God of the process.

My mom started making kombucha while I was home last month, and I loved it. I actually ended up drinking it more than coffee! So as the time came for me to head back to Beijing, I was very sad at the prospect of leaving this healthy, delicious, refreshing drink. Since I have no kitchen facility and very few common western ingredients, I gave up trying to make American foods long ago. But I asked mom what I would need to make kombucha, and did you know that all you need is the scoby (fermenting mother), and tea! Tea? Yep, I think that’s one thing I can do in China!

I bought a jar of original, unflavored, raw kombucha at the store before I left, and transported it all the way to Beijing. Though I’m sure it got pretty jostled in the process of getting from the airport to the school last night, I still have high hopes that the fermentable qualities remain.

So this morning, “kombucha” was one of the four to-do items on my list. Figuring that it would be the simplest, I waited until the others were done. By 2:00pm, I started reading up on how to make your own scoby and brew kombucha. The instructions were surprisingly complicated, but I wrote down the list of supplies I needed: a glass jar, white sugar, and black tea.

In the biggest local supermarket (about the size of two-and-a-half convenience stores), I first searched for a glass jar. The only option I could find was a jar full of canned peaches. It was a good size though, so I picked it up. The sugar took me a while to find, and then there were several different types too. I knew the instructions had been pretty specific, but I couldn’t figure out what the difference was between all of these white granulated sugars. I finally picked out the one with a picture of a tea cup on it.

Now for the easy part: tea. I walked up and down the aisles… nothing. I went to the cashier and asked for “hong cha,” (actually called “red tea” in Chinese), and she said they didn’t have any. Puzzled, I went into another smaller supermarket. He pointed me to a bottled sweet tea drink, but I asked for the red tea leaves. He didn’t have any either.

I came back to the school and asked around – no one had black/red tea! I thought this was China! One of the teachers told me there was a small tea shop just outside the school, so we went over, but they didn’t have any either. So as I kicked myself for not just taking some of our black tea from home, I got on the bus and traveled about 6 stops to a nicer tea shop. As I walked through the doors, the two employees were clearly surprised and wondering how we could communicate. When I asked, “你们有红茶吗?(Do you have red tea?)” they eagerly replied, “有!(Yes!)” So I picked one out, paid, smiled and waved goodbye, and took the bus back to school. Little did I know that the adventures were still coming.

The next step was, of course, to eat the peaches in the glass jar. (Well actually no, the next step was to get the lid off the jar, which required the help of four different teachers.) Caroline (from North Carolina) helped eat them. Then I realized that not only did I not know how many cups this jar held, I also had no measuring cup! Luckily, Caroline spotted her water bottle with ounces marked up the sides. So with a little experimentation in the washroom, I concluded that my jar held five cups. Which was sadly too small for the 8 cup recipe.
Thankfully, Caroline is also good at math. Taking all the ingredients, converting them into ounces, and figuring out how to brew this all in a 5-cup jar required some algebra that I’ve become a little unfamiliar with. When all was calculated, we needed 32 ounces of tea, 2.2 ounces of sugar, and 4.57 ounces of raw kombucha. Great, now all we need to do is put it together, right?

Caroline and I grabbed all the supplies and walked over to the water heater room. A flood of students came out, having just filled their own bottles, and so the heat of the water was down to 60 degrees Celsius. So we left the supplies there and came back an hour later. A kitchen staff member had just finished filling her 5 gallon bucket with hot water, meaning that the water was down to 50 degrees. But we just decided to wait. Within about 20 minutes, the water boiled all the way up to 100, and we cheered and filled the jar with 32 ounces, added some tea leaves and the sugar, and stirred.

Finally, the tea was ready to just cool down. Oh, but wait. I just put all those loose leaves in it. So after a half hour or so, I scooped every last tea leaf out of the jar with a spoon. I didn’t want them to mold and ruin the kombucha.

So I set the jar, with the lid on, to cool outside. Soon, I realized that if I left it too long it could freeze, or at least get below room temperature. At the same, I realized that the raw kombucha I’d have to mix with it at the exact same temperature was sitting outside my door to be “refrigerated.” So I just moved them both into my room, the tea on the table to cool down and the kombucha by the heater to warm up.

This is just the first day of the process, and I don’t even know if it will work out in the end. But In the middle of it all, I was struck with the poignancy of the process. Not that I saw specific parallels to finding the right kind of sugar or adjusting temperatures (wait, there are totally parallels there…), but what I really thought of was just the importance of the process at all.

Making kombucha is a very specific, ordered, invested process with certain ingredients and timing that you just can’t mess with, as much as we’d like to just speed to the finished product. Isn’t God often like that? From our perspective, we often don’t understand why God takes so long to answer certain prayers or bring healing or any number of things. And He absolutely could do those things in an instant just like He could zap a perfect jar of kombucha right before my eyes. But He usually doesn’t. He’s quite often a God of the process.

Perhaps He’s taking His time because if you use too little sugar, the scoby doesn’t have enough to eat. Or maybe it’s because if you add the kombucha to the tea when the temperature is just a little too hot or too cold, it’ll kill the scoby. Maybe He’s not letting you taste the fruit of your labors because the fermentation process simply hasn’t finished yet, and drinking it now would not only be unhealthy, but not tasty, and ruin your ability to make more!

What really struck me was how comfortable I am conceding to a process or making kombucha that I found on an online recipe, and yet how hard it can be to submit to God’s plan. My challenge to myself and my readers today is simply to remember that God has reasons for His timing, He knows where this is going, and He has not forgotten us. Sometimes, it just takes a long time for the kombucha to brew.


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