha
Put the jar in a dark, warm place (such as the cupboard above the fridge or next to the oven, etc) and away from other open ferments such as kefir or sourdough starter. Brewing time depends on conditions such as temperature and the strength of your SCOBY, so you will want to check on it every once in a while. It can take anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks to brew.
Step #6 – Taste test and flavor brew
The easiest way to taste test your brewing kombucha is to stick a straw in it. Once it tastes slightly too sweet (according to your taste preferences), you can pour it into individual bottles and flavor it with juice or ginger. To do ginger, slice a fresh ginger root into little coins or chunks and put into a bottle. I use the equivalent of several nickel-sized pieces. To do grape, put in a small amount of grape juice concentrate (approx 2 Tbsp) into each 16 oz jar. Then cap the bottles and allow them to brew a couple more days or until they taste just right. You can skip the flavor brew, of course, and just bottle the kombucha when it tastes right to you.
Step #7 – Refrigerate (or not) and enjoy
When it’s ready, you can drink it straight away, or you can refrigerate to stop the fermentation. Sometimes I just leave it out until I drink it all, allowing some of it to get more sour. It’s up to you.
Step #8 – Keep your SCOBYs healthy
You will need to make a new batch of green tea kombucha to keep a supply of healthy SCOBYs going. The SCOBYs will multiply in the rooibos, but they are nasty, slimey things. Nothing to be scared of, but they are very thin and weak. So you have to also brew green tea kombucha. You can stick the used SCOBYs back into the green tea to rejuvenate them, but I prefer to just keep them in the rooibos batch, adding in a fresh SCOBY as needed, and discarding used SCOBYs as they become expired (they will look really gross).
If you enjoy drinking green tea kombucha (green is supposedly more favorable to SCOBYs than black or oolong), then super great for you, you can drink those batches. If you are generous, you can give them away. If you are like me and don’t want to drink tea but want to get the most out of it, you can let it brew until it turns to vinegar. This way the SCOBYs you are growing will get maximum nutrition out of the brew. You can use the vinegar for cleaning if you don’t want to throw it out. As a vinegar, you don’t have to refrigerate it.
Step #9 – Make more rooibos kombucha
When you finish a rooibos kombucha brew, be sure to save about a cup of the liquid to start the next batch. If you forget to do this, you can always steal some from your green tea brew. I keep a stash of green tea kombucha in the fridge for just such an emergency. Add a fresh SCOBY if you have one ready to use, or you can keep using the current one.
I find that I can make enough SCOBYs from my “SCOBY hotel” to supply the needs of two ongoing batches of rooibos kombucha, as long as I use the SCOBYs until they expire. They expire after about four brews.
This may seem like a complicated way to make kombucha, but if you want the health benefits of kombucha without the problems associated with tea, it’s worth it. Plus, I think it’s a really tasty way to get the benefits of rooibos as well, so it’s like a win-win-win for me.