Drug habits can be incredibly expensive. Once you reach the point of spending a significant part of your salary on your habit, you are faced with a choice. Either ditch the habit, or find a cheaper source to get your fix. When my girlfriend recently became addicted to $3.89 kombuchas, I knew we were shortly going to have a problem. Fortunately, kombucha is super easy to make at home and nearly free when you do it yourself.
There are many slight variations to making kombucha, and researching the process can be overwhelming. This is just how I do it, which is as simply as possible. There are two general methods to brew kombucha; I use the continuous brewing method, but you’ll have to use the batch method to get started. (Overall I much prefer the continuous brewing method, which ends up being a tiny hassle more often, rather than a bigger hassle less often.)
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage made by combining sugar-sweetened tea, a little starter kombucha (or vinegar in a pinch) and a SCOBY which stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, also known as a kombucha mushroom. You can get a SCOBY online, from someone locally, or grow one from a bottle of commercial kombucha.
This is the method you’d use if you’re just starting out experimenting, to make a new SCOBY, if you just want to make a batch at a time, or to kickstart your continuous brewing setup.
- Boil your water. See table for amount.
- Once the water boils, turn the heat off, stir in the sugar, and add the tea bags. See table for amount. Start with plain black tea, and then in the future experiment with Oolong or green tea. Do not use flavored green teas, as the oils will give off bad flavors.
- Let it cool down to room temperature or just above.
- Remove the tea bags. (You can also do this after the first 20 minutes of cooling, if you prefer.)
- If you have a SCOBY already, dump that in and add some kokmbucha from a previous batch. Alternatively, if you’re just starting and growing a new SCOBY, just dump in a whole bottle of raw commercial kombucha. I’ve used GT’s Synergy Original flavor several times.
- Cover the container with a coffee filter.
- Wait until the kombucha is ready.
In the batch method, you will usually end up with a new SCOBY at the end of every batch. The new one will form on the surface of the kombucha, and you can peel it away from the old SCOBY if it’s attached. You can throw it away, or give it to someone else to start making kombucha. You can also let it continue to grow, but at some point it will just take up too much space. If you handle it at all, give it a rinse in the sink before you put it in the next batch of kombucha. Cleanliness is important any time you’re dealing with fermented foods, you want to try to avoid introducing unfavorable bacteria.
Basically continuous brewing is a process by which you take away some finished kombucha and add more sweet tea to replace the kombucha you took away. This process can continue indefinitely. You need a good container for this, and one with a spigot will make it infinitely more easy. This one from Amazon is absolutely perfect, and I managed to snag one on Craigslist. Your container can’t be metal, and it really shouldn’t be plastic. The ceramic crock with a plastic spigot is ideal. The process basically goes like this:
- You have a batch of kombucha tea that is ready to be consumed.
- You draw off a couple bottles of finished kombucha.
- You add a couple bottles worth of sweet tea.
- Wait a day or two, and repeat.
What I do is make a batch of concentrated kombucha tea at a time, which I then put in the fridge to use to top-off my continuous brewing. It’s a lot less hassle than waiting for it to cool every time. To make the concentrate:
- Boil 4 cups of water.
- Turn off the heat. Mix in 1 cup of sugar and 8 tea bags.
- After 20 minutes, remove the tea bags.
- Store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Preferably glass.
When you’re bottling kombucha:
- Fill 2 bottles with finished kombucha. A 16oz bottle holds 2 cups.
- Mix 1 part concentrate with 3 parts water. (So, for example, 1 cup to 3 cups.)
- Add the 4 cups of sweetened tea to the kombucha container.
There are many ways to bottle the final kombucha product, but the general procedure is the same. I re-use GT’s Synergy bottles. Flavoring can be added with fruit juice, whole fruit, or something like slices of ginger root. You can add your flavoring before carbonation, or after. If you’re only going to carbonate for 24-48 hours I would suggest adding flavor first. If you’re going to let it carbonate longer, the flavor you add can introduce an ‘off’ flavor once fermented.
The kombucha is still very much alive, so sealing it off traps the CO2 and causes it to carbonate itself. Some people add some more sugar to ‘prime’ it, or increase the yeast activity, before bottling but I don’t find that to be necessary. If you add flavor in the form of juice, you’re actually already adding a little sugar for the yeast to chew on.
I currently make two flavors, grape chia and lemonade. For the grape chia:
- Thaw a can of frozen grape juice concentrate.
- Add 2-4 Tbsp of grape juice to the bottle. Depends on how much flavor you like.
- Add 1-2 Tbsp of chia seeds.
- Seal the bottle tight
- Leave the bottle at room temperature for 24-48 hours.
- Put the bottle in the refrigerator and chill it out.
For the lemonade, I just add the juice of one lemon to every bottle. I also leave these at room temperature for 24-48 hours to carbonate.
The kombucha making process seems daunting at first, like pouring out a box puzzle pieces. Once you’ve made a complete batch, you’ll see how all the pieces fit together and you’ll wonder why you thought it was so complicated at first. Go ahead, make your first batch and then let me know when you’ve perfected your own custom recipe!