Ah, the beauty of fermented foods! I’m not a lover of sauerkraut or kimchi, at least not on a regular basis, but Kombucha fits my palate perfectly. It’s cold, fizzy, slightly sweet tang is a lovely way to refresh yourself on hot days, while adding important probiotics to your belly. In addition, it’s a great way to transition away from soda. At nearly $4 a pop, buying kombucha on a regular basis isn’t the cost-effective way to go, especially when you can brew a gallon of your own for nearly the same price. However, not everyone will enjoy this tangy beverage, so I do suggest buying one bottle just to try it. After that, if it’s a winner, it’s brew time! In this blog post, I want to start by explaining what you need to brew, and then give some basic instructions so you know what the process is.
I haven’t tried to grow my own scoby yet, although I know it can be done. I bought my scoby here. It arrived quickly with the best instructions I’ve found for brewing. To me, it was worth the $11 to save the extra time it would have taken to grow it myself. After all, you still have to wait 2 weeks for the Kombucha to be ready to drink once you have your scoby. Once your scoby arrives, you should make your tea within a few days.
Use natural ingredients. Try to make the Kombucha as organic as possible so it can be the best quality for your body. Use organic cane sugar, organic green or black tea, and filtered water. The tea will not ferment with artificial sugars, but most of the sugar will been consumed by the end of the brewing process, so even though you use quite a bit of sugar initially, you’ll only end up with about 3 grams per 8 oz.
The container you use to ferment the tea needs to be something like glass or non-magnetic stainless steel. Never use metal or ceramic. Ceramic (and crystal) can contain lead, and the acidity in the Kombucha will pull the lead into your drink. Metal should never come into contact with the SCOBY or tea. Make sure to use a wooden or plastic spoon when stirring, and if you use a jar that has a spigot, make sure the inside isn’t metal.
Get a container that is large enough to hold all the liquid, with some additional room at the top. You need to leave about 2 inches of breathing room at the top for expansion when the baby SCOBY grow. I recommend using a glass jar with a spigot, especially if you are going to use the continuous brew method. It makes life easier 🙂 I started out with this one from World Market (I now use a bigger one for bigger batches).
Use a tea that is free from added oils. For example, Earl Gray cannot be used because it contains added bergamot oil. However, English Breakfast is fine because it is just black tea. Green tea will give you a sweeter tasting Kombucha, and black tea will have more of a bite to it. Oolong is a very popular Kombucha tea, but I don’t like the taste. You can also use decaf if you are sensitive to caffeine. It takes 10 tea bags per gallon of water (which is one standard batch), so buying in bulk is a good idea. Mountain Rose Herbs is a good place to get organic teas at a great price.
Your scoby is alive, and is susceptible to contamination. Before you touch the tea or scoby, be sure to wash your hands and any utensils you are using. However, this tea has been made for hundreds of years with much less sanitary conditions than we have now, so one speck of dirt won’t ruin the whole batch.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR (ACV)
For your first batch, you will need a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of ACV. This is to help with the fermentation. After the first batch, you will use the Kombucha in place of the ACV to ferment the second batch. You want to make sure you buy your ACV organic with the “mother inside.” Braggs is what we use.
It takes 10 tea bags per 1 – 1.5 gallons of water. Boil the tea in with the water, remove the tea bags, and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Let the tea cool completely to room temperature (I sit my pot of tea in a sink of cold water because I’m impatient), then add your SCOBY and apple cider vinegar and stir. Pour the whole thing in the jar you have chosen to use, and cover it with a clean dish or paper towel, single layered, and secure with a rubber band. This is so your Kombucha has oxygen, but is safe from bugs (fruit flies are drawn to the sugar). Store it in a cool, dark place and let it ferment for 10 – 14 days. We keep ours in the pantry, and have had nothing but great success with brewing.
After one week, you can start taste testing your Kombucha and find the strength that you like. If it’s too sweet, give it a few more days to ferment. Be sure to check each batch, because what’s long enough for one might be too long for another. Once it’s the strength you like (we like ours around 2 weeks fermentation), put the tea in the fridge so it stops the fermentation process. The longer the tea is in the fridge, the smoother the taste becomes.
YOUR BABY SCOBY
The purchased scoby will make a scoby baby that will usually form on top of the tea. It may sink or float—both is ok. Sometimes the baby will attach to the mother, and you can just pull them apart. They will vary in thickness from 1/8 – 1/3 inch thick. It will have some discoloration, but don’t worry! It’s extremely rare for a scoby to mold, so dark spots and black strings are normal. Unless there is something fuzzy on the scoby, don’t throw it out! The scoby will normally grow to the circumference of your jar. It’s an amazing thing to watch!
Once the Kombucha has gone through the first fermentation process, if you like, you can add some flavor to your Kombucha! Pureed fruit, fruit juice, extracts, and herbs can flavor it nicely. This is a good thing to do before your second fermentation, if you chose to double ferment. Add about 10% – 30% juice or fruit to 70% – 90% Kombucha. I just finished a batch of tea and am going to do some experiments with ginger and vanilla.
You can “double ferment” to get a more carbonated, soda feel to the tea. After the first fermentation process, pour some off into bottles with airtight lids, add flavors if desired, and let it sit in a cool, dark place for an additional 2 – 3 days. Leave room at the top, and check after the second day. If you forget about it for too long, the carbonation may build up and explode.
The second batch is much like the first, but instead of the ACV, you use about 2 cups (or 10%) of the first batch of Kombucha, along with the new scoby you grew to ferment the tea.
If you are planning on adding Kombucha to your everyday life, then a continuous brew is for you! With this method, once your batch is done fermenting, you pour all but 10% off into bottles while leaving the mother and extra tea inside the jar. Brew more tea as you would for another batch, and once cooled, pour it right into the original jar with the mother and fermented Kombucha. Now, put it back in the cool, dark place and allow to ferment as usual, as you enjoy the poured off portions of the first batch. Repeat this process for continuous Kombucha.
After a few batches, you will have a plethora of scobys, and if you have friends who want to brew, you can pass them along. You can store them submerged in sweet tea in the fridge. As long as the scobys have sugar to live on, they will be fine. With every new batch you brew, just change out the tea they are kept in to ensure an adequate amount of sugar.
Scobys are packed with antibiotics, and have many uses. You can dehydrate them for dog snacks, blend them in smoothies, pulverize them for a face mask, or add them to your garden. I used one this week to ease a sunburn, and it helped quite a bit! They’re great little guys to keep around!
Kombucha tastes awesome, and it can give you an energy buzz! Some people find it can be a bit addictive. Kyle and I like to think of it as a medicinal drink that just happens to be yummy, not something to have all day long. Because of the cultures it contains, if you drink too much at once you can get the runs. So start with 2 – 4 oz a day and see how you feel. It also contains trace amounts of alcohol because of the fermentation, so it is not recommended for pregnant or nursing woman.
There you have it! I wish you the best of luck in your journey of making great tasting, healthful Kombucha.