Can a Blind Person Brew Kombucha?

I love Kombucha! Ever since I first tried it at Whole Foods I had wanted to learn more. When I learned that Inspired Brews would have a brewing class, I decided to sign up. I enjoyed the class, and just finished successfully brewing my first batch.

For the uninitiated, kombucha refers to a fermented drink made with a beneficial bacteria, similar to yogurt. This bacteria, however, thrives on tea and sugar, which I find quite funny. I feel like I have more in common with it than with most humans. After brewing, flavoring makes the drink fizzy, like soda or beer. It has lots of amazing health benefits as well. Personally I believe it helps with mood support for clinical depression, as serotonin production occurs in the gut.

I started adding a few bottles to every Instacart order. One day after floating at Halcyon Floats I got into a chat with the owner. She mentioned that a local brewery called Inspired Brews made them a custom blend called Float Away. Of course I wanted a bottle or two or three. This caused me to check out their web site, which caused me to find the class.

I arrived having no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know if I found the right place, but it smelled like kombucha, so I figured so, and soon found Jessa, the owner. She introduced me to her assistant Alexandra, and others started filing in. The event had food provided by Grateful Plate, which I enjoyed. I will have to try making bi bim bop stuffed mushrooms sometime. We also got free cups of kombucha. I chose one with pineapple.

The class began and we all gave introductions. A lot of people use kombucha for stomach issues. Next we had a lecture. I learned a lot of useful information. We don’t know the exact origin of the brew, and since you need the culture to make the brew, and the brew to make the culture, we don’t quite know how the whole thing even started, like the chicken and the egg. This gives it a mystical feel for me. Kombucha also has a link to the community. She encouraged us to use local fruits and herbs as flavoring. I recalled when speaking in Belgium, that they found it weird that Americans insist on eating all foods all year round.

“Why would you want strawberries in the middle of January?”

The bacteria, which I now knew as SCOBY, standing for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, continues to grow. Eventually you have to give some away, or find another way to use it. This means that in time, you can give to others without depriving yourself. It made me think of the field of bio-mimicry. What can we learn about human communities and information exchange from this humble culture?

I wondered about safety concerns. Jessa said that if left uncovered, the starter jar will attract tons of fruit flies. I thought of The Winnebago Man delivering a profane rant about flies.

She also brought up mold. If the SCOBY becomes contaminated, it will grow mold, which can make you sick. Obviously I didn’t want that. She said that I can tell from the smell, plus a sighted person can easily verify. In reality, a blind person with any sense will have a sighted helper come by their home periodically to help with cleaning and the like, so this does not present an obstacle. I felt confident that I could do this without dying.

The lecture ended and we gathered our supplies, which we would get to take home to get us started. We received a wide mouth 32 ounce jar, a SCOBY, and a swing top bottle for storing the final product. We also got a funnel and some linen. We would go through the entire brewing process.

First, we put our SCOBY into our jars. Another student described it as looking like a jellyfish. It landed in the jar with a plop. I didn’t get a chance to touch it, but would later. Next, we added cool tea. You can’t pour in boiling tea or it will kill the bacteria. After covering the jar and securing it with a lid, I had my first batch of starter.

After brewing between five and seven days, the drink enters the second stage. This involves pouring the starter into the swing top jar, and adding flavoring. The sugars in the fruits and herbs give the carbonation. They thoughtfully had starter already brewed for us to try this part without waiting. For a flavor, they selected ginger peach with rose petals, which sounded wonderful. I cut up 3/4 of a peach, minced some ginger, and crushed some dried rose petals. I added them directly to the bottle. Done.

I took everything home and waited. Jessa even sent me the printed flier in a pdf file. Three days later the time had come. After dealing with the initial carbonation which she warned me about, I had a bottle of kombucha, exactly like what I would buy in the store, but even better. I had a glass and felt ecstatic. Something about brewing it myself added some extra oomph. I could hardly believe that I had done it.

Tonight I made my next batch of starter, continuing the process. I got to feel my SCOBY, and it didn’t feel as gross as I expected. It does have a jellyfish-like shape and a slimy rubbery texture. I could also feel the new layer forming on top. I did this after washing my hands for thirty seconds under very hot water as instructed. For my first flavoring, I decided to try raspberry ginger, with a little turmeric root thrown in as well. Why not.

A few years ago I tried to enjoy alcohol, but I realized that it just gave me a headache. I stopped drinking almost three years ago and have never regretted it. Some bars have begun offering kombucha as an alternative, and I encourage this trend. I miss having something special to drink on social occasions. I also miss the seasonal local element, and kombucha brings that back in a wonderful way.

I can now brew this amazing health elixir myself. Inspired Brews has me feeling very inspired. Can a blind person brew kombucha? Absolutely!