Your SCOBY should look vaguely alien, like this. 

You’ve already constructed a few masks to help slow the spread of Covid-19. You’ve tried your hand at bread making, and now you’re a pro. You’ve applied a few culinary MacGyvering tips for eating all the produce that might otherwise wilt away in the belly of your refrigerator, and now you operate a perfectly sustainable kitchen in your home. So what’s your next quarantine project? 

One that demands the kind of enduring attention required by houseplants and sourdough starters, of course: homemade kombucha.

While the health benefits of drinking the stuff remain debatable, keeping a few bottles on hand offers a fizzy, nearly sober alternative for your virtual happy hours.

Before you pilot this project, though, know that to keep the kombucha mother or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) means creating a regular habit of processing the brew, which means actually drinking (or gifting) what you make. Letting the SCOBY sit in the housing liquid for too long turns kombucha’s pleasant tang into something like vinegar no amount of fruit juice will camouflage. Also, realize you’re working to create a healthy conduit for the growth of good bacteria. So keep everything clean. As with any fermentation, a certain amount of risk is involved. 

Create the SCOBY

Boil seven or eight cups of water. Add about 1/2 cup of cane sugar and dissolve. Remove from the heat, add one tablespoon of loose leaf black tea, and allow the mix to cool to room temperature.

Strain the mixture into a clean one-gallon jar. Add about a cup of store-bought kombucha (include a good amount of the yeasty sediment). Cover with a paper towel or coffee filter and fasten with a rubber band. Store this in a cupboard or somewhere where it won’t be disturbed.

If it went well, a SCOBY will form over the surface of the mixture in a few weeks. If it’s healthy, it will look the opposite, sort of like a diseased jellyfish. If it looks like leather, start over.

Brew a Batch

Boil 3.5 quarts of water. Add one cup of sugar and two tablespoons of black tea. Cool.

Discard all but about two cups of the original SCOBY liquid and replace with the fresh brew. Cover again with the paper towel or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band and return the jar to the cupboard for anywhere from one to two weeks. The speed of fermentation depends on factors, especially the temperature of your kitchen cupboard. Test the brew by sealing some in a clean paper (you’re not a monster) straw with your finger. It should taste mildly acidic and pleasantly sweet. 

Bottle It

The next steps are all about preference. Get some clean and sealable flip-top bottles. Add your desired amount of preferred fruit juice, smashed berries, squeezed ginger, or lively combination of these into the bottles and add the brewed liquid. Leave one to two inches of room at the top for carbonation. Seal the bottles and let them sit somewhere unrefrigerated and undisturbed for a few days. Test the fizziness by burping a bottle after a few days. Warmer weather means quicker carbonation, so wait until the bubbles settle before you clink glasses with your friends on Zoom. 

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