I love fermenting stuff. Not only do I get all the amazing health benefits of probiotics but fermenting things is really pretty easy once you get over the initial fear of messing up. After a while, brewing a batch of kombucha feels like you’re making an extra big cup of sweet tea and then letting it sit on your shelf for a week or so. The only hard part, in my opinion, is trying to explain to visitors what the jelly-fish looking thing in your kitchen is!
- Kombucha SCOBY (I suggest finding a friend who will share with you. If you buy a store bought SCOBY, rehydrate it according to the package directions)
- 1-1.5 tablespoons of loose leaf black tea (depends on how strong you want your kombucha flavor to be)
- 1/2 cup sugar (substitutions with stevia, honey, molasses, etc will NOT work…but don’t worry, most of the sugar will be food for the SCOBY, not for you)
- 1.5-2 liters of distilled water (distilled water is best but tap water is ok), boiled
- Large mixing bowl
- Tea strainer
- 1 cup of premade kombucha (if you got your SCOBY from a friend, they’ll likely send you home with it floating in some kombucha already so make sure you don’t pour it out) or store bought kombucha (I like the GT brand but you just need something raw and unfiltered)
- Cheesecloth or microfiber cloth
- Large rubberband
- Large glass container/vessel that will be your permanent kombucha brewing house (no plastic or metal parts that will touch the kombucha), about 3 liters or so.
I keep all my old GT Raw Kombucha bottles and store my finished kombucha in them. In every batch, I get enough kombucha to fill about 4-5 bottles and I drink about 8 oz per day (some days Dr. Dig also partakes). My kombucha usually takes 7-10 days to brew (because my SCOBY is fairly robust but I like it pretty sour, see below on that whole discussion) which means I usually have just the right amount to drink until the next batch is ready.
1. Prepare a large, heat-safe mixing bowl. Pour in your hot water and place the tea-filled tea strainer into the water, like this:
2. Cover your mixing bowl with something sturdy. I use one of our large plates because it covers perfectly:
3. You’ll want to let it sit on your counter until it comes to room temperature. At any point between that point and step #2, pour in your sugar and mix until dissolved. It dissolves faster when the water is hot but I’ve done it both when the tea is hot or cool and it really doesn’t matter.
4. As your tea comes to room temperature, get your SCOBY and your cup or so of premade kombucha ready in whatever vessel you’ll be brewing in. (Once you get your kombucha brewing going, you’ll spend this time pouring off your ready kombucha into some sort of mixing bowl with a spout but leaving about a cup or so behind in the kombucha brewing vessel. Then you take the ready kombucha you poured into your container with a spout and distribute into a large bottle or, as I do, several smaller bottles that are easily transportable.)
5. Once the new sweet tea is at room temperature and your SCOBY is all settled in its kombucha bath, pour your newly brewed tea into your kombucha brewing vessel. Sometimes the SCOBY will sink into the fluid and that’s ok. It usually pops up to the surface within a few hours. Immediately after you pour, it’ll look something like this:
6. Cover your vessel with the cheesecloth/microfiber cloth and hold in place with a large rubber band. Your kombucha will be ready within 7-14 days. The speed depends on the activity of your SCOBY, the temperature of your kitchen, and your taste preferences on how sour you like your kombucha. I once left on vacation and came back to find pretty much what tasted like apple cider vinegar so I used it as such!
Tips and Troubleshooting:
1. To get your SCOBY really thriving, it helps to add extra premade kombucha every now and then for the first 5-8 batches. You know your SCOBY is happy when it makes tons of bubbles that look like this (ours is even sometimes so active it sometimes makes gurgley noises at night so we warn our guests…):
If you’re trying to revive a SCOBY, it helps to make the tea super sweet so it has plenty of food. Once you get it brewing to your liking, you can back off on the sugar content. I’ve had good taste results with as little as 1/3 cups sugar but my SCOBY didn’t seem quite as active after a couple batches. I usually let it get pretty sour which is how I know that the SCOBY fermented away most of the sugar so using half a cup doesn’t really bother me.
2. Your kombucha will keep forming layers as it grows. When the bottom layers start to look ratty or you want to share the gift of kombucha brewing with friends, you can carefully peel the bottom layers off and restart again with another batch using the leftover top layers. If you do this, however, keep in mind that it may take a little time for your kombucha to bounce back so the first batch or two with the thinner SCOBY might taste funny (I ended up pouring them out). It’s a good idea to add in some extra premade kombucha to spruce up your SCOBY and make sure you use enough sugar if you’ve been going lower than half a cup.
3. If you leave on vacation and you’re gone for up to 2-3 weeks, you can just start a new batch with an extra scoop of sugar right before you leave and you’ll come back to ready kombucha! If it’s too strong and sour for your taste, you can dilute the kombucha you bottle with water or juice. If it’s so sour that it resembles apple cider vinegar, I just use it in place of apple cider vinegar. If, however, you’ll be home longer than 3 weeks, you can just stick the entire kombucha container (full of tea and SCOBY) into the fridge and leave it as long as you’re gone for. When you get back, start a new batch.
4. Fermenting can be scary because you can feel like you’re maybe going to grow something harmful. The only real “game-over” move with the SCOBY is if it grows black or brown mold. You’ll have to start over. If you’re unsure about something, try peeling off the questionable layers and working on reviving your SCOBY with the sweet tea and extra premade kombucha guidelines above.
To keep from growing unwanted things in your kombucha, try to not reach into your vessel ever. I only tend to pour stuff out of it and the only thing that goes in is the new batch of sweet tea. I also try to not cough or sneeze around your brewing vessel (well, duh but worth mentioning)…this mostly means that watch your little ones if they are sticking their noses around the awesome looking jelly-fish thing in your kitchen!
Ok, I think that’s it for now, folks! I’ll add more as I come up with things but remember the most important thing: fermenting stuff is fun! Play around with it and you’ll be very well rewarded 🙂
Please leave me a comment if you’ve ever made homemade kombucha…I’m always looking for more fun tips too!