Thousands of years ago, the Chinese called kombucha “the tea of immortality” or “divine tea” and here in the Pacific Northwest, this powerful probiotic drink has exploded in popularity.
Small businesses that have sprung up to sell this fizzy fermented tea are racing to keep up with the demand. Brew houses that used to only keep local micro-brews on tap, now have taps for various flavors of kombucha.
Walk into many home kitchens and jars of golden liquid with questionable solids floating on top will be holding court.
So, what is it?
Kombucha is a combination of tea, sugar, and a powerful symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, called a SCOBY. It’s this combination of beneficial bacteria and yeast that provide the incredible health benefits that have been touted about kombucha for centuries.
(An article thoroughly explaining the history and the most common beneficial components of kombucha can be found from Seeds of Health here: What is Kombucha? )
So, with kombucha so popular and readily available in most places, why brew it yourself?
There are two main reasons why brewing kombucha at home is more beneficial than purchasing store bought kombucha- physical and financial.
- Physical- there are some studies that show that home fermented products carry higher health benefits due to the natural amounts of wild yeasts and bacteria that are in your home. As the SCOBY ferments the tea, these yeasts and bacteria will also populate the SCOBY, creating a tea that is unique to your own environment. This natural cross populating is also why it is is best to keep different fermenting products at least four feet from each other and preferably in separate rooms.
- Financial- purchased kombucha ranges in price from $.21-$.55/oz. Home brewed kombucha ranges in estimated price from $.02-$.05/oz!
A few more reasons?
It’s SO easy!
It takes just a few minutes a week, second ferment flavors can be customized to your family’s favorites, and the jars of brew make for a great conversation starter for guests!
How to home brew kombucha-(continuous batch brew method)
6 bags black tea ( We use Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Tea)
2 bags green tea (We use Trader Joe’s Organic Green)
1 cup organic sugar (We use Kirkland brand Organic Sugar from Costco)
A starter SCOBY (We used one I received from a friend, but they can also be purchased online and come with directions on how to activate.)
Additional tools needed:
A clean gallon glass jar
A clean half gallon jar or pitcher
Paper coffee filter
*Step 1- Bring 4-6 cups of water to a boil, either in an electric kettle or a saucepan on the stove.
Pour boiling water in half gallon glass container and add tea bags and sugar. Stir together until sugar is dissolved. Allow tea to steep for 5-7 minutes.
After steeping time, remove tea bags and stir in several scoops of ice cubes until tea cools to room temperature.
Once tea has cooled to room temperature, pour tea mixture into clean gallon glass jar. Fill with water until tea reaches just below the neck of the gallon jar. Slide SCOBY into tea.
Cover top of jar with a paper coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. This will allow the tea to “breathe” and will keep out any bugs.
Place jar in a warm corner of your kitchen or dining room, out of direct sunlight, for 5-7 days.
The warmer the temperature, the faster the tea will ferment (as short as 3-5 days).
The colder the temperature, the longer the fermenting process will take (typically the full 7 days).
70 degrees F (21 Celsius) to 85 degrees F (29 Celsius) is ideal.
The tea will lighten in color and there will be a faint vinegar odor when the tea is ready for the second ferment stage.
The tea can also be consumed after first ferment, if desired, but most people prefer the slightly sweeter, fizzier results of the second ferment stage.
Desired juices or fresh fruit in various combinations
A few of our personal favorites:
Sassy Ginger Apple
Glass bottles in desired sizes, with plastic or plastic coated metal lids
(Note: we prefer dark glass “growlers” sold locally as they seal tightly and keep out UV light. Clear bottles work well too, simply keep out of direct sunlight.)
*Step 2- Add 3/4 cup of juice combination to 32 oz size bottle and 1 cup of juice combination to 64 oz size.
If you prefer to eyeball, rather than measure, add approximately an inch of juice to the bottom of each bottle.
Place plastic funnel in opening of jar containing juice. Set jar in sink. Take the gallon jar containing the tea brew and carefully pour kombucha tea through funnel until juice jar is almost full. Leave about an inch of headroom at the top of jar.
Cap tightly and leave in warm place for 12-24 hours. Again, brewing time will depend on temperature of your home. Colder temps will lengthen brewing time, warmer temps will shorten it.
Repeat for as many second ferment bottles as you have first ferment tea. Leave SCOBY and a small amount (about an inch) of first ferment tea in the bottom of the gallon jar.
Check second ferment bottles over the kitchen sink after approximately 12 hours. They should fizz upon opening.
If temperatures have been warm enough, they may fizz over.
(We had kombucha hit the ceiling once after a 24 hour wait- “burping” the bottles, or cracking open the seal and letting out a small amount of carbonation, is a good idea after 12 hours if temperatures have been really warm.)
Taste test the kombucha. If the flavor is to your liking and there is adequate carbonation, place bottles in refrigerator, to slow the fermentation process, until ready to drink.
If the flavor is too sweet, or there is not yet carbonation, recap tightly and place back in warm place to ferment longer.
Occasionally, the second ferment of kombucha will create a little SCOBY. This is normal.
Simply lift the little SCOBY from your second ferment kombucha with a fork and discard.
Leave SCOBY in bottom of gallon jar and repeat Step 1 above. The SCOBY may float sideways or to the top- it makes no difference to the fermentation process.
With the continuous brew method, you simply leave the SCOBY intact in the jar until it grows large enough that it is taking up too much room. At that time, you can divide the SCOBY (see tips below) and share a piece with a friend to start their own kombucha brew.
Continuous brew kombucha brews faster than traditional brew and there are some studies that show that there are greater health benefits from the continuous brew process.
You can find more information about continuous vs traditional brew kombucha styles from Phoenix Helix here: Continuous brew kombucha vs Batch Brew- Which is better?
Tips & Tricks:
* Only use basic black, white or green tea. Some studies have even shown that the highest percentage of tea should be from black tea because it contains more of the necessary components for healthy fermentation. Do not use flavored teas.
*Do not use any metal in the kombucha brewing process. Kombucha will leach the metal into the liquid.
*We used to use iced tea jars with the plastic spout at the bottom for our continuous brew method because it was easier to draw off the brew for the second ferment.
We no longer do this.
Because we leave a small amount of kombucha brew in the bottom of the jar along with the SCOBY for each batch, we could not keep the plastic clean and the valve would sometimes get clogged. We never had any problems with mold or contamination of our kombucha, but it was not worth the risk. There are different kombucha companies that make jars with a spout specifically for this type of brewing. We have not used them, but if this is the method you would like to try, we would recommend purchasing a jar specifically designed for this.
*Do not use cheesecloth to cover your first ferment kombucha. The holes are too big, and fruit flies will definitely find their way into your brew. Coffee filters work great and are very inexpensive.
*If you observe mold on your SCOBY at any time, discard SCOBY and brew and start over. The levels of healthy bacteria and yeast should prevent any mold from developing. If mold does develop, something has gone wrong with your brew, and for safety, it should be discarded.
*It is possible to grow a SCOBY from a purchased plain or original flavor kombucha, however, we do not recommend this method. Both times we tried this method, the flavor of our kombucha went “off” after about six weeks, indicating that there was an issue with the health of our SCOBY. We discarded the brew and got a fresh SCOBY from a friend.
*If your SCOBY gets too big in your jar (over an inch thick) it can be separated. After completing Step 1 and 2 above, carefully and thoroughly wash your hands, reach into jar and lift out the SCOBY. Peel apart and place one half of the SCOBY back into your gallon jar. Start another gallon jar with the other half, share with a friend, feed to your dogs (it’s very good for them!), place on your compost pile, or simply discard.
*We do not recommend placing your first ferment kombucha in a pantry or cupboard. Kombucha needs good air circulation to stay healthy.
*Do not use plastic bottles. The natural acids in kombucha can “etch” the plastic creating places for bad bacteria to grow.
*Some people refer to the primary SCOBY as the “mother” and the SCOBY that is split for batch brewing as the “baby”.
*The sugar and caffeine in kombucha are largely consumed in the fermentation process. However, the sweeter the kombucha, the more sugar remains. Kombucha will sour, more like vinegar, as the sugars are consumed.
Extremely sour kombucha has very little sugar content, but at this stage, the beneficial bacteria have also begun to die for lack of food. Healthy kombucha with the highest level of probiotic benefit should have a very pleasant sweet-sour flavor combination.
*Because of the yeast in kombucha, there is a small amount of alcohol produced in the fermentation process. For home brewed kombucha, this amount is extremely minimal, usually around .5-1%.
*Ease into the kombucha drinking process. This drink is so fizzy and tasty that it’s really easy to consume too much. There is no additional benefit to mass consumption of probiotics and the side effects can leave you in the bathroom for lengthy periods of time. Start with 8 oz a day, and increase to your comfort level.
*Kombucha is most beneficial with a clean eating diet. Probiotics in the digestive system stay healthy and provide the most benefit to the body when they are fed well.
Fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean protein will provide the bacteria what they need to keep your whole system healthy.
We have also noticed that if we happen to eat processed or junk food the same day we drink kombucha, the digestive side effects are not pleasant. It’s good incentive to eat clean!
*MOST important tip of all- DO NOT forget second ferment bottles in a pantry or cupboard. You WILL remember them VERY quickly when they explode.