I first tasted kombucha when I visited my sister in California nearly six years ago. One sip of the latest carbonated craze and I was hooked.
Fast forward to my first semester of college. I asked my roommates if they knew where I could buy bottled kombucha, and they replied with a blank stare.
I should have known that studying in a small Virginian town would limit some of my LA-based addictions, but after searching high and low, I found some at the Wal-Mart across from campus. But being a jobless college student, I needed to figure out how to sustain my addiction to a beverage that costs over $3 per bottle.
Imagine my joy when a friend mentioned she brewed her own. I sank to my knees begging her to get me started and teach me. I could justify a one-time investment for the materials to brew at home.
Though I’ve hit a few obstacles along the way, learning how to brew kombucha on my own has been extremely rewarding.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains probiotics, the “good” bacteria that inhabits the gut. Since the main ingredient is black tea, it’s also loaded with antioxidants and it has some caffeine.
Kombucha is a healthy alternative to soda because it satisfies the craving for a carbonated drink while providing healthy side effects from the probiotic content. And it has no artificial sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.
What are the benefits of drinking kombucha?
If you’re going to be addicted to any sweet, fizzy drink, kombucha is the way to go.
Natural medicine shows that many chronic health conditions have a direct correlation to poor gut health; therefore, consistent probiotic intake can make a world of difference in your health.
Keeping the gut lined with this “good bacteria” — probiotics — will boost your immune system and help your digestion. But be warned, if you’re not used to it, you may take some extra trips to the bathroom.
Can you brew kombucha at home?
Yes, you can! I’m far from an expert on kombucha, but I would consider myself pretty good at making it. I’m here to explain how you can brew it yourself. (So far, I’ve taught three people to make kombucha!)
How To Make Kombucha At Home
1. Use a SCOBY to start.
The only way you can make kombucha is if you have a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), which is the living organism that feeds on the sugar in the sweet tea; it gives the drink its carbonation and creates the probiotics.
The SCOBY is by far the strangest part about brewing homemade kombucha. Anyone unfamiliar with the method will cringe at the jelly-like substance.
It’s a struggle to brew around people who don’t share my love for the beverage. They tease me about the weird bacteria I grow in the pantry, so I try to keep it out of their way. But when fruit flies invaded our kitchen and flocked straight to my kombucha SCOBY, my brewing tendencies went outside the confines of its allotted space.
Understand that brewing kombucha is impossible without a SCOBY (fruit flies or not). You can order a vacuum-dried one online or purchase a starter kit at a natural food store. Just make sure it’s organic!
Some products also include starter tea or fluid, so you could purchase a combination and then you wouldn’t need plain kombucha.
2. Buy your supplies.
Expect to spend roughly $40 to get started. You’ll need a wide mouth, one-gallon jar, black tea bags, sugar, and original, plain kombucha from the store. (I’ve found the best ratio to fill up a one-gallon is 12 cups of water to 5 tea bags and 1 cup of sugar.)
Once you’ve brewed the sweetened tea, let it cool to room temperature before placing it in the jar and adding the SCOBY. (Hot water is harmful to the SCOBY; remember, it’s living so it can be burned.)
After all the pieces are together, cover the jar with tightly woven cloth, like cheesecloth (or, if you’re cheap like me, a paper towel or coffee filter), sealing and securing it with a rubber band.
Here’s a list of the ingredients you will need:
- Wide mouth, 1 gallon glass jar
- Black tea (make sure it’s flavorless, and try getting organic if possible)
- Sugar (organic is best)
- A SCOBY
- Original kombucha (buy a bottle of the original at your local grocery store)
- Paper towels or cloth
- A rubber band
- Glass jars
3. Play the waiting game while the kombucha ferments.
Now we’ve hit the fun part! Set the jar in a dark place and leave it alone for at least two weeks. (The kombucha fermentation process takes some time, but it’s so worth it.)
After two weeks, you should notice the formation of a second SCOBY on top of the first; this means the kombucha is almost ready to bottle. Since the SCOBY reproduces itself, it makes it worth it to brew kombucha at home! A healthy SCOBY will be a light tan color and will sit at the mouth of the jar.
Feeling confused while brewing kombucha is 100 percent normal. “What if you don’t bottle the kombucha after two weeks?” you may ask yourself. Well, a longer fermentation will produce a more vinegary kombucha, and a shorter fermentation will produce a sweeter kombucha.
Think about it this way: the longer time the SCOBY has to eat the sugar, the less sugar you will have in your brew. And that’s why it may taste more vinegary.
On average, a successful brew will take roughly 14 days, but it really depends on the strength of your stomach and your taste buds.
I like to check the sweetness of my batch with a plastic measuring cup (be sure not to let any metal touch the SCOBY — ever! Like hot tea, metal is also toxic for the bacteria). If the kombucha tastes too sweet, I wait a few days then taste it again. Once it tastes how I want, I bottle it.
Again, this will vary on your taste buds. This is why homebrewing is so fun — it’s customizable!
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4. Bottle up your kombucha.
You’ll need a few airtight glass bottles and a glass pyrex measuring cup. The bottling process may feel complicated at first, but it’s surprisingly simple.
Since you’ll be taking the SCOBY out of the jar, you’ll need to thoroughly wash your hands. Yes, it’s disgusting, but you will get used to it.
First, remove any rings (remember: no metal can touch the SCOBY). Then, wash your hands for a good 30 seconds under hot water (for reference, try singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself).
After you have clean hands, grab the slimy SCOBY and set it in a medium-size plastic or glass bowl, and pour some kombucha on top; this keeps the SCOBY hydrated and is necessary to start the next batch. After taking the caps off the bottles, use a measuring cup to fill them.
My first batches were never flavored, but after a while I realized how simple and fun it is to add fruit. I like putting in apple slices or ginger at the bottom of the empty jars. You can find ginger for no more than $2 in the produce section of your local grocery store.
A wide mouth, one-gallon jar will yield about six, 16-ounce bottles of kombucha (that’s almost worth $20!). After bottling, let the kombucha sit for at least a week, as this will increase the carbonation.
I’ll admit, brewing kombucha is a long process, but once you find a rhythm, you’ll have kombucha coming out of your ears.
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Elisa Palumbo is a writer and former contributor to YourTango. She’s passionate about health, fitness and nutrition.