How to Make Kombucha
Cara and I had a fun experience a couple of weeks back making kombucha at one of our neighbor's houses! I love that even out here in the country we have neighbors, though it is not the same out here as it is in the city. Neighbors are the next farm over, which can be across the street or miles down the road with acres in between. I have already learned so much from our country neighbors and we have become close friends with them, something that never happened even once in the city or town. It has honestly been over five years since we even spoke with a neighbor and got to know them, had them over for supper at our home. It's one of the reasons that I am just not a big fan of Houston... it was depressing there. So many people and yet none of them want to have a real conversation with you. It's disheartening! Here, there's seemingly no one and yet every single person you could need.
When our neighbor asked if we wanted to stop by her house to learn how to make kombucha, I could not say yes fast enough! Kombucha is something I love (there's a really amazing local brewery in Iowa City that makes the best raw kombucha I have ever had) and have always wondered if I could make at home. Yet another scary thing to let ferment on your countertop! After I began learning the process, I realize that it is a lot like making sourdough starter. That made it feel less daunting!
What is Kombucha?
It's kind of a trendy thing right now, especially with a new interest of holistic healing methods. It's considered nature's original soda. Essentially it is fermented green or black tea which naturally carbonates after fermenting for a couple of weeks and contains vitamins as well as beneficial bacteria and yeast. This makes it an extremely powerful probiotic drink for your gut and provides healthy gut flora!
It contains a "scoby" or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. This is also known as the "Mother" which you might recognize from other products such as apple cider vinegar. You also need a "starter" which is any kombucha liquid that has fermented for a period of two weeks with the scoby.
Where did the scoby come from?
This was a question that I just could not get off of my mind the entire time I was learning how to make this. It's something that I ask myself every time I pull out my apple cider vinegar. What is the Mother?! (Does anybody else suddenly quote Skyrim? No? Just me?). I had to know! It was something none of us could answer, and while I knew what made up the scoby somewhat... where did the first scoby come from? Or what from? You see, the whole process of making kombucha is this: when the tea ferments with the Mother Scoby, it grows a Baby Scoby that you can place into a second container to brew a second batch of kombucha. Then that Baby Scoby grows a second baby... and the process goes on just as nature would have it.
Thanks to Google, I found some answers! While we may not have all of the answers about our own creation (that is up to your own interpretation) we do have records about the creation of scoby! They have been around for hundreds of years. In fact, the Mother Scoby that produced my scoby is over five years old! This living culture is also called a Manchurian mushroom, though it is not a mushroom at all. It is a light brown or creamy white disk that grows on the top of the liquid tea/sugar mixture. It will take the form of the container that it grows in. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture/Community of Bacteria and Yeast. It is thick and leathery in consistency.
It is believed that because the Chinese first developed black tea and have documented evidence of kombucha tea during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) that it had been around far longer before that. The folklore-ish story is that a Chinese mother left her tea to sit on top of a cabinet after being called upon by her children, forgetting it was there, and coming back weeks later to find the tea had grown a leathery fungus on top. While that sounds completely silly, it does not seem that far off. The SCOBY came first, after tea with sugar was left to ferment, and there it was born and Mothers passed off babies for hundreds of years. Pretty crazy!
How to Make Kombucha
To begin making kombucha you will need a few supplies. I find it is best to perhaps meet someone who already knows how to make it and has a SCOBY to pass along to you (remember, you will get a baby SCOBY every 1-2 weeks! You should pass yours along!) or you can order them online from places like Kombucha Brooklyn or Oregon Kombucha.
- SCOBY. Get yourself a baby scoby! Check out the links above or find a friend who wants to share the process with you.
- LOOSE LEAF TEA. My mentor only uses black oolong tea to brew her kombucha, and I am interested in trying other types of teas. If you are a beginner, too, then I would use black oolong. It has many healing benefits and tastes great for a first-time culture! My mentor's kombucha tastes just like the local commercial stuff! Use loose leaf over tea bags as the tea will taste better and have more health benefits.
- SUGAR. Kombucha needs sugar for the SCOBY to activate. I was given sundried cane juice thought you can just use plain granulated sugar.
- STARTER. This is where the mixture is similar to a sourdough starter, but it took me a few explanations to finally figure out how the starter is made. You have to get it from somewhere else. If you are starting completely from scratch and are purchasing a SCOBY online, then visit this article to learn how to activate it with distilled white vinegar and get your first batch going without kombucha starter. If you are getting a SCOBY from a friend, then they'll probably let you have some of their starter to take the SCOBY home!
- GALLON JAR. Use something that can withstand fermentation and carbonation. I use a giant glass jar that's normally used for serving tea/lemonade at parties. Don't forget that your SCOBY will form to the shape of whatever container you put it in!
- TOWEL OR COFFEE FILTER. The jar will need to be covered tightly, but not sealed, as you want air movement.
- WOODEN SPOON. Make sure it is not used for making anything with a strong odor like onions!
Recipe + Instructions
To Make One Gallon of Kombucha
- 13 cups water
- 2 tablespoons loose leaf tea
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups Kombucha Starter Tea
- Heat 13 cups (approximately) of water over the stove until boiling. Remove from heat and place in 2 tablespoons of loose leaf Black Oolong tea (or tea of choice) and let steep, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid from the tea and dissolve in the sugar. Let tea cool to room temperature, which may take several hours.
- Once at room temperature, strain the tea leaves. Pour the tea into your container of choice.
- Add the SCOBY and 2 cups of Kombucha Starter Tea. This will be made from a previous batch of kombucha - every time you make a new batch, you will use the tea from the last time you made your kombucha.
- Cover the jar with a towel or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. You do not want to put an airtight seal on the brewing kombucha as it will need the air flow. The towel is to keep fruit flies out - they will find your brew!
- Let the jar sit undisturbed and out of direct sunlight (I leave mine in the basement and cover completely with a towel just in case) in an humidity controlled environment for at least 5 days and up to 30 days. My mentor brews hers for 2 weeks at a time, and I did the same! I really love the taste so far and think it works great. If you would like a sweeter tea, you want the culture to brew for a shorter time. A longer time will result in having less sugar in the brew, which may be something you would want as well.
- Once your tea has fermented to your liking, remove the original Mother SCOBY culture and newly made "baby" culture, which will have grown. Usually the Mother sinks to the bottom and the baby is floating at the top. You can use the Mother and the Baby to make two new batches of Kombucha! Or you can use the Mother to make a new batch and put the Baby in the compost pile. If your two cultures have fused together, then just cut them in half with a sharp knife.
- There are a few different things that you can do next... I chose to make Kombucha Soda, or carbonated kombucha. Pour the finished kombucha tea (which is also considered starter if you desire) into small jars with airtight seals. You can use a Ball Jar! You can drink it right away or let it sit for another few days, sealed, to allow the tea to carbonate. This is considered a second fermentation.
- This is also the point where you can add juice or fruit to flavor the tea. You want to do this before sealing the jar. I decided to add raspberries and lime to mine! The amount is really up to you and your taste; it's hard to say what is the best measurement. I would recommend 1 part fruit to 4 parts tea. Make sure the SCOBY is no longer in the tea before adding any flavoring.
- If you want the tea to carbonate through a second fermentation, then let it sit on the counter for 2-3 days. I do 3 days, and it is so fizzy and amazing! I was also warned to leave at least 1/2 inch headspace in the jar and to place the jars in a secure place like a small cooler (no ice) in case the jars explode! My lids were so tight and had popped upwards due to the pressure so I am glad I put them in a cooler! Be careful when opening the soda for the first time. Store in the fridge for a refreshing drink!
Brewing my first batch of kombucha was so much easier than I originally thought it would be! It makes me wonder how difficult it would be to ferment wine or beer. It's something to consider with the giant amount of aronia berries we have! One thing that I loved about making kombucha with my neighbor was that she only flavors her kombucha batches with what fruit is in season. It's really kind of magical, something to look forward to with every month. June is strawberries, September aronia berries. I think being able to brew this what I have on hand and from other local farms is a wonderful way to embrace the seasons! What will winter bring?
Have you made kombucha before? If not I hope that this post inspires you to try!