I’ve recently started brewing (fermenting?) kombucha, and I have to say – it is a lot easier, and a lot more FUN than I expected. What is kombucha? In short, it is fermented tea. Many of my health-conscious & crunchy friends drink this regularly, as it is rich in probiotics and fantastic for gut health. Now, I don’t pretend to be more knowledgable about kombucha than the experts – not by far. But I’ve recently have several friends ask me about it, how to make it, ask for recipes, etc., so I thought it would be a good idea to start sharing what I have learned to easily answer all the questions that I can.
I had previously heard about the health benefits of kombucha from my aforementioned friends, but I had always been just a little afraid to try it. For one, fermented sounded weird – was I going to be drinking mold or something? I had also heard other (not-so-crunchy) friends mention that it tasted weird. So it was one of those things I just sort of….avoided for a while.
Recently, I’ve really been putting more of a focus on overall gut health for myself and my family, and I decided to give kombucha a chance to prove itself. The next time we were at the grocery store I looked for it and….whaaaaaaat?!?! $4 a bottle?! Who can afford to drink this stuff? I decided to get just one or two bottles – just to see what I thought. The first time I took a sip of it, I distinctly remember wondering if it was actually an alcoholic drink (it’s not, but it does contain some naturally occurring alcohol – I’ve been told the alcohol content is comparable to the amount found in orange juice). After asking around, some friends mentioned it’s just the probiotics and the fermentation that stood out to me, not the actual alcohol content.
Since then, I’ve done some more research on the benefits of kombucha, various techniques on brewing it, etc. I still have a LOT to learn, but I hope to share here the things I learn over time.
Rich in probiotics
The biggest thing that stood out to me with kombucha is how rich it is in probiotics. Kombucha is made with a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. The SCOBY is a living organism that reproduces itself and feeds off of sugar. Our own gut contains strains of bacteria and yeast, and keeping these two balanced and in check are extremely important to gut health. You may have heard that antibiotics don’t discriminate – that is, they kill off both the bad AND the good bacteria in your gut. The good bacteria keep the yeast in check, and when these bacteria are killed off it creates an opportunity for the yeast to grow out of control. Yeast/candida overgrowth can lead to a multitude of problems. There are many other factors that can contribute to candida overgrowth, so a good probiotic and fermented foods are very beneficial to the gut and to keeping it balanced and in check.
At $4 a bottle, I could not easily justify buying kombucha often enough for my husband and I to both drink one daily. It’s just not gonna happen. I knew it was something that could be made at home, so for the time being, I had decided we would just buy it when we could, and I would look for some friends to help me get started. It didn’t take long.
Two sweet friends of mine gave me an amazing start. One friend provided the vessel in which to ferment the tea, as well as some glass swing top bottles; while another friend provided a SCOBY and starter liquid from her own stash at home. It was a lot more than I was asking for and a true blessing – I’m so grateful to them!
If you want to get started making it at home, these are the basics of what you’ll need (I’ve included links for easy ordering if needed):
- A glass jar for fermenting – I use a 2 gallon size glass jar with a spigot like this one. You can also use a 1 gallon jar if 2 gallons is too much for you.
- Glass bottles – I like these bottles from Amazon.
- A SCOBY and some starter liquid. If you don’t have a friend who can help you out with this, I’ve heard good things about Kombucha Kamp and their starters. Here’s one you can order from Amazon. (can you tell I like Amazon? Hello, free Prime shipping!)
- Black tea and green tea in bulk
- a tightly woven cloth/fabric and a rubber band (cheesecloth will not work)
- you may also want some paint (optional). I painted the outside of my jar to keep the tea dark while fermenting – light does NOT help the fermentation process.
- A funnel
- Optional fruit or 100% natural juice for flavoring and second ferment
Another (more expensive) option is to buy this complete continuous brew package from Kombucha Kamp. The benefit to this package is that it also includes a warmer to keep the tea at the proper temp – this is especially beneficial in cooler weather or climates.
A third (and much cheaper) option is to grow your own SCOBY from a store bought, unflavored kombucha, such as GT’s original. Make sure it is unprocessed, raw, and unflavored, as the flavor can weaken the SCOBY. After growing your SCOBY, you can use distilled white vinegar as your starter liquid. You’ll have to do some research on how to grow your SCOBY. I have not done this myself so I am not well versed in how to do so.
How to Make It
Once you have everything you need, all that’s left is to get started! What I’m sharing with you is the way I learned to make it, but there are other methods and time frames that work as well. Like I said – I am no expert, but what I do works and tastes great. The method I use is for continuous brew.
Before starting, make sure you either have a dark place to store your kombucha. You can also paint the outside of the jar (hint: make SURE the paint is 100% dry first!).
The next step is to brew sweet tea on the stove. Here’s my recipe (cut this in half for 1 gallon):
- 24 cups of water
- 2 1/2 cups of sugar
- 10 individual black tea bags
- 6 individual green tea bags
- Directions:Place water in a large stock pot on the stove
- Stir in the sugar until dissolved
- Turn on stove to medium heat
- Place tea bags in pot with tags tied together, hanging over the outside of the pot
- Heat on the stove for 15-20 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool
You’ll want to let this cool to room temperature. Often, I will make the tea in the morning, and then let it sit to cool and finish in the afternoon. You can also make the same amount of tea but only heat 1 quart of water, and after the tea is made add the remaining cool water to cool it quickly.
Once the tea has cooled to room temperature, dump it into the glass jar with your starter liquid. Add the SCOBY and cover the jar. Let this sit to ferment for 7 days.
Note: you can ferment your kombucha for 6-20 days. Keep in mind that the longer you ferment, the more sour and vinegar-y the taste will be. 7 days has been the “sweet spot” for me.
After 7 days, you’ll need to make another batch of sweet tea and let it cool.
Once the next batch of sweet tea is cooled, it’s time to bottle the first batch. Any time you are going to work with or handle your SCOBY, it is important to wash your hands with distilled white vinegar. DO NOT use antibacterial soap, as this can kill the bacteria in the SCOBY! After rinsing my hands with the vinegar, I remove the SCOBY from the jar and place it on a plate. Yes, yes, you have to touch it. It looks gross, it’s slimy, and it smells. But the benefits are amazing, so…it’s all worth it! Just trust me on this one.
Now, each time you do this, you’ll have a new layer of SCOBY growing called the “baby.” You can leave it and let it grow, or you can separate it and place it in a “SCOBY Hotel,” give it to a friend, make a face mask, compost it….all sorts of things. If you do leave it be, just make sure not to allow your SCOBY to grow more than 2 inches thick. Eventually, you will have to separate it by pulling it apart. Keep the new growth in the jar and do what you like with the older “mother.”
After you’ve removed the SCOBY, stick the funnel in the bottles one at a time and start filling them from the spigot. You’ll want to leave 2-3 inches of air if you plan on flavoring your kombucha. If you do not want to flavor & carbonate it, then once you’ve filled the bottle you’re finished. You can refrigerate and start drinking it.
If you DO want to flavor it, then set the bottles to the side until they are all filled. Once they’re filled, pour your new batch of sweet tea into the jar, replace the SCOBY, and cover it back with the fabric and rubber band. Now, on to the flavoring – this is the best part.
Flavoring is done via a “second ferment.” You can use chopped or puree’d fruit, spices, juice, whole berries – all sorts of things. In the future, I’ll share some of my favorite recipes with you. As I stated before, make sure you’ve left 2-3 inches of air in the bottle for the flavor. Add whichever flavor you choose to the bottle, and leave a remaining 1-2 inches of air to allow for carbonation. Once you’re finished, seal the bottles.
You’ll need to let the bottles sit on the counter for 2-3 days to allow for the second ferment. The sugar from whichever flavor you’ve added will cause it to ferment further, which causes the tea to carbonate. Because of the carbonation process pressure will build up in the bottles, so it is best to “burp” the bottles once or twice each day by popping them open for a second and re-sealing them. On the 3rd (or 2nd) day, stick them in the fridge to further fermentation – it’s time to start enjoying your kombucha!
So how does it taste? Honestly, to me it tastes REALLY good. Depending on which flavors I add, it’s almost like a light fruit soda – just more like real fruit and not the artificially flavored stuff. I’ve never had unflavored kombucha, but I’ve been told it almost tastes like a flat mountain dew. I will probably try it someday soon just to see for myself!
Are you going to try making kombucha? What questions do you have? Or – Do you make it already and have some more tips? Share with me below!
Keep on sparkling, friends!
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