What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea that contains tons of probiotics. Similar to yogurt, Kombucha is typically consumed to help with digestion and other health benefits. Kombucha can be found in most supermarkets and many local restaurants. Some restaurants are also starting to serve it on tap. Unfortunately, Kombucha is fairly expensive to buy on the market, which is why I made a post to show you how to make Kombucha at home.
Learn how to make Kombucha
Making Kombucha is actually really easy, the way Kombucha works is you take sweet tea and add in a Scoby (acronym: Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). Your Scoby will eat the sugar and caffeine and convert the sweet tea into Kombucha. Depending on the size of your batch, it will take usually 4-5 days (1 quart mason jar) or 7-10 days (1/2 gallon mason jar). At that point you have your base Kombucha, and you will transfer your Scoby into a new sweet tea brew to start the process all over again. Once you have the base Kombucha, you can either drink it as is, or you can add sugar and seal it up to trigger a second fermentation. This is where your Kombucha will take on flavor and carbonation. Here is a step by step guide on how to make Kombucha.
Step 1 – Acquire a Scoby
Buy a Scoby online or find a friend that is already making Kombucha and ask them to give you a Scoby. As you make Kombucha, your Scoby (sometimes called a mother) will grow and eventually you will want to break it apart to create two separate Scoby. A Scoby will start off as a thin pancake like disk that forms at the top of your Kombucha, but as it grow it will become thicker and thicker because more layers will grow. Typically you want your Scoby to be roughly 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick.
Step 2 – Make Sweet Tea
Brew up a batch of sweet black tea. Depending on how much Kombucha you want to make, I typically make either a one quart mason jar or a 1/2 gallon mason jar. If you don’t drink Kombucha often, one quarter at a time will do, but if you drink regularly then I recommend one or two 1/2 gallon mason jars at a time. If you are making sweet black tea for two 1/2 gallon mason jars, use 8-10 tea bags or about 1/2 cup of loose tea leaves. Brew a standard black tea, then add 1/2 cup of sugar per 1/2 gallon of black tea. Stir well and let cool to room temperature.
(Left) Kombucha with Scoby floating in it covered with a coffee filter. (Right) Freshly brewed sweet black tea at room temperature.
Step 3 – Transfer your Scoby
This is the fun part in learning how to make Kombucha. Transfer your Scoby from your Kombucha to your sweet tea mixture. Make sure your hands are clean or use gloves to ensure you do not contaminate the Scoby.
Here is a tip I learned from my friend when she taught me how to make Kombucha. When you transfer the Scoby into the sweet tea, add a little bit of the Kombucha to protect the Scoby and help it to adapt to the new sweet tea environment.
Once you’ve transferred your Scoby, take the Kombucha that the Scoby was just in and skip to step 5.
Step 4 – First Fermentation
Take the new sweet tea with the Scoby and cover it with a coffee filter. I recommend using the mason jar band to ensure the coffee filter does not come off. Place the sweet tea mixture into a cool dark place to let it go through the first round of fermentation. For the first round of fermentation, the duration depends on the size of your container and how far you want to push your Kombucha. I will give you a few scenarios:
1 Quart Mason Jar
If you like your Kombucha to be more on the sweet side with less of a funky kick, ferment for 4 days. If you like your Kombucha to have more of a fermented kick (vinegar like taste), then ferment for 5 – 6 days.
1/2 Gallon Mason Jar
If you like your Kombucha to be more on the sweet side with less of a funky kick, ferment for 7 days. If you like your Kombucha to have more of a fermented kick (vinegar like taste) then ferment for 9 – 10 days.
After the first fermentation, you technically have Kombucha. Year sweet tea should have changed color from a black tea color to a light brown almost amber color. At this point you will want to repeat steps 2 – 4.
Step 5 – Second Fermentation
After your scoby has been transferred to a new sweet tea blend, your young Kombucha can either be enjoyed as is or you can do a second fermentation to give it more flavor and carbonation. If you choose to enjoy it as is, it will have a plain Kombucha flavor and it won’t have a lot of carbonation. Enjoy it fresh or refrigerate in a bottle to enjoy later. Home made Kombucha can typically last for 1 1/2 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
If you choose to do a second fermentation, just add sugar then seal up your Kombucha to let it build up carbonation. During the first fermentation, your Scoby eats the caffeine and sugar to convert the sweet tea into Kombucha. During the second fermentation, your Kombucha is converting sugar into carbonation and flavor. I recommend using fruits instead of actual sugar, but it really depends on the flavor you want. In the example below, I added about a hand full of fresh blue berries. If you can’t get fresh fruit, you can use frozen fruit, but make sure you thaw it to room temperature before adding to your Kombucha. This way you will avoid the temperature from dropping too low, because it will kill the live culture.
Once you’ve added your sugar or fruit, seal up your mason jar and place in a dark cool spot for another round of fermentation. The duration should match your first fermentation. Please note that you will have to crack open your Kombucha once a day during the second fermentation to let out some of the carbonation. If you don’t do this your mason jar may explode from the pressure that is building up with the carbonation.
Step 6 – Strain and Enjoy
After your second fermentation, your Kombucha should look something like the picture below. Don’t worry, the weird looking bubbles is just good bacteria growth that happens when the sugar from the fruit is converted into carbonation. Just strain your Kombucha to remove the fruit and bacteria. Now you have a flavored Kombucha that has carbonation. Enjoy immediately or bottle and enjoy later, just know the carbonation will go away the longer you store it, so I recommend to enjoy it fast.
I hope this guide on how to make Kombucha has been helpful. It sounds like a lot of work, but after you’ve done it once or twice, you realize it is actually a really simple process.