How to Brew Kombucha at Home

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Kombucha. Photo Credit: Allyson Kramer

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that is quite popular in the vegan and healthy eating communities. Its availability is becoming more mainstream as people are falling for the bubbly brew with a slightly cider-like taste that makes a great stand in for soda.

If you’ve purchased the stuff pre-bottled at your favorite health food/convenience store, then you’ll also know that drinking a daily 1 or 2 kombuchas can quickly become an expensive habit.

My dear husband used to gripe about how my brew of choice, at around $5.00 per bottle, cost significantly more than his love of craft beer. He was right; it was getting rather ridiculous.

And then I figured out how incredibly easy and fun brewing your own can be! It has seriously saved me a ton of money, and now I feel like a kombucha snob, as the bottled stuff just doesn’t taste as good to me anymore. But, I’ll still absolutely drink it in a pinch.

Just to set things straight, I’m not claiming any health benefits of kombucha, I simply enjoy drinking it–every single day. I’m what you would call a "kombuchaholic". So, purely for convenience, cost, and most importantly to achieve superior flavor and control of additives compared to the store-bought kombucha.

Many of you may be intimidated by the thought of homebrewing kombucha. You may ask:

What if it gets moldy?

How do I know if it’s gone bad?

What exactly does sterilizing equipment mean?

How long does a mother SCOBY last?

Good news is that Kombucha Brooklyn sells really great SCOBYs, and has an entire forum and FAQ dedicated to SCOBY and Kombucha 101. I purchased my first SCOBY from their site and have been brewing bubbly, delicious, no fail kombucha for over 2 years now, and I can count on a perfect batch every single week.

Also, check out the site, Phickle, which has so much information on basic fermenting that you will probably want to ferment everything you see. You will feel vast relief (and inspiration!) just poking through this site if you are new to homebrewing kombucha.  Did I mention that it’s incredibly easy?

First, gather your materials. You’ll need:

  • 1 gallon glass jar
  • 1 clean tight knit cotton lightweight cloth, about 8 x 8 inches
  • 1 rubberband that will stretch to diameter of jar
  • 6 black tea bags
  • 4 cups boiling filtered water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 SCOBY (purchase here, or ask a friend! They may at least know someone who knows someone…)
  • 1 1/2 cups brewed kombucha (unflavored!)
  • 9 cups cold filtered water
  • funnel

Next, prepare your workspace making sure to have all ingredients ready to go.

In a very clean 2 quart pot, bring the 4 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat and gently stir in the black tea bags. Cover and steep for 20 minutes. Stir in the sugar and allow to dissolve completely.

Add the sugary tea to a gallon sized glass jar and stir in the 9 cups cold filtered water.

Check that temperature of the tea is less than 90°F (or else you will kill the SCOBY) and then add the starter liquid and mother SCOBY. The SCOBY will sink to the bottom at first, but will eventually make its way back up to seal off the surface and trap the air from fermentation.

Give it a swirl every day or so to prevent mold from growing on top of the SCOBY while in the jar.

Cap with a very clean piece of tightly woven cotton fabric and seal with a rubberband. Place in a warm area and allow to brew until bubbly and to your flavor preference.  To test taste, simply slip a clean straw underneath the SCOBY and cap with your finger to remove a small sample of the kombucha. If it tastes remarkably like sweet tea, then it is not yet ready.

I live in a somewhat drafty rowhome in Philadelphia and I store my kombucha in my kitchen, where I bake and use the oven daily. So, it’s fairly warm in there at any given time during the day. My brew takes 7 days to get the taste and bubbliness to my liking.

I then do a second fermentation by adding about 2 tablespoons Orange Juice* to sterilized bottles or growlers (use non-metal caps and sterilize those too) and topping off with kombucha.

Seal tightly. You can also use 1/2 gallon mason jars for the second ferment.

You can store the second ferment bottles in a dark cabinet at room temperature until you are ready to enjoy. I’ve enjoyed mine after 24 hours (and the amount of extra bubbly is significant), and I’ve left them in the cabinet up to 2 weeks with successful results.

If storing for more than one day, be sure to vent the caps daily to let any excess pressure out so your bottles won’t explode and make a mess. '

I let the air out of mine once per day first thing in the morning with not one single accident to date.

Cheers!

*You can use any type of 100% juice or fruit you’d like. I’ve tried many and find that my favorite is Orange Juice. Another great choice is fresh ginger and vanilla bean. Strawberries really get fizzy too!