Learn how to make kombucha. SCOBY culture care tips and more! Ferment your first batch of probiotic-packed kombucha with the help of a homebrew kit.
After hearing all the talk about the health benefits of kombucha tea, I did some research to see what the buzz was about. Kombucha tea is probiotic-rich and antimicrobial, which means it improves digestive function while helping to fight off bacteria that can cause illness. Studies show that increased consumption of probiotics may lower cholesterol, increase energy, and support immune function. This tasty beverage is also packed with antioxidants that fight free radicals, which cause damage on a cellular level.
Kombucha tea is brewed using a SCOBY. The term “SCOBY” is often mistaken for a mushroom, when in fact it’s an acronym meaning “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” When a SCOBY is added to green or black tea with sugar, fermentation occurs, and the SCOBY converts the sugars to carbon dioxide, a tiny amount of alcohol, and acids. After 1 to 3 weeks of this process, the result is a tangy, bubbly brew with a vinegar-like taste that can be modified through a second fermentation into flavors that’ll satisfy any palate.
From Kit to Kombucha
Bottled kombucha is widely available, but the cost adds up quickly. After sampling what was available at the local grocer, I started purchasing single-serve bottles to share with my family and friends, keeping my refrigerator stocked. Soon after, everyone in my household (myself included) was put on a one-a-day limit to keep us from rapidly guzzling the costly drinks. To address our expensive cravings, I investigated how kombucha was made. The recipe and preparation seemed simple enough, and with a little patience for the fermentation process, we could be drinking our own kombucha tea in a little more than a week.
To begin homebrewing, I skipped gathering supplies one by one and opted instead for the Kombucha Brew Now Jar Kit from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store. The kit is perfect for beginners. It came complete with almost everything I needed: one SCOBY kombucha culture, strong starter liquid, Hannah’s Special Tea Blend for Perfect Kombucha, reusable muslin tea bags, organic evaporated cane juice sugar, a fermentation vessel, an upcycled cotton cloth cover, a rubber band, and an e-guide with batch-brew and continuous-brew instructions. The only thing I had to provide was purified water.
The simple instructions guided me through the process smoothly. Even if you aren’t a wiz in the kitchen, if you can boil water, you can brew kombucha tea at home.
How to Make Kombucha: SCOBY Safety and Other Concerns
Before getting started, I used vinegar to disinfect my hands and the vessel, because a residue of antibacterial dish soap will harm the living SCOBY.
I then heated 4 cups of purified water to a boil and removed it from the stove. I allowed the water to cool 1 to 2 minutes before adding it to the brewing vessel, ensuring the vessel wasn’t too cold so it didn’t crack. I added the tea bags and let them steep for 7 to 15 minutes. After removing the tea bags, I added the organic sugar. The recipe calls for ¾ to 1 cup, but up to 2 cups of sugar can be used; it’s a matter of trial and preference. Remember, sugar is what the SCOBY converts. Once the sugar had dissolved, the recipe said to add another 8 to 12 cups of purified water. Eight cups was about all that would fit in the provided brewing vessel. This lowered the temperature of the tea to lukewarm, and I made sure it wasn’t above body temperature to avoid harming the live culture. Next, I added the SCOBY and the cup of provided starter liquid.
After covering the brewing vessel with the upcycled cloth and rubber band, I found a cozy, well-ventilated place that’s out of direct sunlight and allowed the brew to ferment for 7 to 21 days. The optimal temperature for the fermentation process is between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The kit included a thermometer strip for the side of the vessel, so it was easy to monitor the temperature. Warmer room temperatures produce faster results, and the longer the kombucha tea is left to ferment, the stronger the flavor will be.
Once the process was complete, I used a fine strainer and funnel to prepare my homebrew for a second fermentation. Unless you see mold, the brew is safe to consume at this point. (Usually what’s mistaken for mold is actually SCOBY growth. Mold on kombucha looks like mold on bread. It’s dry, fuzzy, and sitting on top of the culture, usually in circles colored white, black, or green.) Or, this is where the process can take a creative turn if a flavored tea is desired. Organic juice, fresh and frozen fruit, and barks are all excellent flavoring choices. For my first batch, I used what I had on hand and threw in frozen strawberries from the garden. In addition to adding a unique flavor, the second fermentation made the brew more effervescent.
The kit came with plenty of organic tea to make several batches, so I immediately began continuous batching and readied the vessel to ferment again. It was easy to get into the routine once I’d learned how to make kombucha. SCOBY grows and multiplies rapidly, so you’ll eventually need a “SCOBY hotel” in which the unused cultures can flourish when not actively fermenting a brew. Or, you can brew multiple vessels of kombucha tea with the extras. I was able to start a second vessel not long after I began continuous batching, and my family is still drinking the beneficial beverage faster than I can get it into the refrigerator.
Christine Stoner is the editor of Gas Engine Magazine. She’s passionate about fitness, healthy living, and sustainability.