I love kombucha. I was introduced to it (and hated it) when I was an undergrad. My friend John re-introduced me to it several years ago in graduate school. That’s when I fell in love with ‘bootch and discovered two things:
1) you can get a small discount at Whole Foods if you buy a case of it at a time and
2) I love kombucha with chia seeds floating around in it. I’m kind of a weirdo that likes that texture.
Drinking the probiotic elixir daily didn’t last long; it was an expensive habit that took up a lot of fridge space.
Skip ahead to the DIY Kombucha Recipe below.
Fast forward to the end of September. My in-laws were in town visiting
us Oliver. And I somehow convinced my mother-in-law and one of my sister-in-laws to go to the kombucha class with me at Grain to Glass in North Kansas City. Grain to Glass is a fun little homebrew shop that has a little bit of everything: supplies for brewing (beer, cider, wine), a bar with rotating beers on tap, and a few fridges with bottled beer. It also hosts brewing competitions, beer tastings, and classes for all things related to brewing.
Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law already make their own kombucha, but their interests were still peaked to learn more from a guy named Keith who has been making kombucha for years and teaching others to do the same. The bonus features of this class were that you had the opportunity to try his homemade kombucha, receive a SCOBY (more below on this), see his “SCOBY Hotel”, and acquire some of his kombucha knowledge. Grain to Glass also had kombucha kits available for purchase (for $12, I believe) that included everything you needed (minus the SCOBY) to get started.
Now that I’ve successfully made three batches of kombucha at home and feel a bit more comfortable with the process, here’s some knowledge that I learned from Keith, the internet, and making my own kombucha.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a delicious, slightly effervescent drink that all begins as sweet tea. It can be flavored and can range from sweet to slightly tangy to overly tart – it all depends on how it was made! The tea in kombucha can be black, green, white, rooibos, or jasmine (or a mixture of any of these). Herbal and flavored teas do not work well with the fermentation process – I’m still not sure why (yet). The fermentation happens due to the presence of a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast). You might hear people refer to it as a mother or as a mushroom. Regardless of what you call it, a SCOBY is flat, beige-brown, and feels a bit rubbery. For those of you that can relate, it reminds me of a thin layer of agar or agarose. It’s shape is completely dependent on the container you use to brew kombucha. And it can have brown spot or marks on it and stringy bits hanging from it. The appearance of a SCOBY is definitely not appetizing.
Why drink kombucha?
In addition to being a tasty and slightly fizzy drink that has been made for 100s of years, kombucha is said to have a lot of beneficial properties. The SCOBY consumes sugar and produces vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, and amino acids. Some say that all of their aches and pains go away when they drink it. Others drink it because their diet may be lacking in B vitamins. For me, it helps my digestive tract stay…regular, if you will.
I first started drinking the GT’s Guava Goddess Kombucha, which is pretty tart. I then found GT’s Synergy Raspberry Chia and the Grape Chia flavors, which are a tiny bit more sweet. I used to drink the chia kombuchas in the lab when I was in grad school. Other grad students and postdocs would poke fun at me for my weird looking drink. I stuck up for my beloved Kombucha. Like I said above, I love the texture and the flavors. When I attended the September Grain to Glass kombucha class ran by Keith, I was surprised to learn that kombucha does not need to be tart. When you ferment kombucha at home, you get to be in control of the flavor.
Is it safe to make your own kombucha at home?
Yes! While I am a trained scientist, you don’t need laboratory equipment or fancy tools to make kombucha. You definitely do not need to be a scientist to make kombucha. The only necessity is that you need to make sure that your equipment and your hands are clean. Simple enough!
How do I know that I’ve converted tea into kombucha?
If your tea ferments even a teeny-tiny bit, then you’ve done it! You’ve turned tea into kombucha. There should be bubbles. The drink should smell vinegary. Your SCOBY will have generated a new layer. A SCOBY really is the gift that keeps on giving!
Your kombucha should NOT smell musty or moldy. If you see green or black mold growing on the surface of the SCOBY or if the tea smells anything but a bit vinegary, discard the SCOBY and the batch of kombucha. And just start over again with fresh ingredients.
How can I flavor my kombucha?
You can use herbal teas, juice (no more than 1/5 of the total volume), fruit, fruit puree, herbs, and spices. Keith recommended the following: mint, strawberries, peaches, blackberries, pomegranate, hibiscus, ginger, turmeric, lime, lemon, basil, or combinations.
- 14 cups (3.5 L) water
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- 8 tea bags
- 1 SCOBY
- 1-2 cups (250-500 mL) kombucha (starter tea)
- Coffee filter or muslin cloth
- 1 thick rubber band
- 1 gallon glass jar (4 L glass jar)
- Soda straw
- 1. Bring 2 cups (500 mL) of water to boil.
- 2. Remove water from heat and add sugar, stirring to dissolve.
- 3. Bring another 12 cups (3 L) of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 6-8 tea bags. Allow them to steep*
- 4. Let the tea and sugar water to cool to room temperature (at least 1 hour, but up to overnight).
- 5. Add the room temperature sugar water and tea to the 1 gallon glass jar.
- 6. Add the 1-2 cups (250-500 mL) of kombucha (starter tea from the previous batch of finished kombucha**) to the jar.
- 7. Add 1 SCOBY to the jar.
- 8. Cover the jar with a coffee filter. Secure filter with the rubber band. Set the lid aside as it is unneeded.
- 9. Let the sweetened tea + SCOBY sit at room temperature in normal lighting*** for at least 5 days and up to 1 month.
- 10. At the 5 day point, draw up a sample of the freshly fermented kombucha using the straw. Taste for desired sweetness/tartness. Fermentation may take longer than 5 days (or up to 4 weeks), depending on desired taste. The longer you allow the tea to ferment, the more tart and tangy it becomes.
- 11. When brewed to you desired taste, remove the original SCOBY and the newly generated SCOBY with a pair of tongs and place them on a clean plate.
- 12. Check the SCOBYs for green or black mold. If you find mold, discard the SCOBY and the kombucha/tea - start over with fresh ingredients!
- Remember that brown or stringy bits are totally normal as are shades of brown.
- 13. Set aside 2 cups (500 mL) of newly finished kombucha and one SCOBY to begin you next batch of kombucha.
- 14. Pour the remaining kombucha into bottles. If you'd like to carbonate or flavor your kombucha, then now is the time. To flavor your kombucha, add fruit, juice, herbs, or additional tea. If you'd like to carbonate your kombucha, cap the bottles and set on the counter for 1-3 additional days.
- 15. Chill the bottles before opening.
- 16. Take care when first opening your kombucha as the contents will be under pressure.
- *I usually allow my tea to steep for 5-10 minutes. You can steep the tea bags overnight.
- **You can use unfiltered, unsweetened, commercial kombucha as the starter tea.
- ***Keep the solution out of direct sunlight, but don't keep in a cupboard or out of the sun.