After much experimentation, I am finally releasing this 6 step guide on how to make kombucha.
I think it was 7 years ago that I began drinking kombucha. An avid seeker of fizzy drinks, kombucha has become my favorite beverage. Fortunately for my health, kombucha has done wonders for my digestive system–gotta love them probiotics.
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that uses a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” (SCOBY). Known by some as the “booch,” it’s been around for thousands of years and actually originated in China where it was believed to promote immortality. As a booch fanatic, I love that I can get it at just about any store and even on tap. But do I love paying $3-$6? Not when I know I can easily brew it at home for less than 25 cents per bottle!
Brewing your own kombucha is not only affordable, it’s incredibly easy but just takes a little patience. One advantage of brewing at home is the fun of inventing your very own flavor combinations. I’m here to help you get started on becoming a brew master. You need:
1 gallon fermentation vessel, same width at base and height
1 cup organic cane sugar
6 bags of tea or 6 teaspoons loose leaf tea
a clean cloth to cover the jar and rubber band
1 SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) with “starter” (i.e. 1-2 cups previously brewed kombucha)
Note: You can buy the SCOBY online or ask somebody you know. Try Etsy or Kombucha Brooklyn.
What’s best for the micro-organism?
There are a few things you need to know about your SCOBY. It should be strong, not mushy. Strong = alive and thriving. Like a kid in a candy shop, it gets excited when you feed it sugar–the more processed the better. Note that less processed sugars will likely alter the kind of bacteria in your SCOBY and you will definitely notice a taste difference in the final product. I don’t recommend it.
Choosing the Tea
The best tea for the booch is simple black, green, and white tea. Black tea is the most nutritious for the kombucha culture, but green tea is a close second.
I recommend starting with 3 bags of black tea: 2 bags green tea: 1 bag white tea. Note that your culture (SCOBY) will suffer if you feed it a tea that has anti-microbial properties! Beware of using flavored teas like chai or Earl Gray. Stick to plain, simple teas. If you are using loose leaf tea, then I would try 3 teaspoons black: 2 teaspoons green: 1 teaspoon white tea.
English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Oolong, or Darjeeling are great teas to use. Sun tea (Lipton) will give a really soft flavor profile. Just experiment and figure out what you like.
Tasting your Brew
The best way to get a kombucha that you like is to taste it throughout the fermentation process. It’s up to you when to stop. In the beginning, the kombucha will have a sweet flavor profile and will contain caffeine from the tea. Caffeine levels decrease as fermentation continues–by the time you drink the kombucha, virtually all caffeine will be gone.
As the kombucha ferments at room temperature, the sweetness will decrease and the flavor profile will become increasingly sour. If you let your kombucha sit long enough, it will turn to kombucha vinegar. If this happens, don’t toss it out. Use it for marinades or salad dressings.
Alcohol is a by-product of yeast eating sugar. The standard brew contains very low levels of alcohol (.5-1%). You can remove the yeast (brownish stringy pieces) by rinsing your culture with purified water between brews to lower the alcohol levels.
Not all cultures are the same because different environments affect the kinds of bacteria and yeast that grow. Over the years I have altered my SCOBYs to the dreaded point of no return by allowing my booch to turn to vinegar too many times–my SCOBY could no longer produce the drink-able kind.
When this happens, it’s best to start over with a fresh SCOBY from a reputable source. Every time you make kombucha, you will grow a new SCOBY patty or “mushroom.” Reserve this new culture for future brewing. You will want to brew with the 2 newest SCOBYs each time, so that by the time you’re done, you will have 3 total. Throw out the oldest one or give it to a friend.
Brewing Basics: the First 5 Steps
Using a clean pot, boil 1/4 gallon of spring water (no chlorine). Add the tea and steep for 20 minutes.
Remove tea. Add 1 cup organic evaporated cane sugar. Stir to dissolve.
Add about 1/2 gallon of water to cool down the tea solution. Before adding the tea solution to the SCOBY, test the temperature. It must be below 95°— about the temperature of your hands. Once the solution is cool enough, add it to the vessel and top just to where the jar begins to taper at the shoulder.
Add SCOBY plus 1-2 cups nutrient solution (this is usually from a previous batch of kombucha) to a clean 1 gallon brewing vessel. Note: Use the 2 youngest/newest SCOBYs when starting a new brew.
To ensure you have maximum SCOBY breath-ability and to prevent contaminants, cover the jar with a clean cloth and secure with a rubber band. Move the vessel to a warm place, 72-80F. Avoid direct sunlight.
After 7-14 days, you will see a new SCOBY forming on the surface.
Your kombucha will be ready in 14-28 days–depending on temperature, the number of SCOBYs, and water quality. It may take a little longer with a new SCOBY as it adjusts to its new environment.
Bottling and Flavoring: the Second Ferment (the 6th Step)
Once you’ve deemed your kombucha ready (i.e. you like the flavor), you can drink it as-is or start to add additional flavors. First, remove the SCOBYs (reserving 1-2 cups brew for your next batch).
Then, you can either bottle your brew (1 gallon will yeild about 8 bottles) or start adding flavors directly to the brew vessel. Once you add your flavor, you can move the brew directly to the fridge to halt fermentation or leave it out for another 3 days. If you like bubbles, you will need to add something with a sweet flavor profile and secure the bottle with a tight fitting lid.
When flavoring kombucha, the possibilities are endless. Here are a few suggestions based on my experiences of what works and what doesn’t. Try:
- 5 spice (equal parts cinnamon, fennel seeds, peppercorns, star anise, and cloves) + a few raisins for extra fizz
- a couple pieces of fruit: raisins, berries, peach
- 1-2 tablespoons fruit juice per bottle (bilberry, pear, cherry, cranberry)
- sliced ginger, turmeric, lemon/orange/grapefruit peel
- 1-2 tablespoons flower tea (hibiscus, rose, or lavender)
- fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, tarragon, mint, rosemary, thyme, basil, spruce tips)
- spices (juniper, anise, cardamom, cinnamon)
- extracts (1 to 2 drops of vanilla, chocolate, anise, almond, orange)
After about 3 days at room temperature, you may have some nice bubbles forming and should move your sealed bottles to the fridge to slow down fermentation. Enjoy within 3 months or so. If you let the kombucha turn to vinegar then try using it in salad dressing, marinades, or add a tablespoon to your smoothies.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it or leave a comment below. I’m happy to answer questions or troubleshoot with you. I’d love to see your brew experiments–send me a pic on Instagram at #blissnvinegar. Thanks as always for reading!