What is Kombucha?
(kom·bu·cha / kômˈbo͞oCHə/) – noun – a beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria.
I was introduced to kombucha in the craziest way in the summer of 2013. An afternoon meandering through the internet, which likely included a couple of hilarious cat videos and probably some juicing information, somehow led me to someones blog on this amazing probiotic drink that was going to be the elixir to health. The more I read about kombucha, the more I knew that this was something that I had to have in my life. Immune booster (some say), delicious homemade healthy drink loaded with naturally occurring probiotics, and bonus! I can learn the secrets to making kombucha at home myself.
Wikipedia describes it as “a lightly effervescent fermented drink of sweetened black and/or green tea that is used as a functional food. It is produced by fermenting the tea using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or “SCOBY“”
What Wikipedia does not tell you, is that this delicious, light fizzy drink, often flavoured with a variety of natural berries, fruits, herbs and savories, is one of the most easy to make drinks in your home. If you love soda but want to end your relationship with it, then kombucha is a healthy alternative that you can make for pennies a glass. Purchased in natural food stores, it can run between $4 and $5 for a 350 ml bottle of kombucha. Made at home, with green or black tea, white sugar and fruits and berries, or herbs, can be made for $5 a batch of 10x750ml bottles. That works out to $.50 per 750 ml bottle!
Making kombucha at home is an easy process once you have learned the basics.
The first thing you will need (but can still make without – it’s just a longer process) is a SCOBY.
Not talking about a cartoon dog that solves mysteries, this is the real deal. A SCOBY is a symbiotic colony (or culture, I’ve seen both) of bacteria and yeast.
If you are lucky enough to have a friend who makes kombucha, they will be happy to share with you. They will have lots. You will understand this in a few months! If not, you can make a kombucha scoby on your own just like I did! Full directions here.
To make kombucha at home, you will need:
- A few large clean glass jars. I find old pickle jars work best, or this one from IKEA
- Flip-top style bottles. If you are a Grolsch or Hacker Pshorr drinker you can use these, washed carefully and rinsed very well, or look online for people selling these style bottles in a larger size. (Sometimes called “growlers”).
- A funnel – Helpful for the bottling process.
- Wooden spoon (I have one with “only for kombucha” written on the side.
- Unbleached coffee filters and rubber bands.
- Sugar, Tea, SCOBY
- Assorted berries, fruits, or herbs (for second step of brewing process)
VERY IMPORTANT – Ensure that all jars, bottles, wood utensils (don’t use metal utensils) and funnels are clean. You can wash with hot soapy water, but rinse multiple times to ensure that no soap residue will be left. Soap residue in any container or on a utensil, can harm the brewing process and ruin a batch and SCOBY. It’s not worth it! I wash well in hottest water I can stand, and then rinse. My bottling bottles are initially all sterilized first and scrubbed, and then rinsed numerous times. Between brews, I rinse out when I finish a bottle, store, and rinse in hottest water before bottling again – no need to re-sterilize each time.
- 2 quarts water (1.9litres or 8 cups)
- 4 tea bags (can use green tea or plain black tea – no flavours or oils ie. Earl Grey is not recommended, organic if you wish)
- 3/4 cup white sugar (can use organic white sugar if you prefer a completely organic kombucha)
- 1/2 cup last batch starter
- Coffee filters (unbleached for the purists – mine aren’t)
- large jars for brewing
- swing top bottles (for bottling step in 5 or so days after brewing)
Boil water and add tea when boiled. Turn off heat. Steep tea for 10+ minutes. Add sugar (This can be done in advance to allow tea to cool). Prepare large wide mouth jars (cleaned/sterilized). Add starter to tea. Add SCOBY to each brewing jar (sometimes I add two!).
Cover each jar with a coffee filter or cloth, tied down with a rubber band. Place in dark undisturbed space for 5-10 days (depending on sweetness desired). Temperature should be steady between 68-72 degrees. The warmer it is, the faster your kombucha will brew. There will be a thick layer on top of your kombucha that has formed, shaped to the jar that it is in. This is your new SCOBY. Beginning to see why that friend was so happy to lend you theirs? Check after 5 days with straw inserted through side of top SCOBY to see what the taste is like. Don’t be weirded out by the SCOBY. It will take on all sorts of interesting forms. Many of mine have lots of stringy bits dangling underneath. All good. This is the yeast at work. Depending on your preference (sweeter or with a more pronounced vinegar flavour) you can begin the bottling process, or let it brew for an additional day or two. Your choice!
When kombucha is brewed, mix all together in one pot (I use original tea brewing pot). Using clean bottles (I run hottest water through them before bottling – see “cleaning and utensils”) cut up desired flavourings (cut up nice and small, as they have to pass through the neck of the bottle when pouring) and place in bottle. Quantities of flavourings are a personal preference, but I usually allow about 1/4 cup per 750 ml bottle. Pour in kombucha through funnel just to the “shoulder” of the bottle and then seal. (This is important – do not overfill as they will carbonate, and often will fizz over a LOT when opening)
Here is where you can get really creative! I started with a berry mix (blackberry, raspberry and blueberry) but quickly moved to more interesting combinations (think star anise syrup or lemongrass ginger and mint).
Lots of ginger in your brew will make a divine punchy “ginger ale” that is good for you!
Some have had great success with pineapple but I find it affects my kombucha’s fizziness so I have not done it again. I would LOVE to hear some of your ideas or what has worked or not worked in the comments below!
When your bottles are all filled and sealed place in a quiet place in your home, where the temperature will stay steady anywhere between 68 and 73 degrees. After about 3-4 days, you can open one (OVER THE SINK FOR HEAVENS SAKE) to see if it has fizzed up! If it is fizzy, you are finished brewing, and can put the bottles in the fridge to stop the fermenting/fizzing process. Be sure to set a reminder on your phone for this part of the process. The kombucha is building up lots of pressure in there as it carbonates, and glass can be finicky that way. I leave mine a maximum of 6 days for fizzing but I would check at 3. If it does not fizz, try for another few days.
Enjoying your kombucha:
After you have made your brew, fizzed it up, and put in the fridge to cool, you can now enjoy this amazing drink! We typically pour over a small sieve into a glass and enjoy in the hot tub. You can serve with frozen fruit “cubes” (we keep frozen strawberries for this purpose) and kombucha makes a divine mix, if you are so inclined to experiment with cocktails, alcoholic and non! (This picture was kombucha with Pimm’s and some frozen strawberries – delicious!)
Once you get the hang of making your own kombucha at home, you will find that this becomes a bit of an addiction. The properties of kombucha will leave your head feeling clearer, tummy happier, and many people report an overall wellness feeling when drinking kombucha regularly. It is suggested when first drinking it, to limit yourself to 4 oz. at a time, no more than 12 oz. a day. When your body adjusts to the healthy probiotics and positive effects, you can increase this amount.
Think of all the money you will save, not to mention being able to try any flavour of kombucha that you want. I’m doing a basil mint this summer that I am very excited about. Mint grows in a big pot in my garden and this is it’s sole reason for being there!
I would love to hear about flavors that you have tried in your own kombucha that you have made at home. What worked? What hasn’t worked. I will work on a FAQ page for kombucha and any questions that you have will be answered there!