A Comprehensive Guide to Brewing Your Own Kombucha

image from The Kitchn

image from The Kitchn

Kombucha is a delicious, fizzy, all-natural fermented beverage that's been around for like billions of years (read:thousands). If you haven't already tried it, I recommend picking up a bottle from your local health foods store before making it at home, as the taste is pretty unique, and you might be one of the weirdos who doesn't like it.

But since you're here, reading about how to make it at home, I'm going to assume you've already tried it and love it. I don't blame you, there's a lot to love about it. The fizziness makes for a great alternative to soda. The strangely sour/strangely wonderful taste makes for an enjoyable drinking experience while reaping all of the health benefits. And, Oh! the health benefits.

Kombucha boasts a long list of health benefits. Some with research behind it, some not. But I've personally witnessed a positive change in my body since drinking it more regularly, and that's enough for me. 

Legend has it that Kombucha detoxes the body, pulling out heavy metals, plastics, preservatives, and other chemicals we ingest in our not-so-perfect diets. I can personally attest to this function. After two weeks of drinking it every day, I smelled awful. All of the yuck in my body was oozing it's way out, and let me tell you; it wasn't very subtle or lady-like. Once my body was rid of the nasty stuff, the odor vanished.

Kombucha also serves as a fantastic support for probiotic health. There's lots of "good guys" (vitamins, enzymes, probiotics, amino acids, etc.) which aid in healthy digestion and keep tummies happy. It's also said to help with mental clarity and focus, promote heart-health, support the immune system, and serve as an energy booster.

But you probably knew all of that already. 
You're here to learn how to make your own. So let's get on with it.

image from The Kitchn

image from The Kitchn

Brewing Kombucha at home is brilliant because it's delicious, healthy, easy to do, and oh so inexpensive. Instead of paying upwards of $5 per bottle at the store, you can brew about 3 gallons for about $2. There's no losing here. It's all winning.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 10 tablespoons (or 10 individual bags) Organic Black and/or Green Tea
  • 1 cup Organic white sugar
  • Filtered water (even better if it's distilled)
  • a SCOBY (we'll talk about this later)
  • 1-2 cups Organic Kombucha (from a previous batch or an unflavored store-bought bottle)

MATERIALS:

  • 2-3 Gallon glass jug (with plastic spigot)
  • Mesh tea ball or tea bag if using loose-leaf tea (or some kind of mesh strainer)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Bottle of vinegar (for cleaning)
  • Rubber band
  • Tightly-woven dish towel or piece of cloth 

Let's get started.

First, you need to acquire a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) like the one pictured above. You can do this in one of three ways.

  1. The most cost-effective and efficient way is to get one from a friend who brews their own Kombucha. Since a new SCOBY is formed with every new brew, they're likely to have a bunch on their hands and would be happy to send one home with you.
  2. You can also purchase one online, which I have no experience with, so google that.
  3. You can also apparently grow your own

Once you have a SCOBY, you're ready to get started.

Takes 20-30 minutes.

  1. Boil filtered or distilled water. I usually boil about 2 cups, but the measurement doesn't totally matter. 
  2. While the water is boiling, clean your hands, the wooden spoon, the 3 gallon jug, and the counter space you'll be working on with vinegar. Don't use soap, since it's likely an antibacterial soap, and could kill some of the good bacteria in your SCOBY. 
  3. Add the Tea. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat and add your tea. 
    This is important: Make sure you use either organic black tea or organic green tea. Teas like Earl Grey, Chai, and various floral teas have a high chance of molding. Once you're a bit more experienced, feel free to experiment with other teas, but always keep at least one of your SCOBY's in a separate jar (with safe kombucha), just in case your experiments turn into moldy messes and you have to toss it out.
    For now, we will stick to green and/or black tea. 
    Steep for at least 20 minutes.
  4. Add the sugar while the water is still hot. For my 3ish gallon jug, I use 1 cup of white sugar, and this seems to work well. It's important to use white sugar, because that's your SCOBY's favorite food! That's right, the sugar isn't for you, it's for your SCOBY. Most of the sugar will be eaten by the time you're ready to drink.
  5. Let it cool completely. This is crucial. If you add your SCOBY to hot water, you will kill it. Let it cool to room temperature.
  6. Strain tea if you don't use a tea-ball or tea-bags.
  7. Pour cooled tea/sugar mixture into glass jug.
  8. Add 1 cup of already brewed Kombucha either from a previous batch or from a store-bought unflavored bottle of Kombucha. This is important, as it kick-starts the brewing process.
  9. Fill rest of the jug with filtered/distilled water. Not to the tippy-top, but you want to fill it up 95% of the way. Mix with wooden spoon (Do NOT use metal spoon).
  10. Add your SCOBY. With vinegar-washed hands, pick up your SCOBY and place it in the jug with your cooled sugar/tea/water/kombucha mixture. Don't be afraid to handle your SCOBY. They're weird and gross but they're also pretty awesome. SCOBY's will sink to the bottom, float to the top, or rest on their sides. It's all okay. It doesn't matter where your SCOBY lands, as it is likely to eventually float to the top as it brews anyway.
  11. Cover with tightly-woven, clean dish towel/cloth and secure with rubber band. This is to keep the bugs out. Don't use a cheesecloth, as the holes are too large. The best kind of material is a t-shirt type material. Something tightly woven to keep bugs out, but airy enough to let the Kombucha breathe.
  12. Place it somewhere warm. Ideally, around 75 degrees is what you're looking for. I put mine in my bedroom, where it stays the warmest, on a side-table right next to a heater vent. My kitchen is too cold. So find the warmest place in your house and let it sit for a week or two. If it's too cold, it won't brew very fast (or at all) and runs a higher risk of molding.

That's it! You've successfully started your very first batch of Kombucha. For the next week or two, your job is to do absolutely nothing. Once you near the end of the first week, give your Kombucha a little taste. That's how you'll know when it's done. It really just depends on what you like. I prefer to let mine brew a little longer (like 10 days) because I like it pretty vinegar-y. But it's all based on preference.

image from Blog Lovin'

image from Blog Lovin'

Sidenote:
Brown floaties are normal. A white, cloudy formation at the top of your Kombucha is normal (this is your new baby-SCOBY forming). A vinegary smell is normal. 
Black or green growths are not normal, and if you're seeing some of that, google-search "moldy SCOBY" to compare. 

In the next blog, we'll talk about bottling, second-fermentation, and flavoring your Home-brewed Kombucha.

Kombucha: Bottling, Second-Fermentation, and Flavoring

Sunday School 101