Making Kombucha

If you're not familiar, kombucha is a fermented tea. It's tart and it's alkaline and probiotic with a whole slew of other health benefits. It can be fizzy which helped me kick my diet soda habit.  It tastes similar to a wine cooler (it can be mildly alcoholic, although some say the buzz you may experience from kombucha is actually from one of the acids produced and not the marginal alcohol content - so marginal that I drank kombucha while pregnant, if that's any indication).  My not-very-alternative husband swears by it for stomach aches and general digestive discomfort.  At around 3 bucks a bottle its handy if you can make your own.

You need a "mother" or S.C.O.B.Y., which is a living culture, so it helps if you know someone who makes kombucha - otherwise you would need to buy one from a reputable source online (My trustworthy online sources point to Or you can make a scoby from bottled kombucha too.  It looks like a soggy tortilla. And yes, it is kinda creepy.

Acquiring (or making) your scoby is the hardest part.  To make kombucha, all you need is a gallon glass bowl or jar (you don't need a lid), tea and sugar. I use a pickle jar from Costco.  Make sweet tea as follows:  1 gallon boiling water + 8 tea bags + 1 cup of sugar.  A couple things:  firstly, the tea must be caffeinated, and there is some debate over black or green or oolong being the bes. And secondly, yes, white sugar is evil, but don't worry - it is just food for the scoby and the finished kombucha doesn't have much sugar at all. That's the great thing about making your own is you can make it as sweet or tart as you like! 

Cool the sweet tea so you don't kill the scoby. Some people brew the tea in a small amount of boiling water, and then add cold water to it; however, I use tap water so I like to let it boil beforehand. I had to add some bottled water because so much of the tea evaporated during steeping.

Add 1-2 cups of kombucha tea from your last brew. 

Then float the scoby in the tea.

Cover with a towel or cheesecloth to allow airflow. Let it sit undisturbed for 7 days, then taste it each day until it is just right. Careful, if you let it go too long it will taste like vinegar.  During this week of fermentation the culture is feeding on the sugar and releasing byproducts like acids and enzymes and other good stuff.

It's in an ice-water bath to help the tea cool faster

When it's "done" you're ready to bottle!  Remove the scoby and keep it in a mason jar with 1-2 cups of the finished kombucha. With each brew a new "baby" scoby will grow on top of the mother, you can separate them and give it to a friend or have two batches going at the same time, or throw it away!  It's okay to use a scoby a few times before retiring it.  When starting a brand new scoby you can let the babies keep attaching so that your scoby gets thick and white.  

Okay, get your bottles ready. I reuse the GT Dave's kombucha bottles, and some 1-liter juice and mineral water glass bottles with caps. A lot of people use  those cool swivel cap bottles. 

Now you have some choices...  if you like how it tastes as-is, just pour it into bottles and keep it in the fridge which stops (slows) the fermentation process. 

If you want to flavor and/or carbonate the kombucha, keep reading. 

To carbonate, pour tea into a bottle with an airtight lid (not a mason jar) and let it sit out for 1-3 days. Some use plastic bottles (yes, evil plastic!) because it's easy to tell when it's carbonated because the bottle will feel hard. If you use glass you will need to open or "burp" the bottle each day to prevent an explosion. When it's carbonated, move to the fridge. 

To flavor, you can "double ferment" by bottling your freshly made kombucha with pieces of fruit, juice or tea. The flavoring goes in the bottom of the bottle, then top with kombucha leaving an inch at the top. Seal airtight and leave out 1-3 days as previously described. In my photo I'm using Trader Joes Pomegranate White Tea (brewed and cooled) and ginger lime (juice of 1 lime and 4-5 thin slices of ginger).

The scoby is in the mason jar waiting to start a new batch

Plain kombucha tastes great, so wait until you get the hang of that to mess around with double fermentation.  Be sure to start a new batch when you are bottling the fresh batch, so that you won't be sad when you have to wait a whole week for it to be ready.  It's pretty easy compared to other things you can culture/ferment, like yogurt, kefir, sourdough - don't get me started on sourdough...  If you don't have a batch going just leave your scoby out in a mason jar, or in the fridge if you don't have plans to start a batch anytime soon.  I'd love to hear your kombucha brewing tips, or answer you're questions (if the pictures didn't freak you out too much) haha! 

P.S. Avoid contact between your kombucha and metal, so use glass and plastic containers and stirring utensils. When bottling with metal lids, put a piece of wax paper under the lid. Metal can kill your culture.

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