What is kombucha? I won’t go into a long explanation here, but it’s a fermented tea drink. Besides tasting good, it has (anecdotal) health benefits. You can read a full description here.
Caveat emptor. I am not a doctor, and am not promoting kombucha as a health supplement or cure. However, if you’ve never had kombucha, I do suggest starting out by drinking a small bit at first (4oz or so). Some people do react negatively to the probiotics and yeasts. This especially holds true if the drink is homemade. Let your body get used to it, and slowly increase your intake.
Once in a while I used to buy a bottle or two of kombucha when we would go grocery shopping. I liked it, but I’m a weirdo. Hubs tried it and hated it. However, each bottle was around $3-$4 each, which makes drinking it regularly not a viable option. So I did some research to find out how I could make my own. And it’s actually pretty easy.
The main thing you need to make kombucha is a scoby (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). This is also known as the “mother.” Sounds gross, right? It looks kind of gross too, but it’s 100% necessary.
So how do you get a scoby? If you have a friend who brews, you can ask them for one. The mother produces a “child,” so eventually your friend should have an extra. You can also buy them from people online, but then you run the risk of it dying during shipment, or getting a less-than-quality one.
I however, made my own scoby. Yes, it is possible! All you need is some sugar, tea, and a bottle or two of plain kombucha from the store. I followed this instructional to make my scoby. I won’t copy it here, but if you’re interested please visit that link and follow the instructions. Make sure your bottle of store-bought kombucha is plain (not flavored), and try to find the one with the largest floating bits in it.
Now, once you have your scoby, here’s how you brew kombucha Kelly-style.
- 8 C water
- 2/3 C sugar
- 1 family-size tea bag (I use this brand from the supermarket. If you don’t have family-size bags, use 2-4 normal tea bags. The tea must be caffeinated; from what I understand, the caffeine is necessary.
- 1 1/2-2 C kombucha
- kombucha scoby (the “mother”)
- large glass container or jar. DO NOT use plastic or metal. Plastic can grow bad things and keep unwanted flavors/smells. Metal … not entirely sure why, but I understand that the bacteria &/or yeast don’t like it.
- 16 oz glass jars or bottles (I saved, and use, old bottles from when I purchased kombucha at the store.)
- Mix water and sugar in a large pot. Add the tea bag.
- Bring to a rolling boil, then remove from heat. Remove tea bags and cool to room temperature. (NOTE: For a stronger tea, keep the tea bag in while it cools. I didn’t like the strong flavor, so I take it out before cooling. Might have something to do with the family-size tea bag.)
- Add the sweet tea to a large glass jar, along with your scoby and the kombucha.
- Cover the jar with several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and secure with a rubber band.
- Store in a warm (~72°) dark place for about 7-10 days. The warmer the room, the less time it takes to ferment. I actually keep it in our utility room (where the furnace is) right now, since it’s winter and it’s the warmest room in the house. Once summer hits, I may be able to keep it on the kitchen counter or in the pantry. Just find a warm, dark place where it won’t be disturbed too much.
- After about a week, pour a small bit off the jar and sample. If it’s still really sweet, ferment longer. Kombucha should have a slight vinegary smell… at least, that’s the stage that I like it. Keep sampling it every day until it reaches a flavor you like.
- Line a sieve or large funnel with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth. Pour all but 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the kombucha through the strainer into a larger glass jar or mixing bowl (I have an 8 cup glass mixing bowl with a handle and spout that is perfect). You need to reserve some kombucha to add to your next batch to keep the PH at a good ratio.
- Once the kombucha is strained, pour into smaller glass jars or bottles. Try to fill them up all the way and leave very little air on the top of the liquid. If you start with the 8 cups of tea, you should get 3-16oz bottles, and around 2 cups of kombucha left over for your next batch.
- Cap the bottles.
- You now have two options:
- Store in the fridge and drink as desired. The kombucha will be slightly fizzy, but the fridge will keep the continual fermentation slowed down, so if you drink it quickly, it will stay about the same.
- Do a secondary ferment. This is how I roll. I’ll tell you what I do, but be sure to search the web for the various other flavor options for a secondary fermentation.
- I put in a few bits of dried or fresh fruit… whatever flavor you’d like to try. I’ve used fresh/crystalized ginger and dried cherries so far. If you use any dried fruits, make *sure* that there are no preservatives (sulfates, etc). You can also puree fresh fruits and add a bit to the kombucha. I’ve tried mango, and I bet strawberries would be tasty. I haven’t done this yet, so I’m not sure how this will work out, or how much puree to add.
- Keep the bottles on the kitchen counter for 2-3 days. Make sure the caps are on tight. “Burp” the bottles once or twice a day to keep the pressure stabilized, so they don’t explode. The sugars in the fruits will allow your kombucha to continue to ferment. The kombucha will get fizzy, and the longer you let it sit the fizzier it gets.
- After a few days, when it’s fizzy enough to your liking, put in the fridge if you aren’t going to drink right away. This will slow down fermentation.
- Your scoby should have grown a new layer. This is called the child. Separate them — you only need one for your next batch. You can use the second one to start another batch of kombucha (good if you want to stagger batches, so there is always a supply). You can give it to a friend so they can start brewing. You can even dehydrate it and give it to your dog as a treat. Or you can just throw it away. Personally, I let my scoby grow until it gets too thick, and then throw away a portion of it.
- Now, rinse your scoby with room temperature, boiled or filtered water (tap water is not recommended), and start a new batch!
I recently started brewing water kefir as well. Similar process, just using kefir “grains” and sugar water (no tea). Eventually — once I get a handle on it — I’ll post about how to do that.
Please note that I am still a beginner and still learning. I only have five or six batches under my belt, and feel that I have my personal preferences for brewing down pat. You can ask me questions, but I may not have an answer.
So does anyone else brew the “booch?”