How to Make Kombucha

Kombucha tea is gaining popularity as the beverage of choice for many health-conscious people in today’s world. It can be purchased in a variety of flavors at just about any supermarket. But at nearly $4/bottle, have you ever thought of brewing your own kombucha at home for a fraction of the cost? It’s a lot easier than you might think. All it takes is an adventurous spirit and a few basic kombucha brewing tips.

What exactly is kombucha? Kombucha is a fermented tea made with the help of two key components — sugar and a scoby. SCOBY is actually an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” Its job is to eat most of the added sugar and ferment the tea into a beverage that is relatively low in calories and sugar (about 30 calories and 2g of sugar per 8-oz. glass).

What are the health benefits of kombucha? Probiotics, probiotics, probiotics. Remember that symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast I talked about? Well that scoby provides healthy “gut flora” for our intestines. We need good bacteria in our gut for optimal health. A healthy culture of beneficial bacteria will help fight off any harmful bacteria that we might ingest from the environment.

What does kombucha taste like? Emma from the Kitchn describes it best as “tart green apple with sour stone fruits with an underlying sweetness that keeps it all together.” It’s almost kind of “vinegary” (as any fermented food usually is) and it’s deliciously fizzy (carbon dioxide is a byproduct produced by the scoby after it gobbles up the sugar in the tea.)

Tell me more about this scoby character. OK, I’ll be the first to admit, the scoby is weird. It looks like a brown rubber Frisbee. It’s gelatinous and slimy with weird stringy bits sometimes hanging off it. But it’s a friendly culture that can help ferment some delicious tea for you. 

OK, I’ll try it. What supplies am I going to need? To homebrew kombucha, all you need is water, a stock pot, store-bought tea bags (regular black tea works best for starters), sugar, a one-gallon glass jar and a scoby. Most kombucha starter kits sold online include all of these items. You can also pick up a scoby from a kombucha-brewing friend — I got my scoby from a fellow swapper at the Chicago Food Swap!


Home-brewed Kombucha

Recipe developed by Amari Thomsen, MS, RD, LDN

Makes 1 gallon

Ingredients
3 1/2 quarts water
1 cup white sugar
8 bags black tea
2 cups starter tea (this is tea from your last batch of kombucha, or store-bought kombucha if you are starting from scratch)
1 scoby

Instructions

  1. Put water into a large stock pot and bring it to a boil.
  2. Remove pot from the heat. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves.
  3. Add the tea bags and allow the tea to steep until the water has completely cooled to room temperature.
  4. Remove the tea bags and add your starter tea. Stir to combine.
  5. Pour the mixture into a one-gallon jar. Using clean hands, slide the scoby into the jar. Cover the jar with 1-2 paper towels and a rubber band to hold them in place.
  6. Store the jar in a place that is out of direct sunlight and room temperature (I leave mine in the back corner of my kitchen counter away from the stove and fridge).
  7. Allow the kombucha to ferment for 7-10 days. The longer you ferment the kombucha, the more sour it will become. During this time the scoby may float at the top or bottom of your jar — this is normal. After a few days you will see a thin new layer of scoby begin to form on the surface of the kombucha.
  8. After your fermentation is complete, remove the scoby from the jar and put it in a separate glass jar or container with a lid. Pour enough of your kombucha tea over the scoby to cover it completely. Seal the jar with the lid and store it in the refrigerator. Refrigerating the scoby will prevent it from continuing to grow. The extra tea surrounding the scoby will prevent it from drying out and can be used as starter tea for your next batch of kombucha.
  9. To carbonate the remaining tea, you need to seal it so that the carbon dioxide doesn’t escape. If your jar has an air-tight lid, you can simply cover it with that. Alternatively, you can transfer the kombucha into small air-tight glass or plastic bottles. Either way, leave about an inch of head room in each container making sure not to fill the containers all the way. If you want to flavor your kombucha, this is when you would add any fruit or herbs (berries, citrus, ginger, etc.). Allow the tea to ferment for another 1-2 days at room temperature.
  10. Once complete, strain the kombucha through a cheesecloth to remove any flavorings or small bits of scoby that may have been left behind.
  11. Store kombucha in glass or plastic air-tight containers in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Tips and Tricks:
• Do not skip adding starter tea to your mixture — this makes the liquid acidic and prevents unfriendly bacteria from growing in your tea during the first few days of fermentation.
• Do not let your scoby or tea come in contact with metal surfaces as this will affect the flavor of the tea and weaken your scoby.
• Keep your fermenting tea covered — you don’t want bacteria from the environment finding its way into your tea.
• During your second ferment to obtain carbonation, do not let your kombucha ferment covered for more than two days. I ignored mine once for three or four days and came home to a disaster of  exploded glass bottles and kombucha tea everywhere. I’ll never make that mistake again.
• Store your scoby in the refrigerator until you’re ready to brew your next batch of kombucha. Change out the tea every 4-6 weeks to keep your scoby fresh.
• You can use green, white, oolong or herbal teas to brew your kombucha. If using herbal teas, be sure to add a few black tea bags to ensure your scoby is getting all the nutrients it needs. Don’t use teas with added oils like earl grey or flavored teas.
• Every time you brew kombucha tea, your scoby multiplies. If your scoby becomes too thick, remove the bottom layer and discard it, compost it, or give it to a friend! My loving husband described the miracle of multiplying kombucha scoby as a “bad chain letter.”
• Inspect your scoby before and during brewing. Signs of an unhealthy scoby include black, green or white mold. If mold begins growing on your scoby, discard the scoby and the kombucha. Mold is not to be confused with brown strings or brown spots, which are all signs of a perfectly healthy scoby.


Happy brewing!

Amari Thomsen on FacebookAmari Thomsen on InstagramAmari Thomsen on PinterestAmari Thomsen on Twitter
Amari Thomsen
Amari Thomsen, MS, RD, LDN, is a freelance food and nutrition writer, recipe developer and author of "Idiot’s Guides: Autoimmune Cookbook." She is a recognized nutrition communications expert with FoodMinds and a health influencer herself as owner of a Chicago-based private practice, Eat Chic Chicago.