Kombucha, from Russia, is a widely known and loved fermented, probiotic beverage. Both sweet and sour and naturally carbonated by fermenting gases, many people drink it like soda. Purported health benefits of drinking kombucha are: cancer prevention, arthritis treatment, improved digestion and immune booster. Just a few ounces a day can be helpful in any of these issues!
Though you can buy great organic, raw Kombucha, it’s very easy to make and you’ll save money. Here’s how.
Never had it? You just might love it!
How to Make Kombucha
I alternate between using plain green tea and jasmine green tea for the tea base. I can’t describe the resulting taste of the jasmine tea, except to say that it is different, fragrant and worth trying just to see if you like it. We do. (Update: now I use white tea.) You can shop for quality green or white teas here.
For each gallon of tea, you need:
- 6 tea bags (organic green or white tea)
- 1 cup sugar of any kind (I use unrefined or raw honey)
- a little less than 1 gallon of pure water (start with 1/2 gallon)
- starter scoby (Kombucha “mushroom”)
- mature / finished Kombucha (about 10% as much as each jar’s volume)
- 1 gallon jar or 2 half-gallon jars
- wooden stirring spoon
- 2 or 3 clean bath/beach towels
You will use 1/2 gallon water, 6 tea bags and 1 cup sweetener per gallon of tea you’re brewing. Put water and tea bags in a big pot. Add the sweetener. Bring to boil. Remove from heat. Cover. Allow to cool to room temperature. To check, insert a clean finger into the tea — do you get burned or do you feel comfortable?
If using a liquid sweetener such as honey, there is no need to boil it with the tea bags and water. Stir it in just before pouring the tea in to the jar, marked with a ** below.
Get your jar(s) ready. Put the scoby and enough mature / finished Kombucha to barely cover it (about 10% as much as the jar’s volume) in the jar(s). Cover with a towel to keep out fruit flies, dust, or other contaminants.
Back to the cooled down tea. With clean hands or a utensil, stir the tea. Remove the tea bags, squeezing out any excess (no waste!). (**Add and stir in the honey here, if using.) Dip in a serving ladle or mug and taste the tea. Try to remember how it tastes, how sweet it is. This will help later on. Divide up the brewed tea equally among the jars. Use a glass measuring cup, a mug, or anything else that will help if the pot is too heavy or unweildy to pour directly from it to the jars.
Fill up the rest of the jar with pure water to within 1 inch of the top, at the place where the neck of the jar begins narrowing, but isn’t too narrow. This where the scoby will float and grow; it will fill the entire circumference available to it. If you fill the jar too high, it will limit how wide the scoby can grow. Use a wooden spoon to stir the liquid make sure the water is distributed evenly with the tea. Turn the scoby so the lighter side is floating toward the top. If it isn’t floating at the top, don’t worry, it will rise on its own.
Photo below shows my 7 gallon-size jars that I keep in rotation in order to have brewing a constant supply of Kombucha. The photo reveals various stages. The three jars furthest to the left are the most mature. The mushroom is floating at the top and you can see the youngest parts (lighter, almost white colored) growing at the top of the floating mushroom. The next two jars to the right were just filled with fresh tea, and you can see that their mushrooms hadn’t yet risen to the surface. Finally, the two jars on the far right are empty except for a bit of mature tea and the scobys — they are waiting for new tea to fill them.
Arrange jar(s) on a clean beach/bath towel in a warm place of your kitchen (near a heating vent or cookstove) where it (they) can rest undisturbed for several days. Wrap the towel up and over the jar(s). Lay another towel across the top. The Kombucha needs to stay warm and be able to breathe, while being protected from dust and other contaminants.
After 3 or 4 days, unwrap the jar(s). Feel free to do it sooner, depending on how warm your house is. The warmer your house, the faster the tea brews. Does the scoby look healthy? Has it risen to the top surface of the tea? Is it growing a lighter-colored layer on top of the older, darker part? Is its surface smooth? Are there little brown sugar castings (that is what the scoby leaves behind as it eats the sugar)? Are there little bubbles in the tea (natural carbonation)?
My friend who taught me how to make Kombucha said that they only bad thing for which you must watch is fuzzy mold (like on bread). This has not happened to me yet, and I pray that it won’t.
Now taste the Kombucha. Remember how it tasted on the first day? Very sweet likely, with not much else distinguishable. What you’re looking for now is that it has a kick to it, like a wine cooler. It will still taste sweet, but not sooo sweet. Just mildly sweet and then have a bite to it. It should also be naturally carbonated and if you feel a good urge to burp, yay! If it tastes sour, it has likely brewed too long.
If it has brewed too long and tastes too sour, continue on with the directions to pour the tea off into storage containers, but add more sweetener to taste and let it re-brew for a few days.
If it is still very sweet with no kick, wrap up the jar(s) again and let the tea keep brewing a few more days. Check it daily to see if it is done yet.
If it is ready, you’re ready to pour it off into storage containers or move on to a second fermentation with dried fruits or fruit juices. Otherwise, let it go a few more days. I believe the average is 5 to 7 days or longer. My Kombucha tends to be done in 4 or 5 days.
Using a funnel to strain out the scoby solids floating around in the tea, pour the contents of the jar into a storage jar. This Norpro 5 1/2-Inch Stainless Steel Funnel with Detachable Strainer is a fantastic funnel to help with this task. For storage jars, use canning jars (1/2 gallon, quart, etc.) or 1 gallon jugs. Leave the scoby and enough mature Kombucha tea to cover it in the jar.
The now almost-empty jars should be lightly covered with towels as they wait to brew a new batch of Kombucha. It will be fine for many days, but why wait to start more of this delicious tea?
New scobies will grow in an room temperature and open-air container of finished Kombucha. There is more sugar to eat in the tea, and the scoby particles that are too small to be caught by the funnel are still there and more than happy to do that job. So as you pour off smaller amounts for your daily drinking, strain once again with the Norpro funnel. I typically keep a carafe full of tea out on the counter for people to drink throughout the day. I fill it up as it gets emptied.
After brewing numerous batches, the scoby can be quite large. I keep my scobys about 1-inch thick. When they grow thicker than that, I peel off the bottom layer (keeping the newest growth in the jar) and feed it to the goats. Some of our goats absolutely love to tear into those mushrooms. Or you can compost it. Or you can share it with someone who’s wanting to start brewing their own Kombucha. Or you can create a scoby hotel!
Also, I don’t wash my jars in between batches. I will wipe down the outside of the jar(s) after pouring off a batch. As long as the Kombucha keeps producing well, that means there is a healthy culture growing in the jar. If I had a bad batch (not just sour, but bad/moldy), I would wash and sterilize and start over.
What About White Sugar?
This is a side issue, but a question you might likely have. You might wonder why I don’t use white sugar for making Kombucha, as Sally Fallon Morell recommends in Nourishing Traditions. She wrote that when consuming white sugar, the scoby produces more glucuronic acid (a powerful cleanser). Rapadura and honey work as well, but the glucoronic acid produced is less. Whether or not white sugar produces more beneficial compounds, I prefer traditional sweeteners. If Kombucha is a traditional fermented beverage, then my choice is to use a traditional sweetener – white sugar is not that.
Update: Someone suggested that honey, being anti-microbial, would kill the scoby. I haven’t seen that happen myself, and further reading has suggested that honey can work as a sweetener for lacto-ferments because it is diluted and because it was traditionally used for fermented beverages. I make this judgment myself, just as you should do for yourself. Please see this Q & A on honey in lacto-ferments for more details.
Do you make Kombucha? What sweetener and tea do you prefer to use?
For more information about Kombucha, see our Lacto-Fermentation eCourse or eBook, both of which contain updated info, second fermentation instructions, bottling instructions, and other fermented beverage recipes.
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