If you have ever met me or H, you know that we have a dream of creating a net-zero homestead in the mountains. Our goal of being maximally self-sustainable guides a lot of choices I make as I consider how to spend my free time. I have always enjoyed learning how to do new things, but now the pursuit of knowledge has taken on a special purpose. Every time I am ready to take on a new project, I consider what kind of things will benefit our family in the future when we are establishing our home.
One of these projects has been learning to brew kombucha. H and I drink it regularly to support digestion through a healthy microbiome, but buying it at the store can be extremely expensive. When comparing store prices to the affordability and ease of home brewing, it becomes a no brainer!
For those who are unfamiliar, kombucha is a fermented tea that is made using a culture of gut-healthy bacteria called a scoby. A scoby, for lack of a better description, basically looks like a thick slice of deli turkey and has a slimy feel. It’s not exactly pretty! Every time you brew it “reproduces” by growing a new layer, which can be peeled off and shared! My first scoby was given to me as a gift, and as it has grown new layers I have given baby scobys to others to start their own brew. If you know someone who makes kombucha, ask them to share their next layer with you! If not, you can also order live scobys on Amazon. I know some people who have used this one and had great results.
To start your own home brew you need:
1 gallon glass jar
Organic *plain* black and green tea bags
Organic cane sugar (must use cane sugar- NO coconut sugar, honey or sugar substitute, these will harm your scoby!)
Vinegar (plain ol’ white vinegar)
Cheesecloth or paper towels
Rubber band or string
Mason jars with plastic lids or swing top bottles
Start by boiling a gallon of water in a large stockpot. Once the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and let sit for one minute or until there are no longer active bubbles in the water. Add 1 cup sugar, 3 black tea bags and 3 green tea bags. Do not use flavored teas, as these can upset the ph balance of your scoby. Stir to dissolve sugar, then cover the pot and let the tea steep for at least 15 minutes. I usually just leave the tea bags in until the water returns to room temperature. This won’t hurt your tea and it means you can walk away from your pot as soon as the sugar is dissolved and come back to it later in the day.
Once your tea cools to room temperature, rinse your gallon jar with water and then rinse with white vinegar. Don’t worry about drying it, leave a coating of the vinegar on the inside of the jar and dump out the excess. Add your tea, then add the scoby (which should be stored in some “mother tea” from its original jar- add this to your jar as well). Make sure the rim of the jar is completely dry, then cover the mouth of the jar with a double layer of cheesecloth or paper towels. Secure with a rubber band or tightly tied string. Make sure the covering is well secured! Using cheesecloth or paper towels allows your scoby to breathe, but prevents fruit flies or anything from else getting in. You can store the lid of the jar for some other use, you won’t need it for kombucha.
Store your jar in a dark place, such as a kitchen cabinet, and leave for 10-14 days. The longer you leave your kombucha, the stronger it will be both in terms of flavor and fermentation. Do not leave longer than 14 days.
At the end of this first fermentation period, it is time to prepare for the second fermentation. This is when the kombucha carbonates! This is also where you can get creative with your kombucha. You may prefer to have it unflavored, but if you would like to flavor your kombucha there are endless options!
For unflavored kombucha, remove your big jar from the cabinet and rinse the insides of your small mason jars or swing bottles with the white vinegar. Fill each jar or bottle with the kombucha, reserving 2 cups of it to stay in the gallon jar with the scoby as mother tea for your next batch. Seal the small jars or bottles, then put them back into the cabinet and leave to ferment for 7 more days. At the end of this 7 day period, transfer the jars to the refrigerator and enjoy within a month.
For flavored kombucha, begin by filling the small jars or bottles about 4/5 of the way full with the kombucha from your big jar. Then, top off with organic fruit juice, other kinds of tea, fruit, ginger, or other flavorings! My favorite combination is lemon ginger, which can be made by adding slices of fresh organic lemon and a little knob of peeled, fresh ginger root to each jar. Blueberry mint is also very tasty and can be made by adding mint tea and fresh blueberries or blueberry juice. You can experiment with adding rose petals or lavender, basil, etc! You can find a million other ideas for flavorings online. Just keep in mind that whatever you are adding to your kombucha needs to be organic and clean- anything with chemical pesticides can mess with your culture. Seal the small jars or bottles, then put them back into the cabinet and leave to ferment for 7 more days. At the end of this 7 day period strain any solids from the tea, then transfer to the refrigerator and enjoy within 2 weeks.
You may notice when you prepare to enjoy your kombucha that a small scoby or some stringy bacterial colonies have grown in your tea. This is totally normal. The small scobys can be discarded and while some people choose to drink the stringy bits, I personally don’t have the stomach for it and I choose to discard them as well.
I like to always have kombucha brewing, since we drink a lot of it. To make this happen, I make a new batch of sweetened tea on the morning when I know I am going to transfer my kombucha to the smaller containers for second fermentation. Then, once I have filled the small jars, I move my scoby and 2 cups of reserved mother tea to a clean glass (or any non-metal) bowl, rinse the gallon jar with vinegar to keep it clean, then start my new batch just like the previous batch. If you need to take a break from brewing, you can store your scoby in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Just place your scoby in a tightly sealed glass container with 2 cups mother tea and enough fresh, sweetened tea to cover it. This basically puts your scoby into hibernation. Once you hit the 3 month mark, you will need to remove your scoby from the fridge and make at least 1 batch of kombucha with it before returning it to hibernation.
**Caution: If your scoby begins to drastically change color, omit a strong nasty odor (aside from its normal, vinegary odor) or shrivel, discard it and the tea immediately. This indicates a problem with your scoby such as contamination or a ph imbalance. It is better to discard everything and start over than risk getting sick from a compromised scoby. To be fair, I have been brewing kombucha for 5 years and have never had this problem. However, it is possible and should be taken seriously.
Have you ever made your own kombucha at home? Do you have a flavor combination that will rock our socks off? Share with us below!