Recipes are often a family tradition, handed down from one generation to the next. The one recipe that I’ve learned from my mother that I think will become a tradition is how to brew kombucha
Kombucha is a fermented drink that has exploded in popularity in the past few years. While it’s enjoying a meteoric ascendancy these days, it has a long history. It’s thought to have originated in Northeast China, from whence it spread to Russia and on to Europe and the world.
While kombucha is now common in supermarkets and healthfood stores, it’s also becoming popular to brew at home. The process is actually very simple and a lot of fun, as you can experiment endlessly with different flavorings and types of tea. The equipment you need is very basic and easy to find, but there are some precautions you must take.
Keep in mind that the whole point of brewing kombucha is to encourage a culture of microbes. This symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts, or SCOBY, is what turns some regular tea and sugar into a delicious probiotic soda. While reports of health complications are extremely rare, the possibility exists of the culture becoming contaminated with mold which can make you sick. This actually applies to mostly everything: don’t eat it if it’s moldy or you might get sick. To prevent this from happening, always inspect your SCOBY for any dark patches or fuzziness. If you ever find mold, you simply have to discard your SCOBY and any kombucha it has made.
The good news is that if you follow proper procedures and make sure to use clean equipment, your SCOBY should never get moldy.
1. Do NOT use painted, plastic or ceramic containers, or anything with chips or cracks. These sorts of vessels are more likely to harbor unwanted bacteria or fungi and could react negatively to the acidity of the brew.
2. Use clean, sanitized glass containers. These are relatively easy to find in all sorts of sizes. A 1 gallon jar is ideal to start with. If you can, run them through a dishwasher at high heat before use.
3. Avoid contact between kombucha and metal. Some metals can react negatively with and damage your cultures. The only exception is stainless steel.
4. Always wash your hands before brewing your ‘bucha!
The following instructions are for brewing a 1 gallon batch of kombucha, which will fill between 10 to 13 standard (12oz) bottles, depending on how you flavor it. You can scale this recipe up or down, so long a you maintain the same ratios.
- Stainless steel pot for boiling tea.
- 1 Gallon glass jar for a brewing vessel.
- 12+ 12oz resealable bottles.
- Paper coffee filters or cheesecloth to cover the jar.
- Optional: nylon strainers (avoid metal).
The most difficult thing to find is the bottles. Below are my favorite bottling tips.
Great bottles for kombucha can be quite expensive to buy, and you don’t want to cheap out and get poor quality glass that will break under the pressure of carbonation. Ironically, the problem is solved if you are a beer drinker. Any beer that comes with the plastic resealable caps (think Grolsch, for example) will be perfect for brewing kombucha. By some perverse logic, it is often cheaper to buy a six-pack of beer than it is to buy 6 empty bottles. I actually prefer 16 ounce bottles, which you can also usually find cheaper when they are full of beer.
How To Get A Scoby
Of course, the most important thing to have is the SCOBY. One way to get these is to order them online. Alternatively, if you know of anyone else who is already brewing kombucha, they will almost certainly be happy to provide you with a SCOBY. As you will soon learn, SCOBYs will duplicate themselves every time you make a batch, meaning you’ll soon have more SCOBYs than you know what to do with. Luckily, they make good compost.
Once you’ve got your SCOBY, you’ll notice that it came submerged in an amber fluid. This is nothing else than a tiny batch of kombucha. The SCOBY survives by eating sugar, and the fermentation process is… well, the waste product of their microbial shenanigans. As long as you keep them fed, they will grow and multiply, and provide you with their tasty nectar.
Okay, so you’ve got your SCOBY, and you’ve got your glassware. Now it’s time to brew! Here’s what you need.
- 1/3rd cup black or green tea (6-8 teabags). You can experiment with different types (Assam, Earl Grey, jasmine, etc), but you want to use actual black or green tea, as opposed to herbal teas.
- 1 cup sugar (preferably organic). This is food for your SCOBY.
- 1 gallon water.
- 1 SCOBY
- Wash your hands.
- Bring water just to a boil in stainless steel pot. Remove from heat when bubble start forming.
- While the water is still hot, add your sugar.
- Add your tea to the water. If using loose-leaf, you can use a big diffuser or a fresh coffee filter or toss it in loose and use a strainer to remove it. Let the tea infuse for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove the tea and allow the water to cool down back to room temperature. This can take several hours, but it’s important that you don’t put your SCOBY into hot water. They don’t like hot water.
- Once your sweetened tea has cooled down, transfer it into your brewing vessel.
- Add your SCOBY (including the liquid it came in) to the vessel. Cover the mouth of the jar with a coffee filter or cheesecloth secured with elastic.
- Put the now-brewing kombucha somewhere safe. You want it to be about room temperature, with ample light.
- Let the batch brew for one to two weeks. The longer it brew, the stronger it tastes. Some people apparently let it brew for up the 30 days. For your first attempt, I recommend letting it sit for a week, and you can modify your strategy for the 2nd batch depending on your tastes.
Starting The Next Batch
At this point, you have successfully brewed kombucha. Congratulations! You can enjoy it the way it is and everything will be wonderful. If you want to take things further, you can also add flavor to your kombucha.
Usually, you’ll probably want to start your next batch brewing as soon as you’ve bottled the last one. The easiest way to do this is to have your cooled-down tea ready to go (steps 1-5 above) when your last batch is ready to be bottled.
Remove your SCOBY from the old batch. You’ll notice that you now have two SCOBYs, stuck together. That’s pretty cool. Take one of them to add to your fresh tea. As for the other one, we’ll get into that in a minute.
Every time you start a new batch, you want to add 1 cup of the fresh kombucha that you’ve just brewed along with the SCOBY. This is to help kick off the fermentation process.
Storing Your SCOBY
Your first batch of kombucha is now ready to go, and you’ve got a second one on the way. Because SCOBYs are living cultures that always need to be fed, most people keep a continuous loop of brewing, tossing the SCOBY into a new batch of tea when the previous batch is ready for bottling. But what you’re going out of town or for some reason don’t want to do another batch right away? And what are you supposed to do with all these SCOBYs you’re creating?
Well, remember how when you first got your SCOBY, it was floating in that amber liquid? Well by now you’ve probably recognized that this itself just a kombucha brew. A SCOBY can survive for several weeks in kombucha, as long as it has enough sugar.
So, if you need to preserve a SCOBY, you just need to do exactly what you would do if you were brewing a batch, but instead of letting it ferment, seal it up and put it in the fridge. If you’re just giving the SCOBY a vacation for a week or two, a half-batch (1/2 gallon) of sweetened tea will keep it healthy. If you’re gonna be leaving it for up to 6 weeks, then better make a full 1 gallon batch.
If you’ve convinced your friends to start their own brewing practice, and have decided to bestow upon them one of your legendary SCOBYs, then you won’t need to do even a half-batch. Just take a couple cups of kombucha from a fresh batch before bottling, and toss it in a jar with that new SCOBY you just grew. That should keep the culture alive long enough for you to transfer it to your eternally grateful friend.
For more probiotic foods, you can check out our article on 5 Simple Ways To Get Your Probiotics.