How We Kombucha
I have had several questions about kombucha lately, so I decided to write a quick post detailing how we brew it. I am still a novice, so please take everything I say as a mere starting point and dig around to see what other info you can find.
What is Kombucha?
Simply put, it’s a fermented tea beverage that has been brewed for centuries and associated with numerous health benefits. I wrote about that in a bit more detail in The Kombucha Post, or How I Finally Became a Card Carrying Hippie.
Step 1: Secure a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast).
- From a friend: Each batch of kombucha produces a new “baby” SCOBY, so if you know someone who brews their own, you can ask them for one. Most people are happy to pass one along! I have had great success with gifted SCOBY babies myself.
- Online: A SCOBY can also be purchased online from sites like The Happy Herbalist.
- Grow your own: This is what I decided to do when I first started out, and it’s easy as pie. I purchased a bottle of raw kombucha from a local grocery store, poured half (about 8oz) in a glass container and drank the rest. I covered my container with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band and put it a warm, dark place for a week or two. A SCOBY formed on the top and I was ready to brew! I have read several times that it’s important to use unflavored kombucha, but I used my favorite flavor for both of my home-grown cultures without a problem. Since raw fruit is the only flavoring agent, I can’t see an issue with this.
- Something to brew your tea in. I just use a stock pot with a lid, but a large saucepan will do just fine, too.
- Tea: I have always used organic black tea, but you can use just about any type, really. The caffeine level is not a real concern, as very little is left at the end of the fermentation process. I use 6 tea bags for each brew.
- Sugar: I use organic cane sugar, but you can experiment with other types. This feeds the culture during the fermentation process, and is used up by the time you drink the brew so you needn’t worry about the health concerns associated with sugar when you drink kombucha.
- Starter liquid: You will likely receive some kombucha with your SCOBY to get your first brew started. If you grow your own, the kombucha you grew it in is your starter. If you don’t have at least a cup, you can buy a bottle from the store, or even use a cup of vinegar instead. This simply starts you off with good bacteria to keep your brew healthy and able to fight off any invaders that may try to contaminate your drink.
- A Stirring Implement: I use a large metal spoon. I’m sure you have something on hand.
- A glass container for fermenting: Never, ever use plastic for kombucha. Because of its acidity, kombucha will cause any harmful chemicals in the container you use to leach into the drink itself. I use a large glass jar from Anchor Hocking Company, which claims that all of its glassware is lead free.
- Something to cover your brew: A kitchen towel or cheesecloth is ideal, since it will allow the kombucha to breathe. I use a length of elastic to keep mine from going anywhere and make sure hungry insects stay out.
- Something to bottle your finished kombucha in (optional): Some simply take the SCOBY out at the end of fermentation and stick the whole thing in the refrigerator. I prefer to bottle mine so that I have handy single servings and can get my next batch going in the same container right away. I saved glass jars from the store bought kombucha I drank before I started brewing my own, and I use these.
- Something to flavor your brew (optional): Many enjoy plain ol’ kombucha, but personally I like to flavor mine with fruit. It goes in after the fermentation process. Flavors I see in stores include cranberry, mango, guava, gingerberry, and much more. The options are many.
- Thoroughly clean everything that will come in contact with your kombucha to minimize the risk of harmful bacteria contaminating the brew. The drink itself is antimicrobial and your starter liquid will give it a kick start, so the risk is low, but you still want to be sanitary. I wash everything with soap and water, and then spray it with vinegar.
- Heat 3 quarts of water just to boiling.
- Remove from heat and add 6 teabags. Cover and wait 15 minutes.
- Remove tea bags and stir in one cup of sugar, mixing until dissolved.
- Cover and allow to cool.
- When tea has reached room temperature, pour into the container you plan to ferment in.
- Add your SCOBY and at least one cup of starter liquid and cover.
- Leave your brew in a fairly warm, dry place and allow it to ferment. Depending on the temperature, your tea will be ready in seven to as many as fourteen days. Our house stays fairly cool but not cold, so I generally wait about ten days, judging readiness by the size of my new SCOBY. You can also taste a small amount of your brew to see if it tastes ready.
- Remove your SCOBY and baby, storing them in a glass container with 1-2 cups of kombucha until you’re ready to brew again.
- You can place the whole batch in the fridge and enjoy a bit at a time, or bottle it.
Step 7: Bottle (Optional)
- Sanitize bottles and a funnel if you have one.
- Gather whatever flavoring agent you plan to use, if any. My favorite is raspberries and fresh ginger, but I have also tried strawberries and mango with good results.
- Fill bottles, add fruit if desired, and close tightly.
- You can refrigerate now, or leave your bottles at room temperature for another day or two to allow them to ferment a bit more. Some think this makes for a more effervescent end result.
- I always cover my bottles with a towel, just in case a highly pressurized bottle and weakness in the glass should happen to meet. It doesn’t seem to happen often, but I have read tell of bottles shattering, so I’m extra careful. I figure this would at least keep the mess contained if I were ever to be so unlucky.