Yes, the theme of this Drink issue is DIY, but I'm really not interested in detailing something that you can easily look up online by simply typing in phrases like: "how to make kombucha," "how to make a SCOBY from apple cider vinegar," and "how to grow a kombucha SCOBY from bottled kombucha." So, yes, I'm telling you to Google that shit! (SCOBY by the way stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.)
Instead of playing yeast coach ('cuz who wants that on a business card?), I want to focus on FLAVOR. Like, since you're determined to make your own kombucha, all you're really needing now is the push toward which flavors you want to brew. And, though you can also look up something like "best kombucha flavors" with ease, I'd rather point you toward some market-tested and more dynamic recipes by local craft kombucha makers.
First, let's review why you want to flavor kombucha: because the raw product tends to smack you with acidity and vinegar-like essence minus any buffering fruit or herb or spice. Some would say it's like serving strong black coffee without cream or sweetener (although many of us like it that way), but suffice it to say it just doesn't feel like a finished product, especially when a second fermentation with flavor infusions yields such magic.
Just because I'm not detailing how to make it doesn't mean I won't refresh you on what's happening scientifically, or more directly, quote my colleague Griffin Swartzell, who described the process a while back in our Side Dish column like this:
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea and sugar ... One introduces the sweetened tea to a SCOBY, defined by Colorado State's Food Source Information page as "a biofilm-like microbial mat composed of cellulose and a mutually beneficial association of fermentative bacteria and yeasts." Basically, yeast eats sugar and produces ethanol, which the bacteria eats to make organic acids, like acetic acid in vinegar. There's more to it — a SCOBY hosts a variety of yeasts and bacteria, and it's typically left open to wild microbes during fermentation — but that's the basics.
Yeah, that's the basics, and kombucha drinkers revere it for its probiotic value, amino acids, enzymes and more asserted benefits. So, in-house plagiarism aside, let's talk about extracting flavors. My favorite is a chipotle-habanero-onion-cheddar-sausage kombucha.
I'm kidding! That's foul. In fact there's plenty of foodstuffs you do not want to put in kombucha if you want to live. (Seriously, don't poison yourself over a bad batch of booch.) Again, research online to note things to avoid, like items with high oil content which can jack your bac(teria). But read closely: Just because honey inhibits bacterial growth and generally isn't used for its sugar content, diluted honey in green tea makes another kombucha-like drink called Jun. (Again, explore the interwebs.)
Fruits are common to kombucha because of their sugar content, which feeds the yeasts for another round of fermentation (steeped in jars with the booch), and creativity abounds on grocery shelves these days with increasingly complex and fun flavors. Like, why go just blueberry when you can go blueberry-lavender, one of my personal favorite flavors when I used to brew. But again, I'm not your yeast coach; let's hear from a few local experts who've brought their brews to market. I asked each to pick two favorite flavors...
- Courtesy Cos'Bucha
- Cos'Bucha prefers a smoother pineapple-ginger flavor.
Richard Lemesany operates a stall at downtown's Pikes Peak Market, and his products (facebook.com/CoSBucha) can be found in shops around town like Building Three Coffee Roasters, Willamette Market & Deli and Radiantly Raw. He says he prefers to make booch "on the lighter side, I like that style." Meaning he aims to go a little less time on his fermentation to minimize the acetic acid (vinegariness); he doesn't like it in the nose when sipping, and depending on the flavor, "you can lose the uniqueness of your tea."
Though his very favorite creation was the first he ever made, a grape-ginger kombucha, he offers two other picks here for you to try at home. The first, a pineapple-ginger, shows restraint on the ginger the way he makes it, so it's less zingy and biting than many ginger booches out there. "Because you already get the pineapple and kombucha tartness," he says, there's a good redundancy. He calls it a "super refreshing" flavor, and of course if you are a ginger head (like me), brew to your own tastes and don't be shy on the rhizome slivers.
Lemesany's second pick: grapefruit-basil. He only uses the fruit's peel, enhancing a bitter element, and he uses the familiar grocery store basil, Genovese (but you could deviate into Thai or lemon basil, etc.). The result's citrusy, with the clean flavors of each input, he says. He enjoys the bitter element so much, he's been toying with hop infusions. He hasn't quite perfected a hop flavor yet, "but I'm looking forward to it."
- Courtesy Bliss Booch
- Find happiness in a bright, fizzy glass of kombucha.
Found at four coffee shops, including Switchback and Carnelian Coffee, as well as Nourish Organic Juice and a couple more spots, Bliss Booch operates out of the Bliss Bar & Conscious Kitchen (112 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, blissbooch.com). Owner Ashlyn Zamora, prompted for her two favorites, happens to pick one that might make Lemesany jealous: her Citra hop kombucha.
"I'm really jazzed about it," she says, noting hops procured from a local brew store. "All you do is put them in, in the secondary fermentation." For non-beer drinkers, hops are calming and taste good, she says: "If you like IPAs, this is a really good one." She compares its flavor to New Belgium's Citradelic IPA; it's not beer-y, "but there's a fermented flavor, it's a little bitter and sour." She feeds her SCOBY a green tea, and says her kombucha's lighter than many on the market, and "smooth," which "gives a platform for the hops to shine."
Zamora's second pick is her Happy Heart label, made with dried hibiscus and rose petals, plus goji berries (freshly picked when possible, during the summer season). "The rose really ties it together because it's a sweet flower, and it smells really good," she says, noting it's only faintly tart because not much hibiscus is used, and the berries offer more sweetness to balance. She originally designed this flavor around Valentine's Day, and says "all my flavors are very intentional." In this case, they literally focus on the heart's health, as she says the hibiscus is regarded for combating high blood pressure and cholesterol, while "rose is one of the highest vibration flowers — it channels that heart's love." Meanwhile, antioxidant-strong goji berries supposedly fight depression, providing "happiness."
- Ashley Perry
- A komboozie cocktail made with brooch, available at Coquette's.
Athena's Goblet (tinyurl.com/AthenasGoblet) owner Layla Redding also thinks medicinally with her booch brews, found at Manitou Springs' Create Café and Coquette's Bistro. As we talk through her many offerings trying to pare down a couple favorites — she does love pure, single flavors like a straight blueberry or ginger — we agree there's something unique about her Tulsi-peach booch. Tulsi tea, also called holy basil, holds a list of purported properties, from anti-cancer to respiratory benefits. To be clear, she still feeds her SCOBY black tea for the first fermentation, but adds the tulsi in the second fermentation with fresh or frozen (thaw them first) peach pieces. She uses as little as possible of the fruit to keep sugar content low, just enough to impart a "soothing flavor, with mellow, light notes of peach."
For her second pick, Redding opts for her Blood Orange Twist, brewed with hibiscus, roasted chicory and cinnamon. "People says it tastes like Christmas," she says. She uses fresh blood orange juice and just a little of the peel, noting this booch does fall a little on the sweeter side; chicory contributes a hint of nuttiness to balance the cinnamon's spice and hibiscus' tartness. For a bonus option here: Try it at Coquette's in a "komboozie" cocktail, created in partnership with bar manager Andy Swan — they've made an Old Fashioned spin-off, called an Old Soul, utilizing the Blood Orange Twist, among other kombucha-infused cocktails.