Home-brewed Kombucha

After a few months’ break, I started brewing my own kombucha again. I’ve recently had some immune issues and have needed a bit of a boost to kickstart my healing and to regain some energy. The weather so far this spring has been all over the place, and it’s finally starting to feel like spring around these parts (at least there’s no snow listed in the ten-day forecast for the first time in quite a while). I’m anxious to get outdoors with the kids to play and dig in the garden.

 

I was introduced to kombucha making last fall when a local woman had some SCOBYs to share and decided to do a little lesson for anyone in town who was interested in learning how to make it. She had experienced some tremendous health benefits from drinking it, and she wanted to share her knowledge with the rest of us. Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage, and if you’ve ever looked into the benefits of fermented food for your gut health, then you know that it does so many wonderful things for our bodies.

So the first thing I wanted to know was: what on earth is a SCOBY? The SCOBY is a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, and I’ll admit, it’s a little off-putting, even for this Biology major. If you’ve seen organ specimens preserved in jars, it can resemble those. It feels a little like a tissue sample. I hope this doesn’t put you off too much, because you don’t really have to touch it with your hands if you choose not to. But the SCOBY is how the magic happens. The yeast eat the sugars in the tea, and the bacteria eat the yeast and they both benefit each other (which is the symbiotic relationship). You can obtain a SCOBY from a friend who brews kombucha, or you can purchase one online. It will come with a little bit of starter liquid to kickstart your first fermentation and keep the pH level of your initial brew just right for your SCOBY.

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Here an “older,” thicker, and more opaque SCOBY is on the left, and a “younger,” thinner, and more translucent SCOBY is on the right. Either one will work for making your kombucha.

The bacteria in the SCOBY – and in the kombucha – are the good kind of bacteria. The kind we want more of in our guts. And the benefits of drinking kombucha are listed at the end of this post. But first, I’ll share my recipe and the process I use to make kombucha.

The brewing of kombucha is a two-step process. The first fermentation is where your original SCOBY will grow and actually produce a new, “baby” SCOBY.  For the second fermentation, you’ll remove the SCOBYs and allow the yeast that’s in the beverage to add carbonation. This is my process for making ONE GALLON of kombucha.

The first fermentation

I always begin by having clean hands, a clean workspace, and the following tools clean and dry:

  • 2 SCOBYs with, ideally, at least 1/2 cup of starter liquid for each one
  • 2 half-gallon glass Ball jars, which have been run through the dishwasher to sanitize (You could also use a gallon-sized glass jar if you have one, in which case you’d only need one SCOBY, but I find the half-gallon sizes easier to manage and easier to store in my cabinet during the first fermentation. For the sake of readability, for this post, I’m going to talk about using two jars instead of constantly referencing the option of using one.)
  • a wooden spoon (avoid using plastic or metal tools or containers at all with your SCOBY)
  • 14 black tea bags
  • A large pot with a lid for boiling water
  • 1 cup of cane sugar (organic is ideal, but not required. Do NOT use stevia, artificial sweeteners, honey, maple syrup, agave, molasses, or any other sweetener. Cane sugar is best, and the yeast will eat most of it, so your kombucha is not going to be very sweet at all.)
  • two squares of clean cotton fabric, large enough to cover the mouth of the glass jars (I cut an old t-shirt for this. Cheesecloth is not good because the spaces in it are too large.) and two rubber bands to hold them in place.

Directions:

  1. Fill one glass jar twice to measure a gallon of water into the pot. (Tap water is okay for this, but I imagine filtered or bottled water would probably be better if you are on a town water system with treated water.) Bring the water to a rolling boil and remove from heat.
  2. Add your teabags and sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar and then leave your teabags in for about 30 minutes before removing them. Then cover your pot with a lid and allow the sweetened tea to come to room temperature. This step requires patience. If your tea is above 70 degrees, it will kill your SCOBY, so you do not want to rush the cooling process. This could take 1-2 hours. (You can use a thermometer to be certain.)
  3. Carefully pour your cooled, sweetened tea from the pot into your two glass jars.
  4. Pour 1/2 to 1 cup of starter liquid into each of your jars and stir with wooden spoon.
  5. With clean hands or wooden spoon, carefully place a SCOBY in each jar, and gently give it a poke to submerge it under the tea. Sometimes the SCOBY floats on top, sinks to the bottom, or hangs out on the side, or it might do all of these during the course of the first fermentation. These are all okay – let it do its thing.
  6. Cover your jars with your cotton fabric and rubber band, and then set them in a quiet place away from direct sunlight or variable temperatures (the cabinet right over the stove might not be the best one). I put mine on a shelf in one of my dish cabinets and just leave them alone.
  7. Let your tea and SCOBYs sit for at least 7 days and at most 10 days. When you are ready, your tea should smell fresh, a bit vinegary, and you may even see the new “baby” SCOBY floating on the top of your jar, though sometimes the “baby” is attached to the “mother,” and you won’t see it until you remove them.

You’re now ready for your second fermentation.

Once again, have clean hands, a clean workspace, and the following items clean and dry:

  • a glass jar with a lid that will house your SCOBYs, unless you’re ready with a brand new batch of room-temperature sweetened tea to start another brew. (You can even use a spaghetti sauce jar that’s been run through the dishwasher or cleaned thoroughly.)
  • Several glass pint or quart jars with lids
  • a wooden spoon
  • a clean plate (not plastic or metal. I use stoneware.)
  • a funnel
  • optional chopped fruit or herbs to create a flavored tea (I personally like to add a bit of canned peaches or pears that are packed in fruit juice, and/or a bit of grated ginger. You can find many other flavor ideas at this website, which I just found and can’t wait to try.)

Directions:

  1. Pour 2 cups of this first fermented tea into the jar that will house your SCOBYs until you’re ready to make your next batch of kombucha. Each time you make it, you’ll end up with twice the number of SCOBYs you started with, because each first fermentation process creates a new SCOBY, so if I started with two, I now have four. You may need to remove a SCOBY that is floating on the top of your jar before you pour out some of the liquid, in which case you can use clean hands or a wooden spoon and place it onto your plate until you’re ready to place it in the jar with your liquid. This liquid will become your new starter liquid, so you’re looking to have at least 1/2 cup of liquid for each SCOBY in the jar.
  2. The jar that contains your SCOBYs and starter liquid can be sealed and placed in your refrigerator until you are ready to make a new batch or to share them with someone else. These can be saved for a few months. (I went four months between my last two batches, and my SCOBYs were just fine.) Remember to include about 1/2 cup of the liquid if you are giving a SCOBY away to someone.
  3. If you’re making a flavored tea, add about an ounce of fruit to each of your jars. If you’d prefer to have it plain, just skip this step.
  4. Carefully pour the rest of your kombucha into your clean jars, using the funnel if necessary, and leaving about an inch of space at the top of each jar. Seal them loosely with their lids.
  5. Place your jars in an area that is out of direct sunlight, cool breezes, or heat, and let them rest for 3 days. At this point, you are just waiting for the tea to become carbonated, or fizzy. You can decide how fizzy you like your kombucha. The longer you leave it, the fizzier it will become, but by day three, I usually like to seal the lids tightly and move my jars to the refrigerator to continue to carbonate.
  6. Now you’re ready to enjoy your kombucha! Don’t shake it too hard unless you’ve opened the lid a bit first to release some of the carbonation. I like to open it, release the pressure, and then seal it back up and give it a gentle shake once or twice, just to incorporate anything that may have settled to the bottom. You should open the lids on your jars every few days as long as they are in your fridge so that the pressure does not build up too much.

Now, some warnings:

A SCOBY is a living thing, and can die. You have to be sure to handle it gently and with clean hands or clean wooden utensils. After your first fermentation, your SCOBY should look like one of the ones in my photo above. It should NOT have red, black, or white mold growing on it. Your tea should smell fresh and a bit tart, like apple cider vinegar. It should NOT smell rancid. If your SCOBY is moldy or your tea smells rancid, you should discard all of the liquid and the SCOBY and should not use it again.  There are several websites (like this) that contain photos of healthy SCOBYs and unhealthy SCOBYs if you’re unsure. When in doubt, throw it out.

All of your jars should be cleaned thoroughly before you use them. Even if they are brand new, you should run them through the dishwasher or clean them, inside and out, with hot, soapy water.

Your kombucha will have some caffeine from the black tea and a little bit of alcohol, due to the fermentation process. The alcohol content will range from 0.5% to 3%, depending on your fermentation, so if you are avoiding caffeine or alcohol for any reason, kombucha may not be right for you.

If you’ve never had kombucha before, you may want to start by drinking just a small amount (2 oz or so) per day and building up to a full 8 ounces per day over a period of time. Starting right in on the full amount might do a number on your gastrointestinal what-have-yous (ahem). It probably won’t be harmful, but it might be a bit uncomfortable.

Using ceramic containers to brew or store your kombucha may leach lead into your brew. You should always use glass containers.

I am only sharing the process that I use to make my own kombucha at home. You can follow this same process at your own risk.

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But the benefits of kombucha are many.

It can help bring your body back into its natural balance of good gut bacteria. It contains many antimicrobial properties, fighting “bad” bacteria in our bodies. It can decrease inflammation and support the nervous system.

Research has found that the following nutrients are present in kombucha tea:

  • Vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, folate, and Vitamin C
  • Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Zinc, Copper, Iron, Sulfur, Manganese, and Phosphorus
  • Antioxidants
  • DSL (D-Saccharic acid 1, 4 Lactone), which may inhibit the growth of some cancers 

You can do your own research on kombucha. There are a number of scientific studies that have been done to test the benefits of drinking it. It’s something that people have been making themselves at home for thousands of years, and has been called the “elixir of life.”  It does require a lot of patience and waiting to make, but the process itself is not a difficult one, and only requires about 30 minutes or so of hands-on time.

Happy brewing!

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*This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links, which means that I get a few pennies from Amazon if you purchase an item through one of my links.

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