How to make Kombucha

I’ve been making kombucha for a couple years now. It’s a fantastic probiotic beverage that has easily replaced soda in my new healthy lifestyle. While kombucha is pretty simple to make, it does take a little know-how and there are some rules.

There are two primary methods for making kombucha: Batch method, and Continuous brew. I’ll detail both methods in this post. But first we need supplies!

You will need:

  • A scoby (This is the alien-looking pancake of bacterial cellulose that floats around in the tea and provides the bacteria in the culture)
  • About 2 cups of brewed kombucha tea to use as starter liquid.
  • Green, black, or white tea, or a combination of the three. These can be loose-leaf, or in bags. You will need 1 tea bag per two cups of water, and about 2 tbs. loose-leaf tea per gallon of water.
  • Filtered water
  • Plain white sugar. I prefer organic cane sugar. Trust me, this is the best thing to use. You will need about 1 tablespoon per cup of water.
  • A large pot
  • Wooden utensils
  • A fine mesh strainer if using loose-leaf tea
  • A glass measuring cup
  • Something to cover the top of your brewing vessel: this can be a paper towel, a coffee filter, or a piece of cloth held in place with a rubberband.
  • Glass container(s) in which to brew: For continuous brew, you will need a drink dispenser with a spigot at the bottom. Make sure the spigot is made of an inert material such as stainless steel or plastic. For batch brewing, you will need at least 2 vessels such as half gallon mason jars or other large glass containers.
  • Optional for second fermentation: Glass bottles with tight-fitting lids, fruit and fruit juice, honey, herbal teas, fresh herbs.

Now for the Don’ts

  • NEVER buy freeze-dried or refrigerated scobies. The process damages the scobies immune system and makes it susceptible to mold.
  • NEVER refrigerate your scoby, for the same reason as above. I’ll discuss Scoby Hotels later on if you need to stop brewing for a while.
  • NEVER use any tea other than camellia sinensis leaf (green, black, and white tea leaves) for your first fermentation. The scoby has a symbiotic relationship with true tea leaves (as opposed to herbal teas) and needs the tannins and nutrients the tea provides.
  • NEVER use any alternative sweeteners (coconut sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, etc) or non-caloric sweeteners (splenda, stevia, monk fruit, equal, etc.) in your first fermentation. The culture needs very simple sucrose sugar as food, plus honey is naturally anti-bacterial and can damage the culture. Cane sugar is the best sugar you can use. But don’t worry, almost all of it will be consumed by the culture, so you aren’t going to be drinking it.
  • NEVER contaminate the primary culture with tea that has essential oils or any other oils. Use pure tea leaves. I’ve found Jasmine tea also works for the first fermentation.
  • NEVER use metal utensils in the brewed kombucha tea or on the scoby. Kombucha is highly acidic and will react with many metals. Some people claim to not have issues with stainless steel, but I personally don’t risk it.
  • NEVER drink kombucha from a culture with mold on the scoby. Mold will grow on top of the scoby and will be green, black, or blue, just like the mold you see on bread. If your scoby grows mold, throw it out and start over.

Alright, let’s get started.

Batch Brewing Method

1. You will start off with one large glass vessel. Make sure it is very clean. I like to use vinegar to clean it, as the vinegar will not leave a residue and will not harm the culture. You should have gotten your scoby with some starter liquid, likely from a friend, or a healthfood store, or maybe even from craigslist from someone in your area who makes kombucha. Kombucha Kamp sells fresh scobies that have never been refrigerated with starter liquid if you cannot find someone local to you to buy a scoby. I’ll also discuss later how to make your own scoby from store bought kombucha.

2. In a large pot (this can be stainless steel, as it will only be coming in contact with tea, not the finished kombucha) bring filtered water to a boil. Use as much water as will fit in your container minus the volume of the scoby, the starter liquid, and some sugar. Also leave a little room at the top of the brewing vessel just to make things easier. Once the water has reached a boil, remove it from heat and stir in 1 tbs. sugar per cup of water that you used. Stir until dissolved, then let the water cool for 30 minutes or so before adding the tea. If the water is too hot when the tea is added, it will scald the tea and make it bitter. Use 2 tbs. loose-leaf tea per gallon of water, or 8 tea bags per gallon. Let the tea steep until the water has cooled to room temperature – you want it to be very concentrated.

3. Once your tea is at room temp, strain the tea directly into your brewing vessel. Add the starter liquid and the scoby. It’s ok if the scoby doesn’t float. It will make a baby very quickly that will cover the top of the tea. Place a piece of cloth, a paper towel, or a coffee filter over the top of your glass vessel and secure with a rubber band. Put your jar in a warm, dark place and leave it alone for at least 5 days.

4. After 5 days, start tasting your tea. Use a straw and dip it into the kombucha about 1-2 inches. Use your finger to close the opposite end to trap some tea inside the straw, then either drop it into a glass or straight into your mouth. Just don’t touch the straw to your mouth. You want the kombucha to be tangy, a little yeasty, and not too sweet, but also not too vinegary. The length of time it needs to brew depends on how warm it is, the size of your scoby when you start, and several other factors. If it’s too sweet, let it brew a few more days. Taste again every other day, or every day, until you like the flavor of it.

5. Once your kombucha is to your liking, you will need your second large brewing vessel. Make sure it is clean. Repeat step 2: brew a fresh batch of tea the same as you did when starting. Once it is cool, add it to the second brewing vessel. Then with very clean hands, remove your scoby along with any babies it made and add it to the second brewing vessel, then remove 1-2 cups of brewed kombucha from the first vessel and also add it to the second vessel. Cover the second vessel and set it aside.

6. Now you should have about half your jar still full of brewed kombucha. This is the part where you get to flavor it and make a fizzy delicious beverage and is called the second fermentation. You can flavor it any way you like at this point, and all the rules about not using alternative sweeteners or herbal teas no longer apply. Those only apply to the primary culture (the one with the scoby in it). Once the scoby has done it’s job and is moved on to the next jar, it’s no longer in danger of contamination. Experiment with fruit, juices, herbs, spices, herbal teas, whatever you like. Just make sure to add some form of extra sugar to this step because that is what will make it fizzy.

7. Place your flavored kombucha in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. I like to use beer growlers for this. Place the flavored kombucha in a warm place and let it ferment for 2-3 days. You will want to burp the bottle every day at this point to prevent the pressure building up and breaking the bottle. Once the second fermentation is finished, put it in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process and enjoy!

Continuous brew

There are many similarities between continuous brew and batch brew, so I’ve condensed the steps a bit. The main difference is that the scoby does not switch vessels.

1. Prepare a large drink dispenser with a spigot by cleaning it thoroughly with vinegar. Prepare your tea the same as you would for batch brew with 1 tbs. sugar per cup of water, and 2 tbs. loose-leaf tea or 8 tea bag per gallon of water. Once the tea is completely cool, place the tea in the drink dispenser along with your scoby and the starter tea. Put the drink dispenser in a warm location and allow to ferment for 5-7 days or until you like the flavor. With the drink dispenser, you can just open the spigot and drain a little tea into a cup to taste your tea to see if it’s ready.

2. Once you like the flavor of your kombucha, brew a new batch of sweetened tea the same as before. Once it’s cooled, drain about 3/4 of the liquid out of the drink dispenser into a large measuring cup or pitcher and then pour your fresh sweetened room-temperature tea into the drink dispenser to fill it back up. It’s ok if your scoby sinks. Re-cover your drink dispenser with cloth or paper towel.

3. Pour the brewed kombucha into a bottle or bottles with tight fitting lids and flavor however you like. Ferment for another 2-3 days, burping the bottle once daily to prevent it from breaking, then refrigerate and enjoy!

What if I can’t find a scoby locally and don’t want to order one online?

When I started brewing kombucha, I had this problem. There was a health food store that sometimes had scobies that one of their customers gave them to share with people, but they were out and I wanted to get started right away. I discovered online that I could grow my own scoby from a bottle of store bought kombucha. I bought a bottle of GT Dave’s Original unflavored kombucha and poured all of it into a quart mason jar, then I made 1 cup of sweet tea and added it to the jar as well. I covered the jar with a piece of plain muslin cloth and put it in my kitchen cabinet where it was warm and dark for 3 weeks. After 3 weeks, it had a perfect 1/4″ thick scoby floating on top. I kept feeding the scoby with more sweet tea until it was big enough to go in my continuous brew vessel. I’ve been using this same scoby’s babies for over 2 years now.

What if I need to stop brewing for a while?

When I started the Autoimmune Protocol, I stopped making kombucha because it’s very high in yeast and yeast can be a big issue for people with autoimmune conditions. Since refrigerating the scoby can weaken it, what are you supposed to do with it? Well, actually, nothing. Just leave the scoby in it’s jar with it’s brewed tea in a dark place and ignore it. Once it consumes all the sugar available, it will go dormant, and can live like that happily for months. I’ve had my kombucha in a dormant state for up to 6 months at a time. I periodically top it off with fresh sweet tea when evaporation lowers the level too much, but otherwise I ignore it. You can also just keep a spare scoby in a jar in this same manner as a backup just in case your primary scoby gets mold.

When you’re ready to start brewing again, drain off all but 1-2 cups of the liquid it’s in and discard it. It will be very vinegary at this point and you probably wouldn’t want to drink it. Add fresh sweetened tea and in 7-10 days, you should have kombucha again.

What are these brown strings hanging from my scoby?

This is probably the most common question I see in regards to kombucha brewing. You have your nice creamy smooth scoby floating on top of your tea, and beneath it are these mucky-looking brown clots of sediment. They sometimes stain the scoby itself and often settle on the bottom. Fear not, it is simply the yeast in the culture. Scoby stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. The scoby itself if the bacteria, and the brown sludge is the yeast. You can strain it out if you like, but it won’t hurt you. The type of yeast in kombucha is not the same strain that causes candida overgrowth, and has actually been shown to help balance the bad yeast in your body.

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