A Beginner’s Guide to Kombucha
2020 was not only the year of sourdough for me, I also had my first experience with brewing kombucha! Of course, I have read a lot about it and would like to try out a few more things. Here I have collected all the important information you should know before you make your own kombucha.
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What is Kombucha?
In short, kombucha is fermented tea. Acetic acids, yeasts, and lactic acid bacteria ferment sugar and produce a sweet and sour, sparkling, probiotic, and healthy drink. In most cases, the probiotic drink is made from black tea. However, kombucha can also be brewed with green or white tea.
Thanks to living microorganisms, kombucha has an anti-inflammatory effect and can even eliminate pathogens in the intestines. In addition, the drink is rich in B and C vitamins.
What do you need to make your own kombucha?
Kombucha is made from three basic ingredients: SCOBY (with a little liquid added), tea, and sugar.
Unlike sourdough, kombucha is difficult to make without an existing batch. Therefore, a so-called SCOBY*, is needed. The term SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast and thus literally describes what it is all about, namely bacterial cultures and yeasts.
To ferment the tea you need a SCOBY and some starter liquid. The starter liquid is basically just kombucha, which contains the same bacteria and yeast as the SCOBY. Ideally, after each brewing process, you keep some ready-made kombucha in which you store your SCOBY.
Kombucha can be made from almost any type of tea. However, it should be real tea without additives. So white tea, green tea, oolong, or black tea. For an active, healthy Scoby, the same type of tea should be given to a Scoby in the long term. However, the Scoby multiplies so quickly that you can split it every now and then to try new things, such as switching the Scoby to a different type of tea. I like to use this one*.
To make kombucha, you need a relatively large amount of sugar. Sugar is the “food” for the yeasts and is converted into acid during fermentation. The finished drink is almost sugar-free. Therefore, sugar cannot simply be replaced.
The SCOBY likes white sugar best. Brown sugar can also be used under certain conditions. However, the minerals and molasses in brown sugar can ‘burden’ the Scoby. If you want to switch to brown sugar, it is best to try it with a backup SCOBY first, to see how the SCOBY adjusts. It is better to keep your hands off sugar substitutes for kombucha! The Scoby can’t do anything with them and will starve over time.
A special form of kombucha that does not require refined sugar is Jun tea. It is fermented with green tea and honey.
Besides that, you basically only need a large glass and a piece of cloth to make kombucha. However, there are some tools that make your life easier.
A large jar* – For the kombucha, you need a large container in which the tea can ferment. The exact size depends on how much kombucha you want to brew. I keep my culture in a beverage dispenser with a tap, as it makes it easier for me to fill it.
Tap* – If you use a container with a tap as I do, you have to pay attention to the material it is made of. The acid in kombucha can cause metals to corrode and dissolve. Glass, plastic, and stainless steel are best for fermented tea drinks. You should therefore use a spout made of uncoated plastic or stainless steel.
Straw* – If you use a glass without a tap but still want to taste the kombucha before filling it in bottles, you can use a stainless steel straw. Not an absolute must-have, but a good tool.
A piece of cloth and a rubber band – The kombucha should be able to breathe but at the same time, it should be prevented from becoming contaminated by dust or flies getting into it. Therefore, it is common to cover the vessel with a piece of cloth attached using a rubber band.
A stainless steel strainer* – A small strainer that fits into the opening of a funnel or drinking glass is highly recommended. As described for the tap, the strainer should be made of plastic or pure stainless steel. Many metal sieves are made of a mixture of aluminum, so be sure to check this when buying a sieve! I strain my kombucha when bottling and before drinking to prevent small yeast clumps in my drink.
A funnel* – A funnel is very handy for bottling the kombucha. Again, it’s best to use plastic* or stainless steel*.
Bottles* – In order to carry out a 2nd fermentation, you need bottles into which you can fill the kombucha. Here, too, there are a few things to consider. Swing-top bottles are often recommended. As these are particularly airtight, the carbonic acid can build up best here. But be careful, if the pressure in the bottle is too high, it is quite possible that it will burst! I am currently testing bottles with cork.
If you want to start making your own kombucha now but don’t know anyone to give you a piece of their SCOBY, you can buy a SCOBY with starter liquid online. Fairment, for example, even sells sets with the necessary accessories (unpaid advertising).
How do I make my own kombucha?
Making your own kombucha is actually very easy! You only have to do a little work once a week and you get a healthy, delicious drink.
You should pay special attention to hygiene to avoid contaminating your culture with bad bacteria. If you have a new SCOBY, put it in a clean container with some starter liquid. If you have an existing culture, you will need to take out some kombucha first to start a new batch. I always leave about enough liquid in the container so that the SCOBY still floats a little.
It is best to prepare the sugared tea in advance. For 1 liter of water, add 2-4 tea bags/spoons of black tea and about 90g of sugar. The tea must cool down to room temperature before you add it to your Scoby. Too high a temperature would kill the bacteria.
And now we wait… Once you have added the sweet tea to your starter culture, you have to wait about a week before you can repeat the process and enjoy your bottled kombucha. During this time, the kombucha should be stored at room temperature in a place out of direct sunlight.
The exact amount of time your kombucha needs before it can be drunk depends mainly on the temperature, the ratio between the preparation liquid and the sweet tea, and your taste. The size and age of the SCOBY also influence the duration. It helps to taste the kombucha every now and then during the first rounds to get a feel for the intervals at which you want to bottle your kombucha.
Batch Brew vs Continuous Brew
When I started reading up on kombucha, I kept coming across these two terms. Unfortunately, they are not always clearly distinguished from each other, which can cause confusion.
With batch brewing, you always leave a quantity to ferment for about a week. The finished kombucha is bottled for consumption and the SCOBY is supplied with new tea or stored in some batch liquid for later. In contrast, using Continuous Brew, the kombucha can be poured out of the vessel at any time. In this case, refill as much tea as you have taken kombucha from the vessel. A beverage dispenser is often used for this. This means that the SCOBY does not have to be moved so often and does not become contaminated. The big disadvantage of continuous brewing, however, is the reduced control over the taste of the kombucha, as the fermentation process is not uniform due to frequent bottling and re-filling.
In my opinion, the advantages of the two methods can be combined. For example, I use a beverage dispenser like the one that is typically used for continuous brewing, but once a week I bottle about 90% of my kombucha and start a new batch. This way, the kombucha can ferment undisturbed like in Batch Brew and I don’t have to handle the SCOBY too often. I use the batch brew method in the continuous brew setup. I have often read about this procedure on other bloggers, and it is usually referred to as continuous brew.
2nd Ferment – Flavour Variations
You can enjoy the freshly bottled kombucha as it is or you can do a “second fermentation”. During the second fermentation where the kombucha is filled in closed bottles, carbonic acid forms. Caution – if left too long the bottle could explode! In addition to carbonation, different flavors can be added to the kombucha during the second fermentation. The simplest method is to add some cut or pureed fruit or juice to the freshly bottled kombucha. I choose a ratio of juice to kombucha of about 1:10, you really don’t need to add much. The sealed bottles should now be left at room temperature for another 2-3 days, after which they can be stored in the refrigerator. I recommend checking the pressure of the bottles regularly, if possible so that no ‘kombucha bomb’ explodes in your kitchen!
There are many flavor ideas on the Internet. For example at Deanna at homesteadandchill.com.
If you let kombucha ferment for too long, it will turn into vinegar after a while. As a drink, it is no longer drinkable, but that is no reason to simply throw it away! There are also several uses for kombucha vinegar. For example, it can be used like normal vinegar for salad dressings or for cooking. You can also make a natural cleaner from kombucha vinegar. Or you can use it as a starter liquid or SCOBY hotel to store leftover SCOBY.
Learn more about kombucha vinegar at Fairment.
Is my SCOBY OK?
Every SCOBY owner probably asks themselves this question regularly, as the SCOBY is not particularly pretty! The good news: in all likelihood, your SCOBY is fine! The acidic vinegar environment prevents mold growth and the spread of harmful bacteria in most cases.
Dark spots in the SCOBY are often tea leaves that have found their way into the brewing vessel and are now trapped in the SCOBY. The streaks in the liquid are the yeasts in the kombucha, they also often settle at the bottom of the glass.
Mould is easy to spot, it is always dry and fuzzy. Since it needs oxygen, the SCOBY can only mold on the surface. If the SCOBY does become mouldy, the only thing to do is to dispose of the SCOBY and all of the liquid and sterilize the jar properly.
A healthy SCOBY should always float to the surface. If it sinks, this is an indicator that the room in which your kombucha is brewed is too cold or that the SCOBY is getting old. In the latter case, a new Scoby usually forms on the surface, which you can then continue to use.
At Cultured Food Life, you can find some examples on how you can tell if your SCOBY is healthy.
If you are looking for a more detailed step-by-step guide and flavor ideas I highly recommend checking out How to Make Kombucha with Detailed Steps by Cindy from Kitchennish!
You should definitely check out Deanna from homesteadandchill.com, she is a wealth of knowledge on this topic. Hardly any questions remain unanswered!
So, do you want to make your own kombucha now? I look forward to hearing about your experiences or questions in the comments!