A few weeks ago I posted a picture of kombucha on my Instagram asking if you guys wanted to see a How-To on how to make homemade kombucha, and people responded with a resounding “YES!”. I’ve been making kombucha on and off for about one year now, and am excited to share my tips and tricks! Let’s get started.
What is kombucha
Kombucha is a fermented tea that has been drank for thousands of years. It’s exact origination is unknown, but it is thought to have originated from North East China. It has a light effervescence and sweetness that makes it really refreshing to drink, but still carries alleged health benefits due to the probiotics. Kombucha traditionally uses black or green tea, but some varieties use white tea instead.
Kombucha is fermented using something called a SCOBY- a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Sounds gross, but this SCOBY or “mother” is what leads the fermentation process of the kombucha.
Benefits of kombucha
There are many reported health claims to drinking kombucha, however, there hasn’t been enough extensive research to substantiate these claims. With that being said, kombucha is a source of probiotics. The particular strains of probiotics in kombucha can vary, depending on how long it has fermented for, how long after it’s fermented it is consumed, the temperature of fermentation, and many other factors. To find out more about probiotics, check out my blog post all about gut health.
Kombucha likely does not have the diversity of probiotics that are found in a probiotic supplement, however, neither do foods such as yogurt which are touted to be excellent sources of probiotics. Because kombucha is made out of tea, it carries the antioxidant benefits of drinking tea.
Why make your own?
Making kombucha at home might sound like an overwhelming task. The first time might take a bit longer than usual, but once you get the groove it’s SO simple and only takes about half an hour out of your week! I’ve also discovered that the more I make kombucha, the better I get at determining when it’s done fermenting, what flavour combinations I like best, and how long to do the second fermentation. This is all trial and error, and is based completely off personal preference. One of my first batches of kombucha tasted more like apple cider vinegar, as my friend pointed out to me, but after time you will get the hang of it!
I absolutely love kombucha, but I don’t like the high price tag. One 500 mL bottle usually runs between $4-5. Because I like to drink kombucha for the probiotic benefits (and let’s face it, the taste), this would mean I’m buying about 3-4 of these a week! The alternative to buying kombucha is making your own, which is extremely budget friendly. The initial cost of buying the supplies will be a bit higher, but after a few weeks the supplies will pay for themselves.
There’s tons of recipes for kombucha online, but they all follow the basic structure of tea, SCOBY, and sugar, with similar measurements. I first started out using a recipe by My New Roots that I still stick to to this day! My New Roots is where this recipe was adapted from.
When in doubt, throw it out
When making kombucha at home, the philosophy should always be “When in doubt, throw it out”. It’s important to pay close attention to the kombucha, SCOBY, and any sights or smells that might be abnormal. The tea and SCOBY will have a sweet smell at the beginning of the fermentation, and will take on a slightly more vinegary smell near the end.
Because we are dealing with bacteria and yeast, it is easy for fungus or mold to form. If you notice any strange smells, black spots on your SCOBY, mold, fruit flies (or larvae) toss the entire batch and the SCOBY. You can always start again with a new SCOBY!
Where to get a SCOBY
SCOBYs are most easily acquired from a friend who brews kombucha. Sometimes you can buy them online from people off Kijiji, however, I wouldn’t recommend this as you want to ensure the person uses safe brewing practices.
SCOBYs can also be bought from reputable companies from health food stores or Amazon. They come dried, and go through a process to rejuvenate them. This is probably the safest bet if you don’t have a friend who safely brews it themselves.
Many people might be concerned with the amount of sugar that’s added to the initial fermentation, but this is food for the SCOBY, not for us! Depending on how long the batch is left to ferment, most or all of the sugar will be consumed by the SCOBY. The second fermentation process (optional but recommended to get the kombucha slightly fizzy) requires adding a bit of sugar, but this can be done with fruit, fruit juice, or a teaspoon of white or cane sugar.
The first stage of brewing kombucha involves brewing very strong black, green or white tea. The caffeine is a necessary step to brewing kombucha because it is vital to the fermentation process, acting as “food” for the SCOBY. However, the resulting kombucha only has about one third of the caffeine as the initial brew. For example, most black tea has about 30-80 mq of caffeine per cup, meaning that one cup of kombucha will have 10-25 mg of caffeine. If you’re concerned about the caffeine level, try brewing green tea kombucha. Traditional green tea has about 35 mg of caffeine per cup, resulting in a kombucha with about 10 mg of caffeine per cup.
Herbal teas should not be used to make kombucha. The SCOBY needs caffeine as a vital part of the fermentation process, therefore it will not work with decaffeinated or herbal teas.
Because kombucha goes through a fermentation process, there is a small amount of alcohol that results. Most kombucha has about 0.5-1.0% alcohol. Because we are brewing at home, there’s always a chance that this amount will be more. Be aware of this if alcohol is a concern of yours or someone you are serving it to.
What do I do when a new SCOBY forms?
You’ll start to notice that after a couple rounds of brewing, your SCOBY will start to form a thick white layer of a new SCOBY on top. This is completely normal, and indicates that you likely have a healthy SCOBY and brew! Once the SCOBY layer has thickened, peel it from the original SCOBY. You can share these SCOBYs with a friend, or keep them for yourself to brew more batches. Over time, I recommend discarding the old SCOBY as it tends to lose it’s fermentation power after several batches.
The second fermentation
Once the kombucha has undergone the first fermentation with the SCOBY, you can then do a second fermentation in flip-top jars to flavour the kombucha and get the effervescence. This step is optional, but definitely recommended.
The best part about kombucha is the plethora of flavours you can make. My personal favourite is a simple combination of chopped, fresh ginger and lemon, but I also enjoy strawberry, blueberry, and any other fruit. When flavouring the kombucha, simply chop fresh fruit (about 1/4 cup) and add to the second fermentation (as described in instructions). If you don’t have fresh fruit, you can also use 1 tsp of granulated or cane sugar, or 1/4 cup of fruit juice. Essentially, you want to add sugar to the second fermentation to add flavour, sweetness and effervescence.
Want to stop brewing?
If you’re going on vacation or want to take a break from brewing, simply leave your SCOBY in about 2 cups of kombucha that hasn’t undergone the second fermentation. You can then use this starter kombucha to make another batch when you’re ready.
Things to avoid
It is important to avoid soap, metal and ceramic, when making kombucha. Soap can leave residue that harms the SCOBY. Metal and ceramic should never come in contact with the SCOBY, so make sure to use glass jars without metal tops or spouts, and wooden or plastic spoons to mix.
How to Brew Kombucha
- Something to brew tea in (such as a large stockpot)
- 1 large glass container (4 litres) or a few smaller mason jars (1.6 litres)
- 4 litres Filtered water
- 8 Organic tea bags (black, green or white)
- 2 cups Unflavoured kombucha tea (from a previous batch or bought from a store)
- 1 SCOBY
- 1 cup + 3 tbsp Sugar (cane or white sugar works best) plus a few more tsp
- 1 large, clean cloth to cover the jar with (a few layers of clean paper towel would also work)
- Elastic band to secure the cloth or shirt
- 3-4 flip top bottles (very important that they seal completely)
- Wooden spoon
- Fruit/flavouring of choice
- Apple cider vinegar (to mildly sterilize)
Wash hands thoroughly, making sure that all soap residue is off hands. Make sure that all supplies you are using are clean. Avoid using soap to clean the supplies as the residue can harm the SCOBY. Instead, use hot water and apple cider vinegar to act as a mild sterilizer.
Boil 4 litres of filtered water on stovetop. Once boiled, add 8 organic tea bags and 1 cup of sugar. Stir with wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved.
Let this mixture cool to room temperature. This can be done overnight, or over a few hours. Place a clean cloth over the mixture while cooling to ensure nothing gets into the tea.
Once steeped tea has cooled, remove the tea bags.
Pour tea mixture into large glass container. If you have a few SCOBYs, you could also portion the tea into a few smaller glass mason jars (about 1.6 litres).
Pour 2 cups of started tea into container. If you’re using a few different SCOBYs and containers, ensure you have at least 2 cups of started tea for each container. You want to leave about 4 inches of room at the top of the jar.
Ensure hands are very clean. Remove all rings. Pour a little bit of apple cider vinegar over hands.
Carefully place SCOBY into the container. The SCOBY may not float, but that’s okay! Ideally at least one end of the SCOBY will be touching the surface of the kombucha, but if not, that’s okay too.
Place a tightly woven, clean cloth over the top of the jar. Secure it with an elastic band.
Set the container(s) in a dark place away from sunlight, somewhere where they won;t be disturbed. I usually store mine in the top shelf of a cabinet.
Let tea ferment for 7-10 days. The longer you let the tea ferment, the more acidic or “vinegary” it’ll taste. The shorter amount of time, the more sugar will be remaining and the sweeter it’ll taste. The amount of time it takes depends on how “healthy” your SCOBY is, how warm the temperature is where it is being stored, and a variety of other factors.
When you think the kombucha might be done, pour a little bit from the container and taste test it. If it’s not fermented enough to your liking, store for another day or so and keep testing. I usually find the sweet spot to be about 8-9 days, but I also prefer my kombucha on the “vinegary” side.
Once the taste is to your liking, chop up any flavourings that like, and ensure hands are very clean again.
Place flavourings at the bottom of the flip-top jars. If you aren’t using fruit, I recommend adding about 1/4 cup of fruit juice or 1 tsp of sugar to the flip top jars. Otherwise, the second fermentation might not happen.
Once flavourings and/or sugar are in the jar, carefully and slowly pour the kombucha from the container into the flip top jars. Make sure to save at least 2 cups of this kombucha in a jar with your SCOBY for your next batch of kombucha.
Seal the jars and store in a dark place for another 2-3 days.
It is VERY IMPORTANT that you “burp” these jars every day by flipping open the top. Otherwise, the gas buildup might break the jars. This is very dangerous.
Taste the flavoured kombucha. Once it is fizzy to your liking, it can be stored in the fridge for up to once month.
Once you want to brew again, simply start from step 1 and repeat. Make sure to clean supplies between every batch of kombucha.
There have been rare cases of serious adverse effects from kombucha, possibly arising from contamination during home preparation. Always remember to consult your physician if you plan on starting to drink kombucha, or brewing from home. Pregnant women should not drink kombucha.