Truthfully, I can’t remember when we were first introduced to kombucha.
What I can tell you is we’ve been making it for several years now and we have tasted many different variations.
I’m not a fermenting master like Jeff is but I can handle making kombucha tea. And that means you can do it too!
Before we get into the nitty gritty details of everything I first want to introduce a few terms to you, so let’s dig in to the foreign language of making kombucha.
What Is Kombucha?
Before I introduce some new terminology, I think it’s important to first define what kombucha is.
Kombucha is fermented tea.
Just like tea comes in all different flavors (white, green, oolong, black and herbal) so does kombucha.
If you’ve never heard of it, I’m sure you may have seen it sold at the grocery store or farmer’s market. There are many, many companies now bottling and selling local kombucha.
Whenever Jeff & I travel, we seek out the local brews to try. We have enjoyed several different brands across the country but our favorites include: Pure Doctor and Rootbeer LIVE Soda for their real soda taste, NessAlla because we love the flavors of Rishi tea that they use and Unity Vibration because they just make a really great product!
We’ve been making kombucha for several years now. And I think you’d be surprised by how easy it is to make and how much cheaper it costs when you make it at home, rather than buying bottle after bottle from the store.
Many of the store-bought kombuchas also have added sugar, so if you’re watching your sugar intake you’ll want to be sure and check the labels. When you make homemade kombucha, you get to control exactly how much sugar you consume.
The Kombucha Process
The process starts by brewing tea as you naturally would. We use filtered water from our Berkey water system, that sits on our kitchen counter (as seen in the photo).
The second step is to sweeten the tea with sugar. We buy organic non-GMO sugar solely for the purpose of making kombucha. We would not have sugar in our house if it wasn’t for our fermented drink setup. The sugar is needed in order for the fermentation process to work.
The third ingredient you will need is the kombucha mushroom culture. This is the final thing that is necessary. The culture is added to the sweetened tea and used to ferment the tea. Kombucha is fermented tea so it is a natural probiotic!
When you add the kombucha culture also known as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), the bacteria chow down on the sugar and ferment the tea. This takes time so you must be patient.
Cover your jar with a thick kitchen towel and a rubber band to keep crawling critters such as ants and flying ones too (like fruit flies) out of your brew. Store your covered jar in a warm, dark place…and now we wait. :)
After about two weeks, if it’s your first time making it, the kombucha should be ready to be bottled. To know if it’s ready you can try a little taste throughout the fermenting process to really determine if it’s done. It’s ready for bottling if the tea is sweet, not sour, and slightly bubbly in your mouth.
Once you bottle that precious liquid, we then let it sit while not being influenced by the SCOBY. The bottled brew is next taken through a second ferment, before being transferred to the refrigerator and prior to drinking.
During this second ferment is where the flavoring occurs. With the addition of sugar, fresh fruit, fruit juice, herbs or seasonings your blank canvas kombucha tea is given a little variety.
Faster Brewing or Scoby Hotel?
When you continue to make batch after batch of kombucha, the bacteria grows and reproduces, creating another SCOBY.
You can either leave the double or tripled up mother culture (SCOBY) to ferment your kombucha faster or you can pry the mother and baby mushrooms apart using a ceramic knife or your fingers and give it to a friend who wants to learn how to make kombucha tea!
You’ll want to use a ceramic knife for the same reason you’ll want the spigot of your continuous brew container to be plastic…because metal creates an unwanted reaction with your SCOBY.
“Kombucha is NOT harmed if it comes into brief contact with metal. Kombucha IS a powerful detoxifier and if brewed in inappropriate vessels (i.e. leaded glass, any metal other than 304 stainless steel), Kombucha will chelate toxic elements into the brew. However, incidental contact with metal strainers, spoons, knives or scissors is not a cause for concern as there is not enough time for the KT to detox anything from them. Stainless steel 304 grade is safe for brewing Kombucha as it is highly corrosive resistant and is also used in the beer, wine and vinegar brewing industries.” (source)
If no one in your immediate space wants your extra scoby you can do a couple other things with it. You can build yourself a scoby hotel by transferring the leftover scoby to a mason jar with some starter liquid and let it sit in a dark place until you need it. You can dehydrate it and feed it to your dog as a treat. Or you can feed it directly to your compost bin.
Different Brew Styles
The jar you use will depend on the process.
When we first started making kombucha we used a large glass jar, similar to a pickling jar, that did not have a spigot. Things went well but after letting our kombucha momma do her thing we decided to change over to a continuous brew.
We picked up a new jar that had a spigot at the bottom and this made it so we didn’t have to remove the scoby when we were refilling the tea. Plus we were able to bottle straight from the jar and not lose any of our precious kombucha in the process.
Kombucha Kamp will be a huge resource for anyone who wants to make kombucha. They have a complete starter package for continuous brew however that’s not where we bought our jars. We picked up the original glass jar we used for brewing from World Market and then upgraded to this 2 gallon glass jar. The bottling jars we found at both IKEA and a local brewing store in our town. You can also find the bottling jars on Amazon.
Just a quick note, the shape of your brewing vessle will shape your kombucha momma (SCOBY). So if you have a bulbous jar you’re brewing your kombucha in, your SCOBY will expand to the size it sits at when level.
Issues You Can Run Into
When we first started making kombucha we used to use cheese cloth to cover the top of the jar. You don’t want to cover the jar with a hard cover, so that the SCOBY can breath, but the cheese cloth even when tripled and quadrupled in thickness still did not keep the fruit flies out. We had to throw away our SCOBY and start all over again.
When we started brewing again with a new scoby from our scoby hotel, we started using a thick kitchen towel and a rubber band and that has been the best solution for us so far.
Tastes Like Vinegar?
When you let the kombucha ferment too long, it will lean toward being more vinegar-y. If you like that taste, you can still drink it however if you don’t you can drain it and start again, making sure to not wait as long to bottle as you did during the last ferment. (This will typically happen for us when we leave to travel. We just expect to come home to a really vinegar-y batch.)
As I mentioned before, Kombucha Kamp is a great resource to browse if there are any particular problems you may come across that I haven’t covered.
Drinking something that we have intentionally inserted bacteria into might sound gross, but it’s actually an excellent idea. Civilization has given us many wonderful benefits, but one of the down sides has been a drastic increase in communicable diseases. That has led many of us to avoid “germs” and bacteria for fear of getting sick, but not all bacteria are bad.
For millennia, we evolved in symbiosis with billions of bacteria and we rely on them to keep us healthy. A good dose of bacteria every now and then can boost your immune system, help keep your digestive system in top working order, and get rid of toxins. These are all proven benefits of kombucha.
Any time we eat something that adds beneficial bacteria to our system, it’s known as a probiotic.
Aside from the probiotics, kombucha tea comes packed with B & C vitamins, amino acids and enzymes.
Where To Buy A SCOBY
Once you have your brewing and bottling jars picked up all you have to do is find a friend who is brewing kombucha and see if they have a SCOBY to spare or place an order from Kombucha Kamp and they will ship one right to your door. You’ll be drinking your homemade kombucha in a few weeks time and loving how easy it is! :)
If you’re in the Chicagoland area and want a SCOBY, let us know! We have several we can give out from our hotel and our big momma’s offspring. :)