Not too long ago kombucha was a fringe beverage, a murky concoction brewing on someone’s kitchen counter or being sold in a few health food stores. In recent years, however, kombucha has gone mainstream. It’s now widely available in an array of eye-catching colors and flavors and sold in stylish glass bottles. Even at the price of nearly $4.00 for 16 ounces, people are regularly carrying cases of the stuff out of Whole Foods Market. So what’s all the fuss about?
There’s the not-too-sweet flavor, the carbonated zing and the potential health benefits. Kombucha is a fermented beverage (fermented tea, to be exact), which means it can introduce beneficial bacteria into your body. Once you get used to the somewhat vinegary flavor and as long as you watch the sugar content, kombucha is a refreshing and enjoyable drink. If you plan to drink it semi-regularly, then it makes sense to start your own brew at home.
Making kombucha is surprisingly easy, although getting started can be intimidating. As if the name kombucha weren’t odd enough, the brewing process involves watching a slimy, gelatinous disc of bacteria and yeast, called a Scoby, float around in a jar of brown liquid. It’s all very mysterious and science-projecty, and to be honest, not all that appetizing. But what’s going on in that jar of liquid is pure magic.
It all begins by brewing a simple cup of tea, adding sugar and a little bit of already brewed kombucha and then adding the really crucial ingredient, a starter culture. The starter culture is what digests the sugar and makes fermentation happen. In the case of kombucha, the starter culture is called a Scoby (also sometimes called a “mother”). Scoby is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. You can get a fresh Scoby from a friend who makes kombucha or buy a dehydrated Scoby online.
Once these four things – tea, sugar, already brewed kombucha and a Scoby – are in a jar together, you simply leave it alone, lightly covered, until optimal fermentation has been reached. This can take anywhere between 5-30 days. During this time, the Scoby does its thing, consuming sugar and producing acids, vitamins and minerals. In many cases, it will even give birth to another Scoby that will form on the surface of the tea. What you do with this second Scoby is up to you (give it to a friend, use it for a new batch of kombucha, compost it, let your kids play with it). What you do with the mildly sweet, pleasantly tangy, effervescent and probiotic-rich liquid it leaves behind is simple: pour into a glass and enjoy.
Makes 1 quart of kombucha
You will need a glass jar to hold the liquid and a coffee filter or towel for a lid.
- 2 1/2 cups hot (not boiling) water
- 1/4 cup organic evaporated cane crystals (sugar)
- 2 tea bags (black, oolong or green)
- 1/2 cup already-made unflavored kombucha tea
- Kombucha culture (Scoby)
About the Ingredients:
Do not use any other sweetener in place of white sugar or evaporated cane crystals and do not use less sugar than the recipe calls for. White sugar/evaporated cane crystals are the easiest for the Scoby to digest and insure a healthy ph level in the brew so that the kombucha does not go bad while fermenting. If kombucha is brewed long enough, most of the sugar added at the beginning is not present in the final beverage.
The more batches of kombucha you make, the more you can experiment with the type of tea used. When you first start, however, the best options are black, oolong or green tea.. For more specifics, check out recommendations on the Cultures for Health website.
If you don’t have already-made, unflavored kombucha (which can be bought at many health food stores and some grocery stores) you can use vinegar instead, although it will give the drink a stronger vinegar flavor. Use either white or apple cider vinegar, but do not use raw vinegar because the live cultures in raw vinegar won’t be friendly to the Scoby.
If you bought a dehydrated Scoby, follow the instructions you receive with it to re-hydrate the culture. Note that this process, although simple, can take several weeks.
Heat water. It shouldn’t be boiling, just hot enough to dissolve sugar and brew tea.
Pour sugar in a glass jar. Add hot water. Add tea bags.
Steep tea for a few minutes or up to ten minutes. Remove the tea bags. Allow the liquid to cool completely to room temperature.
Add the 1/2 cup of already-made, unflavored kombucha to the liquid in the jar.
Put the Scoby in the jar. Do not use anything metal to lift the Scoby – just use clean hands.
Cover the jar with a lid that allows airflow. A coffee filter or towel secured with a rubber band works well.
Let sit undisturbed at least 5 days and up to 30 days in a warm room (at least 70 degrees is ideal) but out of direct sunlight. Cooler rooms will slow fermentation.
When the kombucha is done brewing, cover with an airtight lid. You can drink it immediately, put it in the refrigerator to chill, or let it sit out with a lid for a few days to improve carbonation.
There are several ways to decide when your kombucha is ready to drink. Most people decide simply by tasting the tea. There are additional factors to consider as well.
- The most precise way is to buy pH testing strips at the drugstore and stick one in the jar. When it shows a pH level between 2.6 – 4.0, the tea can be drunk at any time. Within this range, the tea is not too acidic too drink but acidic enough to prevent unwanted, unhealthy bacteria (mold) from being present.
- The longer a jar of kombucha sits and brews, the less sugar will be present in the final tea. This is a good thing, and worth waiting for. After about 30 days, the Scoby has consumed all the sugar it can so it’s not really worth waiting much longer than that. Keep in mind that the tea will also taste less sweet and more vinegary the longer it ferments, and this can be an acquired taste.
- During fermentation, a layer of film will develop on the surface that will eventually turn into a new culture (Scoby). If you wait for this Scoby to fully develop before drinking your kombucha, you can use it to make a new batch of kombucha (you can also use your original Scoby to make a new batch).
Kombucha often has stringy remnants of yeast particles floating on the bottom of the jar. You can strain this out before drinking if desired (don’t use a metal strainer, as metal will react with the acids in the tea).
Kombucha sold in stores is often flavored with fruit juice. This can increase the sugar level of the drink, so try drinking your homemade kombucha straight, without additional flavoring.