Brewing kombucha at home is a fun project that produces a fizzy tea beverage. It's a simple process and can save kombucha fans quite a bit of money. Even better, you can experiment with it in a variety of ways, from the type of tea to the amount of carbonation, and add an array of flavors to your "vinegar tea."
Kombucha relies on fermentation, using sweet, strong tea and a strange (though rather neat) organism called a scoby. The scoby (an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast") is essential for brewing kombucha. It's a light brown, opaque, disk-like organism that is thick and rubbery. During fermentation, it transforms the tea's sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and acid. At the same time, baby scobys grow off the "mother" and these can be used to make kombucha. One scoby can be used for a long time and you'll want to discard older layers after a few batches. To keep it healthy, all you really have to do is keep brewing kombucha.
You can obtain a scoby in a variety of ways. It's available online and some natural food stores, tea shops, and kombucha brewers have it as well. If you know someone who brews kombucha, they may have a scoby to give away. A scoby is kept alive and transported in previously brewed kombucha, called the mother tea. Be sure to take a sanitized jar if you're going to pick up a scoby locally.
This is not a quick process, but most of the time involved requires nothing from you; just let it sit and do its thing. You do need to have a few supplies, maintain a clean working environment, and monitor its progress, though it's all relatively easy. The reward is an effervescent, sweet-tart, and healthy drink that you made yourself and one that you can keep going for as long as you like.
- For Starter Tea:
- 3 quarts filtered or distilled water
- 2 tablespoons loose-leaf tea (or 8 tea bags)
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- For Kombucha Brewing:
- 1 scoby
- 2 cups kombucha mother tea
Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, it is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and assembly.
Gather the Supplies
To make kombucha, you will need some supplies. Kombucha brewing starter kits are available, though they're not necessary.
- Apple cider vinegar
- Large plate
- Large pot
- Measuring cup
- Strainer (unless using prepared tea bags)
- 1-gallon glass jar (a second jar is handy, though smaller is fine)
- Wooden or plastic spoon with a long handle
- Fine-weave cloth or paper towels
- Large rubber band or string
- Bottles with plastic lids or cork (glass or plastic)
- Optional: Electric heat mat and glass thermometer strip (such as that used on aquariums)
Minimize the use of metal as it can affect the kombucha's flavor and, over time, negatively impact the health and lifespan of the scoby. Never use metal lids—use cloth or paper during fermentation and plastic or cork enclosures for storage bottles.
Sanitize Equipment Before Use
One key to brewing kombucha is to maintain cleanliness so you don't introduce harmful bacteria. Every piece of equipment, including jars, bottles, pots, and spoons, that comes into contact with the scoby and kombucha needs to be sanitized before each use.
While you can use commercial sanitizers or a mild bleach solution, the best option is apple cider vinegar (ACV, for short). It is natural, inexpensive, and you don't have to worry about rinsing it off.
To sanitize equipment, clean it thoroughly with dish soap and hot water. Working over the sink, pour a small amount of apple cider vinegar into the vessel or over top of utensils and swirl it around to coat the entire surface. Dump out any excess (or use it for the next item), then let the equipment air dry thoroughly. Be sure your workstation is also clean.
In addition, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before working with your sanitized equipment and especially before handling the scoby. If your skin can tolerate it, rinse your hands with apple cider vinegar as an extra precautionary measure.
Make the Sweet Tea
Gather the ingredients.
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. If you don't have a pot large enough for 3 quarts, bring 1 quart to a boil and steep the tea, then add the remaining cold water to the brewing jar.
Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the sugar until it is completely dissolved.
Add the tea and let it steep until the water has cooled completely if you want a strong tea. Remove the tea after 20 minutes if you prefer a softer tea flavor. Cooling may take a few hours.
Loose-leaf tea can be left loose in the water while steeping; strain it out when done. You can use a tea ball as well. To minimize metal utensils, consider using a paper loose-leaf tea bag or cheesecloth bundle to hold the tea instead. Tie a string on the bag or bundle to make removal easy.
Ferment the Kombucha
Gather the cooled sweet tea, the scoby, and the mother (or starter) tea that housed it.
In a 1-gallon jar, combine the sweet tea with 2 cups of mother tea. Gently slip the scoby into the jar, preferably with the darkest side facing down (don't worry if one side is not darker).
Cover the jar with tightly-woven cloth or paper towels secured with a rubber band or string. Place the fermenting kombucha in a warm place out of direct sunlight (preferably dark) for 7 to 14 days, or up to 1 month.
The ideal temperature range for brewing kombucha is between 70 F and 80 F. The average home's room temperature is cooler and will require a longer fermentation period unless you add heat.
To maintain a steady warm temperature, use a heat mat, either placed underneath the jar or one designed to wrap around the jar (secured with rubber bands). A digital thermostat can be programmed to automatically turn the heat mat off when a certain temperature is reached. You can also monitor the temperature with a strip thermometer that sticks directly onto the glass (this may not be reusable if removed, so place it wisely).
As the kombucha brews, the scoby will move and grow—a process that's quite cool to observe. It's not unusual for it to float, sink, or stand on its side, though it typically settles into one position. After a few days, a thin, white or cream-colored layer that appears foamy will form on top. This is a new "baby" scoby. It typically remains attached to the "mother," though it's fine if they separate.
You'll also notice bubbles around the new scoby, sediment forming on the bottom of the jar, and brown strings floating inside the kombucha. The kombucha should begin smelling like sweet vinegar, which will get stronger and more like tart apple cider over time.
After 7 days, begin checking the taste of the kombucha to see how it's progressing. An easy way to do it is to slip a straw into the kombucha, then place your finger on top of the straw to draw up a little liquid. Drop it on your tongue to taste. Alternatively, dip a sanitized plastic or wood spoon into the kombucha. With either, be careful that you don't disturb the young scoby too much.
The kombucha is ready when it has a sweet and tart taste, though the flavor balance and intensity are a personal preference. It should be at least a little fizzy, too.
When the kombucha is to your liking, wash your hands and carefully remove the scoby. Filter the kombucha through cheesecloth—a rubber band will keep the cloth in place. This step is not entirely necessary as some people don't mind kombucha's floaty bits.
Use a funnel to pour the filtered kombucha into bottles. Reserve about 2 cups of kombucha, placing it and the scoby back into the large brewing jar. Start a new batch immediately by adding fresh sweet tea. The scoby can also rest in the mother tea for a couple of days if you're not ready to start brewing right away.
The recipe will yield enough kombucha to fill five or six 16-ounce bottles with a good amount of headspace. Don't overfill the bottles because it will continue to carbonate and ferment.
Store the bottled kombucha at room temperature out of the direct sun for one to 10 days; this is called secondary fermentation. It will get fizzier and sweeter as it continues to carbonate and ferment. You may notice some strings or a new mother form; these can be removed before drinking.
This is also the time to add flavor. Fresh or frozen berries and ginger strips are popular for kombucha infusions. Lemon and other fruit juices can be added (1 to 2 ounces per pint of kombucha, or to taste). You can also play with flavor combinations, such as blueberry-ginger-lemon.
Once the kombucha is to your liking, refrigeration will slow fermentation. Strain out any fruits and unwanted kombucha growth, rebottle, and keep the bottles in the refrigerator. The flavor will develop over time, and it's best to drink it within 3 to 4 months, after which it will become too sour.
- Black tea is the best option for the most flavorful kombucha and it's a good choice for beginners because it's easy to ferment. Green, white, and oolong teas are also good options, especially after you get used to the brewing process. Avoid tea blends, such as Earl Grey, as these include oils that will inhibit fermentation.
- You can brew kombucha in two 1-quart jars, though you will need two scobys.
- To reduce the chance of fruit flies and other small insects invading your kombucha, use a cloth with a tight weave or a few layers of paper towels. Coffee filters, a clean bandana, or lint-free kitchen towel work, too. Cheesecloth is not ideal because the insects can get through the layers.
- You can use a pH strip to test the kombucha's doneness. The ideal range is between 2.7 and 3.2 pH.
- Signs that something has gone wrong include a rotten, cheesy, or any unpleasant aroma. Discard the kombucha and start a fresh batch of tea with the scoby; if subsequent batches get worse, discard the scoby. Black, blue, green, or orange spots on the scoby may indicate mold, and it's best to get a new scoby and try again.
- When storing kombucha for more than one month, "burp" it every few weeks to prevent an explosion. Open it to release pressure, then reseal and return it to the refrigerator.
- Want to take a break from brewing? Store the jarred scoby and mother tea in the refrigerator. Depending on how long it's been "sleeping," it may take a few batches for it to make really good kombucha again.