What is kombucha? It’s essentially sweetened tea fermented and made fizzy by what’s called a SCOBY, which is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY feeds off of the tea and sugar to create the kombucha. Just Google “kombucha health benefits” and you’ll find plenty of articles on why you should try this drink. It’s probiotic, contains antioxidants, and is an effective detox.
You can find it in most stores that have a health food section, but it’s pricey. Making it yourself, however, is ridiculously simple and inexpensive.
First, you’ll need a few things to get started. This starter kit from Northern Brewer is $45, but it’s a one time purchase that contains everything you need to get started with something that can cost as little as a dollar per batch to make from then on out. This is the kit I purchased, because I really liked the size and quality of the glass fermenter.
If you want to shop around, here’s the gist of what you’ll need:
- A large glass container with a wide mouth, ideally big enough to hold a gallon of liquid and with a wide mouth
- Some butter muslin
- A rubber band to hold the muslin in place over the mouth of the jar
- Tea, plus a large ball steeper if using loose leaf
- A SCOBY
- Two cups of kombucha to use as a starter liquid
Let’s get started:
First, I’ll give instructions on brewing basic kombucha. Following that, I’ll explain how to brew kombucha with fruit replacing most or all of the sugar in primary fermentation. Regardless of which type you brew, the bottling phase will be the same.
You can use any plain green, oolong, or black tea; even low quality bagged tea.
Brewing Standard Kombucha:
- The first thing you should do is sanitize everything. Make sure all of your equipment is completely clean, and let it dry. I use this sanitizer to make my job just a bit easier and to give me some peace of mind.
- Boil four cups of water. Remove from heat. Steep at least a tablespoon of tea for five to ten minutes, then remove the tea. Add a cup of sugar and stir until it dissolves. Let this cool to room temperature. This is very important. A high temperature could harm your SCOBY.
- Pour this tea into your fermenter along with the starter kombucha, and add enough water to bring the total liquid to a gallon. You must leave at least two inches of space between the liquid and the mouth of the container, to give your SCOBY room to grow. Add your SCOBY.
- Cover the mouth of the fermenter with some of the muslin, secure that with the rubber band, and put it in a dark place. A cabinet or closet is ideal. Kombucha brews best at temperatures in the mid seventies Fahrenheit. Note: The muslin is important. The SCOBY will be releasing gas that will carbonate the liquid, and you don’t want that getting trapped and causing your container to burst.
- Let this sit for five to seven days, then try a little to test whether or not it’s done. It may take longer, so just keep checking it. You want it to be tart, but don’t let it get too vinegary before moving on to the bottling phase. If you take the kombucha out a couple days early, you can put it into secondary fermentation with fruit or herbs for a couple more days to flavor it.
Brewing With Fruit in Primary Fermentation:
Brewing kombucha initially with fruit replacing some or all of the sugar is not only a little more natural, but also gives the drink a stronger fruit flavor than you would get from adding it in a secondary fermentation. Best of all, it’s fun to experiment with! It’s the same process as brewing the standard way, with a few simple changes.
I use frozen fruit for convenience. The greatest tasting batch I’ve made was with peaches, but I’ve also found using more tart flavors pairs well with the naturally vinegary flavor of kombucha. For example, Strawberry lemonade flavored kombucha, made with strawberries and one peeled and chopped lemon, works well.
- Use a bigger pot, and add in around six ounces of frozen fruit with the four cups of water. Bring this to a boil. Remove from heat. Steep at least a tablespoon of tea for five to ten minutes, then remove the tea. Add one third of a cup of sugar and stir until it dissolves. Let this cool to room temperature.
- Follow steps three and four from the previous instructions on brewing a standard batch.
- Note: You can omit sugar entirely, but this results in a slower start to fermentation which raises the risk of the batch contracting mold. Because of this, if you omit the sugar entirely you may want to double the amount of starter kombucha to be safe.
- Your kombucha will be finished significantly quicker. Start taste testing on day three. The amount of sugars in the fruit speed up the process once it gets going. Watch your batch, because it can easily get too vinegary before you realize it.
The Bottling Phase:
- A mesh strainer
- A pitcher
- A bowl or mason jar (just something to place the SCOBY in while you bottle)
- A funnel
I kept the glass bottles from store bought kombucha and other drinks to use for my home brew. You can use any bottles with tight fitting screw on or swing top lids.
- Sanitize everything, and let it all dry. This is also a good time to start on your next batch. You can bottle your previous batch as the tea for the next one cools.
- You’ll notice your SCOBY has grown some. As it ate the nutrients from the tea and the sugar from your kombucha, it grew. This is a strange sight, but perfectly normal. Take your SCOBY out and set it aside in some container until you need it again. If you used fruit in primary fermentation, you’ll want to spoon this out and discard it.
- Pour the kombucha through the mesh strainer into the pitcher. Discard the solids from the strainer as necessary. From the pitcher, use a funnel to pour the kombucha into the bottles. Do not fill the bottles fully. Leave some space. Seal the bottles tightly and place back in your cabinet or closet. Over the course of a couple days, the bacteria and yeast still present in the liquid will continue the fermentation process, causing it to carbonate. This is why you must leave that extra space in each bottle. After two to four days (only two if you used fruit in primary fermentation), take the bottles and put them in the refrigerator. This will stop the fermentation process. You must refrigerate the finished kombucha or your bottles can burst.
The result will be a tart, fizzy beverage that’s not only good for your health, but it’s also pretty darn tasty.