I’ve been making my own kombucha for years now and it’s been a really fun, rewarding experience.
There are a few rules but it’s actually quite easy once you get the hang of it. You’ll need:
– a brewing vessel (rule #1: no ceramic, crystal or metal- only glass or porcelain; you can use stainless steel)
– a SCOBY (a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). For a gallon of kombucha you need a 4-5 ounce SCOBY, which is approximately 6 inches across and 1/4-1/2 an inch thick.
-one gallon of water (rule #2 :don’t use alkaline water and make sure the water is filtered to remove chlorine and other contaminants)
– 4-6 tea bags or 1-2 tablespoons of loose tea (rule #3: you can use black or green tea or yerba mate but don’t use flavored tea or herbal tea)
– one cup of sugar (rule #4: don’t use raw honey or artificial sweeteners, but apparently you can use pasteurized honey and 1/2- 2/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup; ideally use organic cane sugar)
– a wooden spoon for stirring in the sugar and a pot to boil the water in (rule #5: no metal should touch the SCOBY! Or at least that is what I had always heard. However, The Big Book of Kombucha by experts Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory says that coming in contact with metal briefly on occasion isn’t a problem)
– a cover for your vessel (rule #6: don’t use cheesecloth as bugs can still get in; use a paper towel or even a coffee filter)
-something to secure the cover (such as a rubber band)
– two cups starter liquid, i.e. already made kombucha from a previous batch or the liquid that comes with your SCOBY (rule #7: use kombucha without flavoring added and if you are taking from the top of a previous batch, use the liquid on the top so as to not get too much yeast which tends to live on the bottom of the vessel. Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory caution against using store bought kombucha as your starter liquid as they say it is unreliable)
I got my SCOBY at Erewhon in Los Angeles but you can also get them online at Get Kombucha, Cultures for Health or Kombucha Kamp. I have also used store bought kombucha to grow a SCOBY but The Big Book of Kombucha advices against this, for the same reason they say it makes an unreliable starter liquid.
Start off by boiling about a 1/4 of the gallon of water in a big pot and add the tea to steep for ten minutes. Next strain the tea and stir in the sugar to completely dissolve. Add the rest of the water to bring it down to room temperature (rule #8: the sweet tea mixture must be at room temperature before you add the SCOBY) and pour this into your brewing vessel. Next place the SCOBY on top (rule #9: make sure your hands are clean and free of any soapy residue, and don’t use antibacterial soap) and pour your starter liquid over the SCOBY. (rule #10: always pour the starter liquid in last, over the SCOBY, to reduce the chance of pathogens getting in. Cover with a paper towel or cloth and secure. Place in a warm (70-80 degrees is ideal) spot with good airflow (i.e. not a cupboard) and away from any other cultured foods (rule #11: cross contamination from kefir, sauerkraut, etc will prove problematic for your kombucha SCOBY, or vice versa) and wait about seven to ten days for your brew to ferment (although a gallon can take as long as 21 days). The longer you let it ferment the less sugar will be present and the more vinegary the taste. Text by inserting a straw under the SCOBY and drawing out some of the liquid. When ready, you can then drink it immediately or pour it into bottles that you seal and allow to ferment further which will increase fizz. I usually let my bottles sit out for about four days.
I choose to do the continuous brew method, which Wellness Mama and The Big Book of Kombucha explain well. The continuous brew method uses a vessel that has a spigot so you can get delicious kombucha without disturbing the SCOBY. You can either add sweet tea as you go (i.e. for every cup of kombucha you drink, add one cup of sweet tea) or pour out about 50% ( approximately one gallon) and then (assuming you are using the most common continuous brew 2.5 gallon container) pour in another gallon of sweet tea. The Big Book of Kombucha advices only taking about 1/3 (about 3/4 gallon for the most common continuous brew vessel) for the first three to five cycles in order to really build up “sour pour”, as they say. This will give you a nice strong kombucha to do the work on the next batch. After that, you can take about 50%. (rule #12: always leave starter liquid in the vessel for your next batch , i.e. then you only need to add sweet tea). The Big Book of Kombucha recommends letting the original continuous brew batch ferment for 10-28 days. After that, it may be ready in as little as a few days (since it has so much starter liquid to help it along).
The kombucha SCOBY will grow! Even if the SCOBY sinks, the new SCOBY will grow across the top of the liquid, forming a seal. It will grow so much at eventually you’ll need to separate some off so that it doesn’t overwhelm your brewing vessel. The Big Book of Kombucha says using a metal knife or scissors is fine since the SCOBY will not be in contact with the metal for long. I just use my hands to gently pull it apart, as shown in the picture. My original SCOBY, Norman, was shared with numerous friends.
You don’t need to worry if your SCOBY gets a bit discolored and it should only be tossed if it gets fuzzy mold.
If you’d like to learn how to make this healthy, probiotic-rich beverage, I recommend you get The Big Book of Kombucha. It’s an excellent resource!