Kombucha is a delicious fermented tea that has been consumed for thousands of years, most likely discovered by accident when someone left their sweetened tea sitting around too long. It’s been very popular lately so I’d venture a guess that by now you have tried it out. It’s a tart, fizzy, and addictively delicious alternative to soda, full of glorious health benefits. A drawback is that it gets expensive if you fall madly in love!
Bottled kombucha can start at about $2 at the market, but I’ve seen it much pricier, going for up to $6 or $7 a bottle where I live in the burbs. I can imagine even higher prices in metropolitan areas. So what’s a booch lover to do? Make your own!
Before we get into the recipe, let’s look at the health benefits, which are many. It’s a bit of work to make but I think this long list will get you motivated. The most popular benefit of kombucha is that its fermentation process makes it a fantastic source of probiotics. You’ve got to be living in a cave at this point to not know we all need more good bacteria in our diet, so this is a great benefit alone… But wait, there’s more!
- Kombucha made from (all or part) green tea offers many of the same health benefits as green tea itself like blood sugar control, and blood sugar control can help with weight loss! Additionally, science shows that it improves several markers of diabetes.
- Kombucha is also rich in antioxidants which are very beneficial for the liver. Science shows that antioxidants in food rather than supplements may be more beneficial so booch is a delicious way to get those antioxidants in every day.
- Kombucha is rich in tea polyphenols and acetic acid, which have both been shown to suppress the growth of undesirable bacteria and yeasts. This is huge if you are trying to rebalance your gut.
- Kombucha has been shown to improve “bad” LDL and “good” HDL cholesterol levels in scientific tests and it may also protect against heart disease. *Going slightly off-topic for a sec here… If there is any remaining doubt – cholesterol is SO important for good health! This is a soapbox for a different day, but let’s just be clear, we need cholesterol for a properly functioning body (especially our brain)! We were sold a bill of goods in the 80’s when we were told it was bad for us. Can we move on from this terrible science once and for all friends?
- Finally, test-tube studies show that kombucha suppresses the growth of cancer cells. It is unknown whether drinking kombucha has any effects on cancer risk in people but it will be interesting to see the results of continued testing.
Ok, let’s get to the recipe. The first thing you need is a SCOBY – a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Another definition could be a living disk of disgusting looking goo. I’ve learned to love my SCOBY because I’ve had her around and given away her babies for years now but she wins no points in the looks category.
You can get a SCOBY a couple of ways. The easiest is one is to get one from someone you know that already makes kombucha. SCOBYs multiply so there are often some to share. You can also buy a SCOBY either at the health food store or online.
I think the last option is the most fun – grow your own! If you are down for a quick project, buy a good, live kombucha next time you are at the market. Transfer the contents with a little added sugar to a wide mouth mason jar. Leave an inch or two of space at the top and loosely cap the jar so that gas can escape. Store it in the pantry or on the counter where you will remember to check on it now and then. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the kombucha will miraculously transform into a SCOBY over between a week and a months time. You are looking for a disk that is between a quarter to a half-inch thick and nicely firm. The liquid that remains will be too tart to drink but you can add it to your first batch of home-made kombucha as a starter.
So let’s get to the brewing! You need some simple equipment and ingredients to get started.
2-quart glass container with lid, sterilized – I have several extra-large 4-quart Ball jars that I use for fermentation. I double this recipe to make kombucha in these jars.
Small dish to hold your SCOBY – I like to use glass or stoneware, not metal.
Large container for brewing – I use a food-grade, large cambro but any bowl or pitcher works as long as it’s large enough.
Bottles for decanting, sterilized – I like to use glass wine or sparkling water containers. Be sure they have a tight seal so that they will contain the carbonation of your finished product.
½ cup loose tea – I like to use a combo of black and green organic tea. If your tee has fruit or flowers for added flavor that’s great! My recipe calls for more tea than you might find in other recipes. I think it produces much better kombucha this way.
½ cup raw sugar
1 quart filtered water, boiling – You will add ice after brewing to make just under 2 quarts total liquid
About 1 cup of reserved, live kombucha as starter
1 beautifully disgusting SCOBY
Start by adding the tea and sugar into your brewing container. Pour about one quart of boiling water over the tea and sugar and mix until the sugar has completely dissolved. Loosely cover the container and set it aside to brew it into a very strong tea. I leave it at least an hour, but often much longer to allow maximum extraction and to let the water cool naturally.
Once the tee is brewed, strain out the loose tea into the mason jar, pressing down on the tea leaves to get out every last drop. When I’m making large quantities at once, I use a second cambro for straining before adding the tea to my jars. It makes an extra container to wash but prevents spilling sticky tea.
Now add ice to the sweetened tea to bring it to room temperature and then add the reserved starter kombucha. Finally, float the SCOBY on top of the tea and cover the container. I use a paper towel or cheesecloth with a rubber band. If for some reason, your SCOBY sinks a little, don’t worry about it. It will either pop up to the top overnight or you will see a new SCOBY forming in a day or two. The bacteria and yeast will do their job either way.
This is where the art of knowing when home-made kombucha is ready for bottling comes in. In a commercial environment, the fermentation process is precisely temperature controlled. At home, in your kitchen, the temp fluctuates. I have found that during temperate weather, my kombucha takes about a week. Once it starts to cool down in the fall, it can take more like 10 days, and in winter, it takes more like 2 weeks or even longer.
After a week, I slip a spoon into the container and do a taste test. You will want it to be slightly fizzy, mostly tart, but not all the way fermented, tasting like vinegar. If it’s too sweet, put the top back on the container and give it a few more days.
Once the kombucha is ready to bottle, start a new batch brewing and strain it as described above. When it’s brewed and cool, add a few tablespoons of the sweetened tee to your sterilized bottles, ready for the perfectly fermented kombucha.
Now, gently remove the SCOBY to the sterilized dish in your equipment list and reserve a cup of kombucha for your next batch.
I like to strain the finished kombucha when I bottle it because there is always particulate material that doesn’t look too thrilling even though it’s not unhealthy to consume. Pour the strained kombucha into your sterilized bottles. I make a meditative game out of this (stupidly refusing to use a funnel) to see if I can get it all in each bottle without spilling a drop. You know I’m a weird one already. This seems like a grounding and centering exercise. If you don’t like to test your steady hands and monk style breathing, use a damned funnel.
Ok, one important bottling detail is leaving plenty of headspace in your bottles to allow carbonation to develop during the second fermentation. The reason you added the fresh sweetened tea, is so that the good bacteria could consume it now and make yummy bubbles in your final product. The headspace allows this to happen without exploding any bottles. I’m knocking on wood before I say that I’ve NEVER exploded a jar or bottle because I’m so careful about this step. I leave the bottled kombucha on the counters for its second ferment for 4-5 days to get the carbonation really fizzy. During this process, I open the bottles just a twist or 2, until I hear a tiny bit of gas escape each day. It doesn’t make the final product less carbonated but I think it’s why I’ve never come downstairs in the morning to a sticky mess of broken glass.
With everything bottled up, sterilize your fermenting vessel, add your sweetened tea, reserved kombucha, and SCOBY, and cover for the next round.
Whew! After day 4 or 5 of the second fermentation, you are DONE. Refrigerate your beautiful kombucha and drink away. I’ll add a little warning here… The daughter of my heart Mandy loves kombucha and was drinking at least a bottle a day of the store-bought sort for some time before I gave her my home-made version. She loved it and drank a ton only to find that she was experiencing an unintentional gastrointestinal cleanse later that evening. The home-made stuff is stronger!! When you start drinking your own for the first time, go easy at first. We can both drink as much as we like now because our bodies are used to it but take heed.
A final note, you can add all kinds of flavors to your second ferment. Fruit juice or puree work really well as do larger pieces of fruit. My friend makes a passion fruit version that makes me feel like I’ve been transported to a Hawian island. Go ahead and be as creative as you like and make notes on which experiments you like best. When you are ready, share your SCOBY babies so that your friends and fam can get their own booch brewing.
As always, I’m here to answer your questions, but I hope my Julia Child style, ultra-detailed recipe has you off and running with all the info you need for first-time SUCCESS.