I get asked about kombucha a lot, some folks are curious what it is, but one of the most popular questions I get is “how hard is it to make kombucha?” … Honestly, if you can boil water, you can make kombucha tea. If you have not heard of kombucha, simply stated, kombucha is a fermented sweet tea. Kombucha’s health benefits are debatable but this effervescent, one of a kind beverage has been around for over two thousand years. It’s been a staple among crunchy varieties pretty steadily, but it’s now becoming more mainstream. It’s fairly common to see kombucha at just about any grocery Mart these days.
Kombucha tea is a black tea or sometimes green tea, that has had sugar added. Once a sweet tea is made a starter culture known as a SCOBY , or a mushroom, or “mother” is added. Much like adding yeast to bread, a culture to yogurt or a starter to vinegar, or grains to kefir, the “Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast” starter is what brings life to the tea.
Once fermented for several days to weeks, you have a fermented tea that is a blend of flavors comparable to tea, tobacco and vinegar. There is an almost leathery, tobacco like taste to kombucha that makes it particularly unique. Some folks love it au natural, others prefer to flavor it with fruit or other flavors. Sometimes I add fruit juice or chia but normally we just drink it plain, straight from the tap.
As far as benefits go, kombucha is a raw fermented beverage, unless it has been purchased pasteurized. If we are speaking about unpasteurized, raw, naturally fermented kombucha, one could conclude that at the very least, it has benefits like any other probiotic, fermented food. These benefits in short are a boosted immunity, improved digestion and as it is acidic like vinegar, it’s also detoxifying. The primary benefit comes from the fact that it is a RAW, living food.
There are potential risks when it comes to any fermented , raw foods but one should note that the most common side effect is digestive upset from over consumption or being new to the probiotic gig. There are cases where mold and spoilage CAN occur due to low acidity or contamination, but typically it’s pretty hard to mess up kombucha. (when in doubt, find the kombucha kamp forums online or if you purchase your starter from cultures for health, they might be able to assist you.) Never hesitate to google! There is SO MUCH information out there these days. The most common W-T-Fluff !???? . . . Getting used to what new mushroom growth looks like. It will look really funky until you are used to it. Once you have made a few batches, you’ll think it was crazy to ever buy the stuff!
I’m sharing what I do. There’s a whole world out there to explore, of course you can add flavors, fruits, herbs and spices to do a secondary ferment, but I typically don’t. My booch comes out of the spigot fizzy most of the time, and if it doesn’t? We like it just the same. In my house we have a simple continuous brew system that we take from and add to as needed. The benefit to a continuous brew system is that you have more consistent access to the kombucha. You don’t have to deplete your store and wait to drink it. As long as you leave roughly 1/3 of your kombucha in your jar with your SCOBY, you can just add more sweet tea as you want to. Its also more consistent. You’re less likely to battle spoilage if you have a pretty consistent acidity level. To “feed” my kombucha I make half gallons of sweet tea and pour it into the tank. You should only use GLASS containers to brew your kombucha and contain your SCOBY. It’s fine to make your tea in a steel pan, but you should keep the kombucha in glass.
To Make A Single Half Gallon Batch –
- 1 SCOBY, Fresh or Re-hydrated
- 1 Cup Kombucha, or RAW Cider Vinegar
SWEET TEA “Kombucha Food” RECIPE
- 1/2 to 1 Cup Organic Sugar
- 2-3 Organic Family Size Tea Bags
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- 6-7 Cups of Clean Water (divided)
- Place your SCOBY and Starter Liquid into a half gallon or gallon sized jar.
- In a separate container- Combine 4 cups of really hot, not necessarily boiling water with sugar. You can make your simple syrup/sugar-water/sweet tea combo in a pot over the stove or you can use really hot tap water and a glass bowl or jar. I sometimes microwave about a cup of water in a large 8 cup measuring bowl just until its hot. It doesn’t have to boil, it just has to dissolve the sugar and steep the tea. If you have a water kettle or K-cup maker, your in business. You just need some hot water.
- Add sugar to the hot water and stir it to combine.
- Add tea bags and allow to steep 10 minutes or so. (or if your like me, until you remember you started it)
- Remove tea bags from the tea mixture.
- Add ice and/or cold water to cool the mixture to reach roughly 6 cups.
- Once mixture is cooled, add the sweet tea to your kombucha jar.
- Add water if needed to reach half a gallon. You need 1 to 2 inches from the top of your jar for the new SCOBY to grow.
- Cover with a cloth and rubber band and allow to culture at room temperature for at least 7 days.
- After a week, taste the kombucha and see if its to your liking. I typically wait to drink the boocha until a new shroom shows up. A new solid layer at the top of my jar, is what I gauge done-ness on. On average I wait at least seven days to start drinking a “new batch” , typically it can hang out for two to three weeks because I don’t like it sugary, at times it’s abandoned entirely. (At which point I bottle the old kombucha and use it as a substitute for apple cider vinegar)
To Start A Continuous Brew System- After approximately one week, place entire half gallon batch of kombucha to your desired large GLASS vessel. If you have a new SCOBY at the top of your jar, it is in good shape and ready to culture a larger amount of tea. A jar with a spigot comes in handy but it is not necessary. Continuous brew jars are typically 1 gallon to 3 gallons. You’ll want a good glass beverage jar. I purchased a regular glass beverage dispenser and replaced the spigot with a high quality stainless steel spigot because I was not a fan of the cheap plastic. The hardest part of dealing with spigots is occasionally having to birth a SCOBY baby out of it. Make tea or “kombucha food” as directed above and add it to your continuous brew jar with your previous batch. Basically you just make sweet tea to feed your Mother from time to time as the supply dwindles.
Harvesting Your Kombucha – To pull from your kombucha, you can A: decant your kombucha into jars once a week or every few weeks and prepare enough kombucha to refill your jar. or- B: Drink your kombucha straight from the tap until you’ve reached your 1/3 mark. Replace the kombucha as needed and wait until a new SCOBY grows. The downside to method B is that you have a holding period in between and by the time you make more kombucha it might be really vinegary. The benefit to A- is that you are preserving your kombucha exactly as you like it. Some folks like to flavor their kombucha as they jar it. Method A is how you get fizzy booch. You can even shoot somewhere in between, just never take any more than 1/3 of your total liquid, and don’t tap out more than every seven days. SCOBY growth is usually a great determining factor. If I’ve just added a half gallon or gallon to my jar, I know that we shouldn’t drink it for a few days.
Every now and then you will want to thin your SCOBY, it will get thicker, thicker, and thicker if you allow it. It will literally fill the entire container if you never trim it down. Every now and then you will also want to completely drain your container and clean it out. If you let the bottom get to scuzzy you get lots of boocha boogers coming out the spigot if you have one, and unmanageable sediment if you don’t.
Note: I have tried to grow my own starter from store bought kombucha and I had nothing but disastrous, very moldy results. I have my own theory that they add a preservative to store purchased kombucha, but of course I could be mistaken. If you want absolute results, purchase a SCOBY online or snag one from a friend. If you are purchasing a dehydrated SCOBY you will need to culture your first batch for at least 30 days.
Water- You want clean filtered/purified water. Processed city water may inhibit fermentation and kill your SCOBY, it’s best to use water free of fluoride and chlorine. I use clean well water, use the cleanest water you can.