Home Brewed Kombucha

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha has been around for over 2000 years. It s a drink made by fermenting sweetened green or black tea. The sugary tea turns into kombucha with the help of a SCOBY—a.k.a. “a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”—which looks a bit like a floating mushroom. Except it’s made of live bacteria.

During the fermentation process, the yeast and bacteria in the SCOBY feeds on the sugar in the tea, releasing probiotics as well as B vitamins, enzymes, and organic acids. The fermentation also naturally creates carbon dioxide gasses, naturally carbonating the drink. This is why it is so fizzy.

How to make your own home brew:

First, get your hands on a SCOBY, fermenting jars and some reusable bottles for the finished product. So far, I think Amazon is great for economy, 2-day shipping, and availability of supplies. Local home-brew shops also carry these supplies. Glass, stainless or ceramic are good choices for brewing kombucha. Some people use wood barrels and claim it adds wonderful dimensions in flavor to the brew, which I do believe, but I have an aversion to anything I can’t sterilize and wood barrels aren’t as readily available. Avoid plastic, and any metal that is not stainless steel. Kombucha can cause leaching during the brewing process with these materials.

You can order your SCOBY from Amazon or speciality sites that sell the organism. It should come in a packet surrounded by kombucha starter liquid (DO NOT DISCARD THIS LIQUID). If you are lucky enough to have a friend that can supply you with a healthy SCOBY, all the better. If you have to purchase your SCOBY, you may also wish invest in a bottle of live, raw, unflavored Kombucha to serve as your starter. If getting a SCOBY from a friend, ask them to include 2 cups of starter kombucha. Keep your SCOBY in a sealed, sterile environment at room temperature prior to brewing. Never refrigerate your SCOBY.

New SCOBY, came with a bonus baby 🙂

Next you will sterilize all your equipment. You want to promote the good bacteria but not introduce anything unwanted that could lead to contamination of your brew. I run everything through the dishwasher, using non-reactive pots for steeping tea, and glass fermenting jars and bottles. Then I rinse them after the come out of the dishwasher to insure that there is no soapy residue at all, as it could kill the lovely organisms you are trying to feed.

With a healthy SCOBY and sterilized equipment, you can begin your brew.

Basic Recipe

1 Gallon Chlorine-free water
4-6 Black or Green tea bags or 1-2 tablespoons loose leaf tea (I use 3 Ice Tea size Black Tea bags as my preference)
1 Cup Sugar
1 full-size kombucha SCOBY 
1-2 cups mature kombucha starter liquid

Equipment:
1.25 Gallon Brewing Vessel
Pot or Kettle for boiling water
Muslin Square 
Large Rubber Band

Instructions for brewing

  1. Heat 1 quart of the water to just below boiling in a non-reactive pot. You can either steep in the pot, or add to your brewing vessel. Allow your tea to steep for 10-15 minutes, and then remove tea.
  2. Add cup of sugar to brewed tea while it’s still hot and stir until it is completely dissolved.
  3. If you did not use brewing vessel to steep your tea, transfer it to the brewing vessel now.
  4. Add remaining cool water. Allow to cool to room temperature before proceeding. Cover loosely with clean muslin cloth to prevent impurities from getting into the tea while it cools.
  5. Once the tea is cooled below 100 degrees Farenheit, you may add your SCOBY and the starter liquid. If you are using your hands, make sure they are clean, but don’t wash with anti-bacterial soap, or use a clean stainless spoon to transfer SCOBY to the tea. Add 1-2 cups of mature, raw kombucha on top of the SCOBY, either provided from a friend or from a verified raw, unpasturized source.
  6. Cover the jar with a breathable cloth and secure with rubber band.
  7. Place in a dark storage space, that will maintain a temperature of 65-85 degrees Farenheit. Ideal range is 75-80 degrees. In the winter, this may be hard to maintain, but not to worry, komucha will ferment acceptably at lower temps, but it will require a longer brewing cycle.
  8. Allow tea to ferment for 7-21 days. You will need to taste your brew to get the desired level of sweetness/tartness. I slip a clean straw below the SCOBY about 5 inches and take a sip. You can do this as early as 5 days after you begin your brew. In warmer temps, it will brew faster.
  9. Once your kombuchas is fermented to your prefered taste, it’s ready to harvest.
  10. Remove SCOBY to a clean sterile bowl and loosely cover with a cloth. Collect at least 1-2 cups of mature kombucha from the top of the brew to use as the starter for your next batch.
  11. The rest of kombucha is available for drinking, either straight from the vessel, or you canbottle it with or without adding flavors.
  12. Start a new batch repeating steps 1-10. If your SCOBY has replicated itself, you can separate the new SCOBY and start a second batch or store it in SCOBY hotel.

You can flavor your finished kombucha with fruit juice, fresh fruit or leave it unflavored. To increase the natural carbonation of kombucha, you may choose to bottle condition it. Fill your bottles leaving head room and seal. Let sit another 3-7 days in a dark storage area at room temperature, and then transfer to the refrigerator. The kombucha will continue to ferment as it sits in the dark, increasing carbonation, and maybe even developing a little SCOBY. Placing in refrigerator stops the fermentation. I like to stop my second fermentation after 5-7 day, longer and the brew gets more tart (which might be your preference) and a lot of pressure from carbonation can build.

There are a lot of great resources on the web and e-books or written books. I’d encourage further investigation and suggestions from other reputable sources. Suggestions on locating a healthy SCOBY, choices in fermenting vessels, flavorings, and maintaining SCOBY health are plentiful on the internet.

The SCOBY Hotel

Depending on your rate of consumption, once you get going, you can use the new SCOBYs produced by the process to increase your production. Or you can keep it smaller by storing SCOBYs in a SCOBY hotel. This is basically a vessel that allows you to store live SCOBYs, occasionally feeding them a bit of fresh kombucha from a newly brewed batch. Keeping extra SCOBYs will let you experiment with your brewing conditions knowing you have a back up in case something goes wrong. You will have your own healthy SCOBY on hand to start again. You can also gift a SCOBY to an interested friend from your SCOBY hotel.

Tips for the best fermentations

  • Do use properly steeped tea. Under steeping will result in a weak brew, oversteeping a bitter brew.
  • Do sterilize all your equipment to make sure that the good bacteria and yeast are not contaminated by unwanted organisms.
  • Do keep your fermenting kombucha in a dark place until you are ready to harvest.
  • Do use chlorine free water in both your tea and when cleaning your SCOBY or setting up your SCOBY hotel.
  • Do use unflavored, non-pasturized starter for your first batch. If purchasing brewed kombucha from a store for this purpose, please check to make sure the cultures are live. I’ve used the GT brand with good success.