DIY Kombucha

I love kombucha. I was introduced to it (and hated it) when I was an undergrad. My friend John re-introduced me to it several years ago in graduate school. That’s when I fell in love with ‘buch and discovered two things:
1) you can get a small discount at Whole Foods if you buy a case of it at a time and
2) I love kombucha with chia seeds floating around in it. I’m kind of a weirdo that likes that texture.
Drinking the probiotic elixir daily didn’t last long; it was an expensive habit that took up a lot of fridge space. 

Skip ahead to the DIY Kombucha Recipe below.

Fast forward to the end of September. My in-laws were in town visiting us Oliver. And I somehow convinced my mother-in-law and one of my sister-in-laws to go to the kombucha class with me at Grain to Glass in North Kansas City. Grain to Glass is a fun little homebrew shop that has a little bit of everything: supplies for brewing (beer, cider, wine), a bar with rotating beers on tap, and a few fridges with bottled beer. It also hosts brewing competitions, beer tastings, and classes for all things related to brewing.

Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law already make their own kombucha, but their interests were still peaked to learn more from a guy named Keith who has been making kombucha for years and teaching others to do the same. The bonus features of this class were that you had the opportunity to try his homemade kombucha, receive a SCOBY (more below on this), see his “SCOBY Hotel”, and acquire some of his kombucha knowledge. Grain to Glass also had kombucha kits available for purchase (for $12, I believe) that included everything you needed (minus the SCOBY) to get started. 

Now that I’ve successfully made three batches of kombucha at home and feel a bit more comfortable with the process, here’s some knowledge that I learned from Keith, the internet, and making my own kombucha.


 

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a delicious, slightly effervescent drink that all begins as sweet tea. It can be flavored and can range from sweet to slightly tangy to overly tart – it all depends on how it was made! The tea in kombucha can be black, green, white, rooibos, or jasmine (or a mixture of any of these). Herbal and flavored teas do not work well with the fermentation process – I’m still not sure why (yet). The fermentation happens due to the presence of a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast). You might hear people refer to it as a mother or as a mushroom. Regardless of what you call it, a SCOBY is flat, beige-brown, and feels a bit rubbery. For those of you that can relate, it reminds me of a thin layer of agar or agarose. It’s shape is completely dependent on the container you use to brew kombucha. And it can have brown spot or marks on it and stringy bits hanging from it. The appearance of a SCOBY is definitely not appetizing.

 

Why drink kombucha?

In addition to being a tasty and slightly fizzy drink that has been made for 100s of years, kombucha is said to have a lot of beneficial properties. The SCOBY consumes sugar and produces vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, and amino acids. Some say that all of their aches and pains go away when they drink it. Others drink it because their diet may be lacking in B vitamins. For me, it helps my digestive tract stay…regular, if you will.

I first started drinking the GT’s Guava Goddess Kombucha, which is pretty tart. I then found GT’s Synergy Raspberry Chia  and the Grape Chia flavors, which are a tiny bit more sweet. I used to drink the chia kombuchas in the lab when I was in grad school. Other grad students and postdocs would poke fun at me for my weird looking drink. I stuck up for my beloved Kombucha. Like I said above, I love the texture and the flavors. When I attended the September Grain to Glass kombucha class ran by Keith, I was surprised to learn that kombucha does not need to be tart. When you ferment kombucha at home, you get to be in control of the flavor.

 

Is it safe to make your own kombucha at home?

Yes! While I am a trained scientist, you don’t need laboratory equipment or fancy tools to make kombucha. However, you definitely do not need to be a scientist to make kombucha. The only necessity is that you need to make sure that your equipment and your hands are clean. Simple enough!

 

How do I know that I’ve converted tea into kombucha?

If your tea ferments even a teeny-tiny bit, then you’ve done it! You’ve turned tea into kombucha. There should be bubbles. The drink should smell vinegary. Your SCOBY will have generated a new layer. A SCOBY really is the gift that keeps on giving!
Your kombucha should NOT smell musty or moldy. If you see green or black mold growing on the surface of the SCOBY or if the tea smells anything but a bit vinegary, discard the SCOBY and the batch of kombucha. And just start over again with fresh ingredients. 

 

How can I flavor my kombucha?

You can use herbal teas, juice (no more than 1/5 of the total volume), fruit, fruit puree, herbs, and spices. Keith recommended the following: mint, strawberries, peaches, blackberries, pomegranate, hibiscus, ginger, turmeric, lime, lemon, basil, or combinations.

 

DIY Kombucha
Serves 14
1 serving of kombucha is 1 cup (~250 mL)
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
56 calories
14 g
0 g
0 g
0 g
0 g
277 g
10 g
14 g
0 g
0 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
277g
Servings
14
Amount Per Serving
Calories 56
Calories from Fat 0
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 10mg
0%
Total Carbohydrates 14g
5%
Dietary Fiber 0g
0%
Sugars 14g
Protein 0g
Vitamin A
0%
Vitamin C
0%
Calcium
1%
Iron
0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 14 cups (3.5 L) water
  2. 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  3. 8 tea bags
  4. 1 SCOBY
  5. 1-2 cups (250-500 mL) kombucha (starter tea)
  6. Coffee filter or muslin cloth
  7. 1 thick rubber band
  8. 1 gallon glass jar (4 L glass jar)
  9. Soda straw
  10. Tongs
  11. Plate
Instructions
  1. 1. Bring 2 cups (500 mL) of water to boil.
  2. 2. Remove water from heat and add sugar, stirring to dissolve.
  3. 3. Bring another 12 cups (3 L) of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 6-8 tea bags. Allow them to steep*
  4. 4. Let the tea and sugar water to cool to room temperature (at least 1 hour, but up to overnight).
  5. 5. Add the room temperature sugar water and tea to the 1 gallon glass jar.
  6. 6. Add the 1-2 cups (250-500 mL) of kombucha (starter tea from the previous batch of finished kombucha**) to the jar.
  7. 7. Add 1 SCOBY to the jar.
  8. 8. Cover the jar with a coffee filter. Secure filter with the rubber band. Set the lid aside as it is unneeded.
  9. 9. Let the sweetened tea + SCOBY sit at room temperature in normal lighting*** for at least 5 days and up to 1 month.
  10. 10. At the 5 day point, draw up a sample of the freshly fermented kombucha using the straw. Taste for desired sweetness/tartness. Fermentation may take longer than 5 days (or up to 4 weeks), depending on desired taste. The longer you allow the tea to ferment, the more tart and tangy it becomes.
  11. 11. When brewed to you desired taste, remove the original SCOBY and the newly generated SCOBY with a pair of tongs and place them on a clean plate.
  12. 12. Check the SCOBYs for green or black mold. If you find mold, discard the SCOBY and the kombucha/tea - start over with fresh ingredients!
  13. Remember that brown or stringy bits are totally normal as are shades of brown.
  14. 13. Set aside 2 cups (500 mL) of newly finished kombucha and one SCOBY to begin you next batch of kombucha.
  15. 14. Pour the remaining kombucha into bottles. If you'd like to carbonate or flavor your kombucha, then now is the time. To flavor your kombucha, add fruit, juice, herbs, or additional tea. If you'd like to carbonate your kombucha, cap the bottles and set on the counter for 1-3 additional days.
  16. 15. Chill the bottles before opening.
  17. 16. Take care when first opening your kombucha as the contents will be under pressure.
Notes
  1. *I usually allow my tea to steep for 5-10 minutes. You can steep the tea bags overnight.
  2. **You can use unfiltered, unsweetened, commercial kombucha as the starter tea.
  3. ***Keep the solution out of direct sunlight, but don't keep in a cupboard or out of the sun.
Adapted from from Keith Krieger
beta
calories
56
fat
0g
protein
0g
carbs
14g
more
Adapted from from Keith Krieger
The Adventures of El and Jen http://www.elandjen.com/

What we miss about Cambridge

We started living a strange life of sleeping on an air mattress and living out of suitcases at the end of April. El had the idea of shipping our things over to the States as early as possible so that we wouldn’t have to wait for them for very long. We were very lucky that we only had to wait a week in the KCMO area for our things. Since living back in the US, we have had time to reflect on our experiences in Europe. Going from Cambridge to Kansas City was a bit of a shock. We miss many things about living overseas, and specifically Cambridge.

Being a tourist in Cambridge

  • Walking. Seriously. No one walks here unless it is for exercise. I walked the 3 blocks to the grocery store pushing Oliver in his stroller the other day. The looks I received from motorists and the cashier were priceless and made me feel a bit foreign. It may have been nearly 100°F (38°C) and super humid, but I was still going to walk!
  • A pint and a biscuit. Actually, a pint and a scotch egg. The pub scene is on point in Cambridge. It was also great seeing other moms out with their wee babies at the pub. We miss that the pub was an extension of your living room, a meeting place, and a restaurant.
  • History. Everywhere you go in Cambridge, there is history. You pass 500+ year old buildings that are still standing and being used. Things are preserved and used to their fullest. With the exception of some of the buildings on the military base (ahem….Army post), most of the older buildings in our local area are maybe 50 years old at best.
  • Quiet Conversations. The stereotype is very true. Americans are loud. Our friend Bill has a saying that you can always hear Americans before you see them. And it is true. And quite a few Americans are quite proud of it. People in England and in Europe just understand that you can hold conversations without speaking loudly or over each other. I miss it.
  • Cheese. The English cheddar is better, hands down. We had a cheese board from Trader Joe’s the other day. It was disappointing.
  • Bicycling. You can bicycle safely to basically everywhere in and around Cambridge. It is mostly flat and the cars share the road decently with bicycles. Oh, and 3 foot bicycle lanes. Those are nice. There is a bicycle scene in KCMO. But it is surprisingly hilly in this area. We’re working on building up our cycling skills.
  • Proximity to epic traveling. We travelled to about a dozen other countries while living in England. And we feel like we didn’t properly take advantage of this as much as we should have.
  • Fashion. I remember the Cambridge News having an article about people being offended by consumers shopping in their “pyjamas.” And it was funny. I am not fashionable. I’ve only recently decided to buy a pair of skinny jeans (I. still. hate. them.). But you don’t see Brits out in about in sweatpants. It when it happens, it makes the local news!
  • Hand car wash. You can pay to have your car washed by hand while you’re shopping at the grocery store. Something we didn’t take advantage of nearly as much as we should have.
  • Roundabouts. The traffic flow with roundabouts is just better and more efficient in England. There are stupid roundabouts (I’m looking at you, Five Ways!), but these are few and far between. There are a few roundabouts in KCMO and at least one on post; both times, I just about lost it with excitement!
  • Adverts. The advertising on billboards here is everywhere, blocking the scenery. But at least you know there’s a McDonald’s up ahead.
  • The River Cam. We lived on the river. And as silly as it sounds, we loved watching boats and rowers go by. The bicycles and joggers as well as the tourists. They were all along the river. Have a cuppa and watch the world go by is what we dearly miss about living in Cambridge.
  • People. More than anything, we miss the friends we made while living overseas.

We loved our time in Cambridge. It was difficult being away from family and friends while living there but it was still an excellent opportunity to experience the world.

What are the things that you miss from the countries and cities that you’ve moved away from?

In front of Kings College Chapel

When things don’t go as planned

Oliver turned 5 months old two weeks ago. Between the move overseas and the sleep deprivation (hello sleeping 10-12 hours through the night since the end of June!), the past few months have been a blur. And slowly I’m forgetting all of the nitty-gritty details of what happened during his birth into this big, beautiful world.

Many people continue to ask similar questions, so I thought I would describe (what I can now remember from) answers to commonly asked questions regarding my pregnancy and Oliver’s birth.

Q: Where did you get prenatal care in the UK?
A: The US base facility hospital was my primary care since the get go. From about 20 weeks of my pregnancy onward, I was seeing both the US base hospital facility and the UK National Health System (NHS) for my prenatal (UK terminology: antenatal) appointments.

Q: Why use both systems? I always get asked why I used both the NHS and the US base since it seems like double the amount of work. It really wasn’t a ton of work or appointments until about the 36 week point – when you start seeing the OB/GYN or midwife much more regularly.
A: The very easy and short answer is: for my convenience and peace of mind.
The long answer is: I work at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (commonly referred to as the Addenbrooke’s site due to the main hospital on the campus). Addenbrooke’s Hospital is an internationally renowned teaching hospital surrounded by several biomedical research facilities. One of the areas of the Addenbrooke’s Hospital is the Rosie Hospital, which is an amazing maternity hospital specializing in all things pregnancy and baby. And I basically work across the street from this facility. If something were to have happen while I was at work (and if I were using the NHS for care), then I could walk 5 minutes to the Rosie for medical care. The commute from my workplace to the base hospital is a 15-20 minute bicycle ride (or 40 minute bus ride) to our home plus another 45 minute drive from our place to the base. It just didn’t seem logical at the time.

Q: You’re having your baby in England, so he’ll be a UK citizen, right?!
A: No, unfortunately he’s just an American citizen born abroad. There are plenty of guidelines for qualifications for being a UK citizen, such as having at least one British parent or living in the UK for at least 5 years. Oliver does not (and probably will never) meet the qualifications unless he applies for UK citizenship later in life after falling in love with British winters that every Brit seems to brag about on end.

We went to the London Embassy to apply for Oliver’s US birth certificate and passport when he was only 3 weeks old (I was wearing a puffy winter coat under my largest rain coat; February in England is rainy and cold.)

On the London Tube

 

Q: And then the next followup question: Is he going to be able to run for President of the USA later in life?
A: I’m not sure why this is the next question, but the answer is probably yes. And only if he wants to run to be the POTUS. Oliver is a US citizen born abroad.
Bringing you to the US Constitution: Article II, Section 1 is the age and citizenship requirements states that a person must be a natural born citizen (or a citizen of the US), at least 35 years old, and been a US resident for 14 years.

Q: Did you have any problems/issues/cravings during your pregnancy?
A: Not really. I was a little nauseous at work once. I thought I had an upset stomach. For awhile, I really liked sprinkling chives on everything.

Q: Did you end up using the Rosie Birth Centre or the base hospital? (and why?)
A: I needed to be induced at 41.5 weeks (oy!) Once they start talking about induction, you can no longer use the amazing Rosie Birth Centre for a natural birth (what I wanted). You must use the Rosie Delivery Unit, which is still an excellent facility. However, I was already on maternity leave and Elliott was already on leave from work. The procedures were basically the same, so the base hospital just seemed a better choice for us.

Q: How’d your delivery go?
A: It was long; spread out over 43 hours. It started as a natural delivery and ended in an emergency c-section. And the results were a beautiful baby boy.

 

These are just the frequently asked questions. Feel free to ask more in the comments!

BRCA2 Cycle Path

I love solving mysteries and problems, which is how I would describe what I do for a living. Technically speaking, I am a biochemist – a structural biologist. I like looking at the 3-dimensional structure of proteins and understanding how other things (other proteins, DNA, small molecules, etc) fit into those proteins. And while I have some interest in understanding the biological processes of cancer, I am not a cancer researcher. However, I have been spending a lot of my spare time trying to understanding more about BRCA2 (pronounced as “bracka two” and stands for Breast Cancer Type 2 susceptibility protein). For most genes and proteins, the gene is in italics while the protein remains in normal font.

BRCA2 was discovered in 1995 by Professor Michael Stratton and Dr. Richard Wooster in cooperation with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. This institute is a charitably funded genomic research center and is located about 9 miles south of Cambridge in a town called Hinxton. The Sanger Institute is a leader in the Human Genome Project, which is an international scientific research project intended to map and identify all of the genes of human genome, both physically and functionally. (Sidenote: a genome is the genetic instructions of how an organism is put together and functions.) From the beginning of the even the idea of the project, there have been strong supporters and strong detractors of this project.

Recently, El’s family has undergone some extensive genetic testing to unveil that some of his family members have a mutation in the BRCA2 gene. His family has a history of breast cancer, specifically related to this gene. Some mutations (but not others) in BRCA2 lead to an abnormal function in the BRCA2 protein. To date, researchers have identified over 450 different mutations in the BRCA2 gene. Some mutations (but not all) of BRCA2 correlated with an increased chance of breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer(s). The mutation that several people in El’s family have causes the BRCA2 protein to be truncated; thereby, causing a reduction in the function of the protein. Why does this all matter? Well, the protein created by the BRCA2 gene is involved in repairing damaged DNA. It binds to and regulates another protein (RAD51) in order to fix breaks found in your DNA. Breaks in DNA happen, which is why your body has a system to repair them. It is only when there are (certain) mutations BRCA2 that result in the cells dividing in an uncontrollable way (this is pretty much the textbook definition of cancer).

Being so far away from El’s family, there really isn’t too much we can do as each member of his family has genetic testing done and then determining what to do with those results. I am so amazed at how his family is coping with the results, especially one person in particular. The level of determination and sustained hope she has is so inspiring, and I admire her for how she (and the rest of his family) are tackling the situation. Therefore, when I discovered there was a BRCA2 cycle path, I knew I had to ride it, no matter the distance (for the record, it is approximately 2 miles long). This cycle path is part of the National Cycle Network in England and extends from the Addenbrooke’s Hospital site (where I work) with a nearby community called Great Shelford. At its unveiling in 2005, it was the 10,000th mile of the National Cycle Network. To represent the 10,257 base pairs of the BRCA2 gene, a series of thermoplastic stripes were heat welded in four different colors and represent the nucleotide sequence of BRCA2. The color scheme is the following: green is adenine (A), red is thymine (T), blue is cytosine (C), and yellow is guanine (G). At each end of the cycle path is a metal structure of the DNA double helix.

Double helix of DNA

DNA double helix

BRCA2 cycle path

BRCA2 cycle path

10,000 mile, 10,257 stripes

10,000 miles, 10,257 stripes