Kombucha, some people love it, some people hate it. I love it and am slightly obsessed with it. There’s always at least one batch brewing in our home. What’s not to love? It’s tasty, fizzy and super good for you since it’s filled with probiotics. And did I mention that it’s fizzy? I mean, I guess some people don’t like the idea of the scoby, but I thinkthey’re kinda cute. We’ve even named ours – Scotty and Toby.
It’s like magic each time you make it. You stick a scoby in sweet tea, and a week or two later you get a delicious batch of a probiotic rich drink that is fizzy and oh so delightful. And to top it off, your scoby makes a baby each time that you can give to a friend to spread the love around.
So what exactly is this magical drink? Kombucha is a healthy probiotic drink made by fermenting tea and sugar with a kombucha culture (scoby). People have been making it for centuries. It was even recorded around 200 BC in China as “The Tea of Immortality”. Pretty cool stuff. SCOBY is the acronym for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts”. But don’t let that scare you since it’s the powerhouse behind all the goodness in your kombucha. You might also hear it referred to as a “mother”, it’s the same thing incase you were wondering.
Things I’ve learned:
The scoby hates metal. Make sure your utensils and whatever jar you’re using to brew is glass and doesn’t have any metal on it. If the scoby comes in contact with metal, it will absorb the metal taste and ruin your drink. Also, be aware of any jewelry you’re wearing and make sure that you take rings off before handling it. During the second fermentation when the scoby is no longer involved, metal is no longer a concern.
Use quality tea. The tea is the main ingredient to your drink, if you use a cheap tea, the taste is going to come through in the end product. I prefer loose leaf tea to tea bags. Loose leaf tea has much better flavor. It’s not quite as cheap as tea bags, but it’s still much cheaper than buying kombucha at the store. Having said that, I’ve had some good kombucha from friends who use tea bags. So if you’re trying to go for the cheapest option, tea bags will work.
If you’re interested in getting loose leaf tea, there are plenty of good bulk options that you can order online. I’ve used this Oolong and this Black tea and had great results. I like Positively Tea Company and would suggest getting any of their pure, unflavored teas. I’m actually debating between some new ones of theirs to order right now since I’m running low
Tea can also change the flavor of the kombucha depending on what kind you use. Green, Oolong and Black are all great options and will all give your kombucha a slightly different flavor profile depending on which one you use.
Don’t use flavored tea. You might get the bright idea to try brewing with a flavored tea, don’t do it. It can actually harm your scoby. Make sure that you only use pure tea that doesn’t have any additions or flavorings. Earl Grey always seems to be a sneaky one, but it has bergamot oils in it to add flavor which your scoby isn’t going to like.
The scoby is temperature sensitive. Heat can kill it and cold will make it go dormant. It likes to be room temp (around 75-85 is best), storing your brew on top of the fridge is generally a great place. Don’t ever store it in the fridge. You also want to make sure you never place the scoby in your tea before it’s completely cooled down to room temperature
The scoby looks funny, but no, there’s nothing wrong with it. We can all agree that they are weird. They’re slimy, squishy and are always growing. The scoby may get dark or light spots on it, lots of people freak out thinking it has mold or is going bad. It’s fine – you’ll know if there’s a problem, it will be fuzzy and not slimy looking.
Yeast strands may also form during the first fermentation, that’s what the dark brown stringy things are in the liquid – they’re safe, you can leave them in when you bottle or pick them out.
This might seem like a complicated and confusing process, but I promise that this is actually super easy to make. Once you understand the basics, you can start experimenting with lots of fun flavors. And it’s so much cheaper than buying kombucha in the store, that stuff’s expensive!
12 cups tea + 1 cup sugar + scoby = kombucha
First fermentation makes the base kombucha
Second fermentation makes it extra bubbly and is where you can add flavor
- 1 Gallon Jar (must be glass with no metal)
- tight weave cloth and rubber band to cover jar (I use a piece of an old t-shirt)
- 6 flip top 16oz glass bottles (or whatever sizes you want)
- 12 Cups water
- 5-6 tbsp tea (not flavored – oolong, black and green are all good)
- 1 Cup Sugar (it only likes normal sugar, so don’t get raw sugar, but you can do organic)
- 1 Scoby
- 1/2-1 cup of starter liquid (usually comes with the scoby to begin with, and then I reserve some after each first fermentation)
- Add 1 cup sugar to a gallon jar.
- For loose leaf tea: Heat 4 cups water to just before boiling (don’t boil, it will burn the tea and make it bitter). Add tea and steep for 1 minute, strain into gallon jar then repeat two more times with same tea leaves for a total of 12 cups.
- Make sure the sugar has dissolved and then set aside to cool to room temperature (overnight or throughout the day).
- Once cooled, gently add the scoby. It will generally lay on top, but will sometimes sink or float in the middle (mine doesn’t like to stay still and prefers to do acrobatics in the jar). Cover the jar with a tight weave cloth and secure with a rubber band. Don’t seal it with the jar’s lid, it needs to breathe, but you don’t want anything getting in either. Cheesecloth is generally not the best idea since the weave isn’t very tight.
- Let it sit for 1-3 weeks. Cold temperatures will slow the fermentation process and a baby scoby will also go a little slower the first time or two. Taste test with a straw to know when it’s done. It’s personal taste, some people like it more vinegary and some like it sweeter. It’s best to take it out a day or two before it’s the taste that you want if you plan to do a second fermentation because it will continue to sour a bit more during that process.
(optional, but awesome – adds more carbonation and flavor)
The second fermentation is where you can make the kombucha more bubbly and add a flavor to your drink. You need to add more sugar to create to create more fizz. The remaining yeast feeds off of that sugar, removing it and giving you bubbles. The sugar can be in the form of fresh fruit, juice, or regular sugar or honey.
- When you like the taste, remove the scoby and set aside. Stir the kombucha and set aside 1 cup of your first fermentation for starter for your next batch.
- Place about 3-4 tablespoons (for a 16 oz bottle) of juice or fresh fruit in the jars that you’re bottling and then pour the kombucha on top. Leave 1-2 inches of head space. If you are planning to use spices or herbs instead, use about 1 tsp + sugar for a 16oz bottle.
- Let sit on the counter and don’t forget to burp them (quickly open and close the bottles to release some of the pressure). I burp mine in the morning and evening. If you don’t, the bottles can explode from the pressure of the building carbonation. (I haven’t had this happen, but I’ve gotten a few dismayed texts from my mom about bottles exploding and the resulting mess. Quality bottles help, so make sure you’re getting ones that are made for fermentation.)
- They should be ready to go in about 5-7 days. When they’re ready, put them in the fridge to stop the fermentation process. You can filter the fruit out or leave it in. Sometimes a little scoby will also grow on top of the liquid during this time.
Some of my favorite flavors so far (really anything goes):
- spiced cider (I love the spiced cider that TJ gets around the holidays)
- pear juice
- Pluots and basil
- Strawberries and mint or basil