Kombucha Series Part 5 - Let's Make Kombucha!

This is the post you’ve been waiting for!  It’s time to take what we learned in the previous installments in this series and put it to good use!
If you need to catch up to speed here is where you can find the first four posts:
1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar
4. Equipment
Hopefully by this point you have assembled all the stuff you’ll need to get your first batch of kombucha going strong – SCOBY, tea, sugar, and a jar at the very least.  Once you have all you need, the procedure is actually quite simple.  The hardest part is the wait!  Kombucha making – fermentation in general! – requires patience.  If you’re anything like me, you’d prefer to have your ‘buch sooner rather than later, but trust me.  This is worth the wait.
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Part 1

  • Water – Fill a large pot with enough filtered water to fill your fermentation jar almost to the top.  Leave about two or three inches of headspace (that is, empty space at the top between the tea and the very top of the jar.).  If you have a gallon jar, you’ll want a gallon of water MINUS a cup or so.  Eyeball this.  It’s not that scientific.
    By the way, I suggest filtered water because regular old tap water can contain flouride, chlorine, or other chemicals, additives, or particulates that can interfere with SCOBY growth and fermentation.  I use a water filter pitcher for my drinking water and I’m thinking of getting a really nice household sized one in the near future.  I don’t want anything in my water to negatively affect my ferments!
  • Tea –  If you are using teabags, use 6 or 8 of them.  If you are using loose tea, you’ll need about 1/3 cup of the tea leaves.  Also with loose tea you have two choices: The first is to just brew the tea by tossing the loose leaves directly into the water.  You’ll have to strain them out later before you add your SCOBY.  The second is to put the 1/3 cup of tea into a tea ball, infuser, or make a giant sachet with a coffee filter and butcher’s twine.  The choice is yours and the quality of your kombucha will not be affected by whichever path you take.  Personally, because I have many coffee filters on hand, I opt for the sachet method.
  • Sugar – You’ll need a scant cup (just a bit under a cup) of sugar for every gallon of kombucha you’re making.
  • Procedure
    1. Heat the filtered water to just shy of boiling (approximately 200 degrees).  (It’s not a big deal if it boils, but tea isn’t meant to brew in water that is at a rolling boil.)
    2. Add the tea and allow to brew for at least 5 minutes.
    3. Remove tea infuser or sachet (if using) and remove the pot from the heat.
    4. Add the scant cup of sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until completely dissolved.
    5. Leave the pot of tea on the countertop to come to room temperature. (If you used loose tea without an infuser, strain the loose leaves out of your sweetened tea after it has come to room temperature to avoid scalding yourself!)
    6. After your sweetened tea has come to room temperature (that is a VERY IMPORTANT STEP!) carefully pour it into your fermentation vessel.  Use a funnel if you are accident and spill-prone like I am.
    7. Add your SCOBY and the starter tea it is sitting in to the sweetened room temperature tea.
    8. Cover with a coffee filter or light cloth secured with a rubber band and allow to ferment at room temperature.
    9. Check on your brewing kombucha every day or so.  You should start to see a new SCOBY form on the surface of your tea.
    10. After a week or 10 days, taste test an ounce or so of your brew.  It should start to have that characteristic “fermented” tang to it.  Depending on how you prefer your kombucha to taste, it may or may not be finished at this point.  It is up to your taste buds to decide.  If you prefer a sweeter kombucha, it will require a shorter fermentation time.  If you prefer a more tart or dry kombucha, you’ll want to let it ferment a little longer.  This is up to you!  Taste test it each day or so until it suits your palate.  To give you a bit of context, in my (rather warm) home it can take 10 days to 2 weeks for my kombucha to taste the way I like it.

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When your kombucha tastes right to you, you’re finished.  Congratulations! You’ve made kombucha!  Drink up!
But please don’t stop there.  You’d be missing out on a really terrific opportunity to explore your ‘buch-making artistry if you didn’t bottle it and ferment it a second time.  Read on…
Part 2
There is really no requirement that says you MUST bottle and flavor your kombucha, but to me, this is the best part of making it.  I love it plain, but I love it even more when it’s been flavored and is fizzy.  Here’s the simple lowdown on how to turn your jar of kombucha into bottles of fizzy fruity goodness.
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  • Fruit, juice, and herbs – Gather up the stuff you want to use to flavor your kombucha.  The possibilities are nearly endless here and now that we are in the midst of springtime here in the Northern Hemisphere, you have more and more fresh options available to you at farmers’ markets and your local grocery.  Take advantage!
    If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, use frozen.  If you want to try using pre-packaged juices, go for it.
    Here are some of my favorite (and easy!) suggestions:

    • Freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice
    • Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
    • Fresh or candied ginger
    • Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries
    • Kiwi
    • Bottled mango or pear juice.
  • Procedure
    1. Get your flip-top bottles ready and fill each one with fruit, juice, herbs, or any flavor combination you’ve decided to try.  Try whole pieces of fruit, fruit purees, combinations of juice and fruit, herbs, etc. Use an ounce or two of flavoring agent for every 16 ounce bottle.  This does not call for super-precise measuring, but make sure you do not overload your bottles with fruit or juice.  A little will go a long way.
    2. Fill the bottles with your finished kombucha.  This is where a racking cane and/or funnel really comes in handy!
    3. Seal up the bottles and allow them to sit at room temperature for 3 to 5 more days.
    4. Refrigerate your bottles and enjoy your kombucha cold.  Be extremely cautious when opening a bottle of kombucha!  Contents are under pressure and it is not unheard of for a bottle to erupt like a volcano! Cover the bottle with a dishtowel before opening to keep from being sprayed with an entire bottle of kombucha.  Trust me on this one.

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Important Notes

  • It’s helpful to understand a bit of elementary fermentation chemistry in order to properly manage your kombucha: The bacteria and yeasts that are in your SCOBY will eat the sugar you sweetened your tea with.  One of the byproducts of this is carbon dioxide.
    While your kombucha is fermenting in the jar that’s covered with a coffee filter or light cloth, the carbon dioxide just escapes into the atmosphere.  You might see a wayward bubble here and there in your jar, but it won’t be fizzy or effervescent.
    When you bottle your kombucha with more sugar (in the form of fruit or juice), and seal the tops to the bottles, the carbon dioxide can’t escape.  It stays in the bottle which is what makes bottled kombucha fizzy.  You’ve trapped the carbon dioxide inside and when you open it, it all rushes out.  Fizz!
  • Another byproduct of kombucha fermentation is alcohol.  If you’re a regular kombucha drinker you may have noticed that you might get a wee bit of a buzz after downing an entire bottle.  (I can’t be the only one).  There is a very small amount of alcohol in kombucha.  Here are some numbers for you:
    An average batch of kombucha will contain .5 % to 1.5 % ABV (alcohol by volume) as opposed to beer or wine which can range from 2% to 19% ABV depending on the label.  You can see that it is a very tiny amount compared to actual alcoholic beverages, but it’s in there.  If you avoid alcohol for any reason it might be wise to stay away from kombucha too.  Use your best judgement!
  • Fermentation times will vary.  Because bacteria and yeast thrive in warm temperatures, they will work faster when the weather is warmer or the temperature in your kitchen is warm.  During the winter months or when our homes are cooled by air conditioning, fermentation times can be a bit longer.  This is why you taste test to determine when your kombucha is finished fermenting to your liking.

There you have it!  The very basics of kombucha making!  I am sooooo excited for you guys to start brewing your own.  Please please please keep me updated with your progress and do not hesitate to contact me with questions.  I’m always available by leaving a comment, email, dropping me a note on Facebook, tweeting me on Twitter, or even cruising on over to Instagram.
And don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Fermented, A Four Season Approach to Paleo Probiotic Foods.  There are several very unique kombucha flavorings included in the recipe sections.  Go beyond fruit and juice and incorporate vegetables, herbs, and more into your ‘buch flavorings!
Next week is the final installment!  I’ll be covering troubleshooting and FAQ, so get your questions, comments, and problems to me ASAP!  And you do not want to miss the kombucha-related giveaway I have planned.  One of you is going to win a pretty sweet gift.  Stay tuned!

24 Comments

  1. Jane Westerby
    May 17, 2013 10:28 am

    What a great series of articles. I have been giving SCOBY’s away to friends, and this is where I will send them for directions. Nice job.

  2. Trayce
    May 17, 2013 10:30 am

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I have a question – what is the shelf life of a bottle of homemade kombucha – the finished product – with or without the second fermentation? Not that I ever have any left in the fridge after two weeks, but I am curious. Thanks!

    • Jill
      May 17, 2013 10:41 am

      To be honest, I haven’t had many last much longer than 2 weeks, either. However, it can last a few months. It will continue to ferment S-L-O-W-L-Y slowly slowly. You might see a little mini SCOBY appear in your bottle, but that’s nothing to be worried about. Personally, I wouldn’t drink it after 3 or 4 months even if it’s been refrigerated all that time but that’s more because I get grossed out by old food pretty easily. As long as it doesn’t smell rancid, rotten, have any mold in it, I’d say it’s still good.

  3. Kris R.
    May 17, 2013 1:39 pm

    Thank you so much for the GREAT information. I just started two gallons of ‘buch this week! I can’t wait to flavor them too!

  4. Gohr
    May 23, 2013 7:29 am

    My very first batch need a few more days I think but, the biggest issue for me has been my doubt about what a healthy scoby would look like during brewing. I didn’t know what to expect. Yes, I am a novice and I don’t know anyone who is making kambucha. I have therefore searched the Internet for information and, what I saw as possible signs for any diseas was infact the opposite. The film with slight cloudiness, the bubbles, the stringy bits hanging down etc, etc. It is enough to put anyone off, but many on the Internet rave about it. So it has to be good. I came on to this blog because I want some ideas on different flavours.

    • Jill
      May 23, 2013 8:15 am

      Thanks for your comment! Later today I’m going to put up a post about troubleshooting so hopefully your questions will be answered. 🙂

  5. Chelsea
    August 11, 2013 2:01 am

    THANK YOU for this series of posts!! I’m getting my first scoby off craigslist tomorrow and can’t wait to start this process. I’ve been interested in brewing kombucha for forever now, but all the recent hype around your new book (which I’m buying very soon!) and these posts have totally inspired me to get moving on it! 🙂 I also just listened to your podcast today on Balanced Bites and must say I really really enjoyed it! I haven’t been a fan of sauerkraut thus far but now you have me really interested in trying carrots out 🙂 haha

  6. Haleigh
    August 19, 2013 8:27 pm

    Hi Jill,
    Can I let my “SCOBY in the process” sit ouyside in warm weather and/or leave a batch brewing Kombucha sit outside in warm weather?

    • Jill
      August 20, 2013 6:22 am

      I suppose you can, Haleigh, but I would be very very certain that it is covered tightly with a piece of cloth or coffee filter. You DO NOT want bugs in your kombucha. AT ALL.

  7. Patty
    February 8, 2014 11:27 am

    How much starter tea do I need to use with the tea and scoby?

  8. Robyn
    May 9, 2014 9:54 pm

    I made my first batch of kombucha and now have 2 scoby’s. How much tea do I reserve with them?

    • Jill
      May 9, 2014 10:19 pm

      If you’re going to keep them together, then two or three cups is plenty. If you’re planning to keep them in separate containers, then a cup is fine.

  9. Alison
    May 31, 2014 10:20 am

    Hi there,
    My first baby is huge compared to the size of the jars I want to use for my next batch. Is it safe to cut the scoby into a smaller diameter?

  10. Liz Bode
    July 3, 2014 11:30 pm

    Hi Jill,
    I discovered too late that the SCOBY I purchased is the dehydrated type! I had already brewed, sweetened, cooled my tea and added a bottle of GT’s kombucha to my gallon size glass jar.
    My question is, can I grow a SCOBY from what I have in my jar? I used 14 cups of (ro) water, 1 cup of organic cane sugar along with organic black and green loose tea that I put in a sachet bag to steep.
    I’m going to follow the directions in the dehydrated SCOBY box to activate it, but it can take 30 days according to the directions.
    Thanks in advance for and advice you have!

  11. Mary
    August 30, 2014 11:36 pm

    I have just started to *hopefully* grow my first SCOBY. Followed all of the directions with great care and can’t wait to see the magic happen ’cause I am absolutely addicted to kombucha. I have my starter sitting on my kitchen counter tightly covered with a cloth napkin. Is this ok? Should I move it to a different place to grow? I read on another site that humidity can affect the process and it is near where I boil my kettle. What do you think?

    • Jill
      August 30, 2014 11:54 pm

      I think you should be ok as long as the kombucha doesn’t ever get hot. And the cloth napkin is fine as long as nothing can get in but carbon dioxide can get out.

  12. Jessica
    February 23, 2015 6:12 am

    I bottled my kombucha for the second fermentation yesterday and one of the bottles today has little white floaters in it. Is this normal? Also what happens if the starter tea is slightly warmer than room temp?
    Thanks!

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