Over the last few months, I have fallen in love with brewing kombucha (booch). It is cost-effective, easy, and rewarding. Plus, it is a great way to support your microbiome and improve digestion.
Working with many people who experience digestive issues in my clinical practice, I’m always looking for effective ways to improve their digestion through mindful eating, choosing functional and seasonal foods, and clinical tests to find the root of the problem.
Shortly, I’ll post blogs on making champagne kombucha, sourdough bread using a kombucha starter, my favorite seasonal flavors, what do to with old SCOBYs, personal care uses for kombucha, and more! For now, let’s focus on the basics.
You may be asking yourself, what in the world is a SCOBY? Sometimes called a mushroom or “mother,” SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. Your SCOBY is the heart of brewing kombucha; she contains the good bacteria needed to make your booch. There are numerous uses for a SCOBY, including skincare, fertilizing plants, wound healing, making it into candy or fruit leathers, and so much more – sign up for my newsletter to be alerted when those blogs are posted!
You can get a SCOBY from lots of places, or try to grow your own. I have several available that have only ever been exposed to organic ingredients. Message me if you are interested in one of my SCOBY babies!
A great feature of the mother is that she grows with time; you may see a thin layer start to appear at the top of your vessel, strings or layers adding to the top or the bottom of the original SCOBY. You can break pieces off after a few weeks and store them, give them to friends, consume them, feed them to your compost, or a variety of other uses.
- Quart-Size Glass Jar or bigger depending on your batch size
- Tight-Weave Cloth or Paper Coffee Filter
- Something to secure the cover to the jar (rubber band or canning jar rings work well)
- Non-metal Mesh Strainer
- Measuring Cups
- 3 cups water free of chlorine and fluoride; I always use Berkey filtered water
- ¼ cup plain organic cane sugar
- 2 Tea Bags or 1 ½ teaspoon Loose Tea; must be green, black, Darjeeling, or oolong tea ONLY, nothing flavored
- ½ cup Starter Tea (kombucha) or Distilled White Vinegar
- Active Kombucha SCOBY
If you want the organic tea, cane sugar and active culture (SCOBY) you can get it all-in-one, here.
You can find all of the necessary ingredients, including the all-in-one, on Thrive Market, one of my favorite resources for ethically sourced, sustainable, low-cost, organic groceries that are delivered to your home.
You can always make bigger batches. I suggest starting small and then adjusting based on your household consumption. In my home of two adults, I usually have a gallon going at any given time and sometimes a second gallon if I know I’m going to see friends because sharing is caring! I use large ceramic jars for continuous brewing; this allows your kombucha to develop more probiotics strains that don’t show up until after a few weeks. You can take what you need and add to it; more on that later!
Sanitation and Procedure
There are a few notes on sanitation and procedure before we dive into brewing. Always make sure your tools are CLEAN, very clean. Exposing your precious SCOBY to contaminates can do her in!
Never use metal with your SCOBY. The ONLY exception is if you want a metal spigot for your container, but it must be Food Grade 304 Stainless steel.
When washing your tools, be sure you get all of the soap off and consider a white vinegar rinse to sanitize. Soap residue can kill your SCOBY and give your brew a nasty taste.
With the theme of 2020, wash your hands! Keep yourself very clean as well to protect the mother!
When it comes to sugar, don’t skip it or reduce it. Most of the sugar will be consumed by the mother, which is critical for the fermentation process; I seldom add sweetener after brewing. If you want it to be as low sugar as possible, choose a longer fermentation time, this will give you a much more sour drink and have less sugar.
- Boil your filtered water. Protip, I boil 1/2 of the water amount, steep the tea, and then add the 2nd 1/2 of the water at room temp to reduce the cool-down time. If you don’t have a water filter, be sure to boil all of the water.
- Steep the tea; If you are using green tea, steep it for 2-5 minutes tops; steep for 10-45 min if using black tea. I prefer less time with the black tea, but play with it and see what you like best! Depending on where you get the SCOBY from, you can also do a green and black combination. Protip: You can use a metal tea ball to contain loose tea. The tea ball should be removed before adding the SCOBY and starter tea, so the tea ball will not contact the SCOBY. My preference is looseleaf, as it is cost-effective and produces less waste.
- Add in the sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved.
- Cool the mixture to 68-85ºF.
- Remove the tea bags or leaves.
- Transfer to your brewing vessel.
- Add starter tea from a previous batch or distilled white vinegar to the sweet tea mixture.
- Place an active kombucha SCOBY in the vessel.
- Cover the jar with a tight-weave towel or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. Make sure the covering is TIGHT. Fruit flies will be drawn to your brew, and they will lay eggs in your SCOBY, speaking from my unfortunate experience.
- Allow the mixture to sit undisturbed at 68-85°F, out of direct sunlight, for 7-30 days, or to taste. When using green tea, I start checking on day 3 as it can ferment faster. The longer the kombucha ferments, the less sweet and more vinegary it will taste. Protip: use a stick-on thermometer to track the temperature without exposing your batch to anything that might hurt it!
- Be sure to save a bit of the brew for your next batch; it is best to keep the liquid on the bottom of your vessel. If you don’t want to make another batch right away, are going out of town, or are not doing a continuous brew, place your SCOBY in a glass jar with at least 1/2 cup of brew, cover it with your cloth and rubber band and store it out of direct sunlight. I keep my many, many jars of SCOBYs in the cabinet or covered with a dishtowel on the counter.
- The finished kombucha can be flavored and bottled if desired or enjoyed plain.
After the steps mentioned above, your booch is ready to drink. However, if you want to flavor it or give it some fizz, you’ll want to do a second fermentation. This step includes adding some flavor or letting the plain flavor sit in a tightly sealed bottle to build up the natural carbonation. If you want it fizzy, you will need to add some kind of sugar, regardless if that is from fruit or more cane sugar. If you’re going to keep it very low sugar but still want some fizz, try a small piece of ginger or five raisins per 16oz of booch.
Protip: Be sure to “burp” your bottles. In warmer weather, you may need to do this daily; in cooler weather, you can give it two or three days. To burp, slowly open the container to let some of the gas out. If you neglect to do this, especially in warm weather, the bottles will explode, sending glass and kombucha everywhere. An explosion happened to me once; I will never let it happen again – what a mess!
Choose your Flavor
If you are using fresh, frozen, or dried fruit, start with 10-30% fruit and 70-90% Kombucha. My personal preference is using juice for flavoring. Since the bottles have small openings getting chunks of fruit out of the bottle can be a hassle; start with 10-20% juice and 80-90% Kombucha when using juice. When flavoring with herbs, the variety and strength of herbs vary greatly. Make it your own; experiment to come up with the best ratios and combinations for your taste preferences. For flavor extracts such as almond or vanilla extract, start with 1/4 teaspoon extract per cup of kombucha and adjust to taste. The flavor will continue to develop during the second fermentation period. So be sure to give it a day or two before changing your flavor.
Protip: Remember the raisins mentioned above? I add this to every bottle; it seems to really give it the fizz I love!
Once you’ve chosen your flavor, add your booch, close the bottle, put it in a warm, dark area, and wait 2-7 days. Sometimes in the colder months, I’ll put my bottles on a seedling mat or my mini-fridge; don’t let the bottle get warmer than 85 degrees. Do not forget to burp it, and always burp it over the sink!
Protip: If a bottle seems extra fizzy, I will put my left palm (I’m right hand dominant) over the top of the bottle and use my right hand to undo the top while pushing down with my left, then SLOWLY, start to let the top open over the top of a bowl or large cup, while turning the bottle on its side with my right hand. If the booch does begin to shoot out, it will do it sideways into your vessel, saving you wasted kombucha and a mess to clean up!
I know this seems like a lot; however, once you get it down, you’ll be busting out booch batches in 30 minutes or less. I truly enjoy the creativity of flavor combinations, and I’ve been learning so much about tea sourcing, flavor, and ethics to find the best ingredients for my brews.
Do you make your own kombucha? Tell us your favorite flavor combinations in the comments below, or ask any brewing questions!
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