Our family loves drinking kombucha, a delicious fermented, healthy tea. Kombucha contains vitamins B, C, probiotics, glucuronic acid and amino acids. It is refreshing, energizing, assists with digestion and detoxifies the liver. It can be used as a daily health tonic. Kombucha has been found to be healing to several diseases. It is low in sugar and calories, containing approximately 2 grams of sugar in 8 ounces of unflavored tea. While store bought GT Kombucha is delicious, healthy and convenient, it can become costly if large quantities are consumed.
When I discovered at a local farmer’s market that a kombucha fermenting class was being offered, I enthusiastically signed up. The hands on visual class and instruction was all I needed, along with my newly purchased “scoby” to start my adventure and commitment to making home brewed kombucha. I now make 2-3 gallons weekly and have taught my college aged daughter to brew her own kombucha as well. I named my original scoby Sarah, who is now a great, great, great grandmother… Scobys make new scobys with each batch of brewed tea. My daughter named her scoby David.
What is a scoby?
Scoby stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. While scobys don’t appear to be outwardly attractive, they are beautiful to me with the power they have to create healthy and delicious kombucha tea, batch after batch. Scobys don’t last forever but do last a long time. It is not a problem because new scobys are created with each new batch of tea. It is recommended to use the newly formed scoby to ferment subsequent kombucha.
You may also create what is known as a scoby hotel, so that a spare scoby is always available. Simply cover extra scobys with kombucha and store in a covered glass container at room temperature. After 2 months, add new kombucha tea, discarding old tea. Extra scobys can be used to fertilize gardens or feed pets. Giving extra scobys away to friends and family to start their own brewing is especially rewarding.
After the original batch of kombucha tea is made, one can stop there, refrigerate tea and enjoy as it is. My plain home made kombucha has been enjoyed by many who did not think that they liked kombucha. With home brewing you can adjust for sweetness and tartness, by brewing shorter or longer times. For sweeter teas, a shorter brewing time is suggested.
To flavor tea, a second fermentation period occurs after removing the scoby and some kombucha tea from the top of the batch. It is recommended to take 1 cup of original kombucha tea to use for the next fermentation.
At this point one can add 1 to 2 ounces of organic juice to a 16 oz bottle. I prefer organic pure cranberry juice. It has very little sugar and adds a nice flavor, but have experimented with other juices. Pieces of fruit and other seasoning can be added. Ginger, which is a super anti-oxidant, cancer fighting herb can be added for 2nd fermentation.
To second ferment, simply add the flavoring of choice to your bottle of kombucha, cap and let sit for 2 hours up to 7 days or longer. Release pressure daily (burp your kombucha) to avoid explosions and taste for desired flavor. When ready, simply refrigerate.
What temperature do scobys like?
The question of ideal temperature for scobys drove me a bit crazy at first and I remember telling my husband one night that we had to keep the heat on so that scoby Sarah would be happy! I was serious. 🙂 I didn’t want to kill her. Fermenting tea feels a bit like having a pet, because you do have to take care of your scoby. Scobys require food and the correct temperature. BUT, they are fairly resilient thank goodness.
I looked online and in books for answers to the question of appropriate fermenting temperatures for kombucha tea. I have concluded that the ideal temperature is between 75-85 degrees, with 78 being optimal. My class instructor advised that scobys do okay in temperatures from 75-100 degrees. They can survive up to temperatures of 108 degrees. They need to be at a temperature of 108 degrees for a while to harm them.
What is the lowest temperature that they can survive at? It seems that 68-70 degrees is about as low as desired. At temperatures too low the balance between bacteria and yeast can become a problem, giving yeast the opportunity to outgrow the bacteria. For a day or two they seem to do okay at lower temperatures down to 60 to 65 degrees, but I would not recommend this for longer times.
To help maintain a warm temperature heating belts can be purchased and this is what I eventually did. They can be adjusted for temperature and this is useful for cooler climates. After much research I highly recommend the heating system designed by an engineer for kombucha brewing, available at kombuchakamp.com. Hannah at Kombuchakamp is definitely an expert brewer and great information resource. She also has other fun and useful items including extra thermometers, tight fitting caps for recycled GT bottles, colorful brewing cloth lids and reusable bamboo straws which are great for tasting while kombucha is brewing.
Foolproof Recipe for Kombucha:
- one gallon glass or ceramic container
- 1 oz. organic black, green, oolong or white tea ( I use 5 tea bags )
- 1 cup organic cane sugar
- thin towel, cheese cloth or coffee filter
- rubber bands
- funnel with strainer
- spouted pitcher
- 8 pint sized or 4 one quart glass jars
- warming heater pad (optional)
- straws (optional)
- 3.5 quarts filtered water or water boiled first for 10 minutes to remove chlorine
- Take 5 tea bags and brew in 1 quart hot water for 20 minutes (I have been using Choice organic tea bags: Classic Black, English Breakfast and Premium Jasmine Green). Tea should not contain oils or herbs, so herbal teas and Earl Grey are not considered safe for use with the scoby for fermentation. To start, I recommend using only pure black teas in the beginning batches, since those seem to be preferred by the scoby.
- Strain tea bags.
- Add 1 cup of sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved
- Add 2.5 quarts filtered or previously boiled water to gallon container
- Add tea to gallon container and let sit until it has reached room temperature, lightly covering with thin towel to keep clean (I often make this in the AM, head to work for the day and finish making later).
- Add scoby to top of tea mixture. Clean hands first and rinse several times, especially if using antibacterial soap. Add one cup of kombucha tea from previous batch or tea that came with scoby.
- Cover with thin towel and rubberband
- Place in warm area of house and let ferment for about 7 days, possibly a couple days shorter if very warm or longer if cold. Try not to move your tea until brewing is complete. Taste and when tea is at desired flavor, you may bottle or flavor. Straws are useful for this purpose, by inserting straw along side of scoby, holding top with finger and removing small taster to cup. This process reduces disruption to your kombucha tea and scoby
- Remove scoby from jar and store in a glass container at room temperature with 1 cup of kombucha from top of gallon container
Bottling and Flavoring:
- To bottle, fill your spouted pitcher with your remaining kombucha tea and funnel into jars or bottles and seal (old GT kombucha bottles work well for this along with canning jars). A funnel with a sieve is useful for catching any extra yeast floating around in the kombucha.
- Place kombucha in refrigerator where it can be stored indefinitely, but it will become vinegary over time, slowly continuing to ferment. It seems best to consume within a month or two which has not been a problem in our household of happy kombucha drinkers.
- If additional flavoring is desired, an inch or two of space should be left in bottles for juice, fruit, ginger or other seasonings.
- The flavored kombucha should be covered with a tight lid and left out for an additional 2 hours up to 7 days.
- Burp the containers each day to release any pressure and avoid explosions. Never a problem for me. Taste daily and when it tastes good to you, place in fridge.
- Enjoy your creation knowing you are participating in an age old tradition of fermenting your own healthful drink.
- Start over with a new batch of tea or keep scoby stored at room temperature with its tea for several weeks up to 2 months until ready to make your next batch. It should be stored in a glass container with a sealed top, either lid or cloth with rubberband.
So next time you feel like a kombucha, consider B.I.Y. (brew it yourself). It really is easy once you get the hang of it. It can also be fun and money saving.
Sources for this article include:
BIY Kombucha Class, Joseph Crawford, Local Harvest Cafe, Saint Louis MO, September 16, 2015
Nourishing Traditions Cookbook by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig
Cultured Food for Life by Donna Schwenk (lots of great recipes for all cultured food)
Written by Michelle, Holistic Health to Go