Kombucha is a tangy, sweet, slightly fizzy fermented tea packed with gut-friendly probiotics, b-vitamins, antioxidants, and glucaric acid that people have been making around the world for hundreds of years. I've been addicted to it since the first sip, mostly due to the yummy taste and the energy buzz it gives me. I also find that it suppresses hunger, which can be helpful if you get crazy hangry like me in the evenings and can't get dinner on the table fast enough!
Kombucha starts out as a sugary green or black tea, but it is fermented by a scoby over a weeklong process. The scoby protects the tea from the "bad" bacteria so that instead of spoiling, it ferments (with a less-than-1% alcohol content).
SCOBY is actually an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast," and the undeniably weird looking slimy cellulose blob actually eats most of the sugar and caffeine, transforming the tea into a tasty treat that is relatively low in calories, sugars, and carbs. The best source for a scoby is a local friend who is already brewing. You can also purchase them online from Etsy, Amazon, etc. and you can apparently make them yourself (this I have never tried).
Once you have your scoby, kombucha is really quite easy to make, especially if you use a continuous-brewing system like the one I explain below. Although you may have a little time investment while learning the ropes, once you get the hang of it, you'll spend maybe 20 minutes a week actively brewing this healthy drink.
3 1/2 quarts water
1 cup sugar - organic cane juice crystals or white cane sugar work best. Honey, agave, and other options don't always nourish the scoby appropriately and can damage it overtime.
8 caffeinated tea bags or 2T loose caffeinated tea, such as black tea, green tea, oolong, or a combination. The caffeine will help nourish the scoby.
Optional: 4-6 bags fruity tea bags or 1 T loose tea. You can add these at the same time as your caffeinated tea to get a lighter flavor. Avoid all teas with essential oils for flavorings such as Earl Grey, Black Orange, etc., as these will weaken the scoby over time.
2 cups starter kombucha from a previous batch or unflavored, raw store-bought kombucha. This will make your tea acidic, which will prevent "bad" bacteria from developing for the first couple days of brewing.
1 scoby per brewing jar
Optional flavoring extras for use when bottling: 1 to 2 cups chopped fruit, 2 to 3 cups fruit juice, 1 to 2 tablespoons chai sees, 1/4 cup honey, 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh herbs or spices, 1-2 teaspoons vanilla, etc.
Large pot 1-gallon glass jar or two half-gallon glass jars Dishtowel
Jars for bottling with screw-on lids. Mason jars work okay if you seal them tightly.
Optional: small funnel
First, bring the water to a boil and add the sugar and tea bags. I also add 4-6 fruit leaf tea such as blueberry or peach because I love that lighter flavor. Turn the burner off and allow the tea to brew and cool. Bringing the water to a boil will take 20-40 minutes and cooling the tea takes several hours, so plan accordingly. For me, it is easiest to boil the tea at night, and make kombucha in the morning or after work the next evening.
When the tea is cool, remove the tea bags. Pour the 2 cups of starter kombucha into a large glass jar, and then add the scoby and the cooled tea. Avoid brewing in metal as it will weaken the scoby over time (quick contact like metal utensils or metal strainer are fine).
Place the jar in a cool, dry place covered with a dishtowel. If you are worried about it getting disturbed, you can secure the towel with a rubber band.
Allow the tea to ferment for 7-10 days, checking on it every so often and tasting it after 7 days by either inserting a straw into the jar or pouring a small amount into a cup. During this fermenting time, it is normal for the scoby to float any which way within the jar, sink to the bottom, or lay across the top. It will most likely grow brown stringy bits off of it, holes may form, parts may be darker brown than others, bubbles may form around it, and a new, baby scoby will probably begin to grow after a few days.
Eventually you can separate this from the mother scoby and use it to start a new batch, pass it on to a friend, or put it in your compost or chicken feed. Apparently you can also eat extra scobys (in smoothies, sushi, dried as jerky), use them as facial masks, or dry them and use them in crafts. Would be interested in hearing from anyone who has other ideas!
The tea will give off a vinegary scent as it ferments. Some people like to allow the tea to ferment longer than others. You will know it is done when it reaches a sugary/tangy combo that is yummy to you. Be aware, though, that sometimes the first batch with a small or new scoby can take longer - up to two weeks - to ferment.
Once your kombucha tastes good to you, it is ready to bottle. Make a new batch of tea the night before so it can cool. Now, pour the finished kombucha from your gallon jar into bottles or smaller jars. Some people like to use a strainer so the stringy bits don’t get into their bottled tea. You may want to leave them in there if they don’t bother you, though, because they contain probiotics. If you use smaller bottles, you may need a funnel. I use a growler and wide-mouth pint or quart mason jars, and so I don't find that I need a one.
As you pour, leave 2 cups of the starter tea in the bottom of your gallon jar along with the scoby. Check the scoby and peel off the bottom layer for a new batch or a friend if one is growing. Now, pour the cooled tea you made the night before into the jar, cover with a cloth, and move this new batch to your storage area to ferment for about a week.
Once in the bottles, your finished kombucha is ready to refrigerator and drink, however, many people like to add flavoring and/or carbonate the tea.
Flavoring can make kombucha more appealing to kids. Fill the bottles with about 20% fruit juice or chopped fruit before carbonating. You can also use a little bit of honey, vanilla, chia seeds, or fresh herbs like spearmint, peppermint, or basil. You can put them in the fridge, or if you want carbonation, seal the jars tightly and leave them to ferment and carbonate at room temperature for 24-72 hours.
You can carbonate your kombucha by sealing the bottles and leaving them at room temperature fro 24-72 hours even if you don't want to add flavoring. Plastic bottles can help you know when your tea is fully carbonated - the bottles will become hard and then the drink is properly fizzed.
To put your kombucha on hold, you can simply fill your jars with fresh tea and leave them for up to three weeks. The tea will probably be too vinegary to drink, but your scoby will be fine. If you will be gone longer than that, place the jars in the fridge and your scoby will be okay for up to six weeks.
Note on Healthy Scobys
Kombucha should start out smelling like tea and become progressively more vinegary. If it begins to smell rotten or unpleasant, that is a sign something has gone wrong. Inspect your scoby for mold or a black color (indicating end of lifespan). If you find either one of these, discard and replace before continuing to brew. Scobys will last a very long time, but they are not indestructible.