Disclaimer: I’m literally sitting here watching Criminal Minds and drinking a bottle of my home brew as I type this. If you doubted my nerdom, it’s official. Combat boot wearing kombucha drinking hippie at heart nerd sitting right here. And yes, said beverage is sitting on Game of Thrones. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Remember those posts I did a few years ago of my first attempts at a home kombucha brew? It was pretty successful there for a while, but I didn’t read up on it nearly as much as I should have so I wasn’t able to have a sustainable brewing practice. This is one of my goals for 2015: to maintian regular brewing at home!
Kombucha literally brimming with healthy beasties, several kinds of good bacteria and yeasts that are great for detoxification, aid in digestion and are just all around good for you! (In fact, Radiolab did a GREAT podcast on the gut back in season 10 of the show and they talk at length about probiotics! Take a listen, it’s fascinating stuff!) brewing it at home (as I said 3 years ago, yikes how time does fly!) I really like incorporating the health benefits kombucha has to offer into my lifestyle, but this can get expensive. Brewing at home saves money. As proof, see the breakdown below.
Kombucha “starter” bottle to make first scoby: $3.69
Box of black tea: $2.59
Bag of organic, raw cane sugar: $3.99
Total brew cost to date: $10.24 aka roughly the cost of 3 bottles (58 ish ounces) of store bought kombucha, less than just one home brew will make you! (The ingredients listed above have now taken me through 3 batches of brewing, including making my own scoby!) While I have my go-to flavors from my favorite brands (GT’s of course, and Celestial seasonings bottles are almost $1 cheaper and are good too, but Buchi from my hometown in NC is by far my overall favorite brand) and I’m more than happy to fork over the money for a bottle of natural probiotic filled goodness that eases the stomach discomfort I have due to stress occasionally, this can seriously add up. Plus home brewing is just plain fun! It’s one those lasting kitchen projects that allows you to be as or as little involved as you’d like. For me, I love peeking in at my bubbling brew jar every day or two and seeing what progress has been made and get super excited when bottling is just around the corner.
So how can you too brew your own kombucha at home? It’s easy but first you need to get a kombucha scoby, also called a kombucha mother. So, what’s a scoby? Okay, let’s be honest they’re kinda gross. Not the prettiest little squashy mass, it’s a cluster of all sorts of beasties that make kombucha brewing possible in the first place. SCOBY is actually an acronym: Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast! So there you have it, thats a scoby!
And here’s my scoby, Scoby Doo, as I call her:
Brand new, thin, and transparent on her first day of brewing! I took her straight out of the starter batch and popped her into another preprepared one.
Still interested? Groovy. Making your very own Scoby Doo is super easy. If that’s not your bag and you’d rather not have a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast forming in your kitchen, you can buy one. (Ooh! It’s even on prime!) Both ways are totally sanitary and safe. I used this recipe as a model, but tweaked it some because my first batch didn’t take. So the following is my version!
If you’d like to make your own scoby, you’ll need:
1 gallon GLASS jar (no plastic, GLASS)
1 bottle plain, unflavored kombucha (I used GT’s plain, the one with the blue label)
7 cups water (make sure it’s unchlorinated, you might have to buy it bottled)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 bags black tea
paper or tea towel
Black tea works best for making a starter. I read some where that you shouldn’t use Earl Grey because it has oils in the tea that can interfere with scoby development, but I used it and it worked just fine.
Bring the water to a bowl in a large soup pot. When the water has reached a rolling boil, stir in the sugar and add the tea bags. Turn off the heat and allow the tea to steep for as long as it takes the mixture to cool completely. (If it’s still hot you’ll kill your culture!) When the tea has cooled completely, add the bottle of kombucha. Pour into your clean glass jar and wipe off any spillage from the mouth of the jar. Cover with a tea or paper towel, even cheese cloth will do, and secure with a rubber band.
This ensures that mold or dust can’t get into your kombucha. A scoby is basically a mushroom, and it likes a nice dark place to call home. Either cover your jar with a dish towel or place it into a cupboard where’s it’s nice and dark and your scoby can happily grow. Your scoby formation will go through several phases. After a day or two bubbles and eventually a thin murky film will form on the liquid’s surface. This is your scoby forming!
Let your mixture sit until a 1/4 inch scoby has formed on top. (approx. 1-4 weeks) Sediment on the bottom of your brew, filaments hanging from the scoby or floating around in the brew are all normal and healthy parts of the colony forming process. When you have a 1/4 inch layer of scoby, your scoby is now ready to brew kombucha! (I think mine was a bit thinner than this when I started brewing but it’s doing great!) Remove the scoby from the starter batch with clean hands — gently it will tear — and put it onto a plate, then reserve 2 cups of this starter for the next batch! If you’re not going to brew immediately, you can keep your scoby in the 2 cups in a jar or just leave it floating in your starter batch for a few days to a week.
So, now that you have a happy healthy little Scoby Doo of your own at home, you can start brewing kombucha!
To brew a batch of kombucha, you’ll need:
your happy, healthy kombucha scoby!
1-2 gallon glass jar (This recipe brews about a gallon, so you’ll want your jar to accommodate that)
tea/dish/paper towel/cheese cloth
14 cups water (3.5 quarts)
2 cups kombucha starter (just save some juice from your previous or starter batch, or if you bought a scoby follow the package instructions)
1 cup granulated sugar
8 black or Earl Grey tea bags
large soup pot
bottles for bottling finished brew
Just as you did when you started your scoby, bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, add sugar and tea bags allow to cool fully. Stir in your started kombucha and pour into your brew jar. Gently place your scoby on top, cover the mouth with your towel and secure with a rubber band, and allow to ferment for 1-2 weeks.
You’ll know when your kombucha is ready when it tastes like kombucha! Go ahead and brew another batch of the tea and have it scoby ready before bottling. I don’t like leaving my scoby out because a.) the cat would probably fall in love with it and b.) I don’t want dust or germs to get in my nice healthy scoby. As before, gently remove your scoby and set aside on a clean plate, then bottle your brew and wash out your jar. Transfer your fresh tea and scoby in, and start the next round of the process!
Strain your kombucha with a mesh strainer (I just put a small strainer into my funnel and slice 2 blocks of tofu with one knife) and bottle in jars/bottles etc. I recommend glass here because it’s healthier for you and your kombucha but I’ve heard that bottling in plastic allows you to track carbonation more easily.
Allow the jars/bottled kombucha to sit for a couple of days (up to a week if needed) to carbonate. This is where it gets tricky for me. My kombucha tastes great! Just like normal kombucha, but it’s not fizzy! (This is something I’m working on, I’m thinking because my first batch had a thinner, smaller scoby. Hoping it’ll be able to get fizzy now that I’m on brew 2!)
After the second round of fermentation, store the bottles in the fridge. I’d wager they’ll be good for a month or so in there. So be sure to drink them often. And voila! Home brewed kombucha!
***UPDATE: Houston, we have bubbles! If your kombucha doesn’t bubble up on the first batch, that’s likely because your scoby needs to strengthen. Just be patient, when it’s a little thicker you’ll likely have bubbles galore.!***
My little home brewing station, right under the marinara sauce. At left you see my bottled refermenting batch 1, at right my newly finished batch 2. This was a few weeks ago. I’m on batch 3 now!
Some notes on scoby storage and health:
Your scoby is going to have babies! With each cycle of kombucha making, your scoby will get thicker, forming layers of culture. Every brew or two (or three, depending on your scoby and kitchen environment) you’ll need to peel a few of the topmost layers off or else that scoby will get HUGE! You can gift these to other kombucha enthusiasts, start brewing several consecutive batches to sell, give away, or drink yourself or even post an add giving away or selling scobys on craigslist or at your local co-op. If worse comes to worse, you can toss them on the compost of if you’re a city dweller like me lay them to rest in the tree buffer outside your building. But cover them up with leaves so no one thinks you’re an unsub in Criminal Minds. Yes, still watching Criminal Minds as I write this.
A healthy, happy, productive scoby!
Speaking of writing, be sure to keep track of your start dates! I just use a Sharpie to write the date of the brew right on my big brew jar. (It easily washes off with soap and water.) I do the same thing to each bottle of kombucha that my batches yield. This ensures you drink your oldest bottles first, can track and estimate the time spans for brewing and re-fermenting. You can also mark your flavors on the bottles too if you do several flavors in a batch or want to keep a variety in your fridge!
Be sure to wash and even sanitize your brew jar with boiling water between uses. Just make sure they’ve cooled before adding your culture!
If you see fuzzy mold, your kombucha looks off, or your scoby develops black spots or patches, TOSS EVERYTHING AND START OVER. Don’t take chances with fermentation. Also be sure to sanitize everything you’re using (bottles, jar, funnel, pot) before you brew. I usually just boil my tea kettle full of water and pour it on everything.
As I mentioned before, filaments hanging from your scoby (suspended in the brew itself), slight bumpiness, color variation on the mother itself or bubbles, and a nice sour, vinegary smell in the liquid are all normal parts of the kombucha brewing process. It’s also totally ok and normal if your scoby doesn’t float perfectly on top of your brew. It can happily and healthily float at the bottom, on its side, or some where in the middle of your brewing batch.
If you need to postpone your brew cycle for whatever reason, just make a normal batch of kombucha as outlined above and drop your scoby in as usual. You might not be able to drink the kombucha this yields because it’ll be very vinegary tasting, but it’ll sustain your scoby for up to a month and keep it healthy while you hike the alps, adopt a new cat, or work on term papers etc.
If your kombucha doesn’t carbonate, and that’s okay with you, then it’s okay to drink and you should drink it!
One last thing! I highly, highly recommend straining your kombucha before you bottle it. Getting a slimy chunk of culture or sediment in the middle of enjoying a bottle of home brew can be…jarring. And this is coming from a bubble tea lover. This is probably not your bag, it’s definitely not mine, so strain it!
My very first batch! Not fizzy, but good! Tasty on its own, but flavored with a slice of orange.
A Note on Flavoring
You might like the taste of plain kombucha, (I do, especially using Earl Grey as a tea base) or you might want to flavor it! You can add just about any fruit flavor to your brew. To make ginger kombucha, float some sliced or grated fresh ginger in each bottle or strain your kombucha into another larger jar and infuse there. You can also add fresh fruit to your kombucha while it’s carbonating or you can squeeze your favorite slice of citrus right into your bottle of icy cold home brew.
The type of tea you use can also change your flavors around. Black tea is generally the most stable and predictable for brewing, but once you have a strong and healthy scoby you can switch to white or green tea if you’d like. For now, I’m pretty stoked with my Earl Grey flavor straight up, sans fruit, herbs, or spices but I’m thinking some amazing flavor combos are out there and once my own scoby gets even more robust/multiplies there’ll be room for experiments!
Recycled, repurposed jars and bottles for homemade brew. I collected store bought kombucha bottles a few salad dressing ones too. I’m a couple short! Guess I’ll need to buy some booch from time to time!
Check out these links for some kombucha trouble shooting! Or feel free to comment on this post. I’m by no means an expert and I’m still learning myself, but I’d be glad to help with your home brewing practice if I can.
A couple of books on kombucha brewing. (I need to get these!)
This site (passed along by a friend when I publicly lamented my lack of fizzy kombucha) is SUPER helpful for any woes you might have in your home brewing process.
There’s also some troubleshooting on the original recipe site I used as my core research for my re-establishment of kombucha brewing.
Good luck! And happy brewing!