Kombucha is a beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with a living culture of yeast and bacteria. There are numerous health benefits associated with drinking kombucha, but it’s the amazing taste that keeps my husband and I coming back for more!
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 boosts 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 for $3.50 – $4.00 a bottle or you could buy it in bulk online, but 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.
Ingredients/Materials Needed to Make Kombucha
- 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 2-3 bottles a day and have plenty to share with guests! These plain glass gallon size jars are perfect. You’ll need to cover them with a double layer of paper towel secured with a rubber band.
- 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. You could also put the loose leaf tea in a diffuser like this.
- Filtered Water – If you’re lucky enough to have well water, great! Use that. We have city water with no flouride (Yeah!) 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. If you want to invest in a good water filter, I have heard that the Big Berkey ones are the best.
- 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 glass containers (preferably dark in color) that can be sealed tightly. (You can also just pour the kombucha directly from the spigot and drink it that way too. This is known as continuous brew kombucha.) 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’ll also love this bottle brush is great for cleaning out the bottles. *If you like to drink commercial kombucha from the store, you could just reuse those bottles. I just don’t think they provide as good of a seal.
- Tea – It takes 8 tea bags for each batch of tea. I find that the rough equivalent of loose leaf tea is a good handful. 🙂 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 or breastfeeding and/or just trying to avoid caffeine, so I use red raspberry leaf tea which not only tastes AMAZING, but has wonderful health benefits for women. *Special note: Red raspberry leaf tea has antimicrobial properties that will actually attack the scoby. To combat this, I trade out my not so good looking scobies with new baby scobies from my husband’s batch about every 6-8 weeks or so.
- 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 about ten pounds of sugar 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,” or you’ll really freak them out!) can be purchased online as well.
Directions for Brewing Kombucha
- 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 and a half cups of sugar per gallon size batch. You’ll have to play with the right sugar amount depending on a variety of factors. If your kombucha is tasting too sweet, you’ll want to pare down the sugar to just a cup, but if your kombucha is too vinegary, you’ll want to add more sugar, like closer to two cups. Ingredients for Making the Kombucha Tea
- Let it Sit – After coming to a boil, the tea needs to steep. You don’t want to add hot water to the scoby because it can kill it, so let it sit until it’s room temperature.
- Add the Tea and Water – Use a mesh filter to pour the tea into your gallon sized jars then fill to the top with filtered water. If you get a scoby online or from a friend, it should come with about a cup of liquid from it’s original brine. You’ll always want to leave at least a cup of the kombucha from the previous batch for the new batch. *Cleaning note: About every 6-8 weeks (or whenever the jar starts to look dirty), you’ll want to transfer the scoby and a cup of the leftover kombucha into a temporary bowl, clean out the jar, and put the scoby and the kombucha back into the jar.
- Cover it Up – The kombucha needs to stay covered to keep out little critters, but it also needs fresh oxygen, so cover it with a folded paper towel or cheese cloth and put a rubber band over it to keep it sealed up.
- 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, so I’ve set aside a nice cupboard space just for them. During the storage process, you’ll want to check on it periodically to make sure the scoby hasn’t risen up outside of the liquid. If it does, just push back down. *You’ll notice that I have a small jar in the back, that is to collect fruit flies! Basically, I add apple cider vinegar, water, and a bit of soap, then cover with saran wrap, cover with a ring, and poke several holes in the top of the saran wrap to catch the fruit flies.
- Bottling – After your gallon sized jars have fermented for 5-7 days, 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 nice, bubbly, and 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.)
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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. After about a year of doing this, we noticed there was some build up on the inside of the bottles, so we bought one of these brushes. It works wonderfully!
- 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 one first thing in the morning, one around lunch time, and one in the evening. I typically like to drink one when I’m a bit hungry (not starving or it will give me an upset tummy) because it helps stave off the hunger.
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 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.
New Scobies: You will notice that after about 2-4 weeks, another scoby has grown on top of your original scoby. You can leave it there for awhile and it should be fine, but eventually it will need to come off or it will make your kombucha too vinegary. Find a spot between the two scobies, work your way from the outside it, and slowly separate. I usually just throw mine away, but I have heard of people making scoby jerky out of them, and of course you can always save it in a small glass jar with some kombucha to give to a friend who wants to start brewing kombucha.
Variations: If you’re just not into the kombucha flavor, you can add some extra ingredients to the bottling process to give it a better flavor. Some things I have enjoyed adding (separately) are freshly juiced ginger root, tart cranberry juice, and homemade elderberry syrup.
Sugar in Kombucha: There is a lot of controversy about how much sugar remains in the kombucha after brewing. Technically, the sugar added at the beginning of the process should be “consumed” by the scoby as part of the fermentation process. FDA regulations, however, require labels on commercial kombucha bottles to state how much sugar was added at the beginning of the process versus what is left behind at the end, which can be confusing. Basically, people who are on keto diets (so no to low carbs, i.e. sugar) still recommend drinking kombucha, so there you go. If you taste the sugary tea at the beginning of the process and then compare that to the taste at the end of the process, you will see that there is no way that the sugar content from beginning to end is the same. If your kombucha tastes sugary at the end of the process, let it sit for a few more days and then adjust the amount of sugar you add in the beginning.
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.
Homemade Continuous Brew Kombucha
- 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 (or old store bought kombucha 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