As I type this I’m in Goa, and I’m sipping on a delicious, tart, tangy glass of something that tastes a little like apple cider vinegar, a little like sweet tea, a little like homemade ginger beer, and is helping soothe my tender stomach, still protesting too many bombil fry's from the night before.
What it is
Kombucha. Oddly enough, I've known about it for decades, but this is the first time I'm trying the stuff, and it is much, much nicer than I imagined it would be. Dare I even say, delicious? If you’re unfamiliar, kombucha is a fermented tea that is, as a result of all that fermentation, filled with probiotics and amino acids that are super for helping your liver do all that it needs to do. Good quality kombucha helps your digestion and gives your immune system a little kick, which is why many brands are jumping on the bandwagon and bottling the stuff. That is also why many choose to make their own.
Where to find it
You can determine your own level of involvement really; there’s something wonderful about brewing your own, and tending to your own scoby (more on this later), as well as letting your tea ferment to your own exact sweet spot. But there’s no shame in just procuring the stuff from those who’ve perfected the art, and there are many who have.
How it’s made
From a “scoby,” a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, which is essentially a fairly gross looking, rubbery and raft-like mushroom which is also the living home for the bacteria and yeasts that transform regular sweet tea into fizzy, tart kombucha. Aside from being the source of the yeast and good bacteria, the scoby also seals off the fermenting kombucha and protects it from the air and other less-desirable bacteria while it's fermenting.
Where you can get a scoby
A naturally occurring part of the brewing process, scoby’s constantly renew themselves. This means that every time you brew a fresh batch of kombucha, you’ll also grow a new layer of scoby, which you can then pass on to someone else. If you ask around, or look online you’ll find people in your area that can give you one. I haven't taken the leap as yet, but I think a post on Facebook will likely yield someone on your timeline who will be more than willing to pass one on.
What happens next?
In addition to your scoby, you'll need to procure a large glass jar (those ones used to make achaar will do nicely) and a few other bits, but once you're all stocked up, it's really a question to playing around until you find your way. The longer you leave it to ferment, the more naturally sour your kombucha will be. I like the tanginess, so I’ve discovered that I'm partial to ones that’re quite effervescent, and have gone almost vinegary, but you can tinker to suit your own tastes. As a rule, the higher the temperature where your tea is fermenting, the greater the sharpness, and the lower the temperature, the possibility of lactic acid production is higher, which means a less sharp tea. The quality of the water (hardness, softness, mineral content, etc) will also impact taste, so you might have to play around for a couple of batches.
A couple of guidelines
Light damages those probiotics, so if bottling your own, always use dark bottles. Plus never ferment in stainless steel or plastic because the fermentation process degrades these materials, and will cause them to leach into the kombucha. Also, use your head: bubbles, jelly-like masses, and speckly brown residue is okay, but spots of black or green mould are (obviously) not. A vinegary smell, similarly, is okay. A rancid, off-putting stench is (again, obviously) not.