Half of you are asking ‘KOM-WHAAAAT?’ – for the others who know what it is, I’m sure you are divided into the “love it!” or “hate it” group ;) This is for the LOVE IT group and for those interested in trying it!
What is Kombucha? Kombucha is fermented tea which is then lightly and naturally carbonated. It’s made with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) which makes it a probiotic drink with natural energy (from the tea) . Now – there is much debate over the benefits of drinking Kombucha Tea (KT or “booch”) – some swear by the benefits, others just enjoy drinking it. Personally – I love it and due to the hefty grocery store price tag ($3-3.50 per 16oz bottle) I decided to do research into making my own. After brewing my first batch I calculated the cost around .13cents a bottle!! HUGE savings!
What does Kombucha taste like? Be prepared – because of the fermentation process, the taste (and smell) has vinegar-like qualities. If you buy it from the store you are at the mercy of the brewer for flavor – however if you decide to try brewing at home you can control the fermentation process and therefore taste :)
So how do I make it? If you’ve never tried it, I’d recommend grabbing a bottle from the grocery store first before putting forth the effort…. If you are ready to go just follow these steps and you will have your home brew in about 2 weeks!
What you need:
- a SCOBY – you can ask around to see if any of your friends brew Kombucha and get one from them (I actually posted on Facebook and my neighbor’s friend had one! ), see if your local natural or health food stores carry them or can order one for you, or you can actually find starter kits on Amazon. You will find a lot of options but I recommend this one based on reputation in the kombucha world. Kombucha Kamp Genuine KOMBUCHA CULTURE (1 Lrg SCOBY + 1 Cup Strong STARTER LIQUID – Makes 1 Gallon)
- a Vessel – Any large glass container will do – but I personally prefer one with a spigot because it’s so much easier during the taste test and change out process. This is the one I purchased, but I’ve seen them at craft stores, walmart, and other stores. Just search for a “glass drink dispenser”. One thing you need to make sure of is that you get one with a plastic or stainless steel spigot. If you get one with a plastic spigot you can always purchase a stainless steel spigot. Any other metal can kill the “booch”
- Green or Black Tea – Play around with varieties. Organic is great, but I’ve had luck with plain ole Lipton Natural Energy Premium Black Tea. It’s a 40count which is enough to brew 5 gallons (8 bags per gallon brew). I’ve tried other varieties too – so once you get the hang of brewing, have fun playing around with it.
- Sugar – Don’t freak out…. the sugar is used for the fermentation process and after it ferments, sugar content is practically nil. You can use regular white granulated sugar or organic granulated sugar. For some reason, my kombucha seems to have more carbonation when I use white… but if you want to go all hard core – then go organic ;)
- Glass Bottles – These are used for the second fermentation process also known as 2F. You need to make sure your bottles have an air tight seal on them – the more air that can leak out the less likely you will have the carbonation results you want. You can buy individual kombucha bottles if you’d like – but one gallon of brew usually fills up about 5-6 of these bottles so if you brew 2gallons at a time (which I usually do) you will want to go ahead and get the case of 12 bottles.
- Strainer and Funnel – You will make your life so much easier if you use a funnel for bottling the second ferment – and a strainer will help after second fermentation when straining out the fruit plus possible a possible SCOBY that forms during 2F. This is an awesome little strainer and funnel in one!!
- Booch Bonnet – This can be anything from a piece of fabric to a paper towel. When I first started out I used a paper towel and a rubber band. the paper towels can rip easily over large openings though, which allows for fruit flies to get in :( Fabric seems to work the best, but depending on how thick it is it may take slightly longer to ferment. I made my own booch bonnet with fabric and elastic – but you can just as easily use thin cotton and a rubber band. Kombucha Kamp sells one also! Do NOT use cheese cloth!!! Fruit flies can easily wiggle their way through the large openings and ruin your brew!
- NOTE: You can also find kombucha starter kits online like this one that contain a SCOBY, tea, sugar and other useful info.
Now lets start brewing!!!
In a large pot bring one gallon of water to a rolling boil. Once you see tiny bubbles forming, remove the water from the heat source.
Add in 1 cup of sugar and 8 tea bags (more or less depending on the type of tea you use – 8 tea bags is what I use when using Lipton Natural Energy Premium Black Tea.) Stir together until sugar dissolves. Let this sit for 10 minutes then remove the tea bags.
Allow the tea to cool COMPLETELY to room temperature. Once the tea cools add your 1-2 cups of starter liquid (you will get this with your SCOBY most likely)
Pour the tea+starter liquid combo into your vessel and add your SCOBY on top. (If you have a chalkboard front or if you want to “name” your brew/SCOBY feel free to! I’ve had “SCOBY Bryant, SCOBY-Doo, Brew Baby Brew, SCOBY Wan Kenobi… and a few other ones ;) ) This is my Brew-LaLa!
Cover your brew with your Booch Bonnet or paper towel. REMEMBER to make sure if using a paper towel there are no holes – fruit flies will find their way in!
Your brew will need to ferment for 5-7 days or longer. Starting on day 3-4 you can start doing taste tests. This is when the spigot comes in handy! Get a shot glass or other small glass and pour a little out to taste. If it’s mild-sweet you need to let it brew a little bit longer. It should start to taste slightly vinegary. You can do taste tests daily if you want to make sure you hit the right taste! When it starts to have a slight vinegar taste keep testing daily until you get the right tang. There are no right and wrong answers to how it’s supposed to taste. I like a stronger taste but others like it a bit more mild. If you let it go too long and it get a strong vinegar taste don’t worry! You can just pour more tea on top to dilute it. Once you get the right taste it’s time for your second ferment. Again, this is when the spigot comes in handy!!
After a few days you may see a layer of “film” growing on top – that’s the baby SCOBY forming!! In about 7-9 days you should see the thick layer of SCOBY forming! Keep your eye out for any dark spots that could possibly be mold. SCOBY babies look very different so yours may not look like mine. If you are unsure of yours you can always snap a pic and post to one of the many kombucha groups online.
First pour out 2 cups of KT into a mason jar or other glass jar. This will be your “starter liquid” for your next batch. I like to go ahead and start the process again (steps 1-3) again before I bottle my KT for second ferment so it can begin the cooling process.
The rest of the Kombucha will be ready for your second ferment! Take your 2F bottles and put in your choice of fresh fruit (frozen fruit works too – I thaw mine first) in the bottles first. You can also use fruit juice but a lot of juices add extra sugar so I’d stick with straight fruit if you can. If you don’t want to flavor your tea with fruit that’s fine too!! But in order to carbonate it still needs to be poured into air tight glass bottles.
Pour your kombucha in leaving some room in the top so it wont bust in the carbonation process. You will leave your bottles on the counter top out of direct sunlight for the next 4-7 days. The longer they sit, the more they will self carbonate.
When you first start out you may want to “burp” the bottles after 4 days to let a little of the carbonation out – otherwise you will end up with a kombucha explosion (see pic on the right – be ready to quickly recap the top if the carbonation starts to overflow! Then slowly let air out – if you get to this point it’s time to drink up!)!!! To “burp” you just slightly open the bottle to let a little air out. If you hear the air come out (like a soda can opening) it means the carbonation process is working (See pic on the left below – this is after I popped the top and carbonation started the fizz!). If you don’t hear it – it means you may just need to let it sit a little longer. I always try one bottle first and if it fizzes then I burp the other bottles. If I don’t hear air released on the first bottle, I don’t burp the others so to not let any little bit of carbonation out.
When your 2F reaches a carbonation to your liking – it’s ready to drink!!! If you wait about 7-9 days and still no carbonation it’s ok, this happens some times. There are SO many factors that determine how it carbonates. Like I said before I have the best luck with fresh fruit, white cane sugar, and lipton’s tea… works like a charm every time! When you pour it in your glass this is when the strainer and funnel come in handy! You may find that your 2F has produced a baby SCOBY or a lot of people want to strain out the fruit bits used for flavoring.
You can drink your kombucha 2F at room temperature – OR you can stick it in the fridge. Putting it in the fridge stops the carbonating process so you wont have to worry about burping it anymore. I usually move my KT to smaller bottles so that I can just pull one out of the fridge and take it with me. I’ve used/collected GT’s bottles – but mason jars work too!
- There are many uses for KT that has fermented in the first ferment too long…. if it gets a super vinegar taste you can use it to pickle foods or even use it as starter for another batch! The stronger it is the faster it will ferment the next batch!
- Experiment with different types of fruits, juices, frozen/fresh, or combining fruits to make your own flavor.
- Try different teas or combinations of teas to see how it varies up the process
- If you want to join an awesome Kombucha brewing group – try this one (although there are a TON out there – this is just my favorite!)