There are a couple of ways to make kombucha, none of which are really difficult. The most common way I see people doing it nowadays is not the traditional method, but the easiest one. It’s about brewing beer in batches.
Batching is probably the most popular method because it is the easiest way for a beginner to ensure success. I learned to brew that way, but graduated to the traditional continuous brewing method. Since I would recommend starting with batch brewing and then progressing to traditional and continuous brewing, I’ll cover how I do both.
There are a number of distinct advantages to the traditional method, not the least of which are the quantities and quantity of healthy nutrients produced. Therefore, I will explain them after going through the methodology.
You just need a few things to get started:
- a container of at least one gallon or larger, preferably glass or ceramic
- a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts)
- over a cup of kombucha
- one tablespoon (~1 bag) of tea per quart
- 1 cup of sugar per gallon
- a gallon or more of water, preferably filtered
- a small amount of fruit of your choice (optional)
I started making it in a couple of gallon glass cookie jars that I bought at a department store for around $10.00 each. A gallon jar of pickles, if you happen to have one lying around, would be free. I was able to convert the same jars I indicated with into continuous brew jars by adding a faucet later.
SCOBYs will not work well in steel or plastic containers, as kombucha is packed with friendly acids, meaning friendly to the human digestive tract unlike some materials.
As with most natural ways of fermenting foods and drinks, the starter, in this case the SCOBY, replicates itself and produces what people call babies. So finding a SCOBY is usually easy because many people in the kombucha brewing community, in keeping with the traditional pattern, are happy to give their “babies” as gifts.
I was able to locate mine at Kijiji a free online advertising platform for the sale of second-hand. I didn’t have to shell out money as we bartered for home-fermented stuff. Although there are many sites online that sell SCOBYs, I prefer to get one from a neighbor. If you can’t find one locally online, it may be your only alternative.
Whether you find a SCOBY locally or have to go online, you also need to get a cup of kombucha to get started. You used to be able to grow a SCOBY yourself with commercial kombucha like you can with the homemade stuff.
According to many reports I have seen, that is no longer possible. I know that commercial producers faced regulatory conflicts due to the minuscule alcohol content in kombucha. Part of the ferment is an alcoholic ferment and is usually around 0.5%. More than 0.5% in some jurisdictions requires a license to sell alcohol.
Whatever commercial manufacturers have done to overcome this problem has rendered their product incapable of its normal replication reproducibility. That and the fact that it is extremely expensive considering how cheap it is to produce has put me off using it.
I started brewing free trade, organic, pure black tea, which is a common method. Because of how refreshing, tasty, and healthy kombucha is, I found myself consuming a couple of gallons a week, especially when doing anything physically strenuous in the heat.
So since I was a bit concerned about the amount of caffeine in black tea, even though I was only using 4 tea bags per gallon, I switched to green tea, just to be safe. You can use any, but I would recommend organic with no additives or flavorings and free trade is always a good idea in my books.
Everyone has their own preference for making tea, but since I use very little, I leave the tea leaves to steep until the water has cooled. Never pour hot water on your SCOBY. As a general rule, I use body temperature as the upper limit.
I also mix a cup of refined sugar with the tea so that it dissolves with the hot water. According to some traditions, I let the water cool a few degrees after boiling before pouring it over the tea. I normally stay away from refined sugar except for fermentation. It doesn’t seem to be as bad for the health of bacteria and yeast as it is for humans!
After the tea and sugar mixture cools, I’ll strain it into the brew jar, add the kombucha, set in the SCOBY, and fill it to the gallon with filtered water. Then I cover the jar with a kitchen towel and a rubber band to keep out insects or dust, but let the brew breathe.
Now, depending on the temperature of your place of residence, it will take about a week to prepare. The time also depends on your taste preferences. The longer you leave the infusion, the more potent it becomes in terms of nutrients. But as the SCOBY continues to deplete the sugar in the solution, the drink becomes more sour to the point of becoming unpalatable.
The best way is to taste the concoction from time to time until it has the desired sweetness before bottling it. Although this is the simple kombucha method, I prefer to ferment it twice with some fruit. You can use any type of fruit you like and I have tried several.
By far my favorite has become strawberry and I find I only need a few average sized strawberries per gallon. To brew it twice, I cut the main brew to 5 days and then strain it through my little metal strainer into 4 1-quart jars with a few strawberry slices in each. To do this, I pick up the SCOBY and drop it into a bowl of kombucha for a while.
I take care to leave about an inch of space at the top to account for any gas produced and cover well. I keep them at room temperature for a couple of days, then strain them into clean jars and refrigerate them. I understand that it will keep for a long time, but that it continues to sour over time. I can’t vouch for that as mine always disappears pretty quickly once it cools down.
Although I have never experienced a problem, the SCOBY can become contaminated and begin to grow mold. Unlikely if you do a clean operation, but I check for mold every time I expose the SCOBY just to be sure.
Potential contamination is one of the advantages of continuous brewing, as there is less handling of the SCOBY involved. It’s also more convenient to just fill a couple of jars with the faucet and fill the brewing container with some new tea mix. But the most important benefit is the addition of more beneficial nutrients.
Nutrient value has been shown in some tests to increase over time and this can be captured by continuous brewing. Some very useful acids do not appear until 14 days after infusion. Therefore, batching does not provide the opportunity to allow these benefits to be increased. If it is left that long without adding more sugar, it becomes too sour for consumption.
I did some research before I started brewing continuously and discovered some very confusing and complex calculations on the amount of sugar and tea etc. I also came across many sites selling ridiculously expensive systems.
I got a local glassware to drill a hole in my cookie jars for $5.00 each and bought faucets as a repair item for water jugs at a local hardware store. They are cheap and do not pose much of a problem to find. I’ve seen them sold on Amazon too.
After breaking one of my beer mugs, I found a large, inexpensive glass dispenser with a tap at a department store. So, this is how I do my ongoing preparation.
I make the kombucha as described above, but now I regularly drain a couple of quarts into mason jars and add fruit and ferment a couple more days before refrigeration. I make tea with a couple of tablespoons of leaves (~2 bags) and 1/2 cup of sugar and chill it then add it and fill my brewing mug with filtered water.
As with any fermented food, the results aren’t always predictable, but I find kombucha to be one of the easiest. With a little practice and experimentation, you will probably find improvements in your preparation. I’ve been doing this for a while, but have made it down to a science for my particular taste buds. I am now producing a far superior beer than I had when I started. Enjoy!