The culture forms a leathery skin called the "mother" that floats on top.
This week's Instructables TV episode shows how to wrangle the jellyfish-like "Mother" and make Kombucha 5 gallons at a time. This method produces a fizzy carbonated kombucha that tastes very much like hard apple cider.
For background on this bizarre beverage, read Arwen's Making Kombucha Instructable and the Wikipedia Kombucha article. Some confusion arises from the existence of a Japanese kelp tea also called "kombucha".
Back to the blob:
For me it all started when my friend Anne Harley went to Russia, made herself fluent in the language, joined a band of gypsy musicians, and went on tour with them.
Did you know Russian Gypsies have a caste system that dates back to their origins in India?
That was news to me. So was the fact that Kombucha exists. Anne brought a very fine Kombucha culture back with her and taught me how to make it.
Since then I've made hundreds of gallons of Kombucha for my friends and myself. I've done a great deal of experimentation and had some serious mishaps. I've killed the culture several times, coaxed it back when it got out of balance, and had a couple of explosions that splattered kombucha far and wide and could have seriously injured someone.
Between the mistakes, mishaps and disasters, actual Russians and new-age fruitcakes have tasted my Kombucha and told me it's the best they've ever had. I work with my culture until I get it tasting like apple cider. So much so that you'll try to figure out what varieties of apples it's from. But there's really nothing in it but tea, sugar, and a festering mass of microbes.
We'll be going step-by step through the process later, but for reference, here is how to make the sweet tea to be fermented.
6 tsp tea
6 cups h2o = 1.5 quarts
1 cup sugar
same recipe for 4 gallons
64 tsp tea = 1.3 cups
4 gallons h2o = 64 cups
10.66 cups sugar
same recipe for 5 gallons
Just under 5lbs sugar
5 gallons water
1.5 cups dry tea
Here is part 1 of the Kombucha making video - tea brewing and mixing in the mother
And here is part 2 of the video - fermentation and bottling
You can download the .m4v ipod formatted videos from blip.tv
Kombucha Part 1
Kombucha Part 2
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Step 1: Get a Pound of Tea Leaves
Buy your tea in Chinatown or an Indian grocery store. I pay between a dollar and four dollars for a pound of tea, which will make two or more 5 gallon batches. I've bought many a 6lb bag of tea, which is very satisfying, walking out with a couple of suitcase-sized bags of tea.
Assam tea, Mamri, or Green tea such as "Special Gunpowder" are safe choices.
"Pu Er" tea smells pretty bad at first but makes good kombucha. (The name Pu Er is actually English, get it? "Poo Air" :) )
Don't risk your whole culture with saffron tea, but it can turn out ok.
Early in the fermentation process you'll be able to clearly taste what type of tea it is, but when the fermentation is more advanced the apple flavors of kombucha will dominate and the flavor of the tea leaf recedes.
Don't use teabags. You'll be shucking them for hours, dealing with lots of teabags and unsure of how strong your tea really is. You'll also not know for sure what's in the teabag, maybe something as bad as Earl Grey.
Here's my giant teabag, which I made from a piece of cotton bed sheet.
Types of Tea that have worked for me:
Green (very slow unless you use some brown sugar)
Coffee (eventually it barely tastes like coffee)
Synthetic Fruit Punch
Star likes herbal teas, and has successfully tried:
Peppermint (mother was depressed for a long time, but eventually rallied)