Kombucha! This fizzy, fermented beverage seems to be popping up everywhere these days. From individual bottles sold at convenient stores to entire kombucha bars with many flavors on tap, it is hard to go anywhere without seeing this popular drink, especially if you are a health foodie like me! While all of these commercially sold kombuchas are equally healthy and delicious, they are very expensive (especially when you drink as much as Zak and I do), which is why I brew my own at home. Brewing my own “booch” also gives me the option to experiment with other ingredients, including my new favorite, hemlock.
I have been brewing my own kombucha for about six months now, so I am by no means an expert, but what I lack in time I think I make up for in quantity. Right now, at the height of my kombucha production so far, I usually have about five gallons fermenting in three different batches at any point in time. I started out using black tea, then I started brewing jun, which is made with green tea and honey. Now a days, the majority of the booch that I make is made from hemlock tea, but I keep a small container of black tea kombucha going to maintain a control, which produces healthy SCOBYs (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) for my experimental batches.
Here are my three kombuchas brewing. On the far right is my traditional booch baby, the middle is my hemlock kombucha, and the farthest left is for secondary fermentation. I will generally add blueberries to my booch to make it bright pink and extra tasty!
Hemlock kombucha is not as strong as regular kombucha, but I find it to be far superior in flavor. In fact, we call it hemlock gatorade, because of its yellow-green color and refreshing lemony taste. Plus, it’s free, organic, uncaffeinated, and high in vitamin C.
To make hemlock kombucha you will need:
a hefty handful of Eastern Hemlock boughs
1 gallon unchlorinated water
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 healthy SCOBY
To make your hemlock kombucha, you will need to collect a generous handful of boughs from an Eastern Hemlock (tsuga canadensis), which is a tree, not an herbaceous plant unlike the similarly named, but unrelated, poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). Eastern hemlock tea is perfectly edible, as are almost all conifers. The only conifers in North America that should NOT be consumed are juniper, yew, and tamarack.
An eastern hemlock bough.
The person that taught me how to make this kombucha also said that you can use balsam fir, but I have yet to experiment with this. If you do try it, let me know how it goes in the comments below!
The bark of an eastern hemlock for reference- don't use the bark, just the greenery, as the bark is very tannic and was traditionally used to tan hides.
Once you have collected this unspecific amount (you’ll have to experiment with this yourself and see how much you like to taste), you will need to bring your one gallon of water to a boil. Once boiling, add sugar and hemlock branches, stir, and remove from heat. Steep hemlock for as long as you like; I generally leave it steeping in the tea until it is completely cool. Once your hemlock is strained out and your tea has cooled to room temperature, you can pour it into the glass or ceramic container that you are going to be brewing your kombucha in (do not use a metal container) and add the scoby- I like to use one with a spout so that I don’t have to disturb the SCOBY to get to the kombucha below. Cover with a clean piece of cotton and secure with a rubber band.
If you don’t have any spare SCOBYs of your own, I would suggest getting one from a friend or buying one on Etsy. I would not recommend buying a dehydrated one or getting kombucha “with the mother” from the store, as simply adding a fresh, healthy SCOBY will give you the best chance of successful fermentation.
After adding your scoby to the tea, let ferment for 5 days to two weeks, until it reaches the flavor of your liking. I have found that my hemlock kombucha takes a bit longer to ferment than my regular batch, but that the SCOBY seems to do just fine and continues to grow.
My hemlock SCOBY had to travel in the starter kombucha while we moved from New York to Wisconsin, so I haven't yet gotten it into it's new home to start fermenting.
Once your kombucha is done fermenting to your liking and you have drank most of it (leave a cup or two to start the next batch with), you can repeat the process, but keep the same SCOBY. Just remember to wash your hands with hot water and no soap if you are going to be handling your SCOBY so that you don’t introduce any foreign bacteria, yeast, or chemicals that might have a negative affect on it.
While your SCOBY may be a little shocked by this different tea at first, it should get used to it with time. I have only been making this for a couple of months, but I have not had any problems yet, and the SCOBY that I keep in my hemlock kombucha seems to be growing just fine and not showing any signs of distress. I don’t know exactly why this works, but it does. If you find that your scoby isn’t thriving in the hemlock kombucha, simply alternate hemlock and black tea every other batch to revamp your SCOBY. You could also just replace your SCOBY every once in awhile with a new one from a batch of black tea kombucha (this is why I like to always brew traditional kombucha as well as any of my experimental batches).
That's all there is to it! Let me know in the comments below how this works out for you or tell me about some other "non-traditional" kombucha you have been brewing lately!
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