Kombucha has been drunk in China and Eastern Europe for centuries and is referred to as “the tea of immortality” for its purported health benefits. These include being high in antioxidants and supporting liver and gut health.
Matt and Lara Ball, who own Wild Kombucha by Ballsy in Leichhardt, say the process of brewing kombucha is a lot like brewing beer; each of the brews has a yeast heart that feeds on sugar. The couple's interest in the drink was piqued during a trip to Hawaii around five years ago.
“We were in Maui for a month and saw a lot of kombucha there,” Matt says. “We felt energised and were drinking it every day. It inspired us and we thought, ‘How come this isn't really in Australia where we share a similar outdoors and surfing culture?’”
Matt, who’s an eye surgeon by day and brewer by night, was fascinated by the science and health claims behind kombucha.
The drink is made by fermenting green and/or black tea, sugar, a starter culture and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). The SCOBY, which looks like a rubbery disc, floats on the surface of the tea as it ferments. Over several weeks this process converts the sugars into a range of organic acids and produces light carbonation.
The end result is a refreshing and slightly tart brew that’s a great alternative to sugary soft drinks and alcohol. Lara and Matt flavour their kombucha with high-quality Australian ingredients such as wild hibiscus, finger lime, turmeric, ginger and even coffee.
Their kombucha has a wide and varied following, from locals, to cafes across Sydney that want their brew on tap. Sydney's top restaurants, such as Quay, Bennelong and Rockpool, are also customers. Wild Kombucha even collaborated with chef Peter Gilmore to create a special Jun kombucha brewed with Wuyi oolong tea and wild-thyme honey.
At the other end of the scale, Matt encourages those interested to play around brewing their own kombucha at home.
“I think it's great when people try it at home because then they really appreciate what it takes to make it: the quality of the ingredients matters, the quality of the water matters, caring for something matters. It's a living thing.”
Here’s Lara and Matt Ball's recipe for a basic home-brew kombucha: Makes approximately 3.5 litres
14 cups filtered water 6 standard-sized tea bags 1 cup cane sugar 1 cup starter liquid (also known as kombucha. If buying a commercially brewed kombucha, be sure to use an unflavoured, and definitely unpasteurised, one) SCOBY (you can buy these)
Heat four cups of filtered water. The ideal temperature depends on what tea you are using. For black tea, 90°C–95°C is perfect.
Once water temperature is correct, steep tea bags for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags.
Add one cup of sugar to the hot tea water and stir until dissolved.
In a new container add the remaining 10 cups of (cold) water to the hot tea and sugar liquid. (This will cool your brew down – hot liquid would kill your starter and SCOBY).
Transfer all the mixed liquid into your fermentation vessel. Ensure your vessel is clean and sterilised.
Add starter to fermentation vessel.
Gently add the SCOBY to the liquid in your fermentation vessel and place a clean cloth or tea towel over the top of the vessel.
Store your fermentation vessel out of direct sunlight. In 1 to 2 weeks your brew will be ready for tasting. Brew to taste – for some taste buds this is two weeks, and for others four weeks or longer. Remember, the longer you ferment, the more vinegary your brew will become.