You’ve been digging the tart and funky taste of kombucha for a while but supporting a daily habit is becoming a burden on the wallet. It’s time to take that next step and brew your own. Though it’s really no more difficult than making a pot of tea, home brewing kombucha isn’t for everyone. The miracle of kombucha fermentation is a process without much flourish other than a few bubbles and it's important that you trust your senses. If you're the DIY type and you're ready to start saving some serious dough, read on.
You don't need any fancy equipment to get started brewing kombucha tea. In fact, you probably have just about everything you need already in your kitchen, except for the SCOBY.
SCOBY: The mother! A Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, or more technically, a zoogleal mat. It looks like a pale ham steak and feels like a wet marshmallow. You can't make kombucha without one. There are several ways of obtaining a SCOBY. The best way is to meet someone who has been making kombucha for a while. Not only will they be happy to get you started with one of their kombucha babies, they will also be a good source of information and will probably help you troubleshoot any problems. Search online or at your local health food store, if you live in an urban area there's almost certainly a health food or raw food community you can hook up with.
Click here for instructions on starting your own culture with store bought kombucha.
You can also buy a SCOBY through an internet retailer. Some of our ad links will direct you to reputable sources.
The fermentation vessel - wide-mouth glass or plastic container: The important thing about the fermentation vessel is that the mouth is wide enough that you can put your hand into it to retrieve the SCOBY. We prefer glass for ease of cleaning but food grade plastic can be used. Though unlikely, any scratches on the inside of plastic containers can harbor unwanted bacteria that could make your kombucha taste like rubber or cardboard. Spend an extra 30 seconds cleaning plastic to make sure it is thoroughly sanitized.
Kombucha: To prevent your kombucha from growing mold and unwanted bacteria the sweet tea mixture needs to be acidic. At least ten percent of your pre-fermented liquid should be kombucha. Alternatively, use four tablespoons of cider vinegar (without an active culture) per gallon.
Sugar: Plain, white sugar works very well in kombucha because it ferments almost completely and leaves behind nothing but alcohol. Most of the alcohol is then converted into acetic acid. Other sugars like fruit juice, unrefined cane sugar and corn sugar will all work. But they will all behave a bit different. Both fruit juice, and to some extent less-refined cane sugar, will leave some flavor behind. It's best to get a few batches under your belt before you start experimenting with other types of sugar.
Tea: We like a quality, whole leaf green or oolong tea for a couple of reasons. A good whole leaf tea will sometimes last up to four steepings. This helps when you're making larger batches. It also allows you to extract much more flavor with less steeping time. Many kombucha recipes tell you to steep the tea for ten or even fifteen minutes. This is preposterous! You wouldn't normally drink an over-extracted tea. It's bitter and nasty. Why would you use it for kombucha? Brew the tea with proper water temperature and steeping time and use 1½ to 2 times the amount of dry tea that you would to make a normal cup.
Of course tea bags will work. Just be wary of teas that might be flavored with oils or artificial ingredients. These added components may or may not affect how the kombucha ferments. We use green and oolong tea only because they have milder flavors that marry well with the fruit juices we add later at bottling time. The type of tea to use is entirely up to you.
Water: For years we've been using plain old Detroit tap water to make our kombucha. If you have issues with your water supply you can use filtered, distilled or you can even boil the water first.
Basic recipe for one gallon of kombucha (adjust proportionally for larger batches)
2-4 cups of plain kombucha (commercial or from a previous batch) or 4 Tbsp. cider vinegar (without active culture)
1 cup white sugar
3 cups of brewed tea
enough cold water to make a gallon (about 10 cups)
Combine hot tea and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add sweet tea to cold water and kombucha in the fermenting container. Add SCOBY to the cool mixture and cover the fermenting container.
Your kombucha will take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to ferment. The higher the temperature, the quicker you're kombucha will ferment. We actually like to let ours go a bit longer at cooler temperatures in the cellar to develop a bit more flavor. As a general guideline you can expect your kombucha to be ready to drink in about nine days but you can start tasting it for doneness after five. Always keep the container covered. Fruit flies love fermenting kombucha.
Our next article at Total Kombucha will be on bottling, flavoring and refermentation to add flavor and fizz to your kombucha. Check back with us in a few weeks. In the meantime, let us help you decide whether you should bottle in glass or plastic.