Home-Made Easy Kombucha

There is good news and then there is bad news. The GOOD news: Kombucha itself is super easy to make. You basically just have to make tea. The real work is done by the bacteria themselves as they ferment the tea.

The BAD news: You will likely become obsessed with it.

In all seriousness, the only hard part of home-brewing kombucha is keeping things sanitary and knowing how to keep track of it–something you learn as you brew.

It is also important to have the right brewing materials on hand. The good thing is that you only have to buy the materials once (hopefully) and then you need only re-supply tea and sugar every few months.

Kombucha is cheap to make. Let’s do some math. The average store-bought bottle of kombucha costs ~$3.53 per bottle (usually 16 fl. oz.). If you are a daily drinker, that adds up to about $24.71 per week, and roughly $99 per month for 28 bottles of kombucha in a month. More good news: Having this healthy drink daily does not have to be so expensive!

In home-brewed kombucha, you should have a bulk box of tea to brew from. I use Newman’s green tea, and buy the 100 tea-bag box, for about $8. Each brew of kombucha uses about 7 tea bags. So from one box of tea, you can make up to 14 batches of kombucha, each of which produces about a gallon of kombucha, or eight-16oz bottles of kombucha. The initial cost of the other materials can vary. Since I had a long history of drinking bottled kombucha, I was able to save and use a lot of my bottles in my home-brewing process (and you can too!), which down on costs. I did purchase a gallon glass jar for $8 in the beginning. I use a wash cloth from home to cover my jar. The SCOBY purchase was the most expensive part. I paid $14 for my SCOBY. However, if you take good care of it, SCOBYs multiply and so you really only have to buy it once. A bag of raw sugar costs about $4.50. And if you are buying new bottles rather than re-using kombucha bottles, those are about $3 per bottle–let’s say you purchase eight-16 oz. bottles and it adds up to $24 for your bottles.

It’s time to total it up! The $14 SCOBY + $8 gallon glass jar + $8 tea bag + $4.50 raw sugar + $24 for bottles = $58.50 to start up your kombucha home-brewing. That may seem like a lot, but when you consider that you only have to purchase most of those items once to have kombucha for life, the return and savings will have the last laugh!

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Where to buy materials

Glass: You can purchase most of the glassware needed at a local fermenters store, home goods store, or online. It’s always best to look locally first to support your local businesses. For the glass bottles, they need to be the flip top bottles made specifically for fermenting beverages as they are built to stay strong under pressure. Be sure to purchase glassware specifically for brewing fermented drinks (kombucha, beer, etc.). Do not get the decorative kind, even if it has a flip top bottle, as these will explode (it happened to me and it will happen to you!). Store-bought kombucha bottles will also work–even the ones with the hard plastic caps.

SCOBY: Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, or SCOBY, is a culture that makes kombucha. Most health food stores will carry them. SCOBYs usually come in a small plastic pouch filled with an amber colored liquid (it’s tea). They can usually be found in refrigerated isles near 1) yogurt/pro-biotics, 2) DIY refrigerated section where you may find other fermented products, or 3) refrigerated supplements. If you can’t locate it near any of those, ask someone for help. They can also be purchased online if you can’t find them near you.

Tea: The tea aisles usually carry a nice selection of teas that come in larger quantities, like the 100-bag packs. You can opt for bulk tea if you like as well! Just be sure to have tea bags at home for them.

Fruit: Look in your regular product isle for the fruit! You do not necessarily have to have the most attractive fruit for this, since all the fruit will be chopped up and used in the tea anyway, but always check your fruit for mold!!! I have seen lots of fruit for sale that had mold on it and you don’t want to put that in your tea, much less ingest it.

Other Flavors: You don’t just have to use fruit for flavorings. Try dried fruit like raisins, dried cranberries, or dried apricots. There’s also herbs like rosemary, lavender, and clove that can add pleasant flavor notes to your kombucha.

Sugar: No compromise here – you must use raw sugar for this to work properly. Find raw sugar in any baking aisle at the grocery store!

pH strips: You can also purchase these at your local fermenter store too, and one small jar of them should go a long way. I am still using the same jar of pH strips from when I started brewing kombucha six years ago.

How to Brew Kombucha

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Materials Needed

a big pot, a stirring spoon, a gallon glass vessel, a clean wash cloth, rubber band, pH strips, a funnel

Other Helpful Materials (Optional):

electric fermentation wrap, tea strainer

First Fermentation: Brewing Your Kombucha

Ingredients for the First Fermentation:

  1. 16 cups total of water, to be divided into 2 eight-cup portions
  2. 15-19 grams of black or green* tea (roughly 7-10 tea bags)
  3. 1 cup of raw sugar
  4. 1 SCOBY

* It is best to use black or green tea. Steer clear from flavored teas or herbal teas.

Steps:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water. Clean hands will lead to less possibility of contaminating your SCOBY.
  2. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil (save the rest of your water for later).
  3. Take water off the heat let and it sit for a minute or two. Meanwhile, prepare your tea for steeping.
  4. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Drop in your tea bags. Start the timer.
  5. Once the 15 minutes are up, add your sugar. Stir it around to dissolve.
  6. In your glass jar, add the remaining 8 cups of cold water. Pour the hot tea into this to cool. Cover the mouth of the jar with the clean wash cloth to prevent dust particles from the air from making their way into the tea.
  7. Wash hands again before handling SCOBY. After about 30 minutes-1 hour, the tea should be cool enough to drop in your SCOBY. Just make sure the tea has reached room temperature. Be patient. If the tea is too hot when the SCOBY is added, it will die. Once the SCOBY is in, you can give the mix a gentle stir with a clean spoon.
  8. Once you have added your SCOBY, put the clean wash cloth back over the jar, and use the rubber band to secure it there.
  9. Take your jar of tea and SCOBY to a warm and dark place, like a closet, or in a cupboard. You will leave it here for about 1 week. Warmer temperatures will help it ferment better. Colder temperatures will make it ferment slower.
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Over the Week:

Once in a while, check on your SCOBY. If everything was done sanitarily and your SCOBY survived, you will start to see a peachy-white film form on the top of the tea. If you use a fermentation wrap, this will speed up the process of fermentation, but it is not necessary.

Checking pH: Your tea becomes kombucha when the liquid has fermented to an acidity of about 3.3-3.6. pH strips are simple to use and can help you monitor when your brew is done using science! Simply dip the pH strip into the liquid. The color change will determine the current pH of the brew. Darker purples usually mean not ready. Lighter green signifies that the kombucha is almost ready.

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This is a healthy SCOBY culture growing as it ferments the tea. This is a GOOD sign!! If you are worried about mold, as the tea ferments more, it becomes more acidic, which mold doesn’t like. The SCOBY film on top also works to protect the tea underneath from mold. However, if somewhere along your process, the tea was exposed to contaminants, or if the SCOBY happened to die, mold will develop.

If mold develops on your brew, it is very obvious. It will usually be seen as a fuzzy white, gray, black, or brown substance that is very different in texture from the SCOBY and tea. There are many pictures on the internet image searches of what a healthy SCOBY looks like and what mold looks like, so check there is you aren’t sure. If you haven’t seen any SCOBY form after 3 days, it could be a sign that the brew has died. But sometimes in colder temperatures, it will brew more slowly. So, just keep an eye on it day-to-day and check the pH. A lower pH will mean mold is less likely.

In the unfortunate event that mold has developed on your brew, you will have to throw it away and start over. Do not try to salvage any of the tea. Once mold has grown, it has permeated all of the tea, and it would not be good or safe to drink.

If all is well in the kombucha brew, after about 1 week, your brew should have developed a thick and healthy SCOBY at the top. You may even see some fermentation bubbles underneath it. This is another good sign that your brew is alive and happy!

As you become a kombucha brewer, you will notice that it is quite enjoyable watching your brew over the week. It is similar to the joy we felt as kids taking care of a Tamagotchi, taking care of something and watching it grow. When you see signs that the brew is alive and working hard, it is very exciting and satisfying! I am excited for you to experience this in your own home-brewing.

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Second Fermentation: Bottling and Flavoring

Ingredients and Supplies for Second Fermentation:

  1. Any fruits and flavors you like. My favorites that create the best fizziness are raspberries, blueberries, ginger, and strawberries.
  2. 5-10 flip top glass bottles

Here is the fun part! Once your first fermentation has finished brewing, here are your next steps.

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Steps:

  1. Chop up your fruits and herbs very finely. Smaller chunks of fruit increase the surface area of fruit that is available for the bacteria to munch on and thus producing those beautiful bubbly bubbles.
  2. Wash your hands well. Move your brew to a clean kitchen counter.
  3. Carefully, remove your SCOBY with your hands from the brew. Place the SCOBY into a clean bowl and cover. We will discuss the future of your SCOBY a little bit later…
  4. Place fruits and herbs into the bottles. You only need about a tablespoon or two of your flavorings for each bottle. That should cover the bottom and go up by about an inch. It won’t look like much fruit, but it’s enough. If you use too much fruit, you risk exploding bottles because that is basically a big feast for the bacteria and they won’t have enough room in the tiny bottle for all the carbonation to produce.
  5. Using a funnel, pour the tea into each bottle. Leave about 1 inch to 1/2 inch of room at the top of the bottle. You may want to do this by the sink as it can get a little messy!
  6. Once all of the bottles are filled, wipe them clean. You can put labels on them to show which flavor they are if you wish!
  7. Put them into a warm dark place for 3-5 days. I suggest putting them low to the ground, such as a low-cabinet. In the event that any of them explode, if they are lower, you won’t risk getting hit in the head with glass or kombucha.
  8. Once per day, burp your bottles by carefully opening the top to release any built up gas, and then quickly close it.

When the kombucha is ready to drink: This will depend on how fizzy you want the drink to be. Maximum fizziness should be reached in about 4-5 days if bottles are kept in a relatively warm space. You can also refrigerate the bottles after 4-5 days. They will keep in the fridge for a long time and will continue to develop mild fizziness in the fridge. When you are ready to drink your delicious home-brewed kombucha, open the bottles by a sink in case the bottle over flows when it is opened! This is where the tea strainer will come in handy, to strain fruit from the kombucha out if you want a smooth, clean drink. But it’s also safe to eat the fruit if you wish.

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Storing your SCOBY: When your first successful home-brew is completed, you will have two SCOBYs–the original SCOBY you started with, and the newly formed daughter SCOBY. If you do not plan to brew again right away, you can store the SCOBY in a jar just like the kombucha, and save it for a later brew. Top it off with a cup or two of freshly brewed black or green tea and sugar, or simply leave some of the brewed kombucha in there with it. It will continue to brew and grow for a few months, and for longer if you feed it a cup of tea and sugar every 2-3 months. You can use this SCOBY for future kombucha brews.

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I hope you have a fantastic time brewing your first batch of kombucha!

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