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Kombucha

Brewing Kombucha: Step-by-Step

Now that you’ve gathered all of the supplies to make kombucha, now it’s time to brew!

(If you are wondering what kombucha is, start here.)

Day 1: Brew

Today, you will need

  • 1 gallon water
  • 3-4 bags or 2-4 tablespoons loose leaf tea
  • 1 cup sugar            
  • 1 symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) and fermented liquid   
  • Pot
  • Spoon
  • Large glass brewing jar (mine is an old pickle jar)
  • Sieve (if using loose leaf tea)
  • Piece of cloth large enough to cover the jar opening
  • Rubber band or twine(Additional details about these items are here.)
    1. Boil water in the pot.
    2. Remove from heat and stir in tea leaves and sugar.
    3. Let the sweet tea cool to room temperature. (I go about my day and then come back to it when I have time.)
    4. Pour the room-temperature sweet tea into the glass container/fermenting jar
  • Strain while pouring if using loose-leaf tea.
  • If your SCOBY came in fermented liquid, be sure to add this to the jar. Alternatively, you could add a bit of store-bought kombucha. If you do not have any already-fermented liquid, plan for your first batch to take a minimum of ten days rather than seven. If you are maintaining a SCOBY hotel, refresh your backup jar with any remaining tea.
  • Cover the jar with cloth and secure with rubber band or twine.
  • Leave in an out-of-the-way, warm place out of direct sunlight (indirect light is fine).

 

Day 6+: Prepare to Bottle

  1. Clean the Day 7+ bottling and brewing equipment (see preparation instructions).

Day 7-10+: Bottle and Brew

Today, you will need

  • 3-5 glass bottles
  • Something to label storage bottles with
  • Funnel
  • Sieve
  • Flavoring agents
  • All Day 1 supplies, if starting another batch
    (Additional details about these items are here.)
  1. One to two-ish weeks after you’ve brewed, it is time to bottle. The longer you wait, the less sugar will remain and the benefits of fermentation will be stronger. However, the taste will be more vinegary. Each family will have their opinion on when the brew is ready. We like 7-10 days. We did three weeks once, and it was not palatable.
  2. Inspect your SCOBY and the brew. Mold is bad. Colors in the realm of cream and brown are normal variations for a SCOBY. Bubbles also are normal, but not required.
    The bottom picture shows the various colors and textures that a healthy SCOBY can have. You do no need to remove the SCOBY from the jar (though you can, if you’d like to rinse off the stringy and chunky bits)
  3. If you are doing the continuous brew method,  boil water and add tea and sugar. Let sit in the pot to cool. (See Day 1 for a review, if needed)
  4. In the meanwhile, bottle last week’s batch. The dishwasher door is a great place to do this and contain any spills.
    E is not amused at being left out.
  5. Pour the kombucha into glass bottles using a funnel and sieve (to strain out debris).
  6. If you would like carbonation, leave a good amount of head room.
    The red is the kombucha. You can see  I’ve left several inches of headroom on this narrow-necked bottle. I’d leave less with a wide-necked jar.
  7. Leave some of the brew in the fermenting jar for the next batch (or to feed your SCOBY if you are not brewing again right away).
    The SCOBY remains covered with old kombucha in preparation for a new batch.

  8. You can drink your kombucha now, or you can flavor it and then do secondary fermentation. Flavor the drink by adding pieces of fruit, herbs, or juice into the bottles. A post just on this is forthcoming, but I’ll share that my favorite is freshly squeezed orange juice plus the rind.
    Yummy organic oranges.
    Cranberry, mango, and plain
  9. Label the bottles with the date and flavors.
    A grease pencil works well for labeling.
  10. Let the filled bottles sit at room temperature for a few days to carbonate and undergo secondary fermentation (if desired).
    The top of the refrigerator is a good storage space in our small kitchen.
  11. If you are doing the continuous brew method, start your next batch by adding the cooled sweet tea from step 2 into the fermenting jar (along with the reserved fermented kombucha).

3 Days Later

  1. Put the bottles in the fridge to end fermentation (so it doesn’t become alcoholic).
  2. Drink as desired. (Take it slow if you are new to kombucha. The benefits to your gut health can be a little too good if you start with too much, too soon.)
    Berry Kombucha
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Preparing to Brew Kombucha

It takes some time get all of the items needed to brew kombucha. But, this part is probably the hardest step, as the brewing is easy. Here is how to prepare:

Gather Ingredients

Water (1 gallon)
I estimate by using a large pot. Precise quantity is not important. If using tap water, you do not  need to prepare this ahead of time.

Tea (3-4 bags/2-4 tablespoons loose leaf)
Black tea works well.  Quantity varies based on quality and type of tea. I have had success with Wegman’s decaf orange pekoe (bags), and Frontier’s Organic Black Decaf (loose). Herbal tea and chai turned out vile.

Sugar (1 cup)
I mostly use raw cane sugar because that is what we have, but the cheap white stuff works just as well. You can use honey or other natural sweeteners, but it can produce an off taste. Note that the sugar feeds the SCOBY, and little sugar will remain in the fermented product (the longer is brews, the less sugar remains).

Symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY)
Reserve the liquid the SCOBY comes in. Obtain from a friend, online, or even Craigslist.

Gather supplies
Needed for Day 1

  • Pot
  • Spoon
  • Large glass brewing jar (mine is an old pickle jar)
  • Sieve (if using loose leaf tea)
  • Piece of cloth large enough to cover the jar opening
  • Rubber band or twine 
  • Optional: small glass jar, extra fabric, extra twine (for backup SCOBY)
Some of the Day 1 Supplies

Needed for Day 7+

  • 3-5 glass storage/drinking bottles (Old glass jars with lids work just as well as beer brewing bottles. If using jars with metal lids, place a piece of parchment paper in between the jar and lid.)
  • Something to label storage bottles with (grease pencil, masking tape, post-it, Sharpie, etc.)
  • Funnel
  • Flavoring agents (fruit, juice, herbs, etc.)
  • All of the equipment from Day 1
Some of the Day 7+ Bottling Day Supplies

 Clean Your Equipment

  • Using a dishwasher on heat dry is an easy way to sanitize (even if you don’t have a sanitize cycle).  
  • Alternatively, boil water and then submerge small items in the water (provided they are heat-safe). For your brewing vessel, pour some of the water inside, cap, and swish around, being mindful that the glass will get very hot. Dump out the water. 
  • Let all items cool to room temperature before using.

Prepare a SCOBY Hotel (optional)
Sometimes SCOBYs go bad. Other times, you might make a really vile batch of kombucha and you want to have clean starter liquid on reserve for your next batch rather than perpetuating the nastiness. To make a SCOBY hotel, assemble a jar containing a small bit of SCOBY (perhaps one layer of your large SCOBY) and a small amount of kombucha. Top with cloth and rubber band or twine. Leave in an out-of-the-way, warm place out of direct sunlight (indirect light is fine).

Preparing the SCOBY Hotel and Fermenting Jar

 

This is part of a series on brewing kombucha. You can view all of the kombucha entries here.

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Kombucha Homebrewing Kick Off


I was at a Holistic  Moms Network (HMN) when I first drank kombucha. I had no idea what kombucha was, but the bottle said it was ginger and lemon flavored, so I gave it a try. Surprising! Zingy! Yum! It had some effervescence to it and a light sweetness but also a slight vinegar taste (a good thing in my book).  Then I found out what kombucha is: fermented tea.

 

On the one hand, that freaked me out. It makes it sound like I am going to get food poisoning. On the other hand, fermented foods (e.g. kimchi) and drinks (e.g. wine) have long been a healthy part of many traditional diets. I actually had been looking to add fermented foods to my diet to help with acid reflux and it seemed that kombucha could fit the bill in a delicious way.

I bought a couple of bottles at the store but at nearly $4 a pop, that could only be a special treat. Inspired by some fellow HMN members, I decide to try brewing my own. I got a one-gallon glass pickle jar off Freecycle to be my brewing vessel. A new friend from the group gave me a SCOBY (the living part of the kombucha) along with a crash course. 

SCOBY is short for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY digests the sugar from the sweetened starter tea and turns it into the fermented kombucha. The SCOBY looks really slimy, flimsy and disgusting in pictures. I find it less gross in person. It looks wet, but is fairly dry to the touch and it sturdier than I expected it to be.

 Armed with tea, SCOBY, bottles, and some courage—I gave it a go and am now on my fourth batch. I am shocked at how easy brewing it is. I spend just 20 minutes per week of active time with the brewing, flavoring, and bottling. That said, I just ended up with my first truly yummy bottle today. Needless to say, I need to work out some more of my kinks before I do a full tutorial.

 
 In the meanwhile you can learn from some of my early mistakes…

·       Starting off with a good non-herbal tea really is key. Believe the internet on this: herbal tea can lead to funky kombucha. Getting so excited about brewing kombucha that you grab the remainders of a box of a coconut chai, red tea/herbal tea blend and just go for it gives instant satisfaction. But you pay for it when the kombucha is ready 10 days later and tastes utterly vile. In this case, water your compost pile with it or offer it to a non-discerning two-year-old who will (shockingly) ask for more.

·       In the case of bad starter tea, do not retain 1/3 gallon of the vile kombucha to help ferment the next batch with a superior tea, as it will make the next batch taste gross, too.

·       Do not freak and think your SCOBY has gone moldy when really all you are seeing is the new baby SCOBY growing on top.


Healthy Baby SCOBY
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