Kombucha is a beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with a living culture of yeast and bacteria. The health benefits are numerous and may be your motivation for wanting to drink it every day, but my husband and I enjoy a bottle or two every day/night as a treat because it tastes so good and makes us feel great!
Health Benefits of Kombucha:
- Detoxifies Your Body – Because it is rich in enzymes and bacterial aids, it gives your pancreas and liver a break.
- Prevents Cancer – It is high in Glucaric acid which studies show can help prevent cancer.
- Prevents and Treats Arthritis – It contains glucasamines which increases synovial hyaluronic acid production that preserves the cartilage structures which prevents arthritic pain and enables connective tissue bind moisture which increases lubrication and flexibility.
- Aids Digestion and Gut Health – Because it is a probiotic beverage it has such benefits as improved digestion, fighting candida (which is an overgrowth of harmful yeast), mental clarity, and mood stability by basically crowding out the bad bacteria in your intestinal tract.
- Boosts the Immune System – It is rich in anti-oxidants which boost your immune system and energy levels.
Ok, so you’re convinced. Drinking kombucha is great, and you want to do it! But where do you get it? Well, if you’re fortunate enough to live near some eclectic health stores, you should be able to buy some off the shelf. But at $3.50 a bottle at the store or $42/case of 12 with a $28 shipping fee from Amazon, you might just be better off making it yourself! It sounds a little daunting to set up, but once you get a system going, it’s easy to maintain and you can tailor your kombucha to your specific liking. Here’s how we do it.
- Brewing Jars – You will need glass jars for the first fermentation. I like doing two jars at a time for a continuous brew for both my husband and I who have different brews, so we use a total of four gallon sized jars. This is the perfect system that allows each of us to drink one (if not two) bottles a day. I like to find glass iced tea jars with a spigot during the summer when they are on sale at our local grocery store for like $6.99. This is the best I could find on Amazon, but it’s 2 gallons. Or you can use just a straight up plain glass gallon size jar.
- Tea Pot – I picked up my tea pot at a thrift store ages ago and I love it’s wide mouth that enables me to add my loose leaf tea and sugar. You can find something similar on Amazon, or just make do with what you have.
- Strainer – After brewing your loose leaf tea, you’ll want to strain it as you pour it into your container with something like these.
- Filtered Water – If you’re lucky enough to have well water, great! Use that. We have city water with no flouride (Yeah!) so we just get a basic filter that we add to our kitchen water spout. But while flouride isn’t good for you, it won’t really affect your brew (just your health). What you DO really want to watch our for is the chlorine. Chlorine may kill bad bacteria, but it also kills good bacteria, and it can kill your scoby. Chlorine is a gas and it will evaporate if you leave your water to sit out for 24 hours. You can also boil your water for 10 minutes to do the trick.
- Bottles – If you choose to do a second ferment (which I highly recommend because it creates a bubbly and slightly alcoholic – like less than a nonalcoholic beer, but still nice – beverage) then you’ll need a glass jar that can be sealed tightly. While kind of expensive, I really like using these bottles. I purchased 2 cases because I brew two gallon sized jars for both my husband and I (four all together) and this number of bottles works well with that. You can also just pour the kombucha directly from the spigot and drink it that way too. This bottle brush is great for cleaning out the bottles.
- Tea – I started out buying tea from the grocery store, but there so many chemical contaminants in commercial tea that I find it’s better (and cheaper) to buy bulk organic tea on Amazon. There are many different types of tea to get, but it’s best to start with black tea to activate your kombucha. This is what I use to brew my husband’s kombucha. Once it gets going, you can choose different kinds of tea based on your preferences. I seem to be constantly pregnant around here, and with red raspberry leaf tea having so many wonderful benefits and me trying to avoid caffeine, that’s what I brew with.
- Sugar – If you’ve got the money, go ahead and buy the organic sugar, but being on a budget, I just get the cheapest kind from our local grocery store. I go through one 10 pound bag of sugar about once every six weeks or so.
- Scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast)- A scoby is the mushroom looking culture made up of bacteria and yeast that makes kombucha. The best thing to do is to find a friend who brews kombucha and to get one of their scobies. The scoby, or “mother” as it is so creepily called (Don’t tell your friends, “I kept my mother in a dark closet with filtered water, but she still died,” or you’ll really freak them out!) can be purchased online as well.
- Brew the Tea – Boil a kettle of water and add a handful of the loose leaf tea (roughly the equivalent of 8 tea bags) and one cup of sugar per gallon size batch. When we encounter times when our kombucha turns out too vinegary (which means that all of the sugar has been consumed and it starts to lose it’s health benefits and also that we’re not drinking it fast enough) I’ll add an extra half a cup (or more as needed) of sugar.
- Let it Sit – The tea needs to steep and you don’t want to add hot water to your scoby because it can kill it, so let it sit for a bit (an hour?). Most times, I just brew the tea the night before and set it aside. You can also remove the scoby, add cold filtered water, add your hot water, make sure the temperature is just luke warm, and then add your scoby back in if you’re in a time crunch.
- Bottling – If you’ve got your continuous batch going, this is when you’d pour your fermented kombucha into bottles. I’ll talk more about bottling in step #8.
- Scoby and Liquid – If you get a scoby online or from a friend, it should come with about a cup of liquid from it’s original brine. If you’re brewing a continuous batch, you’ll want to leave at least a cup of the fermented kombucha in your glass jar. So, you should have a gallon size glass jar (spigot or not) with a scoby and one cup of kombucha.
- Add the Tea and Water – Pour in your tea. This is where I use a mesh filter to filter out my loose leaf tea. Then fill to the top with filtered water.
- Cover – The kombucha needs to breathe, so cover it with a folded paper towel or cheese cloth and put a rubber band over it to keep it sealed up. This will help to keep out fruit flies who just LOVE to lay eggs and produce maggots in your lovely scoby. (If you do have a problem with fruit flies, I have found it helpful to make a fruit fly trap by putting apple cider vinegar, soap, and a bit of water in a mason jar, covering it with plastic wrap and a rubber band, and poking holes in it so that the fruit flies fly in, but can’t fly out, get trapped and drown. Then put this near your kombucha jars.)
- Store in a Dark Place – Now the kombucha needs to “brew” for 5-7 days. It does best in a dark place where it won’t get disturbed. We brew four gallon sized jars in a rotational schedule at once, so I’ve set aside a nice cupboard just for them. You’ll want to check the scobies periodically to make sure they haven’t risen out of the kombucha. If so, just push it back down.
- Bottling – So after your gallon sized jar has fermented for about a week, you can taste test it to see if it is ready to bottle. The scoby essentially “eats” the sugar, but if the sugar is completely gone it will taste vinegary. If it gets too vinegary, it will start to lose its health benefits. If this is happening, you’ll want to bottle your kombucha sooner or add more sugar. If it tastes super sweet and not very carbonated, you might want to leave it to ferment for a few more days. These batches of kombucha below are ready to go!
When bottling, you can pour right from the spigot into the bottle. Now, for some reason, I find that some spigots work better than others, so with some batches, I put a pouring lid on my glass jar and use a funnel to pour the kombucha into bottles. (You would also do this if you’re just using glass mason jars that don’t have spigots.)
You just want to leave about an inch or so for the carbonation to accumulate. The bottling is where the second fermentation happens, and it takes another 5-7 days.
- *Cleaning Your Glass Jars – You should be fine just reusing the same jars over and over again for awhile, but if you notice an accumulation of sediment (which is just a build up of the extra yeast) you might want to clean your jars out. For this, I remove the scoby, but it in a glass bowl, and cover it with a cup of kombucha. When cleaning out the glass jar, don’t use soap, just hot water and a scrub brush. You can rinse with white vinegar if you’re extra picky, although I never do. Then, put everything back in.
- Store the Bottles – Once you seal up your bottles, you’ll want to store them for the second fermentation in a dark place where they will be undisturbed for another 5-7 days. Since my husband and I drink two different brews, I label his bottles “Scott”. If I have old bottles in here by the time I put new ones in, I move the old ones to the center so that they will get used first.
- Move to the Refrigerator – Once you put the bottles in the refrigerator, it will stop the second fermentation process, so make sure they have been allowed enough time for this. I like to keep two bottles for both my husband and I in the door of the refrigerator at all times.
- Store Your Empties – I know this might not really seem like part of the process, but the more you can create a streamlined system that everybody is aware of, the easier it will be to maintain the entire process. We have decided that it’s easiest to store the used bottles under the sink until it is time to brew again. To clean the bottles out, we just rinse them out with hot water. (Stay away from the soap.)
- Enjoy! – Some people like to drink a kombucha first thing in the morning, others enjoy one after a nice meal, and some may enjoy sipping on one throughout the day. I personally enjoy saving it until the end of the day and savoring it with a handful of dark chocolate chips. Due to its slightly alcoholic nature, I feel like it helps me to relax at the end of the day and has been a good substitute for keeping alcohol in our home (which we have eliminated for several reasons, but that’s a whole other blog post!).
- Warning – If you brew it right, your kombucha bottles will form their own little mothers. We call this the “goober”. You might be tempted to spit it out, but it is literally the best part of the kombucha and FULL of probiotics. So, bottom’s up!
- Caution – If you are just starting to drink kombucha for the first time, go slow and watch how it effects you. It is detoxifying your body, so you’ll want to beware of that, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. I know that when my husband starting drinking it, it would give him stomach aches if he drank one after eating a salad, and I have gotten a stomach ache from drinking one too fast on an empty stomach. I think it’s best to slowly sip on one or limit yourself to one cup at a time if you are just starting out and gradually work up to being able to consume an entire bottle in one sitting.
Notes: You will notice that after about 2-4 weeks, that there’s another scoby that has grown on top of your original scoby. You can leave it there and it should be fine. If you notice your tea is getting too vinegary, it might be time to lop it off. If you do, you can store it in the fridge in a covered glass jar with some of kombucha liquid for a pretty indefinite time. Then, when a friend comes over and loves your home brewed kombucha, you can share your mother with them and guide them on their way to making their own kombucha.
Variations: If you’re just not into the kombucha flavor, you can cut it with some tart cranberry juice and it will taste just great.
It may seem overwhelming at first to get a system going, but I promise you that it’s not that hard to maintain and the benefits FAR outweigh the efforts. I usually spend about 20-30 minutes a couple times a week on the entire process. And once you get the initial start up costs out of the way, buying the tea and sugar is a nominal fee to keep up with. So what are you waiting for? Go start making that kombucha already!
Here’s a great place if you have any troubleshooting questions along the way.
- Brewing Jars – 2 to 4 gallon size glass jars, iced tea jars with spigots, or gallon sized mason jars
- Tea Pot – A teapot with a wide mouth top so you can easily throw in your tea and sugar
- Strainer – A mesh strainer for straining out the loose leaf tea
- Filtered Water – Use a good water source because your scoby is alive and needs a healthy source of water
- Bottles – 12 to 24 grolsh style flip top bottles for an airtight seal
- Tea – Black, organic, loose leaf tea is best, use different teas (like red raspberry leaf) once your kombucha is established (about 4-6 weeks)
- Sugar – Whatever sugar tickles your fancy, you’ll go through a lot of it, but you just need one cup per batch to get started
- Scoby – Buy a scoby online or get one from a friend
- Brew the Tea – Boil water, add a handful of loose leaf tea (or 8 tea bags), add one cup of sugar
- Let it Sit – Let the tea steep and then cool
- Scoby and Liquid – Put the scoby and the liquid it came with in your gallon sized jar
- Add the Tea and Water – Use the wire mesh strainer to filter out the loose tea
- Cover – Cover the glass jar with a folded paper towel or cheesecloth and a rubber band to let it breathe and keep out the bugs
- Store in a Dark Place – Let it sit undisturbed for 5-7 days
- Bottling – Pour the kombucha from your gallon glass jars into individual bottles
- Store the Bottles – Keep undisturbed for another 5-7 days for the second fermentation
- Move to the Refrigerator – Move the bottles you want to drink to the refrigerator