Kombucha is the perfect answer to our craving for fizzy non alcoholic beverages. It is wonderfully flavored, gently effervescent, only slightly sweet, nicely complex, and overall delicious. Although made with black tea and sugar, the bacteria have feasted on these very ingredients, changing them in their wonderful alchemy into more bacteria, yeast, carbon dioxide and a slight bit of alcohol.
My journey with fermented foods is now well into its second year. Such a lot has happened, and what our household consumes has remarkably changed. Health has also subtly but perceptibly changed too. I now can’t remember when anyone was down and out with a cold or flu, yet we’ve been in contact with many who have. No one has reported urinary infections, yeast problems, or anything like.
My initiation to kombucha had nothing to do with this though. I was aware of kombucha, but had never tried it. One day shopping, I bought a bottle and it was decent if unremarkable. There was a small slimy thing in it I now recognize as a tiny scoby. I set aside a 1 cup jar with the scoby and some mango-orange juice to see what would happen. Indeed in about a week, it consumed all that juicy sugar and now had grown. “Well”, said I, “this is most interesting. Lets see where we can take this.” Long story short I began investigating, joined the Kombucha Nation FB group, started a spreadsheet to chart my initial attempts, purchased a 3 gallon stone crock. By far the most succinct and useful article on it is a Wiley Library online article. I strongly advise readers to click the link for their overview
Initially my family members were pretty skeptical, and in my initial attempts, understandably so. They still kept going for the spritzer, worried the bottles might explode in their faces or that somehow they might be poisoned, or that it would be simply awful. None of that happened, and now our homemade kombucha is the go-to drink. In fact I’m having to increase my bi weekly production by about 50% to keep up.
That all said, they now have their favorites, and just like with commercial products, they expect them to taste consistently similar and be available when needed. My kombucha making is now post experimental and can be said to be in regular consistent production.
Now that I am at this point, I thought I should share what I do. My final ‘push’ came when my butcher to whom I had given a bottle to try really liked it and wanted to make her own. Just passing on the starter and a scoby might not necessarily guarantee the success sought, at least immediately.
But why should I bother to do all this when there are so many other excellent blogs out there? For me, the answer lies in identifying and illustrating a consistent and manageable process that will always give excellent results. Judging by the feedback I have received I know I have an excellent product doing it this way. I look forward to hearing how you have made out with it, and also I look forward to hearing from more experienced kombucha makers than I with your ideas and comments on this process.
Here’s how it goes….
Every 10 days or so I do a Kombucha brew day. I start a new batch and bottle (second ferment or ‘2f’) the old. I process about 4-5 litres at a time and the method I have worked out gives me reliable, delicious kombucha every time.
Mise en scene
- 6 litre (or so) pot
- 3 gallon crock
- Bottles – beer bottles, or flip lid bottles. The shape of the narrow necked beer bottle encourages natural carbonation. This is because the fermenting yeasts do not require oxygen, whereas the bacteria involved do. The narrow neck in a sealed bottle reduces the oxygen available, encouraging the yeast to continue fermenting, converting the sugars into carbon dioxide. Once everything is added in you will need about 6 litres worth of bottles. You can use anything technically, but unless you use a narrow necked bottle of some kind, it won’t carbonate as well.
- Bottler and caps if you are using old beer bottles.
- Measuring cups – 1L, 500ml
- A strainer that can nest in the funnel
- 7-8 1L mason jars
- Thick kitchen towel
- Weigh scale
- wooden spoon
- 4-5L Good quality water – not flouridated or treated tap water
- 20g loose tea: It can be a variety of teas – I have used Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Kukicha, and Green tea – any will do
- 200g sugar
- 1L of kombucha starter (from previous batch)
- 1 SCOBY (from previous batch)
- A variety of good quality juices – about 1.5L in total
- 1L Sugar syrup (weigh a bag of sugar in a pot, add an equal weight of water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, yielding a 1:1 syrup. Pour into jars for a variety of uses. )
The very first time
You need to find a scoby – most people get one from a friend, or someone you know. Anyone who makes kombucha can peel off some of their scoby and give it away. If you are truly in need, take one of the tiny scobys from a commercial Kombucha and put it in a 1 cup jar with a little juice. Leave it out, covered, on the counter. It should grow. As it gets bigger, feed it more juice, and work up towards the container you will be fermenting your kombucha in. You also need to get a litre of kombucha as a starter. This can be from said friend, or can be bought commercially.
Make a tea with 2L water, 20g loose tea and 200g sugar. Boil for a few minutes, cover and let cool down.
Loose tea works well – you are trying to extract as much as possible from it.
Once cool (under 100F) pour in the crock, add 2L water, 1L Kombucha starter, the Scoby.
Cover with a thick kitchen cloth and let it ferment in a coolish dark room (60-70F) for about 8-10 days. (Note – fruit flies love kombucha too, so you will need to both cover the kombucha and tie it tight with a string or elastic if you have these bugs around)
First ferment ready to do its thing.
Brewday! (your Kombucha is initially fermented)
This quantity will make a total of 7 litres of kombucha.
- Make a tea with 2L water, 20g loose tea and 200g sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, cover and let cool down while you do everything else.
- Gather all your materials and ingredients together.
- Remove the scoby from the crock and set it in a bowl with water.
Scoby in water – but if fruit flies are about, cover it up. In the jar beside it is the 1L starter kombucha for the next batch.
- Pour 1L of kombucha from the crock into a mason jar, and cover. This will be the starter for your next batch.
- For the 2nd ferment, or 2f, the kombucha is flavored and bottled in such a way that it naturally carbonates. Pour the rest of the kombucha into the remaining 1L mason jars with 650 g (or ml) of kombucha in each 1L jar.
The reason for the 1L jars is to make the whole process efficient, predictable and manageable. The jar is filled with 650g of f1 (first ferment) kombucha.
- Pour 100g of the sugar syrup in each jar. For kombucha, 5% sugar is an ideal fermentation ratio. Since your sugar syrup is 1:1 sugar to water by weight, you are therefore adding 50g of sugar to your 1L (1000g) of 2f kombucha – or 5%.
About to add 100g syrup (=50g or 5% sugar). The sugar syrup is easy to make ahead of time. It’s also a good base for desserts.
- Pour 250ml of the juices you have for your batch of kombucha into each mason jar, filling them to the top. You now have about 6-7 litre bottles comprising 650ml kombucha, 100ml sugar syrup and 250g juice. Stir to mix thoroughly.
Be careful of the sugar content of the juice you use, since you are already adding sugar for the f2. The juice should be as natural as possible. Juicing your own is even better, and since it flavours the kombucha with only 25% of the total content, it goes a long way.
I like to sort out how much of each kind of flavor I want. Using the 1L base quantities helps in this process. Note the pot of tea/sugar brewing and now cooling for the next batch.
- Pour each jar into narrow necked bottles, using either a funnel or a 1L measuring cup. If the juice or the kombucha has any sediment you may wish to use a tea ball in the funnel to filter this out. If you are using 344 ml beer bottles, you are looking at 3 bottles per litre. If you are using Grolsh style flip top bottles, its approximately 2 bottles per litre. If your bottle comes up a little short, top it up with more juice.
A fine mesh teaball inside a funnel to filter out juice sediment.
- Bottle and label
Bottled and labelled. It will be ready in a few days.
- Go back to that tea you made that has now cooled down. It should be less than lukewarm. Press out all the tea flavor you can and pour it into your now empty crock through a filter (unless you used a large tea ball). Add 2L of cold water to it, add the litre of kombucha starter, and the scoby along with the water it was in. Cover the crock with dry thick tea towel and let it ferment in a cool dark place until your next brewday 10 or so days away.
The next batch of kombucha (about to be covered) in its basement hideaway at a comfortable, dark, consistent 68F/19C along with some beer, wine – and, yes, the household tools.
- Let your bottles sit at room temperature for a couple of days – less if your location is warm. After, move them to a cool location or your fridge. This recipe is quite happy for a couple of weeks in a 65-68F environment, though it will get fizzy! Before consuming, put them in the fridge to cool – it tastes better, and the carbonation is less active.
Keeping it clean: If you are using beer bottles, rinse them out thoroughly and wash them thoroughly once you have poured your drink. If you use your crock only for kombucha and are filling it in the same session you are processing your 2f, a rinse with water works fine.
Enjoy your brew! A word of warning though. The first few times you open them, do it in the sink, with your hand firmly over the top in case it is over carbonated. This might happen for example if the juice you decide to use has a higher sugar content than what I am using. To deal with your own variables you would need to make adjustments – either a warmer or cooler ferment for your 2f period.
There are many ways to make kombucha. All of them are fine, and all of them feature tea, sugar, a scoby and starter, and time. This simply happens to be what I have evolved. I hope this can help to both make conversation about kombucha, and also help readers who have been considering making it.