I am spending my afternoon in an apartment with a stranger, and I am staring at the weirdest looking thing I have ever seen someone put in something you can drink.
– This is the mother.
Martin Skar is pointing down at a round and slimy glutinous mass on a plate in front of me. I fight the urge to say “eeew” out loud. (Instead I whisper it to myself when he´s not looking). I touch it and it feels just like the meat of the litchi fruit. It smells of vinegar. The brown lump of goo has many names; Chájūn (Chinese), kōcha-kinoko (Japanese), hongchabeoseotcha (Korean) and chaynyy grib (Russian). Martin just calls it the SCOBY, “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast”.
– Do you want to take a SCOBY with you so that you can make kombucha at home?, Martin asks me.
– It´s jut like sour dough.
I nod my head no, thinking of my beloved sour dough, Henry. He sadly got to fat and died after a week of feeding charts and high expectations. I was crushed and never attempted the project again.
– This is really easy to make yourself. You can use almost any kind of quality tea. Always use pure organic tea without added flavour. You can add any kind of flavour after the fermentation, but I like it natural, he explains.
He shows me his collection of tea, and it is quite impressive.
– This is only half of my collection. The rest is in storage because I am moving, he explains.
On the beautiful yellow table he places two kinds of white tea made from buds, from Yunnan Sourcing. He also shows me the Lung Ching and a Jasmine Dragon Pearls both from Tea Dragon. The round, flat coin of tea that definitely resembles something else, is called Pu Erh. I think to myself that I should really get involved in the art of tea. Definitely on the to-do list …
When you are experiencing one of those “the day after” fun-days, kombucha can definitely get you back on track. It is said that the tea is very good for the digestion and that it has probiotic qualities. It is also known as an amazing detox drink.
– I drink kombucha because I like the taste, and because it is a good alternative to beverages containing a higher percentage of alcohol, Martin says.
For the finished batch of Kombucha we bottled we used Sencha Tea from Japan and the batch we made from scratch is called First Flush Darjeeling from Solberg & Hansen. This years tea is less bitter than the one they released last year, so this tea is very suitable for making kombucha. We only let it steep for 10 minutes which gives us a milder batch. The whole project is actually quite easy. You make the sugar tea, add the SCOBY, vinegar (or kombucha) and sugar and the bacteria will do the rest of the work. You just wait. When the tea is fermenting you don´t put a lid on the container, though you always have to be careful to cover the top with a cloth so that you don´t add banana flies to the mix. Apparently the SCOBY “mother” will also make babies that you can grow and make more kombucha. The wait depends on how you want the sugar to interact with the blend. The kombucha can have an alcohol percentage of around 0,2 to 2,5.
– For every time you make a batch the mother will make a baby that can be used for a new batch. So you better get your friends interested in the concept. You wouldn´t want to toss little SCOBY babies in the garbage, would you?, Martin ask.
And of course I know I’ll have a hard time doing that. I try to explain to Martin that I am having a hard time believing that something you let rot on the kitchen counter can be the new it-thing. But when he gives me a taste of the finished batch of kombucha I am surprised. Fresh and quite sour at first, then the flavour of tea. The aftertaste high on tannins. Sort of like rotten apple juice, but better. After a couple of sips my mouth dries up just like it does with those “I´m-just-gonna-have-two-glasses-of-red-wine-but-end-up-having-five” late nights. After some contemplation, I decide that I like it!
When I am walking home that night, I think of the poor orphan SCOBY in my bag. Separated from both it´s mother and from Martins gentle care. I do know that I will care for it as if my life depended on it. But will it be enough?
The darkness of the Botanical Gardens wraps around us. Around me, and my SCOBY baby …
4,5 l water
70 g tea (at least 50% organic black tea)
500 g sugar
5 dl starter kombucha (no flavour or vinegar added)
Boil the water. Then add sugar and tea. Let it steep until it´s cooled down. Poor through a tea infuser into a big glass jar. Minimize the teas interaction with metal and plastic during the process. Remember to always use plastic that is made for food and beverages. Add the starter tea (or vinegar) and SCOBY. Wait 7-30 days. (Martin prefers 7-10 days. It gives it a fresh and acidic taste if you wait for longer). If you use vinegar for the original batch, it´s likely that your kombucha will not be the best, although you need the vinegar to get the correct PH. Once you have made a batch, you can re-use your SCOBY´s for additional and tastier kombucha!
Martin SkarMartin started out as a chef trainee, but soon learned that a career in coffee was more to his liking. He´s worked at Java, Friele, Stockflets, Åpent Bakeri, Solberg & Hansen and currently he is a chef at Netlife Research. He is also a drummer and a DJ.