Introduction to kombucha brewing
How to brew kombucha tea covers the SCOBY, batch brewing, continuous brewing, adding flavors, other ways to use kombucha, kombucha equipment, and supplies. We talk about kombucha tea benefits in another post.
Kombucha is a delicious, tangy, effervescent beverage. But it doesn’t just taste good. It’s good for you too. It’s full of beneficial probiotics.
However, at an eye-popping $3 to $5 per pint for a store-bought kombucha, it’s pretty expensive. So if you like kombucha, and you want to drink one every day, you are looking at $1,095 to $1,825 per year!
So, surely, there has to be a better way. And there is. You can make kombucha at home.
How to brew kombucha tea at home
There are two ways to brew kombucha tea at home: batch brewing and continuous brewing. There are pros and cons to each. And the method you use will depend on your preference and circumstances. It may be that you go back and forth between the two.
But before you begin, you need to gather together a SCOBY, some simple equipment, and some ingredients.
Obtain or make a SCOBY
The SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) is basically the kombucha tea mother culture. A SCOBY looks a bit like a mushroom and this is what it is sometimes called.
If you are new to kombucha making, be warned. A SCOBY is gooey stuff and does not look very appealing. It’s even icky looking! But you need it to make kombucha. So let’s understand what it is.
SCOBY is the acronym for:
- Symbiotic: Meaning living things work in harmony. In this case, it’s the bacteria and yeast.
- Culture: the growth of the bacteria and yeast.
- Bacteria: the type of beneficial bacteria (Gluconacetobacter kombuchae) that is found exclusively in kombucha. It eats the tea and sugar gives kombucha its tart taste. It is not to be confused with harmful bacteria that cause disease.
- Yeast: Zygosaccharomyces kombuchaensis is another beneficial organism found in kombucha. It feeds on sugar and gives kombucha its characteristic effervescence. It is one of many different types of yeast. For example, you use a different kind of yeast in baking.
SCOBY from a third party
You can get a SCOBY from a friend who is into making kombucha tea. Or you can get get the makings in an online in a starter kit. And this is probably the best way to go if you are just getting started. This is because the kit comes with full instructions.
As of writing this post, this is Amazon’s choice and with a very high rating
On the other hand, if you have the patience, the time, or the interest, you can make your own SCOBY.
Growing your own SCOBY
- You can grow your own SCOBY from a bottle of kombucha tea that you can find in a grocery store. Here’s what you do.
- Buy a bottle of unflavored kombucha from your local health food store. This is your SCOBY starter.
- Make 1 cup of black or green tea.
- Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of white sugar to the hot tea.
- Stir until sugar is dissolved and let the tea cool to room temperature.
- Pour the bottled kombucha together with the tea into a glass jar.
- Cover the jar with a cloth and secure the cloth tightly with a rubber band.
- Let this concoction stand in a fairly warm (68-85ºF) place away from direct sunlight for 7 days or so.
- You should then see the beginnings of a baby SCOBY form on the surface of the liquid.
- As it begins to grow, the SCOBY forms a clear film on the surface and then gradually thickens, gets less translucent, and becomes a dull white.
- It should grow to at least ¼ inch thick before it is ready to use in your first batch of home-brewed kombucha.
- Keep the original kombucha tea and the new SCOBY and get ready to make your first home-brewed kombucha. You have just made your “starter” tea.
Batch brewing kombucha tea
Batch brewing is what you do when you start out with kombucha and learn the basics of how to brew kombucha tea. Here’s how you do it.
The equipment you need for batch making kombucha
- Quart-size jar
- Piece of cloth and a rubber band to secure it over the jar
- Measuring cups
The ingredients you need for making kombucha tea
- 3 cups of filtered water. It’s important to get the chlorine out).
- ¼ cup white sugar.
- 2 black or green tea bags (or1 ½ teaspoons of loose tea in a stainless steel mesh ball).
- ½ cup starter tea or distilled white vinegar (NOT rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar).
- Your SCOBY.
This formula will result in one quart of kombucha. When making larger batches of kombucha, you simply scale up but in the same ratios.
The recipe for kombucha tea
- Heat the water to around 170˚ – 190˚F. It does not have to boil.
- Stir in and dissolve the sugar.
- Place the tea in the water to steep.
- Let it all cool to around 70˚ – 85˚F.
- As it cools, remove the tea after 10 – 15 minutes. With experience, you will adjust this time to the strength of tea you like. The longer you leave it in, the stronger it will get.
- Remove the tea and strain off any loose tea leaves.
- Add the starter tea.
- Add the SCOBY
- Cover the jar with the cloth and secure it with the rubber band.
- Let the mixture stand at room temperature and out of direct sunlight for 7 – 30 days, or to taste. The longer it stands, the more vinegary and less sweet it will taste.
- Pour out your kombucha. This is for consumption. But leave behind the SCOBY and at least ½ cup of kombucha. You will need these as the starter ingredients for your next batch of kombucha.
You can flavor and bottle the kombucha you have made. Or just bottle it plain.
Continuous brewing kombucha tea
So you have started with kombucha, and you have decided you like it, and you want more of it more often. Then the next thing you need to do is set up a continuous brew system.
The vessel for making continuous brew kombucha
Here is an example of a continuous kombucha brew vessel. The size is 3 gallons and it is glass with a stainless steel spigot.
This manufacturer also offers a kombucha starter kit complete with a 1.75-gallon glass fermenter and a SCOBY in a sealed bag. You can get it from Amazon at this link.
Continuous kombucha brewing process
- Prepare the ingredients in the same manner and in the same proportions as the batch brewing process explained above.
- Pour the mixture into the vessel but leave plenty of space at the top for the mother SCOBY and the development of the new SCOBY.
- Allow the kombucha to ferment for 7 to 30 days, depending on the taste preference you developed when you were batch brewing. You can draw off a little from time to time to taste-test it.
Using continuous brew kombucha.
There are 2 ways to go when enjoying continuous brew kombucha.
- Drain off all but 20% of the kombucha and bottle it. What you leave behind is the starter for the next batch. This makes it a large-scale version of the batch brewing process we described earlier.
- Drain off the kombucha as you drink it. And top it off with sweetened tea as you go.
Batch brewing vs continuous brewing
There are pros and cons to continuous brewing vs batch brewing. And only you can decide what’s best for you. In fact, we and others we know, happily switch back and forth between them. Or we even have both methods going at the same time, depending on the kinds of flavors we like to add.
Pros of kombucha batch brewing
Because batched kombucha goes through the entire process of fermentation, it throws off a more complex system of bacteria that carries with it enhanced health benefits.
The same base flavor is present throughout the batch, so you are able to get a more predictable result with each brew.
Kombucha that is brewed in batches is sweeter than continuously brewed kombucha.
Cons of kombucha batch brewing
More time consuming
Batch brewing takes more time and work. You have to clean the system and go through the bottling process every time.
Pros of kombucha continuous brewing
Since you are handling the SCOBY less often than with batch brewing, there is less chance of it getting contaminated. Plus, continuous brewing provides a more stable environment for the SCOBY to develop undisturbed.
Since you don’t have to clean the system all the time, as is necessary with batch brewing, it takes much less work.
With continuous brewing, you are constantly producing kombucha. There are no interruptions, unlike batch brewing.
Cons of kombucha continuous brewing
Because the fermentation process is disrupted by the constant removal and addition of liquid, you can get an acid build-up in the kombucha that is produced.
This is the same as with the sourness issue. The constant addition of new tea and the removal of fermented tea results in an inconsistent end product.
Second brew kombucha
First, decant the kombucha into airtight bottles. A bottling kit like the one shown is perfect for this.
Then add any flavoring you like (see just below). If you are not using fruits, berries or juices for flavoring, you need to add a little honey or a couple of raisins in order to provide the sugar to feed the bacteria during the second fermentation. Then seal the bottle and leave it at room temperature out of direct sunlight for a couple of days or so.
The longer you leave it, the fizzier it will get. And the higher your room temperature, the faster the fermentation process. Vice versa with lower temperatures. So, obviously, there’s some trial and error in play here. Just have fun with it. You can taste it as you go. And to stop the fermentation, just put the bottle in the fridge.
Adding flavors to kombucha tea
Adding flavors to kombucha tea brings whole new dimensions to the beverage. There are no strict fast rules on how you do this. So you need to experiment. You can add fresh or frozen fruits and berries; fresh or dried herbs and spices; or fruit juice; or any combination of these that you like.
When to add flavors
Always add flavors at the end of the initial brewing process. If you are doing a batch brew, that means at the end of the brew. If you are doing a continuous brew, this means you add the flavoring to each kombucha you are going to drink. If you are doing a second brew, you do it before the second brew.
How to add flavors
If you are using fruit, crush it or cut it into very small pieces. This is to present the largest surface area of the fruit to the kombucha. This way, you will get the strongest flavor
Adding fruit results in a sweeter kombucha than if you are using spices or herbs alone. Whichever you choose, you need to add about ½ cup of flavoring for every 3 – 4 cups of kombucha.
Adding herbs and spices
When adding herbs and spices, it’s best to do it in a second fermentation. This allows the flavors a better opportunity to disperse thoroughly in the kombucha. And, generally, if you use crushed or dried herbs and spices, you will get a stronger flavor faster, compared to fresh herbs.
Here is a selection of herbs and spices that are commonly used with kombucha, along with suggested quantities per 3 – 4 cups of liquid.
- Ginger – ½ inch grated fresh
- Fennel seed – 2 teaspoons
- Cinnamon – ½ inch of a crushed cinnamon stick
- Hibiscus leaves – 1 tablespoon
- Vanilla – 1 split bean
- Rose petals – 1 tablespoon
- Cardamom – 2 pods
- Lavender buds – 1 tablespoon
Other uses for kombucha tea
How to brew kombucha tea is just the beginning. And kombucha is not just for drinking. Here are some other ways to enjoy it.
Put fruit or other sweet flavored kombucha into a popsicle molds and store them in your freezer for a cooling and healthy treat on a hot summer’s day.
Kombucha that has gone a little long and is over fermented will turn to vinegar. So it’s too tart to drink. But don’t waste it by throwing it out.
You can bottle it and use it as vinegar. It’s great as a salad dressing, and you can use it for pickling too. And how about taking it as a healthy “gut shot” instead of a dose of apple cider vinegar?
Kombucha ice cream float
Use some delicious, healthy, fizzy kombucha in your ice cream float instead of an unhealthy high sugar soda.
Kombucha sourdough starter
If you like sourdough bread, you can use kombucha to start a batch of homemade sourdough bread.
Take 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup sugar, and 2 cups kombucha vinegar. Stir them together. Cover with a cloth secured with a rubber band. And let it stand for a few days at room temperature.
It’s easy to make a healthy sauerkraut with kombucha vinegar. Just chop 2 lbs of white cabbage into fine strips and place it in a bowl with a teaspoon of salt. Knead the cabbage with your hands until it weeps liquid.
Place the cabbage in a jar and cover it with kombucha vinegar, leaving as little air in the jar as possible. Place a loose cover on the jar to allow gas to escape and leave it in the fridge for 7 to 10 days.
Give your smoothies a probiotic boost by using kombucha for the liquid in your smoothies mix. This works really well with berry smoothies.
And if you use ice as part of your smoothie routine, you can make kombucha ice cubes to throw in.
How to brew kombucha tea – conclusions
Our post on kombucha tea benefits lays out why kombucha is simply good for you. And we hope we have shown you that it is quite easy to make it yourself, once you get into the swing of it.
You just need to devote a little time, patience, and study to learn the process. After that, it’s just about getting into a routine.
You can save a ton of money with home-brewed kombucha and have fun with it too.