Kombucha is tea fermented with a mixture of yeast and bacteria. This concoction of fermenters is known as a SCOBY but we’ll get back to that later. Kombucha offers a wide range of health benefits and can be pretty tasty. The problem is that it isn’t cheap buying commercial varieties. Luckily, making kombucha at home is cheap and super simple.
Kombucha doesn’t take that big of an investment to brew. The ingredients are very minimal with just tea, sugar, and a SCOBY with starter liquid. The equipment is equally simple with just a boil pot, glass or ceramic jar, and a cloth covering with a rubber band. You’ll also need bottles to capture CO2 when “second fermenting.” Flip-top or Grolsch bottles are the best options but you can use standard beer bottles as long as you drink them quickly or vent the bottles of excess CO2.
The SCOBY may seem like a weird alien creature but it’s actually pretty cool. SCOBY stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Simply put it’s a combination of yeast and bacteria that live together that makes Kombucha as a byproduct for us. You can either buy a SCOBY or grow one from a store-bought raw unflavored kombucha. SCOBYs are hardy but can be killed so keep ph low and give it something to ferment (eat).
On its own kombucha can be a bland vinegary tea but with fruit, juice, and spices you can make a really tasty brew. Frozen and fresh fruit both work by simply adding it to each bottle before topping off with kombucha. Unfortunately, you won’t get that much flavor due to the fruit’s water content. Fruit juice is my favorite way to flavor kombucha. Just top up each bottle with your desired amount of juice. Spices can be tricky as you could quickly end up with a flavor bomb. Start by using less than you expect and adjust in future recipes. Always try to add flavorings at bottling to avoid ruining your base kombucha.
Raw unflavored kombucha can taste perfectly fine but you don’t have to settle for plain tea. There is a wide range of teas from black, green, white, oolong, and many more. Each tea has its own unique properties so experiment till you find your perfect blend. Plain black tea is a good starting point until you figure out what you like. Bags and leaf tea work equally well in making kombucha. Make sure to fill your bottles earlier in fermentation if you aren’t flavoring to avoid too much vinegar flavor.
- 1 Gallon Water
- 8 Bags Black Tea
- 1 Package SCOBY With Starter Kombucha
- 1 Cup Sugar (220 Grams)
- 2 – 3 Oz Fruit Juice
Brewing the tea
- Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil. Remove from heat.
- Tie off 8 tea bags to the side of the pot and let them steep for at least 10 minutes. It's perfectly fine to let them steep the entire cooling time as well.
- Pour in the sugar and stir to dissolve.
- Let the tea cool to room temperature. An ice bath will greatly speed up this process!
Preparing the container and SCOBY for fermentation
- Wash your container with PBW or non antibacterial dish soap. Wash very well to remove any soap residue.
- Sanitize clean glass jug or ceramic jar with a Star San or distilled white vinegar.
- Pour SCOBY with starter kombucha.
- Top off with your cooled sweet tea.
- Check the ph of the kombucha mixture. It should be below 4.2 for safety and above 2.5 for a healthy fermentation. If your mixture isn't acidic enough then add distilled white vinegar by the teaspoon till you get below 4.2.
- Cover your container with a double layer of cheesecloth and a rubber band. Move to somewhere draft-free and away from direct sunlight.
- Allow the kombucha to ferment a minimum of two weeks at room temperature. If you didn't start with a SCOBY it will likely take at least an extra week to give the SCOBY time to grow.
- Clean and sanitize bottles along with any funnels or equipment you'll be using to transfer your kombucha with.
- Fill bottles to your desired level leaving room for fruit juice or flavorings. A funnel or an auto-siphon will greatly reduce spillage. Leave a third of your finished kombucha and the SCOBY in the container for the next batch.
- Top off with a fruit juice, fruit, or simple syrup to restart fermentation for carbonation.
- Place bottles out of direct light at room temperature to finish carbonating. This takes about a week but they may finish sooner.
The next batch
- Brew a fresh batch of tea and cool to room temperature.
- Pour directly on top of what's left from your first batch. You shouldn't have to sanitize the container again if you're brewing it the same day as bottling.
- Check ph to make sure it's below 4.2. Correct ph if needed.
Maintenance (After a few batches)
- Remove dead parts of the SCOBY. The odd discolored hanging parts will appear on the bottom after a few batches.
- Separate your SCOBY once it begins to get too thick. These parts can be given to friends or used to make another batch. Don't forget to give away starter kombucha too.
Tips For Making Kombucha:
- Don’t worry too much about contaminating your brewery if you brew beer as well. A separate set of equipment and keeping your booch in another room should prevent any infections.
- Open up your bottles outside till you master your carbonation.
- Always have two batches going at once in case something goes awry.
- Most store-bought refrigerated fruit juice will work for flavoring your kombucha. Avoid anything with preservatives.
- A bad SCOBY should be easy to spot. The first image below is a SCOBY that just needs the dead part removed off the bottom. The next image is of a SCOBY that has gone moldy. When in doubt throw away and start over!