How To Make Delicious Kombucha Tea From Scratch

How-To Guides

Kombucha tea served in a pourer

Are you looking for a delicious and healthy drink to enjoy? If so, then you should try kombucha tea!

Kombucha is made by fermenting tea. The fermentation process is started by adding a starter culture known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). The SCOBY will eat the sugar in the tea, creating a probiotic-rich beverage.

In this blog post, we will teach you how to make kombucha tea at home using simple ingredients. We'll also provide tips on flavor combinations and bottling. So let's get started!

Ingredients for Kombucha

Transferring kombucha to another jar

Water

Filtered or spring water is the best choice for making kombucha. However, if your tap water tastes good when you drink it, you can use it to make this beverage.

Sugar

You can use any cane or beet sugar in your kombucha tea, such as regular table sugar, turbinado, demerara, sugar-in-the-raw, or brown sugar.

Alternative sugars, such as agave and coconut sugar, are more difficult to work with and can cause fermentation problems. Avoid experimenting with them until you've brewed kombucha for a while.

Artificial sweeteners like stevia or Sweet-and-Low will not work in kombucha production.

Caffeinated Tea

You can make kombucha with any caffeinated tea: black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or white tea. Avoid herbal teas and those containing essential oils; these can interfere with fermentation and potentially lead to mold growth on the SCOBY.

SCOBY

You can obtain a SCOBY by growing one yourself or ordering one online from a company such as Kombucha Kamp. We recommend purchasing a "live" SCOBY in its liquid form. Live SCOBY is generally healthier and easier to start with than a dehydrated one.

What is a SCOBY?

Kombucha mushroom tea with SCOBY

A SCOBY is a cellulose mat containing bacteria and yeast cultures that ferment sweet tea to make kombucha. 

Each time you make kombucha, a new or "baby" SCOBY is formed and aids in the fermentation of sweet tea into more kombucha. It's essentially the mechanism by which kombucha reproduces itself.

It's similar to how sourdough bread bakers have a "mother" dough or sourdough "starter," which is a unique collection of yeasts that must be "fed" with flour and water and is used to make more sourdough loaves. 

Choosing the Right SCOBY

Getting a SCOBY is the first step in making your kombucha. Starter kits and cultures can be purchased online or at certain health food stores.

To reduce pesticide exposure and ensure product quality, look for an organic SCOBY from a reputable retailer. You can also borrow a SCOBY from a friend who makes homemade kombucha or join an online community to find someone in your area who has a SCOBY to spare.

Since the SCOBY grows with each batch of kombucha, it can be divided and shared by cutting off a 1-inch piece and passing it on.

How to Grow Your SCOBY

Ingredients

  • 7 cups Clean water
  • ½ cup White sugar
  • 4 bags Black tea or 1 tbsp. Loose tea
  • 1 cup Unflavored, unpasteurized kombucha from the store

Equipment

Directions

  1. In a clean pot, bring water to a boil. Take it off the heat and mix sugar into it.
  2. Add the tea and let it steep until the water reaches room temperature.
  3. Pour the sweetened tea into your container, then pour the store-bought kombucha in. If you're using two containers, pour half of the store-bought kombucha into each, making sure to get any gunk at the bottom.
  4. Cover the container with a few layers of tightly woven cloth and secure it with a rubber band to keep bugs and other things out.
  5. Set in a dark and still place at room temperature (e.g., a cupboard) for 1 to 4 weeks until a 14-inch SCOBY has formed.

Note

  • Keep the SCOBY in the tea it came in until you are ready to make your first batch. If you take care of the SCOBY well, it can live and grow for many years. 
  • The tea you used to make the SCOBY tastes like vinegar and should be thrown away. Don't start your first fermentation with this tea.

Tips in Making a SCOBY

No Decaf

The SCOBY does not like decaf tea and will not grow as well if fed.

Use Black Tea

Green or fruity teas do not support the growth of the SCOBY. You can use green tea once your SCOBY is bigger.

No Honey

Honey can have botulism-causing bacteria, which can be dangerous when bacteria and yeast grow in kombucha in large numbers. Once the good bacteria are more numerous than the bad, you can use honey in the second fermentation, but for now, stick with sugar.

Kombucha First Fermentation

The first fermentation usually takes 7-12 days, though some prefer to go longer. During this time, the starter tea and a kombucha culture (SCOBY) ferment the sweet tea, transforming it into kombucha. After the first fermentation, you'll have unflavored, mostly carbonated kombucha tea.

Ingredients

  • 14 cups Water
  • 1 cup White sugar
  • 8 bags Black or green tea
  • 2 cups Unflavored kombucha (from a previous batch or unpasteurized store-bought)
  • 1 SCOBY

Equipment

Directions

  1. Boil 4 cups of water, dissolve the sugar and steep the tea for 20 minutes. Then add the remaining 10 cups of cold water to quickly bring the mixture to room temperature. 
  2. To see if the tea is at room temperature, draw some out with a paper straw and keep the kombucha in the straw with your finger. (Be patient; hot water will kill your SCOBY).
  3. Using clean hands, transfer the SCOBY to a sterile plate. If this is your first batch of kombucha, save two cups of the liquid in which the SCOBY was growing for your starter kombucha. Remove the rest of the liquid since it is very acidic and unsuitable for drinking.
  4. Add the sweetened tea to the container and the unflavored starter kombucha.
  5. Using sanitized hands, place the SCOBY in the jar.
  6. Use a few layers of tightly woven cloth to cover and secure the container with a rubber band.
  7. Ferment for 6 to 10 days in a dark, still place at room temperature (70-75 °F). Begin tasting after about 6 days by gently drawing out some of the tea with a paper straw. It should be slightly sweet and vinegary. 
  8. Set aside two cups of this tea as a starter kombucha for your next batch, or just leave it in the jar with SCOBY. You can use the remaining tea for the second and final fermentation.

Note

  • The warmer the air temperature, the faster the kombucha ferments. 
  • The more time the tea spends fermenting, the more sugar molecules it consumes, and the less sweet it becomes.

Tips for the First Fermentation

Woman preparing kombucha tea

Try Other Teas

Experiment with green, white, oolong, or combinations of these teas. Combine fruit teas with a few black tea bags to give the SCOBY the nutrients it requires to thrive.

Grow the SCOBY

Peel off a few layers of the SCOBY once it's about an inch thick to make a second SCOBY. You can use it to make another batch or give it to a friend.

Signs that Your Kombucha is Ready for Second Fermentation

When you've reached the end of primary fermentation, your kombucha is ready for the second fermentation. Here are some signs to look for:

  • The kombucha has a strong, vinegary smell.
  • The kombucha is no longer sweet but has a sour, tart taste (fermenting it longer will make it more acidic).
  • The kombucha is effervescent and slightly carbonated.
  • A thick layer of yeast has formed on the surface of the kombucha.

Some people like to drink kombucha right after the first fermentation, which is fine. You don't have to add flavors or put the kombucha in bottles before drinking it. However, if you want to flavor your kombucha and give it more fizz, it must undergo a second fermentation process using airtight bottles.

Kombucha Second Fermentation

In this process, you add flavors to your brew and put it in a sealed container to keep the carbonation in the liquid. Usually, it takes 2 to 4 days, but it can take longer.

It's similar to bottle conditioning in beer and champagne production. You add a small amount of priming sugar, then seal it up to allow the yeasts to consume the sugar and convert it to carbon dioxide. The majority of the sugar in kombucha comes from fruit.

Directions

  1. Add ¼  to ⅓  cup puréed or juiced fruit to each 16-ounce bottle.
  2. Take your SCOBY and two cups of kombucha out of your brewing vessel and set them aside. You can use this starter tea and SCOBY to make your next batch of kombucha.
  3. Mix the remaining kombucha in the brewing vessel. The stirring will spread the yeast and bacteria throughout the liquid, helping the carbonation be more consistent across all your bottles.
  4. You can use a pitcher and funnel to pour the kombucha into your bottles. Leave ½  to 1 inch of head space at the top of each bottle.
  5. Seal them tight! If your bottles have lids that screw on, you can use rubber grippers to ensure they are as airtight as possible.
  6. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 2-3 days. There is a small chance of over-carbonation and explosions if your glass bottles are low quality or your fruit purées are very strong. To be safe, you can put the bottles in a closed cabinet to contain any mess.
  7. Refrigerate the bottles after a few days at room temperature. When they are cool, open one to taste. The cold will help keep the carbon dioxide in the liquid, so it's less likely to bubble over and make a mess when you open it.

Note

The longer you leave the second fermentation in the bottle at room temperature, the more carbonation builds up in the kombucha. So, refrigerate the bottles for a couple of days to prevent your drink from getting too carbonated.

How to Select Kombucha Bottles and Caps

Kombucha tea bottles

When you are ready to bottle your kombucha, it is important to select the right type of bottles and caps. 

The best bottles for kombucha are thick, dark glass bottles with tight-fitting closures. Swing top bottles work well, as do screw top bottles with air-tight seals. Avoid using plastic or metal containers, as these can interact with the kombucha and affect its flavor.

When selecting caps, make sure they are tight-fitting and food-grade. You can find caps specifically designed for kombucha bottles at many home brewing supply stores. Alternatively, you can reuse screw-top bottle caps from store-bought beverages, as long as they fit snugly and have not been used for anything else.

Once you have your bottles and caps, it is time to start bottling your kombucha! Be sure to leave about an inch of headspace at the top of each bottle to allow for carbonation. If you are using swing top bottles, ensure the gaskets are in good condition, and the bottles are clean and dry before closing them. Screw top bottles should be sealed tightly with a bottle cap wrench.

Label your bottles with the date and contents, then store them in a cool, dark place until you are ready to drink them. Kombucha is best enjoyed cold, so refrigerate your bottles before opening.

How to Add Flavors to Kombucha

Bottles of kombucha with strawberries

Kombucha is a fermented tea that is naturally slightly acidic and carbonated. While many people enjoy the taste of plain kombucha, others find it to be an acquired taste. If you're in the latter camp, don't despair—it's easy to add flavor to kombucha without compromising its health benefits.

Fruit Juice

Cherry, blueberry, grape, cranberry, pomegranate, and mango are some popular kombucha flavors. Before adding the kombucha, add about 1/4 cup of fruit juice to each bottle. Use more or less of the juice, depending on your bottle size and how fruity you like your kombucha.

Whole Fruit

You can also use whole fruits to flavor your kombucha, which is useful if you want a flavor like strawberry or plum that isn't easily available as juice.

You can add chopped fruits directly to the bottles or transfer the kombucha to a new 1-gallon jar, cover, and steep for a few days before straining and bottling. It is normal for a new SCOBY to form on the surface of the liquid, which you can discard before drinking.

Ginger

Fresh ginger, chopped or juiced, creates a spicy and tingly kombucha. You can add ginger on its own or with your favorite juice. Do not use powdered ginger because it does not dissolve and imparts a gritty flavor to the kombucha.

It's worth noting that adding fruit juice or chopped fruit to your kombucha ramps up the carbonation process. These sugars are like a fresh meal for the kombucha yeast! So, check your bottles more frequently than you would normally.

Tips for Cleaning Kombucha Equipment

Hand washing glass jars

Kombucha equipment should be cleaned after each brewing cycle to prevent the build-up of bacteria and mold. But the thing about properly fermented kombucha is that its low, acidic pH makes it hard for harmful pathogens to live in it.

  • Rinse the bottles and brew pots for a long time in hot water. You can scrub the glass with a clean sponge or brush if yeasty or crusty bits get stuck on it.
  • Make sure none of the sponges or other things you use to clean your brew vessels have mold. Kitchen sponges are among the dirtiest items in our homes.
  • You can clean the mouthpieces of the bottles and any sticky or gunky residue with a bit of dish soap.
  • You can use hot water without dishwashing detergent to clean your glass brewing vessels in the dishwasher.
  • Rinse all your equipment well every time.

Conclusion

Kombucha tea is a delicious, healthy drink that is easy to make at home. With just a few simple ingredients and some time, you can be on your way to enjoying this probiotic beverage.

Making kombucha might seem time-consuming, but it is straightforward and rewarding. You will not just save money by making your own kombucha, but you can also avoid the harmful additives used in many commercial brands.

So what are you waiting for? Get brewing!



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