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With everyone spending a lot of time at home these days, it’s quite possible you’ve spent those excess hours mastering the art of a sourdough starter or making enormous quantities of pickled cabbage. So in the interest of continuing to fuel your love for fermentation, why not attempt the fermentation process in the form of drinks? 

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That’s where Barbara Serulus and Elise van Iterson’s book “Fizz: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Natural, Non-Alcoholic Fermented Drinks” comes into play. Barbara, a Belgian food journalist and chef, and Elise, a Dutch chef and illustrator, have joined forces to peddle 30 easy-to-follow non-alcoholic drinks, replete with that natural sparkle and slightly yeasty taste. The book simplifies fermenting, transforming it into a skill that is easily replicable at home, complete with recipes for a refreshing water kefir and tart beet kvass (a fizzy, earthy drink made from a simple mix of beets, salt, and water). 

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Interested in testing it out yourself? Try Fizz’s recipe for kombucha, a drink that’s been around for some 2,000 years. Kombucha is merely a sweet tea that begins to ferment with the addition of bacteria and yeast—often referred to as a scoby—which transforms the sugar in the tea into CO2, organic acids, and vitamins. To brew it, all you’ll need is a few key ingredients, a big jar, and a bit of patience. Barbara and Elise encourage those who have done this a few times to experiment with different herbs, fruits, and teas. After all, we’ve all got plenty of time on our hands.

Excerpted from FIZZ by Barbara Serulus & Elise van Iterson Copyright © 2020 by Barbara Serulus & Elise van Iterson. Excerpted by permission of Laurence King Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Tips

  • Kombucha needs sugar to ferment. Don’t bother trying other sweeteners like honey or agave syrup for this kind of fermentation.
  • To brew kombucha you need real tea from the tea plant rather than herbal tea. Infusions like chamomile or linden blossom won’t work. Don’t use teas like Earl Grey that contain aromatic oils as these will damage the scoby.
  • If you don’t want to make a new batch immediately, just leave the scoby floating in the kombucha. It will survive like this for a few months until you’re ready to start up again.
  • If the scoby has sunk to the bottom and doesn’t rise back to the surface within a couple of hours, sadly this means your scoby has died. You’ll have to start again with a new scoby. On the other hand, if the scoby sinks to the bottom but a new layer forms on the surface, there’s nothing to worry about. Throw away the piece that has sunk and continue with your new scoby.
  • During each round of fermentation, a new, white layer forms on top of the original scoby. After a few rounds of brewing, peel off the older, darker layers and pass them on to someone else who wants to start their own kombucha brew, or chuck them on the compost heap.
  • Keep a close eye on the kombucha scoby: it mustn’t start to smell ‘off’ and should stay a creamy white colour. Sometimes dark strings of residue from the black tea start to grow on the underside, but these are nothing to worry about. If you think mold is starting to form, though, it’s safer to throw scoby and all away and start again.
  • If you’ve forgotten about your brew and it has become so sour that it’s undrinkable, use the batch as you would wine vinegar — for a vinaigrette or straight on a salad. Alternatively, mix it with fruit juice to sweeten it.

Experiment with Fruit and Herbs

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Once you’ve completed the first round of fermentation described in the basic recipe, why not try adding flavors during a second fermentation? If so, make sure you stop the first fermentation round while the kombucha still tastes fairly sweet. Even though you don’t add a scoby for the second round, the organisms in the kombucha will continue to convert the sugar into acids and bubbles.

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Remove the scoby from the kombucha and keep a bit of brewed kombucha aside for your next batch. Pour the rest of the liquid into another glass jar. Add your flavorings and cover the jar with (cheese)cloth. Leave the mixture at room temperature for 2 to 5 days. Once you’ve got the taste you want, bottle the kombucha.

  1. If you’re adding flavorings that don’t require straining, like fruit juice, you can do the second fermentation in the bottles. Don’t forget to open the bottles now and then so the pressure doesn’t build up too much.
  2. Ideas for flavorings: slices of ginger or turmeric, citrus fruit segments or peel, apple juice, cranberry juice, blueberry juice, beetroot juice, carrot juice and herbs such as verbena, fennel seed, hibiscus, lavender or hops.
  3. Combinations that work well: fennel seed with orange segments, hops with a little honey, lavender and lemon peel.

Try Out Other Teas

Try out different kinds of tea for a change. Green tea will make a refreshing, light kombucha. White tea produces a delicately flavored kombucha that combines well with other aromatics. For more robust flavors try using pu-erh tea or smoked tea.

Kombucha Recipe

The origins of kombucha are shrouded in legend. It is said that Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who reigned over 2000 years ago, was one of the first fans of kombucha. The story goes that the emperor ordered his troops to round up all the doctors in his realm. After imprisoning them, he commanded the doctors to compile a list of all remedies for the most common ailments. When they had completed the task, the emperor asked the assembled physicians to choose one remedy from the list that would guarantee him a long life. The wise ones were unanimous: it had to be kombucha, the tea mushroom culture that holds the promise of eternal life.

Kombucha is a sweetened tea that starts to ferment when you add to it a specific combination of bacteria and yeast. To the naked eye the bacteria and yeast colony looks like a flat, white rubbery mushroom, floating on top of the tea. The technical name for this is ‘scoby’, which is short for ‘symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast’. The scoby converts the sugar in the tea into CO2, organic acids, and vitamins. From ancient China to today’s health-food circles, people have attributed superpowers to this drink, although no conclusive scientific evidence backs up the claims about its detoxifying effects.

One thing is certain: kombucha is a healthy alternative to commercial soft drinks. It’s brimming with living organisms and contains only a fraction of the sugar.

If you want to brew kombucha yourself, find out if anyone you know is a brewer and ask them for a piece of their mother scoby to use as a starter. Failing that, buy a bottle of commercially brewed kombucha and pour the contents into an open glass jar. Cover it with (cheese)cloth secured with a rubber band and let it stand at room temperature. After a while a new scoby will form on top of the liquid and you can then use this for your own brews. Choose a kombucha that has no added flavors or aromas, and make sure you use a live, unpasteurized kombucha as this will contain living organisms.

Kombucha

Makes: 1 liter
Ingredients
  • 1 kombucha scoby weighing 10-50 g
  • 100 ml live kombucha
  • 5 g loose leaf black tea (or 3 tea bags)
  • 50-100 g unrefined cane sugar (to taste)
  • 1 liter filtered water
  • 1 glass jar (1.5 liter capacity)
Instructions
  1. Bring 250 ml water to the boil and use this to make the tea, letting it steep for at least 10 minutes. Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Pour the sweetened tea into the glass jar and add 750 ml cold water. Because the scoby will not survive temperatures higher than 40°C (104°F), it’s important to make certain that the liquid is not too hot. Once it has cooled down enough, add the scoby and the 100 ml live kombucha to the liquid. This will increase the acidity of the mixture immediately and create conditions in which the kombucha organisms feel at home. Other, potentially harmful bacteria will not be able to survive in the acidic environment.
  2. Cover the jar with (cheese)cloth and secure it with a rubber band. The kombucha needs air to ferment, but the cloth keeps dust and insects out. Leave the liquid to ferment for 7 to 14 days at room temperature in a dark place. Then taste the kombucha. If it’s too sweet for you, leave it to ferment more. The longer you wait, the less sugar it will contain.
  3. Once the tea is to your liking remove the scoby and 100 ml of the tea from the jar to use for your next brew. Strain the remaining kombucha to remove any bits of scoby before bottling it. Pour the liquid into glass bottles and close them well. Store the bottles at room temperature for a day or two to allow the drink to build up some fizz. Keep an eye on the bottles to make sure the pressure doesn’t build up too much. Before that happens, put the bottles in the fridge to stop the fermentation process.

Header image by Kidsada Manchinda/Getty Images

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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