What if I told you that you can have homemade kombucha for cheap? I’m talking pocket change cheap.
If you go to your local health food store you’ll be paying around $4 a pop. That gets expensive if you’re drinking it every day (like we try to do). Or if you are simply addicted to the stuff – which is a likely possibility (especially if you flavor it like cream soda).
Before we dive into making homemade kombucha, let’s talk about what it is and why it’s one of the healthiest things you can brew up in your kitchen.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha: An acidic, fermented, carbonated, probiotic, tasty tea drink. (That’s my definition, can you tell?)
There aren’t very many scientific studies done on the health claims of kombucha for reasons I won’t get into. There have been a couple of deaths from acidosis, supposedly related to kombucha consumption.
The only problem is that there is a slew of causes for acidosis that have nothing to do with drinking kombucha – like having kidney issues, drinking too much alcohol, hypoglycemia, diabetes, and certain medications. And when they tested the SCOBY (the culture in kombucha) it didn’t have anything wrong with it so… yeah.
The people who believe in kombucha claim that it is basically a cure-all drink from hair loss to cancer. I know of people who have said that their cataracts went away and their plantar fasciitis improved.
I have personally seen kombucha help with digestive issues including constipation, upset stomachs, and heartburn.
One other thing that really has me convinced of the health benefits of kombucha is that it has been around for over 2,000 years. There’s a reason the Chinese called kombucha the “immortal health elixir.”
How is kombucha made?
This part might turn some people off about homemade kombucha. There is this thing called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) that reminds me of a placenta. We call it Scooby ‘round our house.
It’s really gross and takes some getting used to, but it’s what makes the whole kombucha drink work. It’s the culture that makes kombucha tick and is also referred to as the “mother” or “baby”.
The best explanation I can come up with is that the SCOBY aerobically “eats” the sweetened tea that you make (more on that later!) and converts it into all the goodies. Goodies meaning enzymes, antioxidants, acids, probiotics, yeast, bacteria, and more.
The goodies you get depends on a lot of different factors including the type of tea you use, the brewing time, the temperature, what was in your initial culture, plus more.
The most common goodies found in kombucha are: Acetobacter, Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, Gluconacetobacter kombucha, Zygosaccharomyces kombuchaensis, gluconic acid, acetic acid, and fructose among other things. (source)
How do I get started with homemade kombucha?
I’m glad you asked!
First thing’s first. You’ll need to get yourself a SCOBY to make the whole thing work. You can get a SCOBY 3 different ways:
- Get one from a friend: I got one from my mom. Thanks Mom!
- Buy one online: I would avoid a dehydrated SCOBY simply because you probably aren’t going to get any starter tea with it. I would make sure you get a live and active culture that comes with the starter tea. Kombucha Kamp is a reputable source to buy one from.
- Grow your own: I don’t really recommend this one because I wouldn’t trust myself to really do it right. Why worry and take so much time when you can just swipe your card?
Next you’ll need some supplies:
Thin towel: The fermenting process is aerobic, meaning it needs access to air. BUT I will warn you there will be pesky bugs attacking your brew if you do not cover it. DO NOT use cheesecloth because those bugs can squeeze through. I use a thin kitchen towel or paper towel and secure it with a rubber band or even a paint strainer from Lowes.
Mesh strainer: The kombucha will make stringy nasties that come from the SCOBY mother (some call them “yeasties). I want to gag if I find it in my glass so I like to strain the strings out before I pop my jar into the fridge.
Stock Pot: We make our kombucha by the gallon so it’s easier to make our initial tea with a big ‘ol pot.
Tea: Kombucha needs nutrients from the plant Camellia sinensis which are white, black, green, and oolong teas. Most people (including us) just use black tea. We prefer to buy it loose leaf, bulk, organic, and fair trade. We buy our tea from Amazon or Mountain Rose Herbs.
Tea Ball: This is only if you’re going to use loose leaf tea which is usually cheaper to buy.
Now we can move on to the actual process of making homemade kombucha. Just FYI everyone does this differently. Are you ready?
- 4-8 bags of black tea or 4-8 teaspoons of loose leaf black tea
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 cup organic cane sugar
- 2 SCOBYs (you can take one and split it or cut it – they’re layered almost like a bunch of pancakes)
- 1-2 cups starter tea from previous batch
- If you bought your SCOBY, follow the instructions given to you to start your homemade kombucha.
- Bring to boil a gallon of water. I just pour 2 half gallon mason jars’ worth of water into my stock pot so I don’t have to bother with actually measuring anything.
- Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add tea and remove from heat to cool. Too hot of tea will kill your SCOBY. My mom puts her pot out in the snow sometimes to cool off quicker. If you’re concerned about caffeine you can steep your tea for 30-60 seconds in a cup of hot water before putting in with your sugar water.
- Take your starter tea and swirl it around your half gallon mason jars and let it settle in the bottom. The starter tea is acidic and will help your new tea become acidic enough so mold does not grow on your SCOBY. It will act as sort of an all-natural disinfectant.
- When tea has cooled enough, pour it into your mason jars with your starter tea. I usually will wait several hours until I can hold my finger in my tea brew.
- Place your SCOBY on top of tea and securely cover with thin cloth or paper towel. Your SCOBY will float all over the place as it ferments. The fermentation process is aerobic and needs the air to do its duty. Don’t use anything like cheesecloth because those pesky fruit flies will be able to get into your brew.
- Place mason jars in a corner of your kitchen without direct sunlight and let it ferment for several days. The hotter your house is the faster it will ferment.
- Start tasting your kombucha on the 4th day to see if it has reached the right balance of sweet and tart. I let my kombucha ferment for about 5 days in the summer and about 7 in the winter. The longer you let it ferment, the less sugar your kombucha will have but it will turn and taste progressively more like vinegar. Ain’t nobody want to drink that.
- After your kombucha has reached the right balance of sweetness, start making another batch of tea (steps 1-3), take your SCOBY out and put it on a plate, strain your kombucha while pouring it into another mason jar. Keep about 2 cups for your starter tea! Put the lid on the finished kombucha and put it in the fridge.
- Using your new starter tea, repeat steps 4-9.
Flavoring your homemade kombucha (aka second ferment) which is optional:
- After your first ferment (when your kombucha is the right taste), take your SCOBY out and put it on a plate. Then add your flavoring!
- For flavoring you can add fruit juice, fresh fruit, frozen fruit, dried fruit, spices, herbs, and whatever else you can think of. This is the time to experiment! Our favorite flavoring to add makes a cream soda flavor. Find the recipe over at Real Food Outlaws.
- Cover jars with a lid and put it back in the corner of your kitchen for another couple of days. Covering your jars produces carbonation because the carbon dioxide (made from the yeast eating the sugar) can’t escape. Don’t let it go too long with covered jars in case of exploding glass. We leave ours for about 4 days.
Tah dah! You have finished your first successful batch of homemade kombucha! You’re now officially a hippie.
There is also a method called the continuous brew method for homemade kombucha. I haven’t tried this method but supposedly it has even more goodness, easier to maintain, and tastes better.
Cautions and concerns for your homemade kombucha
Don’t let your kombucha have prolonged exposure to metal. The metal kills the SCOBY. You’re probably ok transferring your SCOBY with a fork, but I wouldn’t allow much more exposure than a quick handling.
Remember your SCOBY is alive and you can kill it! Make sure you have clean hands when you’re handling your SCOBY. When you clean your kombucha stuff, don’t use anti-bacterial soap since your SCOBY is partially bacteria. Dumping your SCOBY in scalding hot tea can kill it too.
During fermentation, your SCOBY will grow another SCOBY on top. The bottom SCOBY is referred to as the “mother” and the one on top is called the “baby”. They will usually separate themselves and you can make more kombucha with the new SCOBY, give the new SCOBY to a friend, or make something with the SCOBY. (We usually just throw the “mother” away. GASP!)
There will be gross stringy floaties in your kombucha. Those floaties are just the yeast doing its thing. Some people just drink it down, but I like to strain it because it makes me want to gag.
Your final homemade kombucha brew could start growing a new SCOBY even if it’s in your refrigerator and sealed. Just skim it off and you’re good to go.
There will be icky brown stuff on your SCOBY. The icky brown stuff is perfectly normal and your SCOBY isn’t always going to be a perfect slab of jelly like you see in the pictures. Sometimes it will even have holes.
Watch out for mold on the top of your SCOBY. Mold on your SCOBY is rare since the kombucha is usually too acidic to grow. It will look just like mold you find on your bread, fuzz and all. If you’re not sure, I would send in a picture to a kombucha expert and see what they say so you don’t waste your SCOBY. Yeast and mold look very similar on your SCOBY at first.
FAQs about homemade kombucha
Okay I know you guys probably have a bazillion questions about homemade kombucha, so the rest of this post is going to be frequently asked questions. If you don’t see your question, then feel free to leave a comment below.
How much kombucha should I drink in a day and can I drink too much?
I would start with just 4-8 ounces of kombucha to see how your body likes it. Then if you want to, you can work your way on up. I only drink 8 ounces of kombucha a day. You can’t really drink too much of this stuff because your body will just eliminate what it doesn’t need or use.
That being said if you have kidney issues, get dehydrated easily, or other health issues especially having to do with your immune system, make sure you talk to your doctor. If your body can’t eliminate properly or for some reason there is something bad in your brew (you are drinking bacteria and yeast after all) you don’t want to get sick.
How do I store my SCOBY?
We all go on vacations for extended periods of time. If you can’t find a babysitter for your SCOBY, then the preferred method of storage (and for backups) is using a SCOBY hotel.
We have also put our SCOBYs in a jar in the fridge with a little bit of sweetened tea. The problem with that method is making your SCOBY dormant and increasing the chance of growing mold.
Is it safe to drink when I’m nursing or pregnant?
I would say yes and no. I drink kombucha while I’m pregnant but I was drinking it before I ever got pregnant. I will let Food Renegade explain why you should or shouldn’t drink homemade kombucha while you’re pregnant.
Why do we have to use sugar?
Well the sugar is not really for you, it’s for the SCOBY. The yeast eats the sugar and converts it to CO2 which makes the awesome fizz. The longer you brew your kombucha the less sugar there is, but yes you will be drinking some of the sugar you put in. There are about 6-8 grams of sugar in an 8 ounce glass after a 7 day ferment, give or take.
What kind of sugar is best for kombucha?
There are many differing opinions about this subject but the consensus seems to be that regular old white sugar is the easiest for your SCOBY to consume. I use organic cane sugar to avoid pesticides and GMO nastiness. You can try combining different sugars to mix up the flavor too
Sugars you should avoid are raw honey, xylitol, stevia, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and lactose.
Can I use herbal tea?
I learned the answer to this question while writing this post actually. The nutrients that the SCOBY needs to brew successfully over time are only available in tea made from the tea plant camellia sinensis. Those teas are all black, green, white, and oolong tea. If you would like to use herbal tea, make sure that at least 25% of your brew comes from the Camilla sinensis plant (we use black tea).
Can I make a decaffeinated kombucha?
FYI – Herbalist Christopher Hobbs states in his book on Kombucha that, “A cup of Kombucha tea (5 oz.) contains up to 5 mg. of caffeine. A strong cup of coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine. So it is not a significant source of caffeine.”
I use the pre-steep method when I’m feeling like I want less caffeine:
According to a study done in 2008, out of the 11 types of black tea they tested they found that there was an average of about 58% extraction of caffeine after 1 minute compared to the 5 minute steep. (source) One thing I wonder about is if pre-steeping your black tea robs your SCOBY of necessary nutrients.
My brew is having issues such as: tasting weird, not carbonating, contamination, SCOBY doesn’t seem normal, etc.
I’m going to let Leo Porzio answer this question. He has a lot of good tips on how to correct a whole array of brewing problems. Kombucha Kamp is also a good resource to explore.
That’s all I got for homemade kombucha! All of us in our family drink kombucha nearly daily (including our little dude). It’s tasty, cheap, and beefs up your gut health (which we say is the biggest factor in your overall health).