I started making kombucha at the end of last summer. I had done some reading about it and was intrigued, so I got a SCOBY from a friend, bought a big jar, and brewed my very first batch. At this point, I hadn't actually ever tasted kombucha! I love tea, though, and I love sour/fizzy things, so I figured that we were going to get a long great.
Fast forward about 10-11 months, and I must say that kombucha has not only become a favorite beverage in our house, but it has also become something that we have come to rely on for our health. We love the taste--it's refreshing and delicious--and we love how we feel after we drink it! If we are feeling at all under-the-weather, a bit of kombucha helps to reset and refresh our systems by adding good bacteria back into our systems and helping to balance our guts! It's quite a beautiful and fascinating thing! (For more on the benefits of eating/drinking fermented foods, see my post here.)
Kombucha is a fermented tea made with the help of a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast). The SCOBY (sometimes called "the mother") is the strangest part of making kombucha. It's a kind of jelly-rubbery-like thing that you put into your jar of freshly brewed sweetened tea, and the SCOBY is what ferments the tea and turns it into kombucha. If you can get past the strangeness of the SCOBY, then making kombucha is simple and easy! Most of the work is done for you while you wait for the SCOBY to ferment it!
Here are the basics, if you'd like to start brewing your own kombucha!
a SCOBY (get this from a friend or order it online)
6-8 plain black tea bags (some people use other types of tea, I've only used black)
1 cup of sugar
3 1/2 quarts of water
2 cups of raw kombucha (You can get this from a friend or the store for your first batch. After your first batch you can use your own kombucha for this.)
fruit, herbs, ginger, honey, etc. for infusing/flavoring
a 1 gallon glass jar (Ball makes a decorative gallon jar that works great for this. However, you may be able to get a jar from a restaurant or deli. Most pickles, olives, etc. come in large glass jars.)
smaller jars for flavoring the kombucha (I use 1 half-gallon and 1 quart jar)
paper towels or cloth pieces to cover the jars
rubber bands or string to secure the paper towel/cloth to the jars
bottles for storing the finished kombucha (you can get glass bottles at beer brewing supply stores, and they work great!)
STEP #1: Brew your tea by boiling the water on a large pot on the stove. Once the water boils, turn off the heat and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Add the tea bags and then let it sit with a lid on until it has cooled to room temperature. I usually start this part of the process in the morning or before bed. Then I come back to it 6-8 hours later and finish the job.
Make sure your gallon jar is very clean (you may want to run it through the dishwasher on the sanitize setting or even boil it for 10 minutes to sanitize it). Pour the 2 cups of starter kombucha into the jar and then add the freshly-brewed room temperature sweetened tea. Using very clean hands, gently side the SCOBY into the tea. Cover the jar with a paper towel or a piece of cloth and secure it with a rubber band or string. Place the jar somewhere out of direct light (mine gets a bit of direct light in the summer, but I don't worry too much about it) and let it sit for 7-10 days. I write the brew date on my jar with a crayon, so that I don't forget it. You may want to start tasting it after 7 days to see when it has reached the flavor that you are looking for. It will get more sour and vinegar-like as it ferments. (NOTE: I currently make a two-gallon batches, so my pictures include double of everything.)
STEP #2: When the kombucha is ready (it should have a bit of fizz at this point), brew a new batch of tea. Once your new batch of tea has reached room temperature, gently lift the SCOBY out of the finished kombucha with clean hands and place it onto a clean plate. Pour 2 cups of the finished kombucha into a measuring cup or bowl and set it aside to be used for your next batch. With the remaining kombucha, you can do one of two things. You can bottle it as "plain kombucha" or you can put it into smaller jars with fruit, herbs, ginger, honey, etc. and let it infuse and take on those flavors. I typically fill two bottles and then pour the rest into a couple jars to infuse it. Some of our favorite flavors are strawberry/rhubarb, mixed berry ginger, and honey ginger. I usually fill the bottom inch or so of the jar with my ingredients and then fill the rest of the jar with the rest of the kombucha. Cover the jars and let them sit for 1-3 days. The longer they sit, the stronger the flavors will be.
At this point, you should clean your gallon jar and pour in the 2 cups of reserved kombucha along with the fresh tea. Then check your SCOBY for any bad spots. Your SCOBY will grow a new layer with each batch of kombucha. It may get darker in spots as well. This is all normal. However, if your SCOBY has any black spots on it, this is most likely mold and the SCOBY should be discarded and not used again. If you SCOBY looks good, then gently slide it into your new batch of tea, cover the tea, label it with the date, and let it ferment. (NOTE: As your SCOBY grows, you can peel off the old layers and compost them. You can also give a few layers to a friend for their brewing delight!)
STEP #3: When your infusions are ready (1-3 days after you started them), strain out the ingredients and then bottle the kombucha. Once your kombucha has been bottled, you should let it sit outside of the refrigerator for 1-3 days. Because the bottles are sealed, the kombucha will continue to ferment a bit and it will become more effervescent.
STEP #4: Your kombucha is ready to drink!! You can put it in the fridge or drink it right away. I've read that kombucha can last up to a month, ours has always been consumed before that, so I haven't experimented with the shelf life.
There you have it! It may seem a bit complicated after that long explanation, but it's really not. The basic steps are:
- Brew a fresh batch of tea, combine it with the starter tea and SCOBY and let it sit for 7-10 days
- Pour into smaller jars with yummy things and let it infuse for 1-3 days. Also, start a new batch at this point.
- Strain out the yummy things, and pour the finished kombucha into bottles. Let it sit and carbonate for 1-3 days.
- Refrigerate and consume!!
When I was first starting the process, I found the pictures, instructions, and troubleshooting notes on The Kitchn's website to be super helpful! Also, if you have questions about the health of your SCOBY, do a google image search. You can see a lot of crazy SCOBY's out there and I have found the pictures to be helpful.
Lastly, experiment with it! Try new flavors, try different fermenting times, take note of the temperature in your kitchen and watch how that impacts the fermentation process. Enjoy the journey and the product and recognize that there is not a perfect product!!