March 9, 2010

Chai Kombucha: It's Alive!!

There has been a sinister creature lurking in my cupboard for the last month. Each day it grows - feasting on the sugars in my pantry - releasing a pungent odour. And really I think its dark presence in my house may have driven my roommate to move out... and yet, I love it. It's like a pet - we definitely have a symbiotic relationship. I remember to feed it, and it supplies me with fermented tea... Kombucha.

Some people call this strange culture a "mushroom," although it isn't one at all. It does resemble a thin, rubbery portabello mushroom cap, though, expanding to cover the surface of the sweet tea it eats. I've spoken to starry-eyed kombucha-lovers who've claimed they drink tea from the "mushroom" every day, and that it has a mild intoxicant property; like a very weak alcohol. (I can attest to this - after a day of volunteering at Ottawa's Raw food festival, eating raw cookies and drinking kombucha all day, I definitely did not have a level head).

And despite how mystical and strange this drink sounds, it's starting to become very well known. You can find it in glass bottles in most natural food stores. It's popularity could be chalked up to its deliciousness, it's natural effervescence, and its health benefits: as with most unpasteurized, traditionally fermented products, it's full of good bacteria. Watch out if you have a yeast sensitivity, though, as it does contain yeast as well. And unfortunately, it can't be made sugar-free, as the sugar itself is what the culture feeds off of. You can however use "raw" organic cane sugar, or any less refined cane sugar. In the future I plan to experiment with maple syrup and honey; I'll keep you posted.

Chai Kombucha

If you know someone with a kombucha "mother" to give you, that's great! Otherwise, it's easy to grow your own from an unpasteurized, store bought bottle of kombucha. Also, it's definitely possible to make a smaller batch than is outlined here; however I wouldn't make less than 2 litres, as to give the culture enough room to grow.


4 litre glass jar or bowl (wide mouth is ideal)
Large, clean, dry, tea towel
Large elastic band
1 litre or 500 ml sealing glass jars


1 bottle of unpasteurized kombucha
3 litres filtered water
5 chai tea bags
1 cup raw organic cane sugar
Chai spices (optional: cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, cloves)
fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth (optional)


Make sure your hands and all of your equipment is impeccably clean. This will prevent harmful bacteria from contaminating your kombucha.

Boil the water for 5 minutes to sterilize it. Turn off the heat and add the tea bags. Let steep for 5 minutes or longer, to your liking. Add the cane sugar, stirring until dissolved. If you like your chai tea spicy, add chai spices to taste. Pour the tea into your glass bowl or jar, and let it come to room temperature. You should be able to hold your (clean) finger in the tea very comfortably without being too warm. Now empty the bottle of kombucha into your tea mixture, and stir (or for those of you with a pre-grown culture, add it now). Cover the bowl/jar with the tea towel, and fasten with the elastic band. Place the bowl in a cool dark place to allow fermentation.

When growing a new culture, allow approximately 3 weeks for the culture to mature. Once it has become a solid mass, either floating on top of the tea or within it, the tea should be ready to try. The tea will also begin to release an odour as it is closer to being ready. Allow it to ferment to taste - careful not to let it go too long or it will taste too much like vinegar.

With a full-grown culture, kombucha only takes a week to ferment.

Once the tea is fermented to your liking, set the culture aside and pour off the tea (through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth, if desired) into your sealer jars. Leave around 1/10 of the tea in the bowl/jar to continue to feed the kombucha and to add to your next batch. Ideally the jars should be filled all the way to the top, as this helps the kombucha to become naturally fizzy. Close the lids (loosely for safety, or more tightly for carbonation to occur) and place them on the counter for 2-5 days.

And now, you should have a naturally effervescent cocktail of deliciousness!

*Note: Careful not to leave tightly sealed jars of kombucha on the counter for too long, as they will continue to ferment, and create a high pressure seal!

1 comment:

  1. I am in love with Kombucha! My husband just asked me to make him a chai flavor, so thanks for the great post!