It’s hard to not get addicted to kombucha tea after the first sip. My addiction wasn’t triggered by the health promises often touted of kombucha tea or the probiotics it contains. The taste is the reason why I fell in love with it.
It tastes like a mixture of sour stone fruits and tart green apple with a certain sweetness that isn’t so obvious, but definitely noticeable and contributes to the final taste of the tea. I also like the small bubbles of gas in it. I was hard-pressed to believe that a beverage that requires such a low number of basic ingredients, that can be easily made at home, and that is so delicious was made from tea!
So, What Exactly Is Kombucha Tea?
Kombucha is actually a sugary tea which is fermented using a substance similar to that used in the production of vinegar. This substance is called a SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. The bacteria in this scoby feeds on the sugar in the tea, and the end result is a fermented, somewhat sour, and refreshingly fizzy beverage that is not just low in sugar, but low in calories and (very) low in alcohol as well.
What Jar to Use?
If you’re wondering what the best jar for brewing kombucha is, just have a look at the top rated jars on Amazon. There are some great jars over there, and some of them are packaged with a lid and cheesecloth, so you’ll have everything you need in one purchase.
What Exactly is the SCOBY?
In simple terms, the scoby is a slippery and rubbery substance that turns sugar tea to a sour and fizzy beverage. It looks weird from up-close, with brown stringy bits hanging from it, but looks awesome from a distance. It floats too.
Many people have different opinions about why the yeast and bacteria combination causes the formation of this layer of cellulose that looks like jelly at the top of the tea. Of all the opinions I’ve heard, the one that sounds the most credible is…
The scoby keeps air away from the fermenting tea. It also protects it from unfriendly bacteria (bacteria that can spoil the tea and the scoby itself) and creates an ideal environment for the growth of the friendly bacteria that helps with fermentation.
Want Some Probiotics?
Then try kombucha tea. It’s chock full of probiotics that serve to encourage the growth of good bacteria in your intestines. It also contains other stuff that impact your health positively. Although claims of kombucha helping with conditions such as depression, arthritis, heart burn, and even getting rid of them completely sound far-fetched, it’s still very healthy for your body.
Some people have had success using it to cure these conditions, while others haven’t, and that’s probably because we all have different bodies. Give it a try if you have any of these conditions. If it works, then by all means keep making and drinking it. Even if it doesn’t work, you still have the benefits linked to probiotics consumption.
Can Kombucha Make You Sick?
You might get nervous at the thought of drinking home-brewed kombucha, but there’s absolutely no reason to be nervous. The chances of kombucha making you sick are slim to none. Kombucha is not a new type of beverage. It has been around for hundreds of years (and maybe even more), and back then it was brewed in much dirtier environments.
A good rule of thumb for measuring the safety of your kombucha is taking a look at the scoby. If it’s healthy, then the kombucha is going to be safe to drink. Healthy scoby produces healthy kombucha. It’s a normal thing to feel unsure and nervous the first time you attempt to make kombucha tea, but following this rule of thumb will allay your fears.
How Much Alcohol is in Kombucha?
Due to the fermentation process, kombucha will always contain alcohol. However, it contains a very low amount of it. It’s 1% in most cases, which is certainly not going to get you drunk. That said, if you drink several consecutive glasses of kombucha, you may begin to feel tipsy. If you’re sensitive to alcohol or you’re currently abstaining from alcohol, take note of this before consuming this beverage.
The Kombucha Process
The process of making kombucha is very simple. The steps below are all you need to make the perfect kombucha tea. Don’t let the complicated look of the process fool you, it’s actually simple. Once you get used to the process, it will take you just 20 minutes to make a batch of kombucha and prepare the next one, and you’ll be doing that every seven to ten days.
The Kombucha Recipe
This recipe produces 1 gallon of kombucha tea.
1 cup of regular granulated sugar (other types of sugar can work too, but this is the best type to use).
Starter kombucha tea (2 cups) from your last batch or neutral-flavored and unpasteurized kombucha tea from a store)
8 bags tea (this can be green tea, black tea, a mixture of both, or 2 tablespoons loose tea)
1 scoby (you can use homemade scoby, get one from a friend, or buy it online)
3.5 quarts of water
Optional Bottling Flavors
Fruit juice ( 2 to 3 cups)
Flavored tea, for example, Earl Grey or hibiscus (1 to 2 tablespoons)
Chopped fruit (1 to 2 cups)
Fresh spices or fresh herbs (2 to 4 tablespoons)
Honey (a quarter cup)
You’ll need 2 pieces of 2-quart glass jars or 1 piece 1-gallon glass jar
Clean tea towels, napkins, or other tightly woven cloth to serve as jar covers. Alternatives to this are paper towels or coffee filters
Six 16 oz bottles (these can either be swing-top bottles, glass bottles with plastic lids, or clean soda bottles)
1. Prepare the tea base: Boil the water, turn off the heat source or remove the water from heat, pour the sugar in it, and dissolve it by stirring gently. Then drop the bags of tea into the water and let them sit until the water is no longer hot. You may need to wait a few hours if you’re using a large pot. To reduce your waiting time, use an ice bath to make it cool faster.
Tip: Don’t let your kombucha get in contact with metal for long periods. Metal gradually weakens the scoby if exposed to it and change the flavor of the kombucha.
2. Pour in the starter tea: At this point the tea should be cool. Take the tea bags out, strain the tea out of them and dispose them. Then add the starter tea to the tea base and stir it in.
When the tea begins to ferment, it’s susceptible to unfriendly bacteria during the first few days, which can spoil the tea. The purpose of the starter tea is to create acidity in the tea, which keeps unfriendly bacteria at bay.
3. Pour into jars and add scoby: If you have a 1-gallon glass jar, you’ll need just one scoby. If you have 2-quart jars, two scobys will be needed. Pour the tea into the jar or jars and add the scoby. Before adding the scoby, make sure your hands are clean, or better still, clean them.
You should add the scobys by sliding them in gently. After doing that, use several layers of coffee filters, paper towels, or tightly-woven cloth and use a rubber band to fasten them. I recommend paper towels or tightly-woven cloth over coffee filters because they are better at shielding your brew from gnats, fruit flies, and other insects.
4. Wait for 7 days: This is the minimum number of days you should ferment your tea, but you can ferment it for up to 10 days. The ideal conditions for fermentation include no direct sunlight, room temperature, and safe storage. Safe storage means don’t store the jar where it can be accidentally knocked off and broken.
During fermentation, the scoby might float sideways, to the top, or to the bottom of the jar; it’s normal for that to happen. After a few days of fermentation, you’ll also notice a new layer of scoby with a cream-like color. This new layer of scoby appears on the surface of the tea and may either form separately or bind to the existing scoby.
Other things you may notice during fermentation include bubbles accumulating near the scoby, an increasing collection of sediments at the bottom, and floating brown stringy bits under the scoby. All these are signs that you did everything right and the tea is fermenting properly.
After the 7th day, the kombucha tea is going to taste sweet and tart (sour) at the same time. You should aim to ferment it until there’s a good balance in both tastes. When the kombucha has attained that balance, it is ready to bottle.
Pour a little of the kombucha into a cup and taste it. Repeat this daily until you notice this balance. It’s different for every individual, so keep checking until it tastes exactly the way you want it to.
5. Bottle the kombucha: You should have another pot of tea ready for the next batch before you begin to bottle the current one. To begin, get a clean plate, take the scoby out of the jar with clean hands and place it on the plate. If the scoby is much thicker than it used to be, remove the layer at the bottom to reduce its thickness.
Set aside some starter tea out of the current batch so you can use it to make the next batch. Then fill up your bottles with the kombucha using a small funnel (you may strain the tea too if you like). Don’t fill up the bottles to the brim. Leave a half-inch gap between the tea and the brim of each bottle. This is the time to add the fruit, herbs, juice you intend to flavor your kombucha with.
If you want a cleaner kombucha, transfer it to another covered jar before bottling it. Add the flavorings and let it sit for a 1-2 days, then strain and bottle.
6. Let it carbonate: In order to carbonate bottled kombucha, it should be stored at room temperature in a place where direct sunlight can’t reach. The process of carbonation takes 1 to 3 days, and carbonation is best done with plastic bottles if it’s your first time because plastic bottles feel rock solid when the kombucha has carbonated.
Use plastic bottles a few more times and you’ll have a good idea of how long carbonation takes. Then you can begin to use glass bottles for subsequent batches. After carbonating the kombucha, transfer it to a refrigerator. Refrigeration puts an end to the carbonation and fermentation process.
Keep the bottles in a refrigerator until you’ve consumed the contents of the bottles. The best before date of kombucha is one month after you made it, so don’t keep it longer than that or drink kombucha that is more than a month old.
7. Make a new batch of kombucha: To make a new batch, clean the fermentation jars, and begin from step 1.
Tips For a Better Kombucha
Covering for fermentation jar: Avoid using cheesecloth as the jar covering, because fruit flies and other small insects can easily pass through into your kombucha. Use several layers of tea towels, clean napkins, or any other tightly woven cloth. You can also use paper towels or coffee filters. Don’t forget to secure the covering with a twine or rubber bands.
Size of your batches: Regardless of how much kombucha you wish to make, the same basic ratio mentioned earlier always applies. For every gallon of kombucha, use 8 bags of tea, a cup of sugar, and 2 cups of starter tea. One scoby is enough for batches of any size, but fermenting large batches with just one scoby will prolong the process.
Pausing kombucha making: Start a new batch of kombucha and keep it on your counter if you’re going to leave your home for a period of 3 weeks or less than that. By the time you return, you’ll still have a healthy scoby, but the tea is probably going to be too vinegary and unfit for drinking.
If you’re going to be away for more than 3 weeks, make a new batch of the tea base, add the starter tea to the tea base, and place the scoby in it, then refrigerate it. You’ll need to be at home to replace the tea with a new batch every 4 to 6 weeks or have someone do it for you.
Avoiding metal: This isn’t to say you can’t use metal utensils. It’s fine to use them, but avoid anything that keeps the kombucha in contact with metal for long periods of time because metals can make the scoby weak over time and add a metallic flavor to the kombucha. In a nutshell, don’t use metal utensils to ferment or bottle kombucha.
Tea options: If you’re just getting started, start with black tea. Making kombucha with black tea is much easier and it’s also more reliable. After you’ve made a few batches and most likely have a really healthy scoby, you can begin to experiment with other types of tea such as white tea, green tea, and oolong tea. Try combining 3 or 4 different types of tea to make outstanding kombucha tea.
While considering your tea options, leave out any type of tea that contain oils. Examples of tea to avoid are earl grey, or any variant of flavored teas. What about herbal teas? They are good, but they don’t contain all the nutrients needed to make good kombucha, so you’ll need to add several bags of black tea to any herbal tea you wish to use.
Resolving Issues With Kombucha Making
Your scoby will get old: One scoby will last you a long time, but it will eventually reach the end of its life. Signs that you need a new scoby include taking on a black color, and infection. Infection usually appears in the form of mold, black or green. If your scoby is dead or infected, get rid of it and start afresh.
Confusion about health of scoby: If you have any reason to believe that there’s something wrong with your scoby but you aren’t sure, keep on brewing new batches of kombucha, but don’t drink them; dispose of them instead. If there’s really something wrong with your scoby, you’ll know over the next few batches, because it will get worse, and will therefore be easily noticed.
If nothing changes in the scoby, then there’s nothing to worry about. It’s probably just a natural feature of the scoby, so you should continue brewing and drinking your kombucha tea.
Making your scoby last longer: Your scoby lasts longer when you continue to use the same amount of water, tea, starter tea, and sugar prescribed in this recipe. Aside from that, you can also maintain the health and increase the life of your scoby by peeling off the oldest layer of the scoby which is at the bottom after several batches of kombucha.
The oldest layer, once peeled off, has several uses, so do not dispose of it yet. It can be used to make a new batch of kombucha, so give it to a friend who wants to make kombucha tea if you have one. If not, you can use it to start a new batch for yourself or compost it. If you can’t find any use for it, then throw it away.
Floating and brown strings: Floating is normal, so that shouldn’t get you worried if you see it happening. A scoby can float to the side, top, or bottom. You may also notice brown strings at the bottom of the jar or below the scoby. This is also normal.
Holes, bumps, and more: Changes in your kitchen’s environment can lead to the development of holes, bumps, clear jelly-like patches, dried patches, and dark-brown patches in the scoby. These aren’t bad signs. Your scoby is still perfect for fermenting tea.
Signs that you need to start over: The sign is mold, in most cases. Once you see mold growing on the scoby, get rid of the tea you’re fermenting, get rid of the scoby, clean the fermentation jar, and start all over again with fresh unused ingredients. Other signs you need to start over include a rotten, cheesy, or any form of unpleasant smell coming from the jar.
If you can’t spot any mold on the scoby, something has gone wrong, but the scoby is still fine. In this case, you just need to start over with fresh tea and the same scoby after getting rid of the old tea. If there’s mold on the scoby, get rid of the tea and the scoby and start over as explained above.
A healthy kombucha will have a neutral aroma in the beginning and smell more vinegary as it continues to ferment. If this is how it’s going for you, then congrats. You did everything right.