Foreword- this is a bit of a lengthly post for me, it contains lots of information on getting started but there is so much out there on kombucha that I barely scratched the surface here. It is, I hope, a simplified version of getting beginners brewing.
Kombucha, in its simplest description A fermented tea beverage. The list benefits of this miracle brew is endless if you start looking into it, but put simply it has lots of good probiotics (thanks to the bacteria and yeasts) some vitamins and if you make it just right it is low sugar (because your Scoby eats the sugar and in turn produces CO2). You can really get into the science of respiration and the technicalities of how fermentation works but this stuff is so easy to make you really don’t need to get too technical about it. I personally really like the scientific side of it but you don’t need to have a degree in brewing to make the tasty brew.
- As a little note, I have been brewing my own Buchi at home for about three years now, and while at first I was a little bit intimidated, it is actually very easy!
Ok so those of you who are addicted to the bubbly yummy stuff and you want to stop the hemorrhage of the $3.50+ per bottle at the market, you can brew your own! Yes its easy and its dirt cheap, once you have your supplies! After you buy a few things like bottles, possibly couple of large glass jars (or you can reuse one of those giant pickle jars) a plastic sieve (if you want to filter) and plastic funnel, a piece of tightly woven cloth, a rubber band and most importnatly a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) your cost is literally tea, sugar and water, thats it! You will be able to reuse your SCOBY as it “the mother” will produce a “baby” and you can use the baby to brew your next batch, you can even start an additional strain from your first “mother”, this can go on and and on… you can start a whole brewery in just a few weeks, you will have so much Kombucha you will not know what to do with it all! Because of this I am still puzzled by why it costs so much for one 16 oz bottle!
From this basic recipe you can make ANY flavor of kombucha because you do not add any flavors to it until you are ready to bottle. Another for your basic recipe is that you can use green tea or a blend of black and green tea. You can use any tea that is not flavored with oils (so earl grey is off limits for the brewing part, believe me I have tried, the oils make your tea go rancid after a couple of rounds) However I have used jasmine tea with success. Its from here you will get your starter tea for your next round.
Okay I am just going to go over the basics here and then you can take it from there. You can find many really good books that I will reference, and lots and lots of wellness blogs that have tons of wonderful information on Kombucha I will put some links in (as soon as I learn how) on the side bar for you. Do Not FEAR this stuff is super easy to make and if you want to take a break from brewing for a while you can keep a scoby in the refrigerator and feed it some fresh sweet tea every month to keep it healthy, and bring it back out when your ready to brew again.
- Do Not use metal Like tongs, metal utensils jars/caps etc. (this rule is debatable but I follow this it anyway)
- Before handling your SCOBY make sure your hands are Squeaky Clean! No soap residue or oils and also remove any rings (metal) because bacteria gets trapped under rings and nails so you don’t want to introduce any bad bacteria here, only the good bacteria please.
Basic directions and recipe for making the Buchi You will need:
A large glass jar (I like to have two, but only one is needed) here is a link to the ones I like to use. Note It also comes with the cloth and temp strip! woohoo!
A tightly woven cloth (do not use cheese cloth even multiple layers) as fruit flies will get in or lay their eggs on top and eggs will drop through and you will have larva on your scoby and then you will have to throw it all away! I cut a square of muslin cloth a little bigger than the opening of my jar to come down the sides a bit and have room for the rubber band plus a little wiggle room. You can use a really big cloth like a tea towel if you want I just don’t like the bulk. here is a link to at whole kit and caboodle for an awesome price!
A rubber band– one that fits the mouth of your jar tightly! As mentioned before you don’t want ANY critters getting in here (fruit files will be super attracted to this stuff!) If there is a fruit fly in your zip code it will find your kombucha! I don’t know how it happened once but somehow a little bugger or an egg made it to my scoby and I saw tiny little worms (larva) on top of my beautiful almost complete batch of buchi and I had to throw it all out!)
Starter tea or white vinegar (if you start with vinegar you will need to brew a few batches before bottling and drinking) If this is your fist batch and you only have a Scoby and need starter tea Dave GT’s original unflavored is a great starter tea, I prefer this over the vinegar starter method.
A SCOBY( symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) you can buy them online or in some health food stores, sometimes brewery supply/wine making suppliers or if you’re lucky a friend or neighbor might brew and you can get a mother, (friends are usually glad to share these as, they might not re-use their mother or will have an extra on hand).
Tea I use PG Tips , it tastes better than Lipton or some other teas that you can buy from the grocery store. But if you have a tea you really like, use that. I have used Tevana loose leaf tea and it turned out really good, but talk about Expensive…and the PG Tips seems to have a nice clean finish and makes an excellent base for flavoring. Green tea also works well as the base here and makes a milder tasting tea.
Bottles You will need some kind of bottles for storing your finished kombucha and secondary fermentation if you want that fizzy bubbly tea. I always do the secondary fermentation this but you can drink your tea after the primary or first fermentation stage is complete, or really you can drink your tea at any stage, it will just have more sugar than if you were to wait for the scoby to digest the sugar first. Here is a link to the bottles I like to use.
Sugar (honey if your making Jun- that’s a different subject) and my scoby likes the highly refined stuff. I was trying to feed it organic sugar for a while and it wasn’t making babies as vigeriouly or producing as many bubbles as when I use the straight up super refined C&H sugar in the pink and white bag….go figure.
Water please use good water, if you don’t drink it out of the tap then don’t use it from the tap. Filter it if needed or buy it if thats what you do. I use the tap because where I live in Colorado we have some of the best tasting water you can drink as it is snow melt from the Colorado rockies, however a lot of places in Denver have pretty bad tasting water, once again go figure. While I have read to de-chlorniate your water if you are using the tap, I do not do this anymore and my scoby is just fine with it. You may need to do this if you find your scoby is not thriving (because it is just yeast and bacteria, too much chlorine can harm your colony)
Sticky notes/ labels and possibly a journal. try to keep a record of the date that you started your tea ( I always write the day I brewed my tea and added my starter tea to it, I often forget how long its been if I don’t do this, it makes your life easier to make a note) I always write how many bags of tea I used and how much sugar I added to my initial brew, I will be giving you this information as I give directions but you will probably tweak yours as you see fit. It also might help to have a journal and write down the things you did, the temperature, the amount of time and any other variables that happen to see what works and what doesn’t. A journal is a great place to write information on things you do for secondary fermentation like how much juice or syrup you added, or how many days you let your tea set for secondary fermentation. Any variables really, it will help you hone in on what works and what doesn’t. I use labels on my swing top bottles for my secondary fermentation to tell me what flavor I have, and any other info like the date that I bottled it and how many days I let it ferment the second time. I use abbreviations like this on my labels PFD (primary fermentation days) BOT (date I bottled) and I write the amount of tea bags that I used and any other additions like; 2 oz strawberry puree and I add SFD (secondary fermentation days) So my labels end up looking like this
BOT 7-10-17 PFD 10 3PG Tips 11/4 sugar 2 oz Strawberry SFD 7
now that might look ambiguous to you but you can write what ever you like for me its kind of like a little journal, and if that bottle tastes really good (or really bad) I know what I did and can repeat or avoid it.
(optional) litimus paper- you can check the PH of your brew if you are so inclined. It is not that expensive and its kinda fun, I used to do this but after a while my kombucha is so spot on with its acidity that I no longer do this step. Your Kombucha should be between 3 – 4.5 less than 3 will taste like vinegar, it will be fine, just more tart! here is a link to the litmus paper I used when I started, once again not completely necessary but a fun addition and to the science of brewing!
(optional) Temperature Stickers you can buy the big expensive ones for brewing beer or….you can get them from the fish tank section of super stores! I have one of each and my fish tank one is my favorite, its smaller and its sticking better than my big beer brewing one. (place this on the middle of your jar or lower) I use it to see if the temp of my sweet tea is cooled enough to add my starter tea and my scoby. And you can monitor to see if your tea is warm enough to be fermenting. Usually room temperature is sufficient (60-80 degrees Fahrenheit) note on temp, the warmer it is where you brew the faster the process goes, also the amount of time (days) will affect flavor. A longer fermentation time period yealds a little bit milder tasting brew. So where I brew, in the winter takes longer but it usually tastes a little bit sweeter, and I prefer the lower temperature ranges. However some like the acidity of a shorter brew time and flavor that it yields so…there is also the option of a heating pad (not the type you use for aches and pains)
(optional) Heating pad– If you live where its really cold or you have a cold spot where you brew you might need one. make sure you get the ones that are made specifically for brewing. I will add a link to some good options.
Location A nice place for the magic to happen. In my kitchen we have this weird little nook that used to be an indoor grill! (a Feast Master) its pretty much useless for anything but storing my air fryer and brewing my kombucha, but it works great for that! Put your brew in a place that has some sunlight (not direct) but is also kind of out of the way, it could be a pantry or the corner of your kitchen or an end table in the dining room, just don’t put it in a dark closet. I like to walk by and if I get a wiff of that sweet earthy smell I know that my brew is almost ready for secondary fermentation.
(Optional) Juice, Syrup (insert Prickly Pear Syrup) or Flavorings for secondary fermentation, This can be simple like ginger and lemon juice, one of my favorites is Treetop brands HoneyCrisp Apple Juice, it compliments the kombucha very well and produces lots of yummy bubbles. Fruit puree (I puree strawberries, with water and add a little sugar) You can also buy freeze dried fruit made especially for flavoring kombucha but I have found that using fresh ingredients tastes better! You can add Chia seeds here too, just make sure to hydrate them first or you will have a gelatinous glob of them in the neck of your bottle (the voice of experience) This is the fun part where you get to experiment and see what tastes good to you! Hyacinth tea works good as an addition here too!
Ready to get started?
Here are the steps this is what I do…
Wash hands rinse with cool water
Make sweet tea:
Heat water (I use a kettle)
add 3 tea bags to a heat proof glass jar (don’t use one of those cool dispensing beverage jars…the jar will crack under the drastic temperature changes that are about to happen, I know because it has happened to me…more than once) add a couple of cups of hot water.
Brew according to your tea (loose leaf will be different) If using loose leaf you must strain the leaves after its done brewing, (I left the leaves in the first time I did this, it did not work). I brew 3 or 4 bags of PG Tips for 4 min. in approx 2 cups of hot water.
Remove tea bags and add 1 1/4 cups of sugar. (Most recipes call for 1 cup of sugar but I think I brew more tea and my scoby needs more sugar to produce the carbonation)
Add cold water to sweet tea, add water until your jar is about 3/4 full (I don’t want to wait all day for my tea to cool before I add my starter tea and scoby so I make a concentrated tea and add the cold water).
Check temp, if its warmer than your body temp its too hot if it feels tepid then you can proceed to add 2 cups of starter tea and your scoby. (I rinse my baby scoby in cool water after removing it from the mother and before I add it to my new batch of tea, but its not essential)
Your scoby might not float on top of your tea, and that’s okay, as long as you start to see a thin film starting to grow on the top of you tea after a few days, (your baby) then all is going well. If your scoby is sinks to the bottom or floats sideways and after about 5 days nothing is happening, then you might have killed it with too hot of water or another problem could have occurred and you will need to start over with a new scoby.
The hard part…Waiting. wait about 7 days, and if you see a nice baby growing you are in business! You can start tasting, and litnus strip testing if you are going to be testing for acidity.
Start tasting you tea around 7-10 days by inserting a straw down the side of your scoby, get a little tea in the straw and use your finger on the top of the straw (like a dropper) to bring a little taste out and see if your tea is ready for drinking or for secondary fermentation and bottling. If your brewing temp is on the warmer side it might be close to that 7 day mark, mine is usually around 10 days and in the winter it can be longer than 14 days. You are really tasting for sweetness/tartness here, and you might have a little bit of bubbles by now but don’t expect to have a super bubbly brew at this point. Once your kombucha tastes right to you, you can go ahead and enjoy it as is or, go on to the next step which is secondary fermentation.
Note before flavoring your tea: remove your scoby (separate the mother and baby, don’t worry if you tear them they are very resilient!) and two cups of your tea as-is (it will be your starter tea). You can make a new batch of kombucha now! You can see in the photo above how the mother and baby have separate layers.
Now with the remaining tea….you can bottle it as is and refrigerate immediately if you like your tea as is, or you can move into that fizzy goodness that is secondary fermentation. For steps on bottling and secondary fermentation check out my post Bottling the Buchi!
Here are some a few links to a really good deal on the basics for getting started, you can get this all in one kit and get started right away! Just click on the picture it takes you to amazon! (note: I am an amazon affiliate so purchasing though these links helps support this blog! Also I have linked the products that I have used and really like)