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Kombucha: A Love Story

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First appeared on Food Riot by Naomi Bishop

Certainly, I did not fall in love with kombucha because it is cute and cuddly. Mention of the fermented tea often garners the same looks as when I tell people about the time I ate uncleaned pig intestine in Laos. Commercial kombucha can often be sour or spicy; it often has too much bite. The flavored versions are unappealing and sometimes seems as if they're trying to cover something up. So it's amazing that I ever found out that homemade kombucha was my McDreamy of beverages.

"Would you like a scoby?" sounds like something a teenager would ask his buddy under the bleachers, but in fact, when a friend offered, I knew enough to accept the clear, jelly-like disk. The mother, as it is also commonly known (especially in vinegar-making circles), sits in a batch of brewed tea with sugar, eating away at the sugars, fermenting the tea, giving it deeper, richer flavor, and a little bit of zing. It looks like somebody dumped an oversized Petri dish out into a jar of piss on our counter. So why do I love my kombucha (and its mother) like it's my daughter?

I like how it tastes, and I like having a morning beverage option that is quick, easy, and wakes me up with flavor. Coffee is a slow process of enjoyment for me, one I like after I arrive at the office, to sip as I work through my emails. Kombucha tees up the day for me--pun intended--so coffee can hit it out of the park.

But kombucha was not a homerun right away--and it's not for everyone, as I still can't even get half of my friends to go to first base with it. It took months of experimenting with teas, the placement of the jars, and adjusting the sugar levels to get my homemade kombucha where I want it to be. And by me, I mean my engineer boyfriend: this is not a task for freeform cooks like me, throwing a this-in-here, and a how's-about-a-little-of-that. Over the course of nearly a year, he experimented with the two-week fermentation process of our kombucha. I tasted a lot of gross stuff ("this one looks like it has brains in it"). But I also got totally accustomed to my morning glass of kombucha.

There are a million people online who will tell you how great kombucha is for your health. I'm not convinced I'm any better off than I was before--other than the fact that there's two more feet of counter space I can't cover with ice cream makers or a deep fryer. It's our darkest corner, where the jars sit, resting on top of a towel to keep them insulated from the cool granite countertop. Brown cardstock shields it from the light (for something called a mother, it's really quite a baby). Every two weeks (or so, temperature and sugar-level dependent), when the kombucha tells us with its flavor that it's ready, it's poured into a growler for a second fermentation overnight in the bottle. This is a nice stage, because before the growler goes into the fridge, I'm not yet forced to play "beer or breakfast" with amber-colored drinks in clear containers at six in the morning.

After that, some people add flavors. I tend to like it as is, tasting the green tea, the oolong, or the rooibos with which it was brewed. The sugars have long been gobbled up by the fermentation process, so the resulting beverage is as if iced tea and pickles had a child. Come to think of it, how has this not become a thing in the South? A new batch is brewed, and the scoby goes in to start the whole process over again. The kombucha life has come full circle. How could you not want a hug from that?

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