How to Make Kombucha

Kombucha tea
Werner Blessing / Getty Images
  • 01 of 08

    Kombucha Ingredients/Supplies, Plus How to Get a SCOBY

    Kombucha mother
    Leser, Nicolas / Getty Images

    The first step to making kombucha (a.k.a. "vinegar tea" or "mushroom tea") is gathering everything you will need. For your first batch of kombucha, you'll need the following ingredients:

    • A kombucha culture, or SCOBY*
    • 2 liters of filtered water
    • 3 to 4 teaspoons of loose-leaf tea, or 3 to 4 teabags**
    • 10 tablespoons sugar (such as white sugar, raw sugar, coconut/palm sugar or honey)
    • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

    You'll also need the following equipment:

    • A sanitizer, such as apple cider vinegar (See Step Two)
    • A one-liter or larger pot
    • A measuring cup
    • A large mesh strainer
    • A three-liter jar or bowl
    • A long-handled spoon (preferably wooden or plastic, not metal)
    • A bandana, a tea towel, a clean dish rag or several paper towels
    • A strong rubber band large enough to fit around the lip of the jar or bowl
    • A piece of cheesecloth (or another clean bandana or dish rag with a fairly tight weave)
    • (Depending on the sizes) about five used glass bottles or jars with plastic-lined lids or wooden corks

    *A SCOBY is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, and it's what ferments your sweet tea into kombucha. It's also known as a kombucha "mother" or a zoogleal mat, and it looks a bit like a mushroom (hence kombucha's nickname, "mushroom tea").

    You can get a SCOBY one of several ways. If you know someone who is making kombucha, they will likely be glad to provide you with a kombucha "baby," which is a piece of their kombucha "mother" that can be grown into a new "mother." You can also buy a SCOBY on Amazon, or at some health food stores, and many restaurants and cafes that sell kombucha will give you a kombucha baby for free. If you keep making batches of kombucha and you are careful to keep your workstation and brewing materials clean (to prevent bacterial contamination), you can reuse your kombucha culture over and over as it grows, so this is a one-time acquisition.

    ** Black tea is most commonly used, but you can also use white tea, green tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea or even tisanes to make kombucha. Be sure to use more volume for white tea or tisanes.

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Kombucha Equipment Sanitation

    An image of how to clean kombucha bottles with apple cider vinegar.
    Apple cider vinegar is a good alternative to bleach solutions and other sanitizers for cleaning your kombucha bottles. Lindsey Goodwin

    When you're making kombucha, it is essential that you sanitize your brewing and fermentation equipment. If you don't sanitize your equipment, you can introduce harmful bacteria into the mix and end up making yourself and/or others sick.*

    There are several ways you can sanitize your equipment.

    For cloth (such as the tea towel/dish rag and the optional cheesecloth), a regular machine washing with hot water should suffice, but you can also use bleach if you'd like.

    For your glass fermentation vessel, storage bottles or jars, and spoon, you can sanitize with pure apple cider vinegar, a bleach solution (made of one gallon water and one tablespoon bleach) or a commercial sanitizer (such as quaternary sanitizer or a barware / beer brewing sanitizer).

    If you're using apple cider vinegar to sanitize your equipment, be sure to expose all of the brewing / fermentation surfaces to the sanitizer and then allow them to air-dry before you use them.

    If you're using a bleach solution to sanitize your equipment, soak each item in the bleach solution for two minutes, then rinse and air dry.

    If you're using a commercial sanitizer, follow the sanitation instructions provided.

    *Wait to sanitize your storage bottles until after the kombucha has fermented. Just be sure not to forget! Also, be sure to wash your hands well before you work on your kombucha, and sanitize your hands with apple cider vinegar each time you plan to handle the SCOBY.

    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    How to Brew Sweet Tea for Kombucha

    An image of how to brew tea for kombucha.
    Add loose tea or teabags to simmering or boiling water to make kombucha. Lindsey Goodwin

    To make kombucha, you need to have sweet tea. If 10 tablespoons sounds like a lot of sugar to you (as it probably should!) don't worry -- the majority of the sugar is converted into acetic acid (vinegar) and glucuronic acid during fermentation.

    Here's how to brew sweet tea for kombucha:

    1. For black tea, tisanes ("herbal teas") or pu-erh tea, bring one liter of water to a rolling boil. For green tea, white tea or oolong tea, bring one liter of water to a low boil or a simmer, depending on your tastes. (A higher temperature will yield a stronger flavor.)
    2. Turn off the stovetop and stir in the tea leaves. Allow them to sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
    3. Strain the tea into the sanitized three-liter jar or bowl.
    4. Stir in the sugar until it is fully dissolved.
    5. Add two liters of cool water.

    Congrats! You now have a strong tea that's sweet enough for your SCOBY to grow on and strong enough to retain some of its original flavor after it has been fermented.

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    How to Add the Kombucha Mother to the Tea

    An image of how to add ingredients to tea in order to make kombucha.
    If desired, you can replace the apple cider vinegar with a little less than a cup of already fermented kombucha. Lindsey Goodwin

    Now that you have your kombucha mother and your sweet tea, you're almost ready to begin fermenting.First, make sure your tea is cool. If it isn't cool, wait until it is.Then, stir in either two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or just under a cup of already-made kombucha to the brew.Your tea is now ready for the kombucha mother. To add the mother to the tea, first wash your hands well with soap and hot water, and rinse them again with apple cider vinegar. Then, gently lift the kombucha out of its container and place it in the tea with the dark side facing downward. (If there isn't a darker side, don't worry -- just place the SCOBY in the tea.)

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    How to Ferment Kombucha

    An image of how to add the kombucha mother and cover the fermentation jar to make kombucha tea.
    Be careful to select a jar that's large enough to hold your tea and mother. Cover with a few layers of paper towels or a folded cloth (such as a clean bandana or dish cloth). Lindsey Goodwin

    Once you've added your SCOBY to the sweet tea, you are ready to begin to ferment your tea into kombucha.

    First, cover the jar or bowl with a clean cloth or several layers of paper towels.

    Next, secure the cloth with a strong rubber band.

    Then, place the jar or bowl in a warm place (around 74 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal). It should be out of direct sunlight, preferably in a dark place.

    Let your kombucha mixture ferment for five to 14 days, monitoring it as it ferments. (The next step explains how to monitor the kombucha's fermentation.)

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    How to Monitor Kombucha Fermentation

    An image of kombucha fermentation, including the growth of the kombucha mother / SCOBY.
    When checking the fermentation progress of your kombucha, taste the brew, noting the flavor and effervescence of the kombucha. Lindsey Goodwin

    During the first few days of fermentation, you might notice a froth forming on the top of your kombucha. Don't worry -- this is just the membrane of your new kombucha forming as it feeds on the sugar in the sweet tea, and it's actually pretty cool to watch it grow as your kombucha ferments.

    Around five days after you started fermenting your kombucha, the froth will have begun to look more like the rest of the kombucha SCOBY. This is a good time to start taste-testing your kombucha. To taste test, simply use a clean plastic or wooden spoon to remove a small amount of kombucha and then taste the kombucha. If you prefer your kombucha to taste sweet and to be minimally sparkling, then around five days may be a good time to stop the fermentation and proceed to the next step. Otherwise, keep tasting every few days until it reaches the desired level of tartness and effervescence.

    At around a week into fermentation, the kombucha will begin to get fizzier, and may taste a bit like fresh, tart-sweet apple cider.

    Closer to ten or twelve days after the start of fermentation, the kombucha should be very fizzy and tart.

    When the kombucha tastes the way you want it to taste, proceed to the next step: bottling your kombucha.

    If you purchased a kombucha-making kit, your kit will probably have pH strips. You can also check your kombucha's level of fermentation with these. The ideal pH level for your kombucha is around 2.7 to 3.2 pH.

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    How to Bottle Kombucha

    An image of filtering kombucha into a bottle with a cheesecloth strainer.
    You can use cheesecloth or a clean dish cloth to strain particulate out of your fermented kombucha. Lindsey Goodwin

    After you're done fermenting your kombucha, you are ready to bottle it.

    First, make sure your bottles or jars are well sanitized.

    Next, pour some apple cider vinegar onto a clean plate and (with clean hands) remove the kombucha mother from the jar and place it on the plate.

    Then, strain the kombucha through a clean piece of cheesecloth (or a clean bandana or dish cloth). You can strain it all into one large, clean jug and then use a funnel to pour it into bottles, or you can pour it directly through the cloth and into each bottle. If you'd like, you can use a funnel to direct the kombucha into the bottles, or you can use a rubber band to hold the cloth in place over the lip of your jig or bottle.

    Save a little under a cup of kombucha for your next batch. (You can use it in lieu of the two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and it is good for keeping the kombucha healthy for a few days if you don't start the next batch immediately.)

    Seal the bottles with plastic-lined lids or corks. (Metal can damage the kombucha culture, preventing secondary fermentation in the bottle.)

    Label and refrigerate the bottles. (They may continue to ferment in the bottles, and sometimes they form their own kombucha mother, which you can remove before drinking. The mother isn't harmful to drink, but it is very slimy.) If you wait a month or more before drinking the kombucha, the sugars will ferment more, the flavor will improve and the effervescence will increase.

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    How to Reuse the SCOBY

    An image of how to separate the kombucha mother from the kombucha baby.
    Be sure to sanitize your hands with apple cider vinegar before you handle the mother. Lindsey Goodwin

    When you're done with your first batch of kombucha, you can reuse the SCOBY (or kombucha mother) to make a new batch. Simply peel off the darkest layer of the kombucha and discard it, and then place the remainder of the kombucha back into the fermentation jar or bowl with your reserved kombucha. You can use this part of the mother to make a new batch of kombucha immediately or within the next few days.

    Be sure to keep the kombucha mother in kombucha when you're not actively fermenting a batch of kombucha (preferably only for a day or two).

    As your mother grows over time, you can begin to split off pieces ("babies") to grow into new mothers. You can use these to ferment multiple batches of kombucha at once, or you can give them to other people so they can ferment their own kombucha.

    Ready to make a new batch? Make sure your equipment is sanitized, then proceed to step three: brewing tea for kombucha.