Have you ever tried to brew kombucha before? You may have been buying and drinking kombucha for a while now, or you may have just heard of it and want to try it. This guide will help you make your own at home for just cents a day. You’ll learn to make flavoured kombucha too!
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha (kawm-boo-chah) is fermented tea. It is basically sweetened tea left to ferment or sit out in room temperature for a few days with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), also known as the kombucha mother.
Kombucha has been called many different names over the years in different parts of the world. It has been known as the “tea of immortality”, the “elixir of life”, mushroom tea or tea kvass.
What are the benefits of Kombucha?
Kombucha, like other fermented foods, has many benefits: it helps with detoxification, improves digestion and gut health, provides probiotics or good bacteria, helps with joint care and strengthens the immune system. It is not a panacea though – it does not cure anything, but rather helps the body get back into balance. It is an adaptogenic tonic, best consumed in small amounts regularly.
If you are new to drinking it, start slowly. Just drink ¼ to ½ cup in the morning and work your way up to 1 glass a day. See how your body reacts. If you feel any adverse effects, stop for a few days before drinking a small amount again.
What do you need to make Kombucha?
- Tea. Tea is the most popular drink on earth. To make kombucha, you must use authentic tea or leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. There is black, oolong, green and white tea, with varying levels of processing and oxidation. It is important to get organic tea and avoid those that contain oils that may harm your culture.
- Water. Use dechlorinated water. Kombucha is a living drink, you don’t want chlorine in your water which can harm the good bacteria. If you don’t have a water filter, let your tap water sit out for 24 hours to let the chlorine evaporate. Don’t use distilled water as it lacks minerals.
- Sugar. Sugar is the food for the bacteria and yeast, and gets converted into the beneficial acids found in kombucha. It is best to use organic cane sugar or white sugar. The longer you ferment your kombucha, the less sugar will remain in your final brew.
- SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) + Starter Tea. This is the kombucha mother or the blob that will convert your sugar tea into kombucha. You can buy your SCOBY online or get one from a friend. You’ll also need some starter tea or plain raw kombucha to start your brew. If you purchase your SCOBY, it should come with at least 1 cup of starter kombucha. Or you can use plain raw commercial kombucha in a pinch. The starter tea keeps your brew acidic to prevent the formation of mold.
How do you brew Kombucha?
This is the batch brewing method of making kombucha. The following recipe uses a 1.9 L or half-gallon mason jar (brewing jar). This size jar is easily available anywhere you can buy canning supplies. If you have a gallon vessel, just double the recipe.
Avoid using antibacterial soap when cleaning your equipment and when handling the SCOBY. You don’t want to kill any of those good bacteria. Just use hot water and (non-antibacterial) soap.
Let’s get started!
Supplies You’ll Need:
- Pot for boiling water
- 1.9 L or half-gallon glass mason jar
- Thick weave cloth
- Elastic band
- Glass measuring cup
- Dry measuring cups
- Small plastic fine mesh sieve
- Flip-top bottle
Part 1: Making the Tea
Bring 2 cups of water to just about boiling. Add the tea bags. Let them steep for about 5 minutes, then remove them. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Let this sweet tea cool down to around room temperature. When in a hurry, pour the sweet tea into the brewing jar while it is warm. Then add the remaining 3 cups of water into the brewing jar. This will help cool down your tea. The SCOBY is sensitive to high temperature.
Add the raw plain kombucha or starter tea. This will help make the mixture acidic which inhibits the formation of mold.
Part 2: Adding the Scoby
With clean hands, place the SCOBY on top of the liquid. It may sink, float or go sideways. This is all totally normal, the baby SCOBY will always form at the top of your brew. Cover the jar with a tight weave cloth and use an elastic to keep it in place. Your brew needs to breathe and this keeps the fruit flies away. Use a tight weave cloth instead of cheesecloth which may have larger holes.
Part 3: The Fermentation
Now, you have to find a spot where you can brew your kombucha undisturbed. This can be on your kitchen counter, away from direct sunlight, and away from vents or the stove or fluctuating temperatures. Don’t put it in the cupboard as it needs airflow. The optimal brewing temperature is 24 to 29 degrees C (75 to 84 degrees F). You may find that your brew takes longer in the winter when your house is cooler.
Place the jar in your brewing spot and do not disturb it for at least 5 days. You may want to start tasting your kombucha after the 5th day to see how the flavour is developing. You can use a straw to push the SCOBY aside, cover the top of the straw with your finger to get some liquid into the straw, then take it out to taste. The brew will get more acidic over time as the SCOBY converts the sugar tea to kombucha.
I typically brew mine for about 7 days, but others brew for 2 weeks or even a month. That’s the great thing about brewing your own, you can adjust your brewing time to the flavour profile that you want. Want it less sweet? Brew it longer. Want it less tart? Bottle sooner next time.
Taking Care of the SCOBY
Every batch will produce a baby SCOBY or another layer on top of your brew. You can split the mother and baby SCOBYs or keep them together. You can store extra cultures in a SCOBY hotel or another mason jar with some kombucha. Or you can give your extra SCOBYs away to a friend so they can start brewing their own too!
Once your kombucha tastes the way you want it, you can bottle it. Save a cup for your next batch. Set aside the SCOBY for your next brew as well.
How do you flavour Kombucha?
A kombucha second ferment is done by adding some fruit or herbs to plain kombucha and letting it ferment again for a couple of days for more flavour and carbonation. Flavouring kombucha can be so fun! Be creative and come up with your own flavours. This is the fun part for me, trying different fruits and herbs, and discovering the flavours my family and I liked best. Here are some of my family’s favourite second ferment flavours so far.
- Ginger: Just slice up about an inch piece of ginger into matchsticks and put it in a bottle with some kombucha. Ginger has anti-inflammatory benefits and can help relieve nausea. A ginger second ferment has a nice pale yellow colour. You can also try adding turmeric too, but just note that it can stain the bottle top. Or add some hibiscus leaves to get a rich red colour.
- Citrus Ginger: Add the juice of half a lemon and/or an orange and some ginger matchsticks to your kombucha, and you’ll get a delicious tangy flavour and light yellow colour.
- Blueberry: This is usually a bubbly one. Add about ¼ cup fresh or frozen blueberries. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and provide a rich purplish colour to the second ferment.
- Orange Cardamom
- Strawberry Rhubarb
Supplies You’ll Need:
- Small plastic fine mesh sieve
- Flip-top bottle
- Small cup or towel
- Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of fruit or herbs into your flip-top bottle.
- Place a funnel and small sieve on top of your bottle to strain out any brown yeasty bits from your kombucha.
- Pour your kombucha into the bottle and fill until about 2 inches from the top.
- Close the bottle and let it sit out at your brewing spot for 2 days. Sweeter fruits will be more carbonated as the yeast eats the sugar in the fruit and produces carbon dioxide. You will have to burp your bottle at least once a day to release the carbonation (see the next point for more details). This is also why you need to use bottles that can handle pressure. Avoid square bottles which can explode.
- Second ferments can get very bubbly! You’ll need to burp your kombucha once a day to avoid explosions. Put your bottle of kombucha in a small bowl to catch any spillover. You may want to do this near the sink. Use a towel or a small cup to cover the top of your bottle. Carefully and slowly open the flip-top while applying some pressure over the towel or cup. Once the pressure is released, close the bottle. You can put back any spillover in the bowl back into the bottle, or drink it right away.
- After 2 days, place your kombucha in the refrigerator. Then enjoy!
You may want to keep a brewing log and record the tea and sugar used, the start date, the bottling date. The average home temperature and the resulting flavour profile so you can repeat and adjust your brew for next time.
Hope you enjoyed this guide to brewing your own kombucha and flavouring it in a second ferment. Try it smoothies like this pineapple kombucha green smoothie or make your own sourdough starter using kombucha.
Good luck with your brewing adventures!
Serves: 6 cups
- 2 + 3 cups water
- 4 organic black or green tea bags
- ½ cup organic cane sugar
- 1 cup starter tea or raw plain kombucha
- 1 SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast)
- Bring 2 cups of water to just about boiling.
- Add the tea bags. Steep for around 5 minutes, then remove the tea bags.
- Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Let the sugar tea mixture cool to room temperature.
- Transfer sugar tea mixture to the mason jar.
- Add the remaining 3 cups of water.
- Add starter tea.
- With clean hands, place your SCOBY on top of the liquid.
- Cover the jar with the cloth and use the elastic to hold it in place.
- Place the jar away from direct sunlight, away from the stove, any vents or temperature fluctuations.
- Allow your brew to ferment for 7-10 days.
- Start tasting your kombucha on the 5th day, use a straw to push the SCOBY aside. You’ll know when your kombucha is ready when it is not too sweet or too acidic. Taste it everyday until you find the right balance.
- When your kombucha is ready, set aside 1 cup of the fermented tea, this will be your starter tea for your next batch. Set the SCOBY aside as well. You may place tea and SCOBY is another glass container.
- You can bottle your kombucha now or do a second ferment if you want to add more flavours.
- To bottle your plain kombucha: Get a clean bottle. Place the funnel and small plastic sieve on top. Carefully pour the kombucha tea into the bottle. Leave about a couple of inches of air space at the top. Close the bottle. Store in the refrigerator.
Crum, Hannah, and Alex LaGory. The big book of kombucha: brewing, flavoring, and enjoying the health benefits of fermented tea. North Adams, MA, Storey Publishing, 2016.
Katz, Sandor Ellix, and Michael Pollan. The art of fermentation: an in-Depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world. White River Junction, VT, Chelsea Green Pub., 2012.
“The World’s Healthiest Foods.” The World’s Healthiest Foods. Accessed 15 Aug. 2017.
Header image: bhofack2