What Is Kombucha?
Put simply, kombucha is a fermented tea that is carbonated, slightly sweet, and filled with good things for your gut. Because of its increasing popularity, many studies have been published in recent years which prove its health benefits, the major ones being that this delicious drink contains, among other things, probiotics, enzymes, and b-vitamins.
You may purchase prepared bottles of kombucha at the store for around $4 each, however it’s so simple, and much more cost effective, to make it yourself at home. No fancy tools or expensive ingredients are needed; just a glass jar, a scoby, some starter liquid, tea, sugar, and water. In no time at all you will be making your own kombucha at home for pennies a bottle!
If you are not familiar with kombucha, you might be thinking, “What is a SCOBY?!”
S.C.O.B.Y. is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony [or culture] Of Bacteria and Yeast. Some people call it a ‘mushroom’, however it is not a fungus. It is just a collection, or colony, of bacteria and yeast that is kept alive and thriving by feeding it regularly. You’ll see the same thing forming in homemade apple cider vinegar, and ‘scoby’ is what is meant when a store bought bottle of a.c.v. says, “With the Mother.”
Rabbit trail. A friend asked me the other day, “How do you keep your mother alive? I killed mine.” Thankfully we were not in public, but it does bring up a good point: the live culture/colony feeds on sugar; even though it seems like you are adding a lot of sugar to your kombucha, most of it will be consumed by the ‘scoby’. When all the sugar is consumed, the mother will die.
A scoby will take on the shape of whatever container you put it in. For example, if you have a friend that has a scoby, you may simply cut theirs in half or peel off a few layers, and over time it will fit your container perfectly. Ask your friend to give you 1.5 cups of kombucha for a starter, and you’ll be ready to make your own at home. If this is not an option for you, read on.
You may purchase a scoby (with starter) online, or you may make one yourself at home. To make one at home you will first need to purchase a bottle of plain, raw kombucha from the store. Drink about half of it, and leave the rest to sit out on the counter; I’d pour it in to a wide-mouth mason jar, add a few teaspoons of sugar, mix well, and cover with a coffee filter and rubber band. After a few days, a layer of slimy stuff will begin to form at the top and get whiter and whiter as time goes by. This is the formation of a scoby, and the liquid is the starter. Even a small scoby will be enough to start a small batch of kombucha. It will grow and grow as time goes on.
If you make your own scoby or buy a really small one, you will need to cut the following recipe in third until your scoby gets bigger and stronger. See amounts in parenthesis.
3c (or 1c) filtered water
1c (or 1/3c) sugar
3 (or 1) bags or 1T (1t) black tea
3 (or 1) bags or 1T (1t) green tea
1.5c (or 1/2c) starter, a.k.a. finished kombucha
Additional filtered water
Place the 3c (or 1c) of water into a pan on high. Stir in the sugar and tea. Cover. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and sit for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill the glass gallon jar half way with filtered water. If you are using a third of the recipe, put about 4c of water into a half gallon jar. Place a mason jar funnel (optional but very handy) with a small screen sieve over it on the glass jar (see pictured above). When the tea is done steeping, pour it in to the sieve and funnel it in to the glass jar. You should now have a lukewarm mixture, which is very important because too much heat will kill the scoby and starter. If you believe your mixture is too warm, it’s best to let it sit until room temperature.
Now add the starter (or finished kombucha) – 1.5 cups for a full gallon batch, or 1/2c for a third of a batch. Mix well. Add the scoby. For the gallon batch, add more filtered water until you have about 1 inch of head space.
Taste it and take mental note; it should taste pretty much like sweet tea. Now cover it with a coffee filter (or any breathable cloth or paper towel) secured with a rubber band to keep the critters out. Allow it to sit at room temperature for about a week. If it’s warm in your home, it will be ready sooner. If it’s cold in your home, it might take a little longer. Also, if the scoby is just starting off, it might take a little longer. My home is generally around 65* right now and I make more kombucha every week, no fail. When I first got this particular scoby going however, it took about 10-11 days. In the summer I will probably have to switch to every 6 days or keep it at 7 but have a less-sweet drink. Your home environment is different from mine; I’m just sharing this to help you see that it can vary.
If you are new to making kombucha, it might help to taste it every day just so you can get an idea of how the sugar really is being consumed by the scoby, but this is not necessary. You will however need to taste it when you think it’s ready to bottle for the second part of the fermentation process where carbonation is built up. So, when you think it’s ready, give it a gentle stir and taste it. You are looking for a little bit more than a hint of sweetness, but not even close to as sweet as it was when you first began. More sugar will be consumed during the second fermentation process, so that is why I say “a little bit more than a hint of sweetness”.
You will need:
Glass beer bottles with air-tight lids (either with grolsch style bottle caps, or normal beer bottle caps and a capper)
A funnel that fits into your bottles
Glass bottle alternative: Though not really recommended, you may use heavy plastic juice bottles with air-tight lids. These work in a pinch, and I’ve certainly had to use them, however there is a concern with the chemicals in the plastic leaching in to the kombucha.
Remove the scoby and place it in a bowl. Stir the kombucha and pour out 1.5 cups (or 1/2c if you are still making a third of a batch). This is your starter and scoby for the next batch; simply repeat the process above.
Funnel the remaining kombucha into the glass bottles, leaving as little head space as possible. You may put a sieve over the funnel to catch any bits, however the bits are safe to drink. Cap the bottles securely and set aside for a few days up to a week before storing in the refrigerator. This “second fermentation” process eats up more of the sugars and in return builds up more CO2. Being in an air-tight environment, the CO2 cannot escape … and there you go: fizzy kombucha.
Flavor Your Kombucha
Our absolute favorite is plain, unflavored kombucha, however sometimes I make it flavored. To do this, take about a cup of your finished kombucha and blend it with a cup or so of fruit (I love frozen strawberries!). Bottle the remaining kombucha but do not fill it up all the way. Split the blended strawberry mixture among the bottles. If you add the strawberry mixture first, it will fizz a lot and take a long time waiting for the fizz to go down in order to fill the bottles!! So, it’s best to leave room at the top instead.
If you are using plastic juice bottles, it’s super easy to simply add several pieces of fresh or frozen fruit to the bottle before the second fermentation process. Filter the fruit out before serving.
And there you have it!! Please feel free to send me an email with any questions or comments.
Joanne Smith and her family own Heritage Homestead, located in Missouri. You can follow their adventures on their YouTube Channel and Facebook page.