How to make Kombucha - Part 1
What Is Kombucha Tea?
Kombucha is an ancient tea used for healing, vitality, and health that starts out as a tea combined with sugar then fermented with the help of a disc of healthy bacteria and yeast called a scoby. "SCOBY" is actually an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." It's very close cousins to the mother used to make vinegar. As the scoby consumes most of the sugar the tea becomes what is known as the ancient drink called Kombucha.
Also known as a kombucha mushroom, it floats, it's rubbery, brown stringy bits hang from it, and it transforms the tea into a fermented carbonated drink that you can flavor how you like. It’s essentially a home for friendly bacteria and yeast that make good probiotics in your gut.
Kombucha is indisputably full of probiotics and other nutrients that our intestines love and help boost our overall health. Claims that kombucha cures things like arthritis, depression, leaky gut, and heart burn have less of a proven track record, but try and see what works for you. See my full blog on understanding your gut bacteria and how probiotics or fermented foods help your overall health here.
My favorite aspect of Kombucha is that it helps people to get off unhealthy sodas and other sugary drinks. It does this because it tastes similar but better (in my opinion) and also the probiotics help to kill the bad bacteria in your gut, slowing down or stopping your cravings to feed them more.
Equipment Needed to Make Kombucha
Making kombucha tea at home is easy, and it only requires a few pieces of equipment to get started. Learn more about choosing the best equipment for making kombucha.
- Gallon or larger size glass jar
- Tight-Weave cotton cloth, paper towel or Paper Coffee Filter with rubber band.
- Measuring cup
For Second Ferment or Flavoring: (shown in part 2)
• Glass bottles with seal-able lids (can be 8oz up to 1 quart)
• Small funnel
• Mesh strainer
Ingredients for Making Kombucha
- Active Kombucha Scoby
- Tea Bags or Loose Tea
- Organic Cane Sugar
- Starter Tea or Distilled White Vinegar (If using vinegar, always use distilled white vinegar. Apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar are not appropriate for making kombucha tea.)
- 1 gallon Filtered Water
Click photos for links:
- Zero water filter – If you don’t have a water filter, this is the best one you can buy for under $300. It’s a pitcher and very inexpensive. This has been proven to remove everything you don't want in your water unlike any other pitcher filter available.
- Starter Tea
High country kombucha – I like this brand because it’s an heirloom scoby but unfortunately they only sell by the case. If you can’t get this one near you, for a starter tea, find a brand with the least additives and get the original flavor.
Ingredient Ratios for Making Different Amounts of Kombucha
Container Size / Tea / Sugar / Starter Tea or Vinegar
- One Quart container -- 1½ teaspoon loose tea or 2 tea bags / ¼ cup of Sugar / 1.5 cups starter tea or ½ cup vinegar
- ½ Gallon container -- 1 tablespoon loose tea or 4 tea bags / ½ cup of sugar / 2 cups starter tea or 1 cup vinegar
- 1 Gallon Container -- 2 tablespoons loose tea or 8 tea bags / 1 cup sugar / 3 cups starter tea or 2 cups vinegar
Ingredients (for 1 gallon) (see links below)
- 3 3/4 quarts filtered water
- 1 Organic Pure Cane Sugar
- - Base tea - 8 bags organic black tea (can be used alone) OR Can use organic Yerba Mate tea which is best combined with secondary tea)
- - Secondary tea (if used can be 1/3 of total tea - 5 black tea with 3 oolong) - organic green tea, white tea, oolong or pu-ur or a mix of those.
- Starter tea - 2 cups from last batch of Kombucha or store-bought kombucha (unpasteurized, neutral-flavored)
- 1 SCOBY per fermentation jar.
Notes on Tea's
• Green tea, white tea, oolong tea, or an even mix of these make especially good Kombucha. Herbal teas are okay, but be sure to use at least a few bags of black tea in the mix to make sure the scoby is getting all the nutrients it needs. (I prefer herbal teas in the second ferment)
• In the first ferment (shown in the video above), avoid any teas that contain oils, like earl grey, or flavored teas. The bergamot in Earl Grey will injure your culture and you'll need to get a new one. Anything with citrus in it is also bad and will kill the Scoby.Those include: (Don't use)
Synthetic Fruit Punch (Don’t use any of these just mentioned in the first ferment)
• If you want to use herbs or herbal teas, use no more than 25%, with the rest 75% black tea, but really it’s better to use these after the first ferment is complete, as explained in part 2, with flavoring. Herbal tea is not an adequate substitute for actual tea!
- Teas (bags and loose) – black and oolong
- Organic Black Tea (bags) (click photos for links)
Organic Black Tea (loose)
- Organic Oolong Tea (bags)
- Organic Oolong Tea (loose)
- Organic Yerba Mate Tea (loose) (non-smoked)
- Organic Yerba Mate (bags) (non-smoked)
Pure cane organic Sugar is the best sweetner, but you can train your kombucha to use some other sweeterners such as sucanet or coconut sugar, by putting a small percentage at a time, (more on sugar below) or get a “jun” scoby for honey. See link here -
Instructions for Making Kombucha Tea:
- Brew Tea: - For Cold Brew – (my preference) combine pure water with tea and sugar in glass or stainless steel container for at least 8 hours. Stir occasionally to mix sugar and tea. – Pour into fermenting jar and sugar that remains put in a small amount of tea and warm while stirring until dissolved.
- For Hot Brew Tea - Combine hot water and sugar in a glass jar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. The water should be hot enough to steep the tea but does not have to be boiling. Best to only warm half the water, so that after 20 minutes steep you can pour the cold water into the same jar to cool to room temp faster as shown in the video above.
NOTE on tea ball: Using a metal tea ball to contain loose tea for making kombucha is acceptable. The tea ball should be removed before adding the scoby and starter tea, so the tea ball will not come into contact with the scoby.
2. Cool Tea- Either way you brew it, be sure the tea has cooled to 68-85ºF or room temperature. This is very important to not kill your SCOBY. The tea may be left in the liquid as it cools or removed after the first 10-15 minutes. The longer the tea is left in the liquid, the stronger the tea will be.
3. Remove the tea bags or completely strain the loose tea leaves from the liquid.
4. Add starter tea from a previous batch to the liquid. If you do not have starter tea, distilled white vinegar may be substituted. You can get starter tea here high country photo link above. Stir in the starter tea. (The starter tea makes the liquid acidic, which prevents unfriendly bacteria from forming in the first few days of fermentation.) Once tea is completely cool, pour into glass jar, leaving just over an inch of room at the top.
5. Add an active kombucha scoby - gently slide the scoby into the jar with clean hands.
6. Cover the jar with a tight-weave towel or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. Cheesecloth is not ideal because it's easy for small insects, like fruit flies, to wiggle through the layers. Use a few layers of tightly woven cloth, like clean napkins, coffee filters, or paper towels, and secure it tightly with rubber bands or twine.
7. Allow the mixture to sit undisturbed at 68-85°F, out of direct sunlight, for 7-30 days, or to taste (10-12 days recommended). The longer the kombucha ferments, the less sweet and more vinegary it will taste. If your home does not make the temperature, this belt can help (click the photo for link)
- Kombucha belt to raise the fermenting temperature.
- It's not unusual for the scoby to float at the top, bottom, or even sideways during fermentation. A new cream-colored layer of scoby should start forming on the surface of the kombucha within a few days. It may attache to the old scoby, but it's ok if they separate. You may also see brown stringy bits floating beneath the scoby, sediment collecting at the bottom, and bubbles collecting around the scoby. This is all normal and signs of healthy fermentation.
- After 7 days, begin tasting the kombucha, when it reaches a balance of sweetness and tartness that is pleasant to you, the kombucha is ready to bottle, flavor and carbonate as explained in part 2.
Questions About Sugar:
Do I have to add all of the sugar?
Yes. The standard Kombucha recipe is 1 cup of sugar per gallon. Too little and you are inhibiting the brew’s normal healthy development; no SCOBY, no acetic acid. Too much and the yeasts will either a) “flush” and overrun the bacteria, or b) fall completely asleep and do nothing.
What type of sugar should I use to brew Kombucha?
This debate can be heated, but it’s really simple. Most sugars are fine for Kombucha (with a few exceptions, see below), but there are preferred choices:
• Organic Pure Cane Sugar – the Kombucha culture consumes this easiest. Use only “cane sugar” and organic to avoid GMO beet sugar. Concerns about trace toxins in white sugar processing should be considered.
• Evaporated Cane Juice – Cleaner process but slightly more difficult for the Kombucha to consume.
• Brown Sugar – Harder for the Kombucha to break down, it will also change the flavor significantly. Try for experimental batches.
• Honey – A wonderful choice but DO NOT USE RAW. The bacteria will disturb the Kombucha SCOBY balance and could brew up a dangerous concoction. Honey is used with a "jun" scoby, so if you want to use this better to get one of those.
Can mutliple types of sugar be combined into one Kombucha brew?
Absolutely! Just as with tea blends, sugar blends can add flavor and depth to your brew. Have fun and experiment!
What types of sugar must be avoided when brewing Kombucha?
• Raw Honey – The naturally occurring bacteria will battle the SCOBY for dominance. It sounds bad because it is.
• Stevia – Stevia is a plant sugar and will not ferment.
• Xylitol (and it’s precursor Xylose) – What makes Xylitol great for chewing gum and teeth is that it’s “non-fermentable,” which makes it useless for the booch.
• Lactose – Kombucha is not lacto-fermentable.
• High Fructose Corn Syrup -Must I explain? Your body can’t even break this stuff down.
• Any Artificial Sweetener – I have heard some crazy ideas: Erithritol, Aspartame, Sucralose, Saccharin?! Someone asked if they can use Mountain Dew as starter. No. No you cannot.
• To prolong the life and maintain the health of your scoby, stick to the ratio of sugar, tea, starter tea, and water outlined in the recipe.
Sources & Other Links
Lots of great info and customer service on Kombucha - http://www.kombuchabrooklyn.com/blog
Where to get a SCOBY:
- - http://www.kombuchabrooklyn.com/supplies/cultures.html
- - http://store.kombuchakamp.com/
- - http://www.kombu.de/suche2.htm#usa
Benefits of Kombucha