My name is Mrs. Smith, and I am a kombucha-holic.
Kombucha is essentially fermented tea that’s chock-full of probiotics and good feelings. It’s tart, fizzy, borderline vinegary and I feel the ancient Chinese invented the beverage just for me. I used to only let myself buy the occasional bottle as a treat but these treats have been growing in frequency. One time, I went a little crazy and drank a quart of the stuff in one day…and had the best night’s sleep ever. My eczema had also completely cleared up the next morning.
Some people find kombucha disgusting, others find it too strong for their stomachs, but for me it’s juuuuust right. However, at $3.50 a bottle, my habit was getting a little pricey. And so in an effort to relieve the dent in my wallet, I decided to conduct my own kombucha brewing experiment a little over a month ago. If you, too, have been toying with the idea of brewing your own bootch, here’s a recap of my experience over these past few weeks…
*Disclaimer: Kombucha is not a medicine even though you may experience health benefits from it. Drink at your own risk. The brewing process requires only the most meticulous sterilization procedures; otherwise, you could become very ill if you drink a moldy, contaminated batch. So be cool and follow the rules. Word.
Getting Started in Kombucha Brewing
All kombucha magic happens with the presence of a scoby.
What on earth is a scoby? It’s an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast and comes in a pale, disk-shaped blob which may or may not gross you out.
Where do I find a scoby? You can order them online for around $10 or you can ask a kombucha-brewing friend for one. My super-awesome friend Ruth Ann gifted me with hers–thanks, Ruthie!
Should I name my scoby? Yes. After all, your scoby is a pet that needs food, air, warmth and water. I named mine Scoby Maguire. He completes me.
Brewing Your First Batch
You will need:
- 1 scoby
- 1 cup scoby liquid or raw kombucha
- vinegar (for handwashing and sterilization)
- large glass jar
- glass bowls
- glass bottles with tight-fitting lids
- bottled water (do NOT use tap water–the chlorine will kill your scoby)
Whether you acquire your scoby from the internet or a friend, the scoby should come in at least 1 cup of liquid. This liquid is raw, unflavored kombucha and is the “starter” for your first batch.
STEP 1: Sterilize, Sterilize, Sterilize
Grab a big ol’ bottle of plain white vinegar. This will sterilize your equipment without harming your good bacteria. Do NOT use dish soap or bleach to sterilize your jars and other utensils–these will kill your poor, innocent scoby.
Now, using vinegar and hot water:
- Wash your hands, rubbing vigorously. Shake hands dry. (For safe measure I don’t even use a towel.)
- Sterilize all bottles, lids, spoons, jars, bowls, pitchers, strainers, etc. Shake off excess water.
STEP 2: Brew the Tea
First, place your scoby and 1 cup starter liquid in a glass bowl. No plastic, please.
Next, brew a batch of black tea:
- Place 1/4 cup loose leaf black tea in a bowl and add 1 quart boiling (bottled, not tap) water.
- Steep 10 minutes. Strain.
- Stir in 1 cup granulated sugar until fully dissolved. Allow tea to fully cool to room temperature.
- Pour the tea into a gallon-sized glass jar with a wide mouth along with 2 additional quarts bottled water.
A cup of sugar may sound like a lot but this is what your scoby will be snacking on for the next week.
Finally, add the scoby and liquid to the jar.
Step 3: Cover and Store
Cover the jar with a clean, loose-woven fabric such as a cheesecloth or tea towel so that the scoby can breath. Secure towel with a rubber band.
Place the jar in a dark, quiet place where it will not be disturbed. A large cupboard will do if there is enough air flow. In order for the kombucha brewing process to work, you need adequate air. The best home for Scoby Maguire was the dark corner by the chair in our bedroom.
Your scoby also needs a consistent, warm temperature of around 75˚. Cold temperatures = greater chances for mold. And once your brew is moldy, it’s game over. Do not drink, do not salvage scoby, do not collect $200.
To better maintain a consistent temperature in cooler months, use a heating pad. Come summer, you can ditch the heating pad.
STEP 4: Taste Your Brew
After about 5-7 days, dip a sterilized straw into the liquid and take one sip. If the tea is still too sweet, let it sit another couple days. If it is too sour, add 1/4 cup sugar and allow to set another couple days. Chances are, your tea will be tangy and slightly sweet which means it’s ready for its second brew in a bottle.
Bottling Your Brew
Now it’s time to add flavors and build up the magical fizz that makes kombucha so delicious.
To bottle your kombucha:
- Sterilize hands and a glass bowl. Place scoby and 1 cup liquid in it and set aside.
- Strain the rest of the liquid into a glass container/pitcher.
- Sterilize kombucha jar.
- Sterilize 6 16-oz jars/bottles and lids.
You might notice that your scoby has grown a new thin layer. This means the process is going great and you’re doing things right.
For more information on what to do with these extra layers, please refer to the links below.
Where did I find my bottles? I simply saved several 16-ounce GTs-brand kombucha bottles and their lids. They fit the bill perfectly at no extra cost!
To flavor your kombucha:
Flavoring the kombucha is part of the fun of brewing your own. I personally love GTs Trilogy flavor which I achieve by adding the following to each 16-ounce jar:
- 1/4 t sugar
- 1 heaping tablespoon grated or minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 5-6 fresh/frozen raspberries
Fill each jar with the kombucha leaving about 2 inches of headspace, making sure to reserve 1 cup liquid for your next batch. Screw on caps tightly.
Place the scoby in a bowl with the reserved liquid and set aside. Brew a fresh batch of tea and repeat the whole process as per the instructions above.
Place these bottles in your dark, quiet spot for 3-5 days. Carefully open one jar after 3 days. If it fizzes a little, the bottles can sit another day or two. If the kombucha fizzes violently, carefully open all the bottles to release the excess gasses and then place the bottles in the fridge. Drink within 7-8 days. (This shouldn’t be difficult.)
In the summer, you may want to “burp” the bottles each day to keep the gasses from building up too much and bursting the jars.
Do not fear these gasses. Fizz is your friend. It’s the magic of kombucha. It also lets you know that your bacteria is active and healthy and your kombucha brewing experiment is a success!
A non-fizzy batch, however, is just an insult. I experienced such a batch the third week even though I followed the exact same steps. Flat kombucha is about as appealing as flat soda. Either pour into compost or cut with club soda to enjoy some fizziness.
The debris from the fruit will settle on the bottom and you may even have a small scoby begin to develop . (See the nebulous jellyfish-like cloud.) This is all good. Simply strain the beverage before drinking.
If the debris grosses you out, then maybe kombucha isn’t for you. Revel in the science-experiment look. It’s alive!
What’s My Verdict?
I’m hooked. Hooked on the learning process, the brewing process, the bottling process and, of course, the IMBIBING process! I especially love the bottling/brewing days. There’s something so therapeutic about brewing tea and sterilizing bottles on a sunny, quiet afternoon. Bliss.
6 jars of store-bought kombucha used to cost me over $20, not to mention the special trip the the health food store–the only place in town that carries it.
Now, after brewing my own kombucha, 6 bottles run me about $1 total. $1 for 6 bottles! This includes the cost of the tea, sugar and vinegar. I already had the bottles and gallon jar which drove my initial costs down.
BONUS BENEFIT: Whenever I have a craving for sweets, I pour myself a glass of kombucha. It satisfies my cravings instantly and completely. This has resulted in loose-fitting clothing the past month.
I hope my kombucha brewing experiment has helped you in your own journey. The process may seem cumbersome and tedious at first, but I was surprised at how quickly I fell into sync with it all. My stomach is happy, my skin is happy, my wallet is happy. Cheers!
We have only touched the surface here. For even more great resources, check out the following sites. They helped me out heaps: