Kombucha Series Part 4 - Equipment

If you missed the first three parts, check them out here:
1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar

I hope you’ve taken the time to read the first three installments in this kombucha series.  The previous posts will guide you through the preliminary steps necessary for top-quality ‘buch making.  This week’s post is focused on the necessary equipment needed to make kombucha.

To be completely honest, this post could be just a few sentences long.  Allow me to give you a list of all the necessary kombucha-making hardware:

1. A clean glass jar.

That’s all.  This is the beauty of fermentation – because it is such an old craft there isn’t a need for fancypants equipment and gadgetry.  If your great great great grandparents were making kombucha, chances are they didn’t have pH strips, racking canes, continuous brewing rigs, flip-top bottles, etc.  They just used what they had.

But, we live in 2013 and just because we don’t NEED all kinds of equipment for fermentation in general and kombucha making in specific, doesn’t mean that we can’t use some modern-day equipment to make our lives easier.  I mean, my forebearers didn’t have cars, but I’m using one today, right?  Conestoga wagons aren’t my style.

IMG_6625

So, below you will find a list of suggested equipment for kombucha making.  I’ll let you know which things I believe to be more useful than others (my opinions), and you can start assembling your ‘buch-making arsenal.

1. A clean glass jar – As noted above, this is probably the only piece of hardware anyone needs for kombucha making.  The size of the jar depends on how much kombucha you want to make.  For me and my household of two adults and no kids, a half gallon jar is enough for an 8-pack of flavored kombucha.  You may find that you want more or less, so adjust the size accordingly.  Just make sure the jar is food-grade glass.  Ceramic is a possibility if you know the glaze on it is food-safe (some are lead based), and metal and plastic are no-nos.  Just stick with a big glass jar and you’ll be fine.

2. Jar covering – Many jars come with lids, but don’t use them for kombucha making.  You want air to be able to get in and out of your kombucha as it ferments and closing it off with a lid just won’t do.  Instead, use a piece of cloth (clean handkerchief) or a coffee filter secured with a rubber band or string.  I do not recommend cheesecloth for this job as the holes in cheesecloth can be large enough for bugs to get in and out of your kombucha jar.  If this happens you are immediately in a throw-it-all-out-and-start-all-over-from-the-beginning scenario.  A piece of light cloth or a coffee filter are light enough to allow air to escape, but have a tight enough weave to keep any intruders at bay.

IMG_6627

3. Funnels – I find funnels to be one of the most useful kitchen tools whether or not I’m using them for fermentation.  I’m clumsy and sloppy so any gadget that keeps me from spilling and making a mess is alright in my book.  As far as kombucha making goes, you may find yourself pouring liquids from one vessel to another and funnels of various sizes come in handy.  I have two that are rather small that I bought in a kitchen supply store and one other that I use for large jobs that I picked up in an auto parts store because it is made for helping with an oil change.

4. Racking cane – When I first starting making kombucha I had never even heard of such a device.  Then I met Naomi of Red Star Kombucha and she told me about it.  She regularly makes enough kombucha to fill kegs, so her glass containers are 10 gallons or more.  That’s a lot of kombucha and a lot of HEAVY jars. It is dangerous to pick up a 10 gallon glass container and pour ‘buch out of it!  Instead she uses a racking cane.
A racking cane is a siphon of sorts that is also its own little pump. Simply put one end in the large kombucha filled container and the other in the empty vessel.  Pump the pump a few times to get the liquid flowing and voila!  You have kombucha flowing from your large jar into smaller containers in no time.
Racking canes are available at brewers’ supply stores and come in various sizes.  Many of them also come with a choke device to fit on the tube to stop the flow of liquid when necessary.
Honestly, when I’m bottling kombucha for a second ferment, I use my racking cane AND a funnel, (Like I said, I’m messy.) but the racking cane was a life saver for me.  I love mine and wouldn’t want to bottle an 8-pack without it.

racking cane

5. Flip-top bottles – In the next installment in this kombucha series I am going to cover putting it all together and actually making kombucha.  When you read that, you will see that kombucha is finished and potable before it is bottled.  Therefore, flip-top bottles are not at all essential equipment. However, I would be willing to bet that most kombucha you have ever had in your life has come in a bottle and it’s fizzy.  Flip-top bottles (or even jars with tight-fitting lids) are what help make it fizzy.  Straight out of your fermentation vessel, kombucha is not that fizzy.  Remember, you’ve covered it with something that allows air to escape so any effervescence that could have built up has now escaped.
For the time being, do not get mired down in the procedure of kombucha making.  That is for next week’s post.  But if you are interested in fizzy kombucha, flip-top bottles are what you want to have on hand.

IMG_6690

6. Mortar and pestle, food processor, blender, or mini-chopper – When it comes time to spread your creative wings and fly into the world of flavoring your kombucha, having some piece of equipment that will pulverize fruit and herbs will come in handy.  If your knife skills are up to the task, then by all means, skip these things.  I prefer my ‘buch flavored with juices and finely blended fruits.  This isn’t something I can do by hand so I let the machines do all the work for me.

7. A fine sieve – If you are anything like me, and chunky kombucha isn’t your thing, then blending fruits for ‘buch flavoring in a blender or food processor is step one in the prep, and step two is running the fruit pulp through a fine sieve.  You kombucha will be free of miniature seeds, fibers, leaves, and pulp!

8. A continuous brewing vessel – This is not at all necessary equipment for kombucha making, but it definitely falls under the category of convenience devices.  When I make kombucha, I use a half-gallon glass jar, bottle it using a racking cane and funnel, refill it with tea after that, and I’m done.  This system works for me, but the only downside is that once I bottle a batch and start another, I have to wait a few weeks before my next batch is finished.  There is some down time between when Dude and I have finished the 8 bottles and when the next batch is ready.  Like I said, this works in our household, but if you absolutely cannot live without your ‘buch from day-to-day, perhaps a continuous brewing system is what you need.
A suitable vessel for a continuous brew system is similar to what you would need in any kombucha making vessel – glass or ceramic food-grade jar.  Continuous brew vessels are typically larger (a gallon or more) and also feature a spigot near the bottom of the container.  This allows you to remove kombucha from the container without disturbing the SCOBY (which is usually found on top of the liquid).  You will regularly remove kombucha through the spigot and bottle it (or just drink it straight from the tap!), and then replace what you have removed with sweetened tea.  No need for racking canes, funnels, or waiting for the next batch to brew.

9. Various other gadgets – When you get in to bottling and flavoring kombucha, a collection of other gadgets may come in handy.  Citrus reamers, cherry pitters, strawberry hullers, ginger graters, etc.  Use these at your own discretion.  They are far from necessary!  I live in a small condo with a modest kitchen so I don’t have room for all kinds of extra stuff (or as Alton Brown would call them, unitaskers!). But I know that kitchen gadgets are popular and some of you may have these tools already in your arsenal or you just like collecting fun kitchen tools.  Power on.

A note about materials:  As mentioned in the SCOBY post, because it is a live delicate collection of beings, it is also fragile.  Harsh chemicals, cleaning agents, and certain materials are bad for kombucha making and SCOBY health.  Be sure that your vessels are all food grade glass or ceramic.  Metal and plastic have no place in kombucha making.  That is to say, anything that will come in prolonged contact with your ‘buch should not be made of metal or plastic.  Siphoning your kombucha from a jar to a bottle through a racking cane with plastic tubing or straining fruit juices through a metal sieve is perfectly fine.  But brewing a batch in a metal container or plastic jug is not.  If you are considering a kombucha continuous brew system, be sure that all of the components are food-safe and made of the proper materials – especially the spigot!

As with any hobby, kombucha making (or any kind of fermentation) can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.  Have a jar?  You have enough to get started.  All other equipment is optional, but as I mentioned above, there isn’t a thing wrong with injecting a little convenience into your life.  If you are just starting out, do not buy a kitchen full of equipment!  Get the basics and grow your kombucha making operation from there.

Feel free to check out my Amazon store for a listing of equipment that I use to brew kombucha and other stuff that I find indispensable in my kitchen including all the stuff I list in this post.  (Note, that this link leads to my Amazon.com affiliate store where I will earn a small percentage of moolah for each purchase you make from it.  Just FYI.)

Stay tuned for next week’s post when we put it all together!  SCOBY + tea + sugar + equipment = KOMBUCHA!  At last!

And as usual, if you have any questions, comments, or issues you’d like me to cover in upcoming installments, leave me a comment, catch me on Facebook, send me an email, or tweet me a Tweet.

2 Comments

  1. Ashley
    October 23, 2014 7:39 pm

    Hello! Im new to brewing kombucha and I have found that once i pour it into a glass container once its ready to drink I lose alot of the bubbles. I got an airlock lid from a home brew store. But that doesn’t seem to do the trick. Any advice ? Thankyou!

    • Jill
      October 23, 2014 7:43 pm

      Add some sugar or some fruit. The bacteria and yeast need to ferment something and give off carbon dioxide that you trap in the flip-top bottle. An airlock will let gas out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>