I have recently fallen in love with kombucha. It’s slightly sweet, fizzy qualities have made it a good substitute for my preferred Pepsi. I love sparkling water, and have flavored it with juices and oils, but it’s not the same. There’s something about the texture that’s just not there, and it is with kombucha.
So, for one bottle of kombucha, I shelled out enough to buy lunch. Enough to feed my family lunch if I was careful. Then I discovered on Pinterest that it was easy to make at home.
I bought this Kombucha Starter Kit on Amazon. I was lucky to buy it at a discount, but was not required to leave a review (I did anyway), or to make this blog post (it was just good blog fodder). These are not affiliate links.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is fermented sweet tea. It has a strong distinctive flavor that is well-suited to being flavored with herbs or fruits. White it retains some of the sweetness from the tea, most of the available sugar you add to the recipe is eaten by the SCOBY (we’ll get there). It’s what helps the SCOBY make the bubbles! So kombucha is remarkably low in sugar compared to regular soft drinks or fruit juices.
SCOBY. Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. And the one thing you might have trouble finding at your local MegaMart. This is what turns your tea into a probiotic-filled sip of fizziness. That’s right, kombucha, especially homemade kombucha, is full of all those probiotics you’re supposed to be eating or taking or consuming somehow. The ones credited with boosting your immune system and creating a healthy gut. They’re in there.
Where do you get a SCOBY? The kit comes with a beautiful SCOBY, so you don’t have to worry. Otherwise, you can ask your favorite hippie friend, or post to Facebook to see if any of your friends have a spare. When you make kombucha, you grow a new SCOBY each time, so it’s likely someone who makes the stuff will have one. They’ll probably be excited and give you their favorite recipe, too. Feel free to follow it, or make two batches and compare them!
Did the Kit Make it Easier?
My first batch was a failure. As in, complete and utter. The directions that had come with my kit were faulty, and I didn’t do enough research to figure them out. See, the directions said to add “8 ounces (two cups) of sugar”. I was weighing everything from the kit so I could review it, and eight ounces of sugar is about one cup, not two! Everything else in the kit had come with EXACTLY the amount I needed. Exactly the amount of tea, one SCOBY, one rubber band, etc. I made the mistake of assuming it was the same with the sugar, and that the recipe should read “16 oz (two cups)”.
I was wrong. 100% wrong, in fact.
The resulting kombucha was fizzy, but also syrupy. I like sweet tea and sodas, but this was undrinkable. The SCOBY was lovely, having had plenty to eat, but the kombucha was decidedly undelicious.
Other than that, the kit was very helpful. I didn’t already have a gallon-sized glass jug, cheesecloth, or pH test strips. I’d have been digging through the craft drawer for a rubber band. With the kit, everything was there. I could get started, and replace items as I used them.
Using my new SCOBY, I tried a second batch. This time, I used a more flavorful black tea I happened to have handy, and just one cup of sugar. I stuck with the grapefruit, but added sage to mimic a flavor I liked from the store.
This batch was wonderful! And it wasn’t too awfully expensive to get started. I had many of the items already in my kitchen, and my biggest purchase was the bottles, which you don’t necessarily have to use!
Here’s What You Need:
(Items in bold text came with the Kombucha Starter Kit)
- 1 Glass Gallon-Sized Container
- 1 Cheesecloth, Muslin, or Coffee Filter – enough to cover the mouth of the container
- 15-20 grams of loose tea or 5-10 tea bags*
- 1 Cup (8 ounces) Organic Cane Sugar**
- 15 Cups (just under a gallon) filtered or distilled water. (About half should be chilled)
- 2 Tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
- Rubber Band to fit tightly around neck of glass container
- Non-metal Stirring Utensil (wooden spoon or rubber spatula)
- SCOBY, preferably with about 1 cup of plain kombucha from it’s storage place
- pH test strips (optional)
- Thermometer (optional, but helpful)
- Pot for boiling water.
- Measuring Cup and Tablespoon
- Flavorings (optional)– the kit came with hibiscus and ginger, which are classic kombucha additions. I used grapefruit juice and fresh sage. Pinterest is full of ideas, and I’ll be posting mine as I find great ones.
- Flip-Top Bottles. The ones I linked, and use, aren’t available at the time of this posting, but anything similar will work.
*Use green, white, or black tea, and do not use herbal or flavored teas. You can add flavor later, but the oils and essences used to flavor your tea might harm your brewing process!
**Yes, cane sugar. Yes, you’ll probably live if it’s not organic. No, I don’t know how it would work with other sweeteners, because I haven’t done it. Jun is a similar beverage made with honey, but the SCOBY is slightly different. If your SCOBY is used to eating sugar, it needs to eat sugar. Remember, you’re actually consuming very little of the sweetener in the end product.
Before You Begin
- Ensure utensils and containers are really clean. Using a vinegar rinse will help cut down the chances of unwanted bacterial growth, and give your booch a safe place to grow.
- Place half of your gallon of water in the fridge (the sooner the better), or freezer if you’re really rushing.
- Tie loose tea into a reusable tea bag (provided with the kit), cheesecloth, large tea ball, or whatever method you’ve chosen.
Make Sweet Tea
- Boil two quarts, half a gallon, eight cups, or 64 ounces of filtered water.
- Remove pot from heat and add tea, in bags or your favorite tea infuser.
- Steep tea for 5-7 minutes, then discard tea bags..
- Add sugar. Just the one cup. Stir into hot tea until dissolved.
- Pour hot tea into glass container. Add chilled water, leaving about 3 inches of space at the top of the jar (you may not use all of your water).
- Wait for the tea to cool. It should feel cool to the touch, between 70 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add the Magic
- Wash your hands, rinse well with water, then rinse again with white vinegar. (Traces of soap can harm the booch-making process, but the vinegar helps balance you hands’ pH level.)
- Slide your SCOBY into the new tea, along with the one cup of starter kombucha from your friend, or two tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Give it a stir with that non-metallic utensil, and check the pH level if you’re using test strips. Ideally, the pH should be between 3.5 and 4.5. While my kit came with test strips, plenty of people make kombucha without them. If your tap water is very alkaline, you may consider using distilled water just to be on the safe side.
Let the Magic Happen
- Cover the jar with 3-4 layers of cheesecloth, muslin, or a coffee filter. Secure with the rubber band.
- Find your container a home, at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and where it won’t be disturbed.
- No, Wait some more
- In about 3-4 days, you’ll probably be able to see a “baby” SCOBY forming. Alternately, your original SCOBY may be growing or changing. This is all good. It’s what you want to happen.Yes, it’s supposed to look like that. You’re not making visual art, and you take it out before you drink it.*
- Keep waiting. Your Kombucha should be ready for bottling and a second fermentation in about 7-10 days. You should have a healthy new SCOBY, ready for another batch, or a SCOBY hotel. At this stage, your kombucha should test between 2.5 and 3.5 on your test strips.
*If your SCOBY should form black spots that scrape off or mysterious fuzz, that’s mold. It’s very unusual for kombucha SCOBY to have problems, but if this happens you do have to toss the batch and start over. I have no photos of mold because I’ve not yet had it happen 🙂
Start a SCOBY Hotel
- Rinse your hands with vinegar again, as well as any tools you might use for this purpose (remember, no metal!)
- Remove the SCOBY, both of them if you’ve grown a new one, to a glass container with a wide mouth. Add about a cup of your kombucha, enough that the SCOBY can float around in it. Cover this jar with muslin, cheesecloth, or a coffee filter like you did before, and you have a SCOBY hotel! It’ll just wait there for the next time you make booch.
Make it Your Favorite Flavor
- Flavoring: I made my own recipe right from the start. I used the lemon and ginger recipe from the kit’s instructions, but modified it to use grapefruit instead of lemon. In a couple of other bottles, I used hibiscus, about 1/4 teaspoon per bottle. You can find kombucha recipes online, and I’ll be posting many of my own as I experiment!
- Bottles: If you’re bottling your kombucha, be sure to use a vinegar rinse after washing your bottles as well. Bottling is fun, because you can add different flavors to each bottle. Using any recipe you like, add the desired amount of herbs, juices, or other enhancements to the bottle. I added about two tablespoons of grapefruit juice and 1/8 teaspoon of ginger powder. Then, using a funnel pour the kombucha into the bottles, up to the shoulder. Wipe off any spills, and flip the lids closed. Put your bottles in a place like where you had your booch growing before. Proceed to step 18.
- No Bottles: Leave your kombucha in the original glass container, and flavor it with whatever recipe you prefer. Be sure to scale it up or down if it was created for bottles, or choose to create your own! Close the jar with it’s regular lid. Put it back in the spot where it had been growing, out of light and at room temperature. Proceed.
Finish Your Creation
- Wait…Again. It’ll take about three days for your kombucha to have that fizzy, finished feel and tart flavor you’re looking for. During this time, it’s a good idea to “burp” your container or bottles every 12 hours or so. Just open each one, let out the excess gas, and close it back up.
- Yay, kombucha! After three days, taste your kombucha. If you prefer it a little more tart and fizzy, let it go for another 12 hours and check it again. If it’s good as-is, pop your container or bottles in the fridge for storage. This will slow the fermentation, but not stop it entirely, so if you’re going to leave your bottles in the fridge for more than a week, you might want to burp them occasionally, just to be on the safe side.
Kombucha contains a small amount of alcohol, but high alcohol levels are rare in kombucha homebrewing. “It’s quite difficult, even under optimal conditions to reach 2.5 percent alcohol by volume,” according to Victor Rusu, formerly of Beyond Kombucha. “Home brews are generally .5 to 1.5 percent.” If you’re very concerned about the amount of alcohol, you can skip the second fermentation step and drink your kombucha “raw”.
So, there you go. The kit was really helpful in getting started, but you can definitely do kombucha on your own, too! As I get more creative, I’ll post my own recipes for flavors and additions, but for now, let me know what you do!