It took me a very long time to try kombucha. To be honest, it sounded less than appetizing. Fermented tea? After hearing the term “kombucha mushroom” I was sure I was going to hate it. Surprise, turns out I’m a kombucha lover, and I also brew it at home. I use a simple continuous brew kombucha method. That means that I am always brewing a batch, so there are always a few bottles ready to go in my fridge.
Now, I know there are still some haters out there. And that’s totally okay. But if you love kombucha like I do, read on to learn how you can save major $$ making your own kombucha at home.
What Is Kombucha?
Yes, it is fermented tea. To understand why you would want to drink that, let’s talk about the kombucha fermentation process. You may have heard the term SCOBY (pronounced sko-bee). It’s an acronym that stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.
Kefir grains are a different kind of SCOBY that function in a similar manner. The strains of yeast and bacteria present in the SCOBY ferment the sugar in the tea and turn it into a probiotic-rich, effervescent beverage.
You need a SCOBY culture to start your own batch. A new “baby” SCOBY forms or grows on top of the “mother” SCOBY with each new batch. If you can find a friend willing to share, that’s a great way to get started. Or you can order online from a reputable source, like Cultures for Health.
Kombucha Recipe Ingredients
For one gallon of kombucha tea, you will need:
—2 cups raw kombucha (from a previous batch or purchased)
—13 cups filtered water
—8–10 bags tea (black, green, or white)
—1 cup sugar
It’s important to use filtered water because you don’t want anything from tap water to impede or change the brewing process. Things like chlorine in tap water are particularly harmful to the culture.
Using green, black, or white tea is also important for proper brewing. You can acclimate a SCOBY to brew from part herbal tea, but it takes a long time to do it. So I use half black and half green tea. If caffeine is a concern, use naturally decaffeinated teas.
I only use white granulated sugar or evaporated cane juice when brewing the tea. Remember, the culture uses the sugar to grow, and natural or raw sugars contain other nutrients that interfere with the fermentation process.
Some people have successfully used honey, but it can be tricky so I stick with sugar. Honey has its own enzymes and other nutrients that could interfere with the fermentation and flavor. Brown sugar, molasses, and other natural raw sugars should not be used in this capacity.
Use a large glass jar with a plastic spigot. It’s much easier to fill the bottles. Metal spigots can errode, so plastic is preferred. Don’t use plastic jars because microorganisms can hide in any scratches, and off flavors can develop. Glass is better.
Use glass bottles with swing top closures when bottling. Plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids or canning jars can also be used.
How To Make Continuous Brew Kombucha
Step 1 | Brew tea
Brew half the water (about 6-7 cups) with all of the tea bags. Add the remaining water cold to help cool down the tea, or it will take all day to cool down.
Step 2 | Add sugar
Add the sugar when the tea is hot so it will dissolve better.
When you start to brew, the tea should be room-temperature, not hot or cold. Temperature affects the SCOBY.
Step 3 | Ferment
Cover your jar with a thin towel, such as flour sack, or a paper towel or coffee filter to keep bugs like fruit flies out. Ferment in a dark area where the tea will be undisturbed.
pH strips can be purchased to help test the level of acidity to see if the kombucha is properly fermented, but you can also go by taste. It should be slightly sour, not overly sweet, and a bit fizzy.
Step 4 | Bottle and replace tea
The basic idea of continuous brew is that you take out fermented tea (now kombucha), leaving 2-4 cups of the old tea in the jar. Then replace that liquid with new tea. And the fermenting starts again.
Continous kombucha is done two ways:
Option 1: Take out a cup of kombucha and add a cup of new sweet tea. You can brew the sweet tea the night before, pour it into a measuring cup, and let it come to room temp overnight. In the morning, take out the same amount of kombucha and add the room temp tea.
Option 2: Draw off the entire supply after your preferred brew time (leaving about a 2-4 cups in the vessel). Then add new sweet tea and repeat.
Step 5 | Bottle + refrigerate
You can strain the kombucha to remove any strands of yeast, if desired. Then transfer to bottles and refrigerate.
In the fridge kombucha still slowly ferments, so when it starts to taste too vinegary it’s time to toss it. But if you’re drinking some each day, you’ll run out before you need to worry about it expiring.
Step 6 | Flavor kombucha with second fermentation
Flavoring the brew is pretty easy using a second fermentation.
That means I decant it into bottles with swing tops, add a little unsweetened 100% fruit juice or fresh fruit, and let it stand for 1 to 2 more days before refrigerating.
This second fermentation flavors the kombucha and makes it really fizzy, like soda. Just don’t shake the bottles or they will bubble over!
How to flavor kombucha
Juice: Use 100% fruit juice. The typical ratio is about 1/5 juice of the bottle as juice and 4/5 kombucha. It’s not exact; I just kind of eyeball it.
Fruit: Use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh fruit per bottle, depending on the size. Diced fresh or frozen fruit will infuse enough flavor. I’ve tried using freeze-dried fruit but find that the kombucha is a little too sour, so I use fresh or frozen instead.
Herbs/flowers: Use dried herbs and flowers rather than fresh.
Ginger: I use candied ginger over fresh ginger. The extra sugar results in a little more fizz, and it really infuses the kombucha with a spicy ginger kick.
Or don’t add anything … I don’t add flavor to every batch so that I can add things later (like chia seeds).
Kombucha Flavor Combinations
Some of my favorite flavor sare (back row, L to R):
front row (L to R)
Final Kombucha Brewing Tips
If the kombucha ever smells “off” or tastes too sour, it’s better to toss it and brew a fresh batch. A SCOBY can vary in appearance, even from one batch of kombucha to the next. Dark spots and holes are normal.
Even though it rarely happens, mold can grow on the surface of the culture. It will appear in small spots that are fuzzy and white, green, and maybe orange. It will need to be thrown away and a new batch brewed with a new culture.
When the SCOBY becomes thick, the layers can be separated and shared. Separating them is also a good idea so that a large culture doesn’t take up too much space in the jar.
Have you tried brewing kombucha? If you have any more questions or advice, please leave them in the comments!328
My niece makes commercial kombucha in Birmingham Al. She taught me and I have been making it for years. She told me after washing everything to make sure to rinse everything in vinegar water along with my hands, to make sure there’s no soap left. I didn’t read anything in your directions about that. Do you not do that, or do you not feel it necessary?
dolores dempsey says
I started making Kombucha after my daughter made it. I love it. I think it is either you like it or you don't. My favorite is ginger and lemon. I thought I read somewhere that it could be made with plant based sugar. I am afraid to try without really knowing. Is this true or not? Thanks for the advice here.
Melissa Carroll says
I have been doing one gallon batches at a time in large Mason jars. I have never done ginger – always organic fruits. Question: which candied ginger do you use and it is the same as crystalized ginger. I would rather buy something from Amazon… like I do almost everything else. And so you only do second fermentation the individual bottles? I have always done it in the actual mason jar for the whole batch. But I bought a continuous fermentation vessel and want to know about how much crystalized ginger you would put in say a 16-oz swing-top bottle. I completely missed what is meant by the 1/5 to 4/5 ratio… can you explain that? Sorry for all the questions.
You mentioned PH testing…what should the ph be when it is finished brewing?
Thank you for the great demonstration!
Carmel Mooney says
I’ve been making Kombucha for 30+ years and teaching classes on it and other fermenting. I’ve always used raw organic sugar and have never once had a problem or bad batch in three decades. And my scoby (s) grow fast and healthy and multiply quickly.
I have my favorite Kombucha “second ferment recipe” over on my website if you’d like to try it.
Warwick Calasse says
Hi Carmel i am interested to learn how to do this. Please can you send me your website to my facebook. My name is warwick calasse. I thank you in advance and look forward to learning how to make this magic stuff.
Lindsey Johnson says
Hi Janet! I think 1 teaspoon each might be too much. I’d start with 1/4 teaspoon each and see how that goes. All three of those have really strong flavors, but with such great benefits, it’s worth it. ;) And I haven’t added those to my second fermentation before, but I would think you could do it then, or just stir them in before you drink your kombucha. I often will keep a few bottles of plain so I can add other things that I don’t necessarily want to add during the second fermentation – like chia seeds, for example. Good luck! Let me know how it goes!
I’m doing good on making it for a while but I’m letting the extras sit on shelves n my utility room . I burb the bottles and they sure do stink and have little scobies forming on the top .. yuk is this good ??
Maria Gillespie says
In the refrigerator, how long is Kombucha good for . ? If you make continuous Kombucha do you just make a fresh batch and pour into your large container and flavor each bottle as you wish ?
In the fridge kombucha still slowly ferments, so when it’s too vinegary bin it. Also if your drinking two ounces to four or more a day: you’ll run out before you need to worry about expiry.
Continous kombucha is done two ways, take a cup add a cup of sweet tea right out of the vessel, or draw off your supply for your preferred brew time(leaving about a liter or quart of old booch in the vessel, top off with sweet tea and carry on. I take a cup, add a cup and keep my bootch in swing top 500ml bottles. So the night before I pour my two cups of sweet tea ( 500mls) into a measuring cup and let it come to room temp overnight, pour my bioch in the morning, add the room temp tea. I continous brew 1.5 gallons or 5liters at a time. If the hubby and the mother inlaw drink theirs I just replace what we take daily.
Jane. Maltby says
Hi loved you version on Kombutcha. Very helpfull, easy to understand… I’ve read many sites.. yours was excellent.
I’ve been making it now for 3 months.. we love it , I have two brewing glass gallons. on the go. Never with out.
Kath CLark says
Enjoyed the read. But I didn’t follow how you did your continuous brew.
Kombucha leeches plastic so I wouldn’t reccomend a plastic spigot sitting in the brew. I know it’s convenient but if you’re brewing for health benefits it’s not worth it.
Also if it has a sour smell it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, it’ll get more sour and vinegary the longer it ferments.
Hi, I have not tried brewing kombucha yet but am super excited to try! I have well water, not tap water, and am wondering if that would work fine instead of distilled or filtered water. Our well water does have a bit of iron in it.
Thanks for the great instructions and creative fruit suggestions. I hope I can try soon!
I only use well water and it does just fine
Hi :) This is my first time brewing kombucha… I have been so curious about the scoby process that I have been looking in the jar, (essential moving/disturbing the jar) and poked some of the bubbles forming in the scoby as well ( used a plastic fork, no metal) but now I ma worried I may have ruined my batch/scoby :(
Any thought on this?
Hey Connie! I’m just seeing this comment, so I’m sorry for the delayed reply! You probably didn’t do any damage to the scoby or your batch. But in the future, it might be best not to disturb it too much while it’s brewing. I find that the scobies are pretty indestructible – you can pull them apart without doing any damage usually. But I tend to leave the jar be except to test the pH while it’s brewing. -Lindsey
Great post! I just visited a brewery in Maine and had kombucha for the first time. I loved it and can’t wait to try making my own. I love the spigot idea! Thanks for the tip.
Darlene Megli says
I have read that the plastic spouts can leach out chemicals due to the acid in the kombucha? Have you ever felt you have a problem with that? I would love to do the continuous method if it wasn’t a problem.
One of my favorites is apple juice and stick cinnamon.
Lindsey | Cafe Johnsonia says
Hey Darlene! Somehow I missed this comment. Sorry about that! I have heard about more problems with the metal spouts. If you are worried about the spout, you could just use a large jar and use a ladle or pour it from the jar instead. That would work and eliminate any worries. I like the ease of the spigot, but I’ll have to check into the chemicals leaching out. Doesn’t sound too nice.
I’ve been doing the continuous brew system for about 2 months now. I can’t seem to get the second fermentation down. It taste fine, but totally flat. What’s the secret? Also, pretty sure I’ve used tap water to brew the tea (I boiled it of course). Do I need to start totally over? Ugh!
Same problem I have had. I have been doing the second fermentation in the fridge – which is a mistake. This time I m leaving the bottles out for 5-7 days before putting them in the fridge, and I have also added some orange juice as that should increase the fermentation and make it more fizzy. I hope this works.
Lindsey | Cafe Johnsonia says
Hey Julie, it took me a little while to get it just right. It seems like what worked once may not work the next time. Ginger, for some reason, really makes the kombucha fizzy for me. You could try using a higher ratio of juice and letting it ferment on the counter a little longer too. The extra sugar will lead to extra fizz.
That kombucha looks delicious! Where did you get the large jars with the plastic spigots? Are they 1 gallon size?
Lindsey Johnson says
Hi Keri! I found those online at Walmart. They are 1 gallon each. The were the only ones I could find with a plastic spigot that were big enough.
Love this how-to! As a fellow kombucha brewer, I’m always excited to read and hear about what other brewers do for their brew! Thanks so much for sharing – kombucha brewers, unite!
Lindsey Johnson says
Yes! (Love, love, love your blog, Julia! It’s one of my faves!)
Love this! I drink diluted unfiltered apple cider vinegar every morning for digestion and I think of it as a little miracle. I’m not much of a kombucha lover, but maybe if I tried my own flavors.
Lindsey Johnson says
I used to drink ACV every morning too! It does work wonders, doesn’t it? I will say that homemade is much better than store-bought. You can control better how sweet it is, etc. It’s worth a try!
Do you know how we can make ACV on our own?