How To Make Your Own Kombucha: Symbiosis Soda with Chris Drozd
Updated: Nov 12, 2022
This week I sat down with kombucha Brewer, Chris Drozd, and his SCOBY named Toby to discuss the wonderful fermented drink: kombucha! Learn about Chris's adventures into the world of homebrewing, find out how to make your own kombucha and what is SCOBY kombucha! We hope you enjoy this little interview!
You can follow Chris on Twitter @microbe_manager or Instagram @chris.drozd for pics of Toby and his kombucha brewing journey!
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is an example of microbes in food, more specifically it falls under fermented foods and drinks. It is a delicious, fizzy fermented tea that could not be made with the help of our little friends, microbes! It can come in a variety of flavors and is currently seeing a huge surge in our markets. I love a good homebrew kombucha but there are plenty of options at the store as well although they can be pretty pricey!
I encourage you to try homebrewing or to pick up some Kombucha at the store. There is no better way to understand what Kombucha is than to just try it out. Kombucha's popularity has surged in the past year so ask around, you might just find one of your friends is brewing some right now! If you are opting for a store brand there are plenty of great options. My personal favorite just maybe GT'S Organic Raw Kombuchas Gingerade. It's quite refreshing on those hot summer days. And don't worry about the "stuff" floating in there this is totally fine! These are just pieces of the SCOBY which we will talk about further down in more detail.
Kombucha can be alcoholic but is generally marketed more as a probiotic as it has living microbes thought to enhance your gut health.
How Do You Make Your Own Kombucha?
Making your own kombucha is not too difficult. It can be a fun hobby and allows you to get very creative. Not to mention making your own kombucha can save you a lot of money! So how do you make your own kombucha?
Kombucha is made just from four simple ingredients, and one silent ingredient known as time. Besides a container and a spot to store your Kombucha all, you need to make it is tea leaves, water, sugar, and your SCOBY or bacteria and yeast.
It is made by creating an overly sugary tea which you then add an (often) circular gelatinous disk too called a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. They are your fermenters. The bacteria and yeast within the SCOBY break down the sugars and convert them to alcohol, carbon dioxide (bubbles!), and acetic acids. This process is known as fermentation and is what gives kombucha such a distinct flavor profile.
Sugar tea is the food source for microbes. Over time the microbes will ferment the tea creating a less sweet taste. The SCOBY shifts throughout fermentation eventually creating a thick, cloudy, jelly-like structure with a sort of vinegar-like smell.
The SCOBY can get quite thick and often floats on top of the tea. But don't worry the SCOBY is removed prior to drinking, although little bits may break off and fall to the bottom of the bottle. This is the "stuff" you can sometimes see in Kombucha. But don't throw away the SCOBY! The SCOBY be reused for the next batch and if you have a friend who wants to start homebrewing just split it in two and share it with a friend. SCOBY it's the gift that just keeps giving!
What is SCOBY in Kombucha?
As we mentioned above, SCOBY is an acronym that stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. But what exactly does that mean? Let's take it one word at a time.
Symbiotic is sometimes referred to as a beneficial interaction between two organisms. However, this is not exactly right. The Oxford dictionary defines symbi
Involving interaction between two different organis
ms living in close physical interactions
meaning it doesn't necessarily have to be beneficial. Microbes interact with each other in several different ways such as commensals and antagonism/parasitism. In commensal relationships often one partner in the relationship will have some sort of benefit while the other partner is no benefit but is also not negatively impacted at all. Antagonism and parasitism relationships are like abusive relationships. One partner will actively sabotage the other partner. In the microbial world, this could be through the production of antimicrobials, literally killing the other partner. Or there is the example of parasitism which we discuss in our Monstrous Microbe blog post on our vampire microbe examples Borrelia burgdorferi.
Ok so let's back to what is SCOBY kombucha. Our symbiotic relationship in the case of the SCOBY is between bacteria and yeast.
The next letter in our SCOBY acronym is c for culture. In microbiology, we use the term culture to refer to not how well educated the microbes are but just to their growth. As microbiologists or as homebrewers we actively culture or raise a microbial community. This requires providing the microbes with the right materials to survive.
Just like you and I, microbes need a safe space to grow, food to eat, and a nice home.
We can grow microbes in what we call media which can be gelatinous agar substances grown in Petri dishes or simply in liquid media. In the case of Kombucha and other homebrews, we are growing or culturing our microbes in liquid media. Specifically, in the case of Kombucha, we are growing our SCOBY in the sugary tea (food), often in a container (home), without too much stress (safe space).
This brings us to the last few letters of our acronym "BY" which stands for bacteria and yeast. These are the true master brewers and master chemists in this whole thing. They quite literally bring kombucha to life!
So if we put it all together we have specific bacteria and yeast that we cultivate (culture) together to grow symbiotically. SCOBY!
Chris Drozd is an amateur kombucha brewer who got his start at the San Diego Fermentation Festival and fell in love with brewing his own Kombucha.
To hear his story including his horror stories on brewing kombucha check out the video.