I love to make and drink my own DIY kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented beverage with lots of beneficial live bacteria, b-vitamins, and antioxidants. I personally enjoy its sweet tangy taste and the little pick-me-up that it gives. It comes in a wide variety of flavors and is available in most health food stores, and occasionally in restaurants or cafes.
Kombucha consists of sweetened tea that is then fermented with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). Although it is relatively new to the West, kombucha was called the “Immortal Health Elixir” in ancient China for its reported ability to prevent cancer, arthritis, and other degenerative conditions. This beneficial beverage has been used for over 2,000 years and has become popular in the United States in recent years. More on kombucha’s expansion the west from Food Renegade:
It was only in the 1990s, when Kombucha first came to the U.S., that the West has done any studies on the effects of Kombucha, and those are quite few in number. As is typically the case in the U.S., no major medical studies are being done on Kombucha because no one in the drug industry stands to profit from researching a beverage that the average consumer can make for as little as 50 cents a gallon.”
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Nature’s Nurturing Nectar
Because it is fermented, it contains lots of probiotics that are beneficial for intestinal health and digestion. It is known for boosting the digestive system and energy levels.
Although sweetened black tea is used to make kombucha, the finished product has roughly one-third to one-half of the caffeine of unfermented black tea. Likewise, much of the sugar used to sweeten the tea before it is fermented is also consumed during the fermentation process.
Much of the kombucha that is sold in stores near me however is made thousands of miles away and shipped across the country. Some local businesses exist around the United States that brew their own kombucha and sell it in refillable glass bottles to reduce packaging waste.
I brew my own to reduce packaging waste, save energy, and have fun. Because it is a living food, every batch tends to have its own unique qualities. It is easy to experiment with different flavors, ideally with local seasonal ingredients. Although it might sound relatively difficult from the instructions, it is quite simple after making it once or twice.
Gathering the Ingredients
Sugar is needed to sweeten the tea and feed the fermentation process, and it is not recommended to use other sweeteners in the initial process, such as honey, coconut sugar, or maple syrup. I suggest using organic sugar, so your finished product is as pure as possible.
So this leathery, slippery substance may seem a bit strange when you first use it, but it is an essential aspect of brewing kombucha. The SCOBY will actually produce offspring every batch or two, so if you have a friend brewing kombucha, you can probably get them to pass one along. Otherwise, local companies that make kombucha are likely to sell them or look on the internet.
Black and/or green tea
I typically use loose organic black or green tea because it has less packaging waste and is cheaper, but multiple tea bags can also be used. I like using a blend of green and black tea, but pure black tea can be used.
Ginger, fruit juice, dried fruit, honey, fruit juice, and herbs (optional, for flavoring)
Flavoring the tea is one of my favorite parts of making kombucha. In the fall, I used a couple of small slices of beets to give the kombucha a deep red color during the secondary fermentation process (after the kombucha is placed in small sealed bottles). Ginger is a good option in the winter, especially if you want to ward off a cold.
- 3 1/2 quarts of water
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of loose black and/or green tea (or 8 tea bags)
- 2 cups kombucha (to use as a starter, can use unpasteurized, store-bought kombucha)
- Flavorings (optional)
- 1 glass gallon jar or 2 two-quart jars (sanitized)
- 1 kombucha SCOBY for each jar
- Several smaller glass jars (sanitized)
- Breathable jar cover, such as a cloth napkin, coffee filter, dish towel, or paper towel
- Strainer (optional)
Step 1: Making the tea base
Bring water to a boil and add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Remove the pot from heat and add the tea leaves. If you use green tea, it is preferable to let the water cool off slightly before adding the leaves to the pot. Let the tea mixture cool down until it reaches room temperature.
Once cool, remove the tea leaves and stir in the kombucha starter liquid. This is acidic and prevents unfriendly bacteria from joining the kombucha.
Step 2: Preparing the jars
Pour the tea mixture into jars, leaving a couple of inches at the top. With clean hands, add a SCOBY to each jar. Place a cloth to cover the mouth of the jar and secure it with a rubber band so fruit flies and other pests cannot enter.
Step 3: Fermentation
Maintain the jars at room temperature and out of direct sunlight for 7 to 10 days. It is likely that you will see bubbles in the mixture and a film form on top of the jar.
Taste the tea, starting at 7 days. When your mixture reaches the right balance of sweetness and tartness, you are ready for the next step. It will ferment faster in warm weather, so you may need to make seasonal adjustments to your routine.
It is normal for the batch to have a slight vinegar smell. If it develops a rotten smell, however, throw away the batch and start over, as it was likely contaminated during the process. If there are signs of mold on the SCOBY, discard it and get a new one.
Step 4: Preparing for the next batch
Remove the SCOBY and either store it in the refrigerator or use it for a new batch. If the SCOBY is getting too thick, you can peel off the top layer. Save a couple of cups of the kombucha as a starter for your next batch.
Step 5: Bottling and secondary fermentation
Pour your kombucha into smaller glass bottles, and add any flavoring that you wish, such as fruit, juice, or herbs. If there are jelly-like strands in your batch, you may want to pour the kombucha through a strainer first to remove them.
Put the top on the jar and store it at room temperature outside of direct sunlight for 1 to 3 days. The kombucha should get fizzy during this period. Start refrigerating it once it reaches the ideal level of fizziness and drink it within a month.
Originally published on August 12, 2016, this article was updated in August 2021.