If you’ve never tried homemade kombucha, it’s quite a treat. Bubbly, refreshing, and flavorful, kombucha is also probiotic and is a delicious way to get your fizz on and make your digestive system more healthy (read this post by our friends at The Farmer’s Lamp for more benefits)!
I learned about kombucha about 5 years ago, and to be honest, the name of it put me off. I had no idea what the heck I would be drinking (what is fermented tea anyway?!), and I wasn’t even sure if it was safe to drink. The more I looked into it, the more clear it was not only a delicious beverage, but it could help me kick my daily Diet Coke addiction, as well as encourage healthy growth of my gut flora. I ventured out and tried a few of the store-bought offerings and fell in love.
The problem with drinking store-bought kombucha is the cost–it is so expensive! At $3 per 16 oz bottle, I knew this wasn’t a habit I could maintain. Soda was still cheaper and I couldn’t be without my daily fizz, so I needed to solve the problem. I can’t remember who shared it with me, but I somehow became aware that Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions book had a good recipe in it, so I bought the book.
What You Need for Making Homemade Kombucha
Making homemade kombucha is really simple if you have the right tools and ingredients. Here’s what you will need:
6 quarts of water
8 black tea teabags – I use Lipton, but you can use any black tea, organic or not
2 cups of cane sugar – I use C&H, but I have used organic evaporated can juice as well with success
SCOBY (aka kombucha mother) + 1 cup of kombucha starter** (I bought this one)
2 gallon glass jar (I use one like this)
**If you are purchasing a SCOBY for the first time, please take care to use the directions the seller provides. They will likely not send 1 whole cup of starter with the SCOBY, so the recipe will be different the first time you make it. You may want to make it in a smaller glass jar, like a 1/2 gallon mason jar. You can then follow my instructions for making it in the 2 gallon glass jar the second time you make it.
I don’t use organic all the time, but if you want to, search for organic black or green tea. You need something with caffeine because it serves as food for the SCOBY. The SCOBY also feeds on sugar, so you will want to make sure not to veer too far from the granulated variety. I have had my best success using white sugar or organic evaporated cane sugar in my kombucha brew.
How to Make Homemade Kombucha
To make your kombucha, bring your water just to a boil in a large pot. Remove from heat and dissolve your sugar in the hot water. Add your teabags, cover your pot, and allow your brewing tea to come to room temperature. I usually start my brew in the late afternoon or evening, and leave it until the next morning for the next step.
Once your sweetened tea is room temperature, remove your tea bags and transfer the tea into your glass brewing vessel. Stir in your kombucha starter with a wooden spoon, then set your SCOBY to float on top of your brew. It’s ok if it sinks, that happens a lot and it won’t affect your brew at all.
Cover with a linen napkin or a piece of muslin to keep bugs out (do not use cheesecloth–fruit flies can get through that). Secure with a large rubber band. If you are like me and keep stuff, you might just string a bunch of regular rubber bands together and hold them together with a twist tie, which works just as well. Store in a cool, dry place to brew. I store mine in a cupboard where I store all of my extra bottles and brewing equipment.
There is actually a lot of play in brewing homemade kombucha. While it is “science-y” in nature, you really have a lot of leeway in your brewing depending on the temperature in the area you are brewing your kombucha.
If it’s during summer and it gets warm in your house, brewing should only take about a week. In the summer at our old place, it was often 90 degrees in the house. At our new place, I left it about 8 days and achieved a good flavor because this past week has only been around 80 indoors. The ideal temperature for brewing kombucha is around 75 degrees, and at that temperature, my experience is that it takes about a week, maybe two depending on whether you like a mild sweet or more vinegar-y flavor.
It is ideal to begin tasting your kombucha at around 4 days in hotter conditions, and at about 7 or 8 days in cooler conditions. Once you have achieved a mild sweet flavor with some fizz, your brew is probably ready. However, if you are into a more vinegar-y flavor, you can brew it a few days longer, but make sure to taste it often so it has the flavor you love. No need to be concerned if the fizz isn’t as abundant as you like, that can happen in the second brew.
Bottling Your Brew
Bottling your kombucha can be done in a few different ways. The key to choosing what you bottle your brew in is that it needs to have a tight lid. The reason for this is that kombucha is a carbonated drink, and it doesn’t stop brewing until all the sugar in the brew is gone, producing vinegar that is not pleasant to drink. Therefore, you will want to have your bottles tightly capped to maintain the carbonation in your drink.
You can choose from mason jars, kombucha bottles, swing top bottles, saved or new beer bottles (you’ll need a bottle capper and some bottle caps if you choose beer bottles), or you can just use your recyclable plastic bottles.
To bottle, uncover and remove the SCOBY to whatever vessel you want to store it in until you are ready to use it again. (Before storing, make sure to cover your SCOBY completely with some of your brew so that the whole thing is immersed. Cover tightly and store in the fridge.) Using a funnel, fill all of your bottles leaving about 1 inch of headspace. Cap tightly and store in the refrigerator.
Adding Additional Flavoring
If you would like to add additional flavoring to your homemade kombucha, it’s really easy to do. Here are some ideas for flavoring and their guidelines:
100% juice: 1-2 oz per 12-16 oz bottle
fruit syrup: 1-2 oz per 12-16 oz bottle
fresh or dried fruit: a small citrus peel, a raisin or two, fresh ginger, etc. (cut up for better results)
Check out this post by our friends at The Homesteading Hippy for a bunch more flavor ideas!
Before bottling, add your flavor to your bottle, then top off with kombucha, leaving 1 inch of headspace. I used my homemade strawberry syrup that I made from strawberry tops to flavor most of this batch, and I know it will turn our fantastic, because it always does! Once you add your kombucha, cap tightly and leave on the counter for 2 more days, then refrigerate and enjoy!