How to Make Kombucha
on Jun 12, 2022, Updated Jul 13, 2022
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Have you been hearing the buzz word, Kombucha, EVERYWHERE lately?! It’s high time that I teach you how to make kombucha at home.
Spoiler alert: it’s easier than you think, you don’t need special equipment, and it’s inexpensive! This recipes makes 1/2 gallon every 5-7 days.
How to Make Kombucha
The 6 Simplified Steps:
- Make your sweet tea.
- Add a scoby.
- Let it sit for 5-7 days!
- Bonus: bottle that 5-7 day old kombucha with some fruit.
- Let that sit an additional 5-7 days.
- Drink and enjoy!
- Sugar: Use organic sugar for best results. Avoid alternative sweeteners.
- Tea: Use organic black tea. You can also use a mix of white and/or green tea in addition to your black tea.
- Water: Untreated tap water works great. If your tap water is treated you’ll want to use filtered or distilled water.
- SCOBY: This is the live and active culture that turns your sweet tea into kombucha. Get one from a friend or buy a starter SCOBY online. You can use one over and over again and they’ll grow a new one each brewing cycle, so it’s a great one-time investment.
- Supplies: You don’t need a whole lot of supplies. For this method I use 1 1/2 gallon mason jar (with a screw on lid and a piece of fabric to cover the top), and if you are going to do a second fruited ferment, you’ll need 6, 16-ounce brewing bottles.
- Recommended extras: I love The Big Book of Kombucha. If you are just starting out buy it or check it out from the library, it’s a great resource!
History of Kombucha
“Kombucha originated in Northeast China around 220 B.C. and was initially prized for its healing properties. Its name is reportedly derived from Dr. Kombu, a Korean physician who brought the fermented tea to Japan as a curative for Emperor Inkyo. Eventually the tea was brought to Europe as a result of trade route expansions in the early 20th century, most notably appearing in Russia (as “Kambucha”) and Germany (as “Kombuchaschwamm”). Despite a dip in international popularity during WWII due to the shortage of tea and sugar supplies, kombucha regained popularity following a 1960s study in Switzerland comparing its health benefits to those of yogurt.” -Christina Troitino of Forbes found in The Big Book of Kombucha
Basically, kombucha is a fermented tea that is made with water, tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Besides the health benefits of kombucha, I love the taste and it is soooo much cheaper to brew at home than to buy from the store.
First up, you are going to need a kombucha SCOBY.
What is a kombucha SCOBY you might ask? SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. It kind of looks like a mushroom and has the texture of a gummy bear. The larger the scoby, the faster the brewing cycle.
The SCOBY is the equivalent to a sourdough starter or keifer grains in other fermenting processes. It’s the culture that turns your sweet tea into nourishing and zippy kombucha.
Where do I get a SCOBY? The SCOBY is the only thing you’re really going to have to find to make kombucha at home.
- You can buy a SCOBY online.
- You can get a SCOBY from a friend (they multiply, so they are very easy to share).
- You can attempt to grow your own SCOBY from unflavored raw kombucha from the store.
No matter how you get one, you need one before you start AND you’ll need 1/2 cup of unflavored kombucha to go with it (you friend can give you some and a SCOBY bought online will come with this starter liquid).
Small batch brewing method
Let’s get nerdy here. Kombucha starts as a sweet tea and with the help of a SCOBY it turns into something amazing.
The method in this post is batch brewing and will make 1/2 gallon of kombucha every 5-7 days.
If you do a second ferment with fruit, you’ll end up with 3 16-ounce bottles every 5-7 days. This is a great amount for one-two people a week.
During the first stage of the double-fermentation process, or primary fermentation, the sweet tea and SCOBY are in a vessel that is protected from contamination like dust and fruit flies, but not sealed. It is an aerobic (with oxygen) fermentation process. At the end of primary fermentation, the kombucha is technically ready to go. It can be enjoyed then if you wish!
However, most people enjoy their kombucha carbonated and flavored, which is where the secondary fermentation comes in. I always do a second ferment! We love all of the flavors we can make at home.
For secondary fermentation, finished first ferment kombucha is added into air-tight bottles. A couple ounces of pureed fruit, whole chunks of fruit, or fruit juice are often added at this stage as well. By enclosing the kombucha in an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment and feeding it a little fresh sugar (in the form of fruit), yeasts convert that sugar into carbon dioxide. The sealed bottled prevents the carbon dioxide from escaping, leading to carbonation.
Commonly Asked Kombucha Making Questions:
How can you tell if a scoby is bad?
Mold is NOT good. Throw away any kombucha and scobys that mold (this isn’t common), it might look like colors on the scoby or floral blooming dots. Acquaint yourself with what yeast in kombucha might look like. It’ll look like dark brown snotty strings (delightful right). But it isn’t mold.
Is there alcohol in kombucha?
The short answer is yes. But just a tiny bit, depending on how it is made. The chemical reactions between bacteria, yeast, and sugar result in the formation of a small amount of alcohol during the fermentation process. That very reaction is part of what keeps it safe and healthy to consume. If there was more alcohol in it than a tiny bit, they wouldn’t sell it to everyone at the grocery store.
What does kombucha taste like?
It is tangy, tart, and a bit sour. It has been compared to a sour apple taste with a tad more sweetness.
I have a million more kombucha questions, where should I turn?
I’d highly recommend finding The Big Book of Komucha! It’s where I learned everything and it answered ALL of my questions. It’s the Bible of kombucha making really. Buy it or find it at the library, you’ll love getting to know kombucha making through this book!
Here’s a free video on how to make kombucha:
Kombucha Making: 101
- 2-3 tea bags or 1 tablespoon loose leaf tea*
- 1/3 cup sugar*
- 1 small SCOBY
- ½ to 1 cup starter liquid, (raw unflavored kombucha)
- Water to fill jar*
- Work with clean hands and utensils, but don’t use anti-bacterial soaps. Hot water is best for cleaning.
- Add the tea bags and sugar to a 4-cup container and add 3 cups boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags. Let mixture cool.
- IF this is your very time making kombucha you will need to buy a SCOBY and starter liquid or get one from a friend. Place the starter liquid in a 1/2 gallon jar. If this is not your first kombucha ferment, remove the SCOBY from your half gallon jar and place it on a clean surface. Place your kombucha that has been through it’s first ferment in a clean jar for drinking or in brewing bottles for a second ferment to flavor. Reserve 1 cup first ferment kombucha (just leave it in the jar).
- When the tea cools, add it to the starter kombucha in the 1/2 gallon jar and then fill the jar with more water until it is 1 inch or so from the top.
- Gently place the SCOBY in the jar and secure a breathable tightly woven cloth or coffee filter over the top. Let ferment 3-7 days at room temperature.
- TIP: to speed the process you can add cold water to the jar with the remaining liquid (about half full) and then add the hot sweet tea mixture on top. You only want your starter liquid to get warm though, adding very hot water to it will kill the live and active cultures.
TO FLAVOR AND SECOND FERMENT:
- A half gallon of first fermented kombucha will fill three 16-ounce brewing bottles, fill to just where the neck starts to curve.
- Add a few ounces of fruit chopped into small pieces, fruit puree, or fruit juice. It should fill the bottle 1-2 inches from the top. You can also add things like herbs, turmeric, ginger, or edible flowers.
- Secure the caps to the brewing jars and ferment for another 3-7 days at room temperature.
- *Use black tea or a mix of black/green/white teas, organic is best.
- *Organic sugar is best.
- *If water is chlorinated you can leave it out at room temperature overnight to dechlorinate, if you think your water is heavily treated consider using filtered or distilled water
- kombucha will ferment faster in warmer weather and slower in cold (ideal brewing temperature is 68-78 degrees).
- The larger the SCOBY, the faster the brewing cycle.
- A new SCOBY layer will form on top of your jar, you can keep the layers in a second jar (called a SCOBY hotel) as a backup or a way to share, just add a little raw first fermented kombucha to the jar as needed. If sharing your kombucha the new owner will need a SCOBY AND 1 cup of “starting liquid” or first fermented kombucha.
- Sometimes there is dark yeast at the bottom of the jar or stringy dark yeast on the bottom of the white/grey/peachy SCOBY, that’s normal.
- Mold is NOT good. Throw away any kombucha and SCOBYs that mold (this isn’t common), it might look like colors on the SCOBY or floral blooming dots. Acquaint yourself with a what yeast in kombucha might look like.
- My favorite resource on kombucha is: The Big Book of Kombucha: Brewing, Flavoring, and Enjoying the Health Benefits of Fermented Tea Book by Alex LaGory and Hannah Crum
How much caffeine is in Kombucha?
Properly fermented, finished kombucha should contain less than 1/3 of the caffeine concentration than when initially started! I’m sensitive to caffeine and kombucha doesn’t bother me. That being said, the SCOBY is healthiest when it has some caffeine in the tea, so to reduce the amount, use 1/3 black tea and a white and green tea mix for the other 2/3. I also have luck using 1/3 hibiscus tea (it makes the kombucha a beautiful color too!). You can play around with it.
Best pH levels for finished kombucha:
According to experts, the proper pH level of finished kombucha is between 2.5 and 3.5. I don’t check mine often but it’s fun to know. You can just use simple pH test strips to get this number. It’s fun to test your kombucha a few times during the brew cycle to see how it changes. Again, it’s not necessary, but it is interesting.
Handy Kombucha Making Chart:
Please ask more kombucha making questions in the comments. I’ll answer and add them here to make this post as complete as possible.
More Recipes to make:
Don’t be intimidated by the process of making Kombucha. It is simple and so tasty when it is all finished. Your gut and wallet will thank me.