It took me a very long time to try kombucha. To be honest, it sounded less than appetizing. Fermented tea? And hearing the term “kombucha mushroom” pretty much sealed the deal. I was sure I was going to hate it. Now, I know there are still some haters out there. And that’s totally okay. I, however, have changed my ways! Not only am I a kombucha lover, 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’s always a few bottles ready to go in my fridge.
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 manor. 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.
How to brew kombucha
For one gallon of kombucha tea, you will need:
- 1 SCOBY
- 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. 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.
Kombucha Brewing tips
- 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.
- Ferment in a dark area where the tea will be undisturbed
- Cover with a thin towel, such as flour sack, or a paper towel or coffee filter to keep organisms like fruit flies out.
- Brew half the water with all of the tea bags and add cold water to help cool down the tea, or it will take all day to cool down. :)
- Add the sugar when the tea is hot so it will dissolve better.
- Use only room temperature tea, not hot or cold. Temperature affects the SCOBY.
- Use glass bottles with swing top closures when bottling. Plastic bottles with tight-fitting lids or canning jars can also be used.
- Strain the kombucha to remove any strands of yeast, if desired.
- 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.
How To Flavor Kombucha
Flavoring the kombucha is pretty easy. I like the kombucha to go through a second fermentation. That means I decant it into bottles with swing tops and add a little unsweetened 100% fruit juice or fresh fruit and let it stand for 1-2 more days. This second fermentation flavors the kombucha and makes it really fizzy, like soda. I’ve tried using freeze-dried fruit, but find that the kombucha is a little too sour, so I use fresh or frozen instead. 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. Just don’t shake the bottles or they will bubble over!
The typical ratio is 1/5 juice to 4/5 water. I just kind of eyeball it. I don’t add juice to every batch. Diced fresh or frozen fruit will infuse enough flavor. It’s really fun to come up with new flavors. Use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup fruit per bottle, depending on the size. Use dried herbs and flowers rather than fresh.
Some of my favorite flavor are (back row, L to R):
- Raspberry vanilla
- Cherry ginger
- Blueberry lavender
front row (L to R)
Final Kombucha 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 really vary in appearance, even from one batch of kombucha to the next. 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. Dark spots and holes are normal. 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 space in the jar.
Have you tried brewing kombucha? If you have any more questions or advice, please leave them in the comments!280