Kombucha: The Rock Star of Functional Beverages
It’s tart. It’s fizzy. It's loaded with probiotics. When it comes to drinks that actually DO something for you, Kombucha is a veritable powerhouse.
The healthy bacteria in kombucha improves digestion, reduces inflammation and may help with weight loss. And because it’s made with tea, it’s also a great source of antioxidants.
Although hard scientific data is a bit limited, Kombucha is also thought to:
- Eliminate unhealthy bacteria from the body
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Stimulate immune system
- Reduce the risk of cancer
- Help maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and sugar
- Be a source of B vitamins
- Boost energy
So What Is This Mysterious Kombucha Exactly?
Kombucha is sweet tea that’s been fermented using SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Not a mushroom, as many people think. But we’ll get back to that delicious sounding part later.
The first kombucha is said to have originated in Asia around 220 BC. Then as now, people drank it for its health benefits.
Though it probably cost slightly less than four bucks a bottle. Yes, that was some homebrewed sarcasm.
So Why Brew My Own Kombucha?
Other than sticker shock of buying a bottle at the grocery store, there are a couple of other reasons commercial brands don’t quite measure up to homebrew.
Due to the limitations of the bottling process, they have to suppress fermentation. Which means you get a smaller variety of healthy bacteria and yeast. Some companies even pasteurize their kombucha, which actually kills the probiotics found in the drink.
With a few tips, kombucha is pretty simple to make. And because each new batch produces a new SCOBY, it’s self-sustaining and cost-effective.
Save your money for college or a trip to Bali.
If you’re still nervous about making your own, remember that homebrewed kombucha has been around for thousands of years. And so far, it hasn’t wiped out the planet.
Getting Started: Scoring Your First SCOBY
Before you gather up your other equipment, you’ll need to get your hands on a SCOBY. The best source is another homebrewer. Because SCOBY’s constantly duplicate, people are generally happy to give them away as they spread the Kombucha gospel.
No luck finding another brewer? No worries, you can always purchase one online.
And if you’re feeling a little extra ambitious, you can even grow one yourself.
My SCOBY Kind Of Scares Me: Tips for Virgin Brewers
SCOBY’s kind of look like a pancake made love to a jellyfish. But don’t let that freak you out. These mysterious creatures are the living embodiment of ancient culinary wisdom.
Think of it as Obi-Wan the SCOBY.
All ridiculous punning aside, SCOBY’s are alive and sensitive. So here’s a list of SCOBY-Do’s and SCOBY-Dont’s to keep yours healthy. (Oops, I think I punned again.)
- Always wash your hands before touching your SCOBY. Preferably with vinegar as soapy residue can harm it.
- Always use glass jars when brewing kombucha or storing your SCOBY. Plastic and metal can leach into your homebrew, harm your SCOBY, and contaminate your kombucha.
- Always clean your kombucha jars and bottles thoroughly. You can use soap if you’re diligent about rinsing all the residue away. But again, vinegar and warm water are better.
- Always use filtered or spring water to brew the tea for your SCOBY.
- Always use organic tea and organic white sugar for your SCOBY. Conventional tea is especially high in toxins because of the chemicals used to grow it. And this is about staying healthy, right?
- Don’t use flavored teas to make your kombucha. They contain oils that SCOBY’s don’t like. Stick to plain organic black or green tea to start. You can explore other varietals later.
- Don’t use decaffeinated tea. Your SCOBY actually feeds on it.
- Don’t put your SCOBY in very hot, warm, or even slightly cold tea as this can harm its living cultures.
- Don’t expose your SCOBY to strong sunlight. These little critters like to hang out in the shade.
Now Let’s Get Your First Brew Going!
- 3 ½ quarts filtered or spring water
- 1 cup organic white sugar
- 8 organic black or green tea bags
- 1 SCOBY
- 2 cups starter kombucha (from the kind soul that gave you the SCOBY or, if store-bought, then unpasteurized and neutral-flavored)
1. Bring the water to a boil in a large stockpot.
2. Add tea bags and allow the tea to brew for 10 minutes.
3. Remove tea bags and add sugar.
4. Allow the sweet tea to cool to room temperature (Hot water can harm your SCOBY).
5. Once cooled, pour the tea into a clean gallon glass jar and add the starter tea.
6. Now add your SCOBY to the mix.
7. Cover the jar with a woven cloth (not cheesecloth or paper towels) and secure it with a rubber band, make sure it is tight. You don’t want any critters getting in there!
8. Store the jar in a dry, warm place away from sunlight where it won’t be distrurbed. And now you wait while your SCOBY works its magic.
9. Leave your kombucha alone for 7 days.
Sometimes the SCOBY will sink or float sideways. That’s normal. Though mostly, they float to the top. You may also notice some brown stringy material forming. Also normal.
Once a week has passed, you can sample a small amount to check for the level of sweetness and acidity that you like.
(Important Note: Do not sample your kombucha with a metal spoon as this can harm the SCOBY. Pour a small amount into a cup instead.)
Most kombucha will be ready in 7 to 10 days. But you can even leave it up to 30. Remember that the longer you leave it, the less sweet and more vinegary it will taste. I personally like a two-week brew.
Once your kombucha has the flavor you like, prepare another pot of tea for your next batch of kombucha. You’ll be repeating the steps as outlined above.
Now gently remove the SCOBY and set it aside in a clean glass bowl with two cups of the finished kombucha. You’ll need it as the starter tea for your next batch.
The rest of the kombucha is now ready to drink! To store it, pour it into sealable bottles using a funnel and put it in the refrigerator.
If all has gone well, your “mother SCOBY” will have produced a “baby.” Awww, cute. And useful.
Separate the new SCOBY from the mother. You can use it to start an extra batch, gift it to another kombucha convert or store it in a SCOBY “hotel” for future use.
If you eventually find yourself with SCOBYs coming out of your ears, try using them in your garden. They make great fertilizer! Don’t feel bad. It’s part of the circle of SCOBY life.
If you prefer flavored kombucha or kombucha that has more fizz, you’ll want to do a SECOND FERMENTATION. See the instructions below.
Second Fermentation: You Want To Go Another Round?
If you prefer flavored kombucha or kombucha with more fizz, you’ll want to do a second fermentation.
For Plain, Fizzier Kombucha
Pour the finished kombucha into clean, glass bottles with a sealable top. You can strain the kombucha first if you like, but remember to use a plastic strainer, not metal.
Use quality glass and leave a good bit of room at the top of the bottle as the kombucha will continue to ferment even without a SCOBY.
And you don’t want your bottle to explode! Some people like to “burp” their bottles once a day, but this may cut down on the fizzy factor.
Leave the kombucha for 1 to 3 days, being sure to check on it.
When your ready to drink it, carefully remove the sealed lid so that the carbonated gas escapes slowly. After that, you can store it in the fridge.
There are tons of recipes and combos of fruit and herbs that you can explore over time. But to start you can use this simple method.
Use ¼ to ⅓ cup of pureed fruit or fruit juice for every 16 ounces of kombucha.
Put the fruit in a sealable glass bottle with your finished kombucha. I prefer wide-mouthed jars that come with a plastic, screw-on lids. (Remember to leave extra room at the top of the jar.)
Leave the kombucha for 1 to 3 days in a cupboard but be sure to check on it.
Now carefully remove the lid, strain the kombucha to remove any pulp and store in clean glass bottles in the fridge.
A Little Kombucha Q&A
You’re almost ready to get going but may have a few more questions. Here are the answers to a few common ones.
Q: How much sugar content does kombucha have?
A: That depends on how long you brew it. The SCOBY actually feeds on the sugar. The longer you leave it, the more sugar it eats. If you’re concerned about sugar content, you may want to brew yours until it tastes a little more tart.
Q: How much caffeine does kombucha have?
A: The SCOBY also uses caffeine in the tea to live. Generally, your kombucha will have only about one-third of the amount of caffeine that was in the tea you used to make it.
Q: Does kombucha contain alcohol?
A: Like all fermented foods, kombucha does contain a very small amount of alcohol. Generally, .5 to 1% by volume. So unless you plan on drinking the whole gallon at once, you shouldn’t feel any effects.
Q: How much kombucha can I drink?
A: Everyone’s body is different. You may want to start with just a small amount and gradually increase it until you see how your system reacts. (I drank 8 oz glasses from the beginning and never had a problem.)
Q: My SCOBY has mold on it. Is that normal?
A: No. Red, green or black mold is a sign that your SCOBY is infected. You should throw it and the kombucha away and start again.
(Note: You may also see bubbles or brown stringy material forming on your SCOBY. Those things are a normal part of the brewing process and nothing to worry about.)
Q: My SCOBY has worms in it? What do I do?
A: Also, not normal. Time to dump the whole batch and start with a new SCOBY.
Q: How will I know when my SCOBY needs to be replaced?
A: When your SCOBY becomes extremely thick or turn blacks, it’s time to replace it with a new one.
Q: What if I want to take a break from brewing?
A: If you feel like putting your kombucha on pause for a while, see the earlier video on creating a SCOBY hotel. You’ll then store your SCOBYs in the fridge until you’re ready to start brewing again.
Now Off You Go on Your Kombucha Adventure!
Brewing kombucha is generally quite simple. But, like anything new, you may have a bit of a learning curve. Be patient.
Even if you have to throw out a batch, it’s no big deal. If you find yourself in a kombucha conundrum, there are lots of forums for troubleshooting. Here’s just one to check out.
Remember, just hang in there, and soon you’ll be brewing like a pro and maybe even coming up with your own new flavors.
Kombucha may take a little bit of time, but it’s very worth it.
Cheers to all you new homebrewers!