Kombucha: More art than science?

Kombucha: More art than science?

Kombucha: more art than science?
By: Erin Wilson (RFCI), Miami

Kombucha in process. (Photo: Erin Wilson)

On August 14th, 2019 at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG), the Rare Fruit Council Int’l. (RFCI), Miami had the pleasure of hosting Counter Culture, a boutique kombucha company headquartered in South Florida. Buster Brown, one of Counter Culture’s founders, along with Laura Sutton represented the brand and shared a great deal of information about fermentation, the health benefits of kombucha, and their philosophy on tropical fruit flavorings. As a home brewer myself, I found the discussion particularly enlightening, and it made me wonder if perhaps making kombucha is more art than science.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fair amount of science in play because kombucha, by definition, is a fermented tea, and fermentation is no simple sport. It is, however, a sport humans have been playing for millenia. So one might say, we’ve got the science pretty nailed down already. Kombucha starts out with three simple ingredients: tea, sugar, and a SCOBY: a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. This SCOBY, also known as a “mother,” is the key to the fermentation magic, and is what differentiates kombucha from other fermented foods and beverages.

Kombucha scoby / mother passed around by invited speakers. (Photo: Jorge J. Zaldivar)

Kombucha mothers have been bred to feed on white sugar, so while many readers might feel inclined to use an alternative sweetener, remember: the sugar isn’t for you, it’s for your mother. Just as your health will decline rapidly in an environment without sufficient food, your SCOBY will struggle to survive if you don’t feed it properly. Luckily, most of the sugar you add to brew will be consumed during fermentation; very little remains in the final product. So use white sugar, one cup per gallon of tea.

Speaking of the tea, when I say “tea” I mean leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Kombucha mothers will consume the caffeine and require some of the other botanical magic found in this particular plant to thrive. As with the sugar, much less caffeine will remain in the final product than enters the brew; kombucha is a low-caffeine beverage. You may brew with any variety of tea you like: green, white, black, or oolong. This is where some of the art starts to come into play. Different brewers using different teas, or blends thereof, will achieve subtly different final products.

Begin with four cups of strong tea per gallon of brew. Eight tea bags is a good place to start. Once steeped, dissolve the sugar in the tea and let it return to room temperature. Transfer the sweet tea to a gallon glass jar, add your mother and starter liquid, and fill with non-chlorinated water until within a few inches of the top. Cover the brew with a piece of cotton fabric and let it sit, undisturbed, out of direct sunlight, and at an ambient temperature between 65°F-85°F for 7-21 days. The starter liquid acts as an insurance policy during the first few days of brewing by lowering the pH so other microbes, like mold, don’t take up residence while your mother works her magic.

Over the next week you’ll see a film form on the surface of the brew. This is your next generation mother. A SCOBY is usually good for 4-6 brews before she should be retired to the compost bin. You’ll know she’s spent when she’s dark brown and tears easily when you handle her. You can brew with one mother, but I usually keep two or three in the jar at a time. Store extra mothers in a separate jar – sometimes called a SCOBY hotel, use them to make another batch, or give them to a friend and spread the kombucha love! Once your brew reaches your desired level of tartness, it’s time to flavor and bottle.

Our friends at Counter Culture only use locally sourced organic produce to flavor their teas. They steep fruit and other botanicals in the kombucha for a couple days before bottling. Personally, I have found it easier to just add flavorings directly to the bottle. There are pros and cons to each. Removing the fruit before bottling certainly makes the bottles easier to clean, but you won’t achieve the intensity of flavor you can with in-bottle seasoning. Just remember what goes in must come out, so chop the fruits small, puree, or use juice.

Whichever approach you choose, first remove your mothers from the brew and set aside in another glass vessel. Reserve a cup per gallon of liquid that you will use as starter liquid for your next batch. If desired, flavor your kombucha with an ounce of fruit, juice, or herbs per sixteen ounces of tea. Transfer to swing-top bottles. Let your Kombucha sit on the counter for a few days to allow a second fermentation to carbonate your tea before transferring it to the fridge. Refrigerated, your tea will easily keep for a few months.

With so many options for teas and flavorings it’s easy to see how much art goes into a perfectly balanced bottle of ‘booch. Fear not friends, for your tastes are your own. Big fan of ginger? Dial it up! Like sweet drinks? Add more juice or fruit at bottling. Want super fizzy original flavor tea? Bottle earlier, allow for a long second ferment, and skip adding anything else. At the end of the day it’s your tea; experiment until you find a blend you like.

I’ll leave you with one more interesting fact we learned from the Counter Culture crew. While all kombucha likely has a single ancestral “mother,” not every SCOBY contains the same bacteria. Over time SCOBYs change, they evolve. Storing a SCOBY near other fermented foods may cause some cross contamination. This is not said to scare you; it’s just part of how your mother and her lineage will become uniquely yours over time. But perhaps do keep her away from your meat grinder, just to be safe.

Hopefully you now find yourself excited to join the ranks of homebrewers all over the world. The science of brewing kombucha is no match for the variety yielded through the art of flavoring. Enjoy this new hobby of yours. Experiment with different teas, fermentation times, and seasonings, and occasionally – whether for inspiration or biodiversity – consider sampling someone else’s brew; the multitude of flavors available from Counter Culture are a great place to start.

Happy fermenting!

More info about our invited speakers can be found at their website: http://drinkliveculture.com/

August 2019 Members Meeting (RFCI) Miami

August 2019 Members Meeting (RFCI) Miami

Our monthly Rare Fruit Council Int’l. (RFCI), Miami members meeting will be held Wednesday, August 14th, 2019 at 7:00pm in the Science Village Classroom next to the Butterfly Exhibit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG) in Coral Gables, Florida. 

BusterBrown will be discussing “Kombucha Fermentation with Tropical Fruits”

(Counter Culture, Miami, Florida)

Please remember to bring a dish, fruit, seeds or a plant for our tasting table & plant exchange. Non members, we ask that you please RSVP via email or the CONTACT form on our website menu so we may accomodate seating arrangements..

JULY 2019 Members Meeting (RFCI) Miami

JULY 2019 Members Meeting (RFCI) Miami

Our monthly meeting is this Wednesday July 10th, 2019, 7 pm at FTBG in the Science Village Classroom. Manny Wong will be speaking about “Putting Sprouts on Your Table” (Fullei Fresh, Miami, Florida). Please remember to bring a fruit, a dish and a friend.

Manny Wong was born in Havana, Cuba, the son of Chinese immigrants. He came to the United States as a child and grew up in the food industry. His father grew bean sprouts in Cuba and then in Miami, FL established a popular Chinese restaurant.

Upon graduating from Pace University in 1978, Manny established Fully Inc. They grew bean and soy sprouts to serve the Asian community in Miami. For some time they also produced tofu, soymilk and rice noodles. The product line later expanded to include “green” sprouts such as alfalfa, broccoli, clover, snow pea, sunflower and wheatgrass. In 1997 the name Fully was changed to Fullei Fresh. Currently they grow over 20 varieties of sprouts and shoots.

Fullei Fresh uses state-of- the-art hydroponic, vertical farming techniques. Among the varieties grown are alfalfa, bean, beet, broccoli, clover, daikon, soy, snow pea, sunflower, wheatgrass and unique combinations like a Crunchy Mix, Garlic Sprout Blend and Rainbow Mix.

Manny has been a pioneer in the sprouting industry by helping to develop procedures for food safety. He was one of only two sprout growers to be involved with the formation of the United States’ Food and Drug Administration’s Sprout Safety Alliance, which developed the regulations for the sprout industry. Fullei Fresh was the first facility to be in compliance with their requirements. Manny is also a lead instructor for the Sprout Safety Alliance. He teaches sprout growers and government regulators about the protocols for the safe production of sprouts.

Manny believes in community involvement. He is a current board member of the Miami-Dade County Asian American Advisory Board and International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA). He is also a past board member of other organizations.

As part of the food safety standards, Fullei Fresh is inspected yearly by a third-party and must receive at least an excellent rating to be in the program. They pride themselves in continuing to set the standard for the sprout industry. The mission at Fullei Fresh is to set the standards for food safety, while providing our customers with the highest quality products and the best service we can. It is our continuing goal to provide wholesome dietary alternatives which enhance cuisine and protect against disease.


The Rare Fruit Council Intl. lost a longtime supporter last week. We mourn Jose M. Trabanco, who coordinated the RFCI Plant Exchange in the 1980s. His legacy will be forever remembered by the hundreds of flowering & fruit trees which he planted in his neighborhood. Photo: El Nuevo Herald, Miami Herald (1990) & RFCI’s Tropical Fruit News (1980s-90s) via the #RFCIArchives

Tropical Fruit News #RFCIArchives




Bill Whitman Day & Longan Celebration

Bill Whitman Day & Longan Celebration

Bill Whitman Day & Longan Celebration

CELEBRATED JUNE 8th at THE PRESTON B. BIRD & MARY HEINLEIN FRUIT & SPICE PARK, in Homestead’s bucolic Redland Agricultural Area.

William “Bill” Whitman Day & Longan Celebration


June 8th, 2019 (SATURDAY) 2PM-5PM

Hosted by The Rare Fruit Council International, Inc. (RFCI), Miami in cooperation with the Fruit & Spice Park & the Tropical Fruit & Vegetable Society of Redland.

Members of RFCI Chapters & Florida fruit clubs are welcome to celebrate Bill Whitman’s legacy, and what he contributed to the advancement of pomology through the ‘Kohala’ longan and many other plants. Whitman is one of the founders of The Rare Fruit Council International, Inc. (RFCI) Miami, which was founded on March 11, 1955 as the Rare Fruit Council.

Admission to the F&S park is to be paid at gate, more info at their website.

Perhaps you’ll bring something to share with fellow fruit enthusiasts … fruits, seeds, scions

The RFCI looks forward to welcoming you to Homestead’s Redland.

RSVP IS Encouraged by emailing RareFruitCouncilRFCI@gmail.com

Email Reference: Bill Whitman Day / Redland Fruit Club Meetup

Want a reminder? Sign up for the RFCI list http://RareFruitCouncil.org/email

Six Decades with Tropical Fruit: Retrospect

Six Decades with Tropical Fruit: Retrospect

Six Decades with Tropical Fruit: Retrospect

"Rare Fruit Council, A Tropical Fruit Study Group"

The year 2019 marks the beginning of the sixth decade of The Rare Fruit Council International, Inc. (RFCI). Sixty-four years ago, the purposes of our Council were set by ten founders who met on March 11, 1955 to establish an organization for the promotion of tropical pomology in areas of suitable climate. A tropical fruit study group was formed, and later named Rare Fruit Council by Julia Morton, of the Morton Collectanea.

These early visionaries dreamed of obtaining rare fruit species from many foreign countries, improving quality, and selecting desirable varieties. Since that meeting, hundreds of dedicated members have fulfilled many of the purposes set by RFCI’s founders to provide the community with these rare species, publications and lectures for the education and pleasure of Florida’s fruit enthusiasts.

2019 has also found the Rare Fruit Council challenged by funding constraints. As with many non-profit, self-supporting organizations, creative effort directing by building a strong financial foundation is crucial for continued survival.

Council membership is now in transition. New members are encouraged for the younger generation to become more active in studying tropical fruits. Recent arrivals whose interests are broad and their talents abound are the most direct means to the end, which is vital to the survival of the RFCI.

As we embark into our sixth decade, our user-friendly website will hopefully inspire renewed interest in tropical fruits, new fruit introductions and sharing horticultural knowledge to make Miami the next garden of Eden.

Let’s remember those visionaries that paved the way with their knowledge and bountiful harvest of rare tropical fruits.

The Rare Fruit Council International, Inc. (RFCI)

Mr. Seymour Goldweber,  Mr. Kendall Morton,
Mrs. Julia F. Morton, Dr. Roy Hartness,
Dr. Bruce Ledin,  Dr. George Ruehle,
Mr. Duffield Matson Jr.,  Mr. William F. Whitman,
Mr. Salvatore Mauro, Mr. Seymour W. Younghans

The Incredible Guava

The Incredible Guava

The Incredible Guava

Psidium guajava


Most of us who grew up in the tropics know a guava is perfectly ripe when you can smell it without even putting it to your nose.  The taste to some of us has been described as ‘part strawberry and part pear’.  Its juice is frequently referred to as ‘the nectar of the gods. Guava is also rated as a super food, a powerhouse of nutrients and a good source of energy. One low-calorie cup of this vitamin rich fruit contains a whopping 8 grams of fiber scored second to blueberries and right behind kale.

The word guava appears to derive from the Arawak guayabo tree has since naturalized throughout the tropics and subtropics in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Florida and other countries. This seasonal fruit, scientifically known as Psidium guajava, has a round or pear-shaped yellow skin when ripe with a white or maroon flesh, depending on its type, and has small hard seeds enveloped in its soft, sweet pulp. The common types of guava include apple guava, yellow-fruited cherry guava, strawberry guava, and red apple guava. They are mostly eaten raw (ripe or semi-ripe) or consumed in the form of juice, jams, and jellies.

In Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and other Central American countries, thereis another specie of guava known as Cas (Psidium friedrichsthalianum)is another popular backyard fruit tree. The flesh is almost exclusively used to make a delicious drink as the flesh is usually very acidic. It is also used to makejams, jellies, and preserves.

As guavas are frequently attacked by the Caribbean fruit fly, home gardeners welcome the insect resistant guava cv. ‘Bogor’ with open arms from Indonesia is available from the Rare Fruit Council at plant their plant sales booth at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG).

In Southeast Asia, a larger white variety with a crispy texture is a popular as an ‘on-the-go’ snack fruit. Seedless varieties are also popular in Indonesia and Thailand but are not yet available in Florida.