I’ve been addicted to kombucha from first sip. It wasn’t really the probiotics or other health promises that did it for me — although I’ll take those, too! It was the way it tasted: like tart green apple mixed with sour stone fruits, but with an underlying sweetness that keeps it all together. And fizzy! I couldn’t believe that something this delicious could actually be made from tea, of all things. Or that I could make it at home with a few very basic ingredients.
What Is Kombucha Tea?
Kombucha starts out as a sugary tea, which is then fermented with the help of a . “SCOBY” is actually an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” It’s very close cousins to the mother used to make vinegar.
The scoby bacteria and yeast eat most of the sugar in the tea, transforming the tea into a refreshingly fizzy, slightly sour fermented (but mostly non-alcoholic) beverage that is relatively low in calories and sugar.
The Best, Cheapest Jar for Brewing Kombucha
If you need a jar to get your kombucha brewing, this is our favorite 1-gallon option. It even comes with cheesecloth and a lid so you don’t have to hunt those down separately.
Let’s talk about that scoby — you can see what it looks like in the picture above. It’s weird, right? It floats, it’s rubbery and a bit slippery, brown stringy bits hang from it, and it transforms sugary tea into something fizzy and sour. It’s totally weird. But if you take a step back, it’s also pretty awesome.
There are a lot of theories about why the bacteria and yeast form this jelly-like layer of cellulose at the top of the kombucha. The most plausible that I’ve found is that it protects the fermenting tea from the air and helps maintain a very specific environment inside the jar that is shielded from outsiders, aka unfriendly bacteria. I think of it as the mobile home for friendly bacteria and yeast, happily traveling from jar to jar of kombucha.
Which brings us to the next question: What’s actually in kombucha? Kombucha is indisputably full of probiotics and other happy things that our intestines love and that help boost our overall health. Claims that kombucha cures things like arthritis, depression, and heart burn have less of a proven track record, but hey, our bodies are all different and I say go for it if it works for you.
Brewing Kombucha Safely
While the home-brewed nature of kombucha makes some home cooks nervous, it’s unlikely that kombucha will ever make you sick. I spoke with Eric Child of Kombucha Brooklyn when I first started working on my homebrewing book, True Brews, and he said something that has really stuck with me: “Kombucha has been around for a very long time and been brewed in environments that were even dirtier than our own.”
Like all things, you need to use common sense when brewing it and pay attention to what you’re doing. It’s natural to feel nervous and unsure at first. Bottom line: If the scoby is healthy, then the kombucha will be healthy. (See the Troubleshooting section below.)
Is There Alcohol in Kombucha?
Kombucha does contain a little bit of alcohol as a by-product of the fermentation process. It is usually no more than 1%, so unless you drink several glasses back to back, you should be just fine. However, people with alcohol sensitivities or who avoid alcohol for other reasons should be aware of its presence.
I’m breaking the kombucha-making process into very small steps here. It looks long and complicated, but this is actually a very straightforward and streamlined process. Once you get into the rhythm of it, bottling a finished batch of kombucha and preparing the next only takes about 20 minutes every seven to 10 days.
Where to Find Kombucha Brewing Supplies
You can use regular, store-bought tea and sugar for brewing kombucha. You can pick up a scoby from a kombucha-brewing friend or even make your own.
If you’re having trouble finding a scoby or any other supplies, check out Cultures for Health.
How To Make Kombucha Tea at Home
Yield: Makes about 1 gallon
- 3 1/2 quarts water
- 1 cup sugar (regular granulated sugar works best)
- 8 bags black tea, green tea, or a mix (or 2 tablespoons loose tea)
- 2 cups starter tea from last batch of kombucha or store-bought kombucha (unpasteurized, neutral-flavored)
- 1 scoby per fermentation jar, homemade or purchased online
Optional Flavoring Extras for Bottling
- 1 to 2 cups chopped fruit
- 2 to 3 cups fruit juice
- 1 to 2 tablespoons flavored tea (like hibiscus or Earl Grey)
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh herbs or spices
- Stock pot
- 1-gallon glass jar or two 2-quart glass jars
- Tightly woven cloth (like clean napkins or tea towels), covvee filters, or paper towels, to cover the jar
- Bottles: Six 16-oz glass bottles with plastic lids, swing-top bottles, or clean soda bottles
- Small funnel
Note: Avoid prolonged contact between the kombucha and metal both during and after brewing. This can affect the flavor of your kombucha and weaken the scoby over time.
Make the tea base: Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Drop in the tea and allow it to steep until the water has cooled. Depending on the size of your pot, this will take a few hours. You can speed up the cooling process by placing the pot in an ice bath.
Add the starter tea: Once the tea is cool, remove the tea bags or strain out the loose tea. Stir in the starter tea. (The starter tea makes the liquid acidic, which prevents unfriendly bacteria from taking up residence in the first few days of fermentation.)
Transfer to jars and add the scoby: Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon glass jar (or divide between two 2-quart jars, in which case you'll need 2 scobys) and gently slide the scoby into the jar with clean hands. Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers tightly-woven cloth, coffee filters, or paper towels secured with a rubber band. (If you develop problems with gnats or fruit flies, use a tightly woven cloth or paper towels, which will do a better job keeping the insects out of your brew.)
Ferment for 7 to 10 days: Keep the jar at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and where it won't get jostled. Ferment for 7 to 10 days, checking the kombucha and the scoby periodically.
It's not unusual for the scoby to float at the top, bottom, or even sideways during fermentation. A new cream-colored layer of scoby should start forming on the surface of the kombucha within a few days. It usually attaches to the old scoby, but it's ok if they separate. You may also see brown stringy bits floating beneath the scoby, sediment collecting at the bottom, and bubbles collecting around the scoby. This is all normal and signs of healthy fermentation.
After 7 days, begin tasting the kombucha daily by pouring a little out of the jar and into a cup. When it reaches a balance of sweetness and tartness that is pleasant to you, the kombucha is ready to bottle.
Remove the scoby: Before proceeding, prepare and cool another pot of strong tea for your next batch of kombucha, as outlined above. With clean hands, gently lift the scoby out of the kombucha and set it on a clean plate. As you do, check it over and remove the bottom layer if the scoby is getting very thick.
Bottle the finished kombucha: Measure out your starter tea from this batch of kombucha and set it aside for the next batch. Pour the fermented kombucha (straining, if desired) into bottles using the small funnel, along with any juice, herbs, or fruit you may want to use as flavoring. Leave about a half inch of head room in each bottle. (Alternatively, infuse the kombucha with flavorings for a day or two in another covered jar, strain, and then bottle. This makes a cleaner kombucha without "stuff" in it.)
Carbonate and refrigerate the finished kombucha: Store the bottled kombucha at room temperature out of direct sunlight and allow 1 to 3 days for the kombucha to carbonate. Until you get a feel for how quickly your kombucha carbonates, it's helpful to keep it in plastic bottles; the kombucha is carbonated when the bottles feel rock solid. Refrigerate to stop fermentation and carbonation, and then consume your kombucha within a month.
Make a fresh batch of kombucha: Clean the jar being used for kombucha fermentation. Combine the starter tea from your last batch of kombucha with the fresh batch of sugary tea, and pour it into the fermentation jar. Slide the scoby on top, cover, and ferment for 7 to 10 days.