The Homegrown Evolution blog recently posted a very interesting debate about kombucha's safety and effectiveness. I recommend reading it before embarking on any kombucha making!
Several Baltimore Food Makers were looking for kombucha, and of course once you have one SCOBY you have eight million SCOBYs, since it divides about every week or so...
While writing an email to one of the women I gave a SCOBY too, I ended up writing a giant memo! So I figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone and post it here:
Some kombucha tips!
1. Brew the tea like you normally would (maybe a little stronger).
I like to get loose tea in bulk, since I brew the tea from my kombucha a bit stronger than I would brew a cup of tea, and it's cheaper to use bulk tea, and also wastes less (no tea bags or boxes). But tea bags are fine too, especially if you're just doing small batches. Try mixing a blend of teas, and make your own flavor! I have a berry herbal tea that makes a great sweet kombucha. It's also a pretty pink :)
2. I guess for the small jar that I left on your porch, I would use about an eighth of a cup of sugar, maybe a little more, depending on your taste. I'm not sure what rapadura is? I considered using honey but then read that there might be bacteria in honey that could contaminate the SCOBY. The sugar is what feeds the yeast, so I like to make the tea pretty sweet to start out with, and it will get more acidic as the yeast metabolize the sugars.
3. Do not put the SCOBY in hot tea!!! The boiling water will kill it. Make the sweetened hot tea and let it cool completely before adding the SCOBY to it.
4.I like to clean my hands and anythign that will be touching the SCOBY with a vinegar-water cleaning solution to prevent the kombucha from getting contaminated.
A healthy SCOBY will be a solid cream color- there are some pictures online, but I think it's pretty obvious when something is off colored or lumpy looking that it has been contamined.
There will be brown stuff hanging down from the bottom of the SCOBY- don't be concerned, it's just the dead cells (the strings of them are called squidlies from what I've read online :) Straining the kombucha through a tea strainer before you drink it will take out any of the weird texture from the SCOBY remains.
5. Please let me know if you figure out how to make the kombucha more carbonated! Bottling the liquid after about 7 to 12 days, and letting it sit in the sealed containers does build up the carbonation some, but it's nowhere near the store-bought level.
Be careful though! The pressure can build up and your glass bottle will explode. A good & fun way to prevent this is to seal your bottle at the top with a balloon. If the pressure builds up too much, the balloon will expand, not the glass.
I like to keep a separate jar or two of kombucha in a cabinet, just in case one fails. Freshen up the kombucha with fresh sweet cold tea once a month or so, and it will be good to go.
Random tip: I've also read that putting in an eggshell adds calcium to the brew since the acid dissolves the shell a bit..
UPDATE: Don't leave your kombucha in a sealed jar (until you want to drink it). The bacteria in there need the oxygen to make all that fermentation! I rubber-band a paper towel around the top of my brewing kombucha jars.