I like everything about Kombucha except the price, so fortunately for me homemade Kombucha is cheap and easy to make! If you are not familiar with this drink, Kombucha is a fermented and slightly fizzy tea drink. It has a sweet/tart taste that seems to be a love it or hate it experience, in my house we are split 50/50 on whether it is wonderful or “blah”. Besides the refreshing sweet/tart/fizzy flavor, it is also full of those tummy enhancing probiotics that we are all hearing about lately.
The problem with Kombucha is that is very expensive when you buy it at the health food store, a 16oz bottle usually costs close to $4! That is simply too much of an extravagance to make Kombucha a daily drink in my house but there is a great, low cost way to enjoy this yummy and healthy drink – make it yourself!
The process is very simple but it does require patience as the brew has to sit and ferment for days or even weeks depending on your ambient temperature and sweet:tart flavor preferences. It also requires obtaining the yeast/bacteria starter culture called SCOBY. These cultures are widely available online but it is also quite easy to grow your own from a bottle of store bought Kombucha, so that is what I did following the advice that I found on multiple websites. In all steps of Kombucha brewing, cleanliness is vital for a successful batch. Take the time to sterilize all of the equipment you will be using with boiling water and keep your hands super clean too!
To grow your own SCOBY:
- Buy a bottle of a raw and unpasteurized Kombucha such as GT’s and pour it out into a mason jar.
- Cover the mason jar with a coffee filter and rubber band and then let it sit undisturbed in your cupboard for about 4 days to let the SCOBY begin to form.
- After 4 days, add in sweet tea that you made with 1 cup of water, 1 tea bag and 1/4 cup of sugar (make sure the tea is completely cooled before you add it in).
- Recover the jar and let it sit another week to 10 days to let the SCOBY grow. The SCOBY will look like a cloudy film at first and then will thicken into a gelatinous disk that either floats or sinks in the tea solution.
When the SCOBY is at least 1/8 of an inch thick, you can put it to work brewing Kombucha for you. (The SCOBY is always rather strange looking but if it ever looks moldy, throw it out and start over!)
Once you have a SCOBY there are two different ways you can begin brewing your drink; batch brewing or continuous brewing. The difference in the two methods are basically the volume and the fact that in batch brewing you must handle the SCOBY while in continuous brewing you do not disturb the SCOBY. I chose continuous brewing so that I could have a large amount brewing in one convenient container.
Here is what I did to start my continuous brewing system:
I used a 1 gallon glass sun tea jar with a spigot at the bottom. The jar must be clean but with no traces of soap so give it an extra good rinse and then a final rinse with vinegar.
- Make a large batch of sweet tea using 5-6 tea bags (regular, unflavored tea), 3 quarts of water and 3/4 cup of sugar. Let the tea cool to room temperature before proceeding to the next step.
- When the tea is cool, add the entire contents of the SCOBY jar (SCOBY plus liquid it grew in). No need to stir.
- Cover the mouth of the container with a coffee filter and rubber band and then place it in your cupboard to brew undisturbed for 7 – 10 days.
- Begin tasting around day 5 by drawing off a small amount through the spigot at the bottom. As the SCOBY feeds on the sugar in the tea, the drink will become increasingly more tart.
- When the flavor has reached the sweet:tart degree that you like, you can pour it out into glass or plastic bottles for secondary fermentation. This is the stage where you can flavor it with fruit pieces or juice and also where the carbonation can build up to give your drink its characteristic fizz.
- The tightly sealed bottles should sit in your cupboard for 2 – 4 days to build carbonation and then move them to the refrigerator to slow down the activity. It is not unheard of for bottles to break occasionally during the secondary fermentation process so you may want to “burp” them by quickly opening them and re-sealing them to let out excess gas every day or other day. If you use plastic bottles, you can tell how carbonated they are by how firm the sides of the bottle become (similar to soda).
When you draw off the Kombucha to fill your bottles, be sure to leave at least 20% of the total volume in the brewing container and then refresh it with another 3 quarts of cooled sweet tea. No need to stir.
- The brewing time may be shorter after your first batch so begin checking after 3 days.
I am not a Kombucha expert, but I have managed to get my continuous brewing system up and running with minimal effort. This is a basic outline of how to get started with Kombucha but there is so much more to learn about this delicious and healthy drink! There is a lot more information available online about how to care for your new living drink; how to flavor it, how to bottle it, how to troubleshoot the brewing process and how to store it. I highly recommend that you read more about it on the many different websites available online to help you decide if this is something you want to include in your diet. I referred to the directions I found on Cultures For Health to help me get started with my Kombucha.
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