Make your own kombucha with the Red Fern's Matthew Keefe
Kombucha is a cultured sweet tea that is fermented using a SCOBY: a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The lightly effervescent beverage has been around for centuries, with people drinking it for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Matthew Keefe, head chef at The Red Fern vegan restaurant, 283 Oxford Street, has been making the cultured sweet tea drink for four years and recently started teaching the art of kombucha making to sold-out classes at the Rochester Brainery. “There’s been an amazing turn out for each class,” Keefe says. “It’s great.”
Pre-bottled kombucha beverages can be purchased in local grocery stores, but they are very expensive considering one can make a gallon of kombucha at home for about fifty cents. “I first got into kombucha making because it’s very expensive to purchase in-store,” Keefe says. “At the same time I got into kombucha I was pursuing lactic acid pickling and other naturally fermented and cultured foods. I think it’s important for people to take the modes of food production into their own hands, to learn traditional ways of preserving food for themselves.”
Materials and ingredients
Chances are you already have most of the household materials and ingredients for kombucha stashed around your kitchen. If you do not have any of the below items, Keefe recommends checking out local home brewing supply shops and natural food stores such as Beers of the World and Lori’s Natural Foods.
•1-gallon glass or ceramic fermentation bottle
•Wooden or plastic spoon
•4" square tightly woven cloth or coffee filter
•String or rubber band
•8 tea bags or 2 tablespoons loose tea per gallon (black, green, or white tea)
•1 cup granulated sugar
•14 cups water
•2 cups plain kombucha starter or ½ cup apple cider vinegar
Bring your water to a boil, remove from heat, and then stir in sugar. Once the sugar dissolves, add the tea bags and let brew for about ten minutes. Remove the tea bags, letting the excess water drain naturally (do not squeeze or wring) then discard/compost the tea bags.
Let the sweetened tea cool completely; it needs to be at room temperature, or at least below eighty degrees, before moving on to the next step, or you risk damaging the culture. You can speed up the cooling process by submerging the base of the pot in an ice bath or, if you have time, cover the mixture and let it cool overnight.
Once the tea has cooled, add the starter kombucha or vinegar, and then pour the mixture into your gallon glass or ceramic container and add in the SCOBY. Cover the top of the container with the cloth or coffee filter and fit tightly with the rubber band.
Keep the mixture at room temperature and out of direct sunlight for seven to thirty days. Taste your brew after a week using a clean plastic spoon to get an idea of how the flavor is developing. “As time progresses you’ll notice it becoming progressively tarter,” Keefe says.
Once the brew has reached your optimal sour/sweet balance, it is ready for bottling. Carefully remove the SCOBY and measure out a reserve of starter tea for your next batch. If you do not want a carbonated beverage, any bottle will suffice. Store the finished product in the fridge so that it does not continue to ferment or carbonate. For a carbonated batch, transfer the beverage into a sealed glass bottle designed to withhold the pressure of the carbonation process (secondary fermentation). Allow to ferment at room temperature for another three to five days. Place in the fridge to stop the carbonation and consume it within thirty days.
Part of the fun of making your own kombucha is playing around with different flavors. “Many commercial manufacturers don’t branch out; they stick with the same flavor profiles” Keefe says. He enjoys experimenting with a variety of new flavor combinations and recommends flavoring the beverage during secondary fermentation by infusing the brew with fresh or dried fruit, herbs, or spices.
While it may take a few times to achieve the perfect brew, Keefe offers a few simple suggestions on how to achieve a successful batch. “If your kombucha isn’t fizzy enough, let it ferment a bit longer, and if it tastes too sour then it fermented for too long; it’s a trial-and-error process. Just don’t overthink and don’t stress about it.”
For more information on Matt Keefe and kombucha making, visit his restaurant at redfernrochester.com or check out his latest class offerings at the Rochester Brainery,
A low-maintenance gal with high-maintenance hair, Laura DiCaprio is a writer, media director, and amateur clarinetist living in Fairport.