The ultimate guide to brewing kombucha like a pro
Why make your own kombucha?
You know when something seems too good to be true, so you try it for yourself, and soon find yourself telling other people that it really is the best? Yeah. That’s what kombucha is like for me. It’s effervescent, probiotic, life-changing wonderfulness in a bottle.
Kombucha will solve all your problems.
That’s not true. But, whether you’re looking to cut out soda and need a replacement, want a good source of probiotics for gut health, or just need a healthy, refreshing treat, kombucha is for you!
Back when I was just starting to make some healthy changes in my life, I had heard about kombucha and its gloriously probiotic goodness, but pretty much had just assumed that I would be limited to buying a pricey bottle every now and then to enjoy.
But then I found out how easy it is to make at home, got a scoby from my future hubby, and haven’t stopped brewing it since! I usually drink a bottle every day or two, and make each bottle for pennies instead of paying the price of a latte every time I want some kombucha.
Benefits of drinking kombucha
Home-brewed kombucha can actually be better for you than storebought!
There are restrictions on commercially-produced kombucha, which sometimes means that they are pasteurized, and the bottles you find at the store just can’t and don’t have the same variety of healthy yeasts and probiotics.
Drinking my own homemade kombucha helps my digestion, and the probiotics help keep everything in my gut happy. I have Lyme’s Disease (and leaky gut because of it), but my doctor was actually surprised to see how well my gut was doing- and I’d like to thank my daily kombucha for that!
It’s also just a nice pick-me-up after working outside, going for a run, waking up in the morning, or just as a delightful, self-caring, mid-afternoon break.
Not to mention you can make it whatever flavor you want! Flavoring can help make your kombucha more kid-friendly, which is especially helpful if you’re looking for a bubbly, healthy substitute for soda/pop/sodapop (whatever you call it in your neck of the woods) for the kiddos or yourself.
I wish everyone made kombucha. I think the world would be a happier place. We could have neighborhood kombucha tastings and share funky recipes! Maybe some day.
I could talk about kombucha for hours, but hey, you should try it for yourself! That’s why you’re here? Great!! I’m excited for you to learn all about making kombucha at home.
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Let’s get started!
Supplies for brewing kombucha
- Black tea
- White sugar
- A jar (half gallon or larger, you can also use a continuous brew jar- this one is way cheaper than the ones made especially for kombucha!)
- A washcloth or coffee filter and a rubber band
- A SCOBY. (Also called the mother, mushroom, etc… SCOBY stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. I’m just going to call it a -lowercase- scoby because otherwise it feels like I’m yelling) You can get one from a hippie friend, or buy one online or at various health food stores. *
- Bottles if you want to store them individually or do a second fermentation. You can buy some (plain bottles or grolsch bottles like these work great) Or just save some old kombucha bottles! I’ve got loads from my favorite brand.
* Note- another way to get a scoby is to buy a plain, unflavored bottle of kombucha- then make your tea according to the instructions below, but only make a cup or so. Add the ready-made kombucha, cover with a washcloth and rubber band and let sit for a few days out of direct sunlight, and a thin scoby should start forming! If it doesn’t show up within 3 weeks, toss your batch and start over. Note that it will take longer for your first batch to be ready with this method if you start with a tiny new scoby like this- up to a month.
How to start your first kombucha brew
We’ll start by making the tea. Bring some water to a boil (however much you want to make or your container holds), then turn off the heat.
Next stir in the sugar (organic is best). Add one cup of sugar for every one gallon of water, and stir until dissolved.
I don’t leave the tea bags in because it can make your kombucha bitter.
Next, you’ll want to let the tea cool a bit- it can be warm or room temperature, but tea that’s too hot can actually kill your scoby! You’ll know it’s cool enough when you’re able to put a (clean) finger in without any discomfort.
Next just pour the tea into your jar, and add in the scoby!
When you add the scoby, make sure your hands are clean, and just plop in on in there. It doesn’t matter if it floats, sinks, or turns sideways- it’ll work any way you do it! If it’s a very thin scoby you might want to be gentle with it and make sure it stays flat, but that’s not vital.
Cover the jar with your washcloth or coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band.
Put your fermenting deliciousness somewhere out of direct sunlight, and let the kombucha sit for between 5-10 days, or until done. (It goes way quicker in warmer climates, FYI.)
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How to start your first kombucha brew
- Black tea.
- White sugar.
- A jar. Half gallon or larger
- A washcloth or coffee filter and a rubber band
- A SCOBY. You can get one from a hippie friend, or buy one online or at various health food stores. *
- Bottles if you want to store them individually or do a second fermentation.
Bring some water to a boil (however much your container holds), then turn off the heat.
Stir in sugar. Add one cup of sugar for every one gallon of water.
Add your black tea (half a cup -or eight tea bags- per gallon of water), let steep for 5-10 minutes.
Strain and toss the tea.
Let the tea cool til warm or room temperature.
Pour the tea into your jar, and add in the scoby!
Cover your jar with either a washcloth or coffee filter, secure with rubber band.
Put your brew somewhere out of direct sunlight. Let the kombucha sit for between 5-10 days, until done.
*Another way to get a scoby is to buy a plain, unflavored bottle of kombucha, make the kombucha according to the instructions above, but just make a cup or so. Then add the ready-made kombucha, let it sit like in the instructions below, and a thin scoby should start forming within 3 weeks! If it doesn’t show up, toss your batch and start over. It’ll take longer for your batch to be ready with this method.
Is it ready?
To see if your kombucha is done, just pour some into a cup and taste it. If it’s still too sweet, let it sit for another day or so. When it’s at your preferred level of sweetness, on to the next step! (See the tips below for what to do if you let it sit for too long)
If you’re going to do a secondary fermentation to get your kombucha all carbonated and effervescent-y, you can jump down here. Otherwise, it’s ready to drink!
You can just pour some straight over ice if you need your kombucha fix right away, and if not, just refrigerate the whole jar or separate the kombucha out into bottles for a grab-and-go refreshment.
An airtight container is just fine at this stage. Once in the fridge, your completed kombucha will stop fermenting and shouldn’t get any less sweet.
Cleaning/prepping for next batch
Now it’s time to start your next batch! When I brewed with a half-gallon jar, I would wash my hands, take out the scoby (along with a splash of leftover kombucha to kickstart the next batch) and put it off to the side in a glass bowl.
Then I’d make the next batch in another half-gallon jar while my half-gallon of drinkable brew would go in the fridge.
If you’re doing a continuous brew, -using a glass or ceramic container with a spout like this one, where you can add tea on top of the scoby- just fill the bottles from the spout and leave that scoby chilling where it is!
Tips and FAQ
How to slow the fermentation
If you’re going to be leaving for a while and won’t be able to start a new batch when it’s time, just put your jar, scoby and all, in the fridge. This will slow the fermentation process down a ton and can save your batch. You can store it for months this way.
Once you’re ready to pick up brewing again, just take your scoby out of the fridge and prepare it some more tea! It should keep on fermenting as usual when it comes to room temperature.
Time-saving hack for large batches
If you’re going to be making a large batch (more than a gallon), you don’t need to boil every bit of water you’re going to use. There’s no need to go out and buy a super-huge pot that takes an hour to come to a boil!
It’s only necessary to prep enough water to make the tea, but you’ll still need to use the full amount of sugar and tea needed for the finished brew.
For example, if I wanted to prep tea for two gallons of kombucha, I would bring one gallon to a boil, adding two cups of sugar and 16 tea bags (the full amount needed for two gallons).
Next, wait for the water to cool down, add it to your scoby, and then top it off with another gallon of water.
What to do when your scoby has grown
Every once in a while, you will need to downsize your scoby. With each batch, a new layer of scoby will form. You’ll notice that after time, your brew will start going faster because there’s so much yeast and bacteria working on the sugar, so it’s a good idea to remove some layers to keep your brew going at the speed you want.
I usually downsize mine when the scoby is around an inch thick.
The newest layer forms on top, so when the bottom layers are getting too thick, take it out (with clean hands!) and peel off the top layer to keep for your next batch. It’s fine if it rips, you just want to retain some pieces that aren’t too small. Otherwise your following batch will have a slow start.
Bonus tip on old scobies
You don’t need to throw away those old scoby layers! They’re probiotic too!
You can experiment with a new batch (using different teas, sugar, etc), use it in a smoothie, toss it in your compost bin or just straight into your garden, give it to your dog, dare someone to eat it in one bite, (cuz why let perfectly edible probiotics go to waste?), gross out your husband (that one’s fun to do), feed it to the chickens, or make candy with it!
To make candy, cut the scoby into bite-size pieces, mix the pieces with honey or sugar, and either boil it for 15 minutes, then strain and let cool, OR let it soak for 24 hours and put it into a dehydrator until it reaches your preferred consistency.
Irregularities in kombucha
If you see brown strands in your kombucha, never fear! It’s just yeast. It’s good for you. =)
Every scoby is different- some will have little bubbles in them, some will be darker than others, etc. Just because your scoby doesn’t look quite normal doesn’t mean it’s bad!
If you see mold, (like fuzzy, actual mold-looking stuff) you need to toss out the whole batch and start over. If it isn’t fuzzy, it probably isn’t mold. DON’T PANIC. Kombucha can have lots of different textures and colors in a brew- variations are fine.
You can avoid mold by using clean equipment, keeping your kombucha covered, and washing your hands when you have to handle the scoby.
I don’t have a picture here to show you because I’ve never had to deal with mold in 3+ years of making kombucha… I’m not a perfectionist clean freak, it’s just a very forgiving brew to make (Unlike beer, where you have to sanitize everything for 3 years and sacrifice to the gods before each brew).
But I do know what mold looks like, so if you have questions you can always send me a pic of your scoby!
Adjusting your kombucha to different temperatures
When I’m living in a warm climate, sometimes I’ll make a little less tea since the kombucha brews more quickly.
And when I’m living somewhere cold, I’ve had good results with putting my kombucha brew and carbonating bottles into the water heater closet to help speed up the process.
Probiotics and travel
Your scoby wants to travel with you! At least, you’ll sure be happy you have it. I believe gut health is super important, and kombucha is pretty much a staple in my diet, so I made sure to take everything I needed for brewing when I moved to Mexico for nine months.
I could absolutely tell a difference when I was drinking it regularly and watching how my body responded to all the diet changes! Even months in, with constant low-quality food, my digestion did better when I was drinking kombucha on the daily.
Kombucha can break down metal and plastic, so don’t store your scoby anywhere that allows the kombucha to touch metal or plastic for long periods of time.
That being said, my continuous brew container does have a plastic spout, but it’s not actually touching the kombucha and I’ve been using it for years without a problem.
I transport my scoby in a little mason jar with a tight-fitting lid. It’s fine to let your kombucha mixture touch metal and be in airtight containers for short periods of time, but make your next batch of tea whenever you can!
I always serve my kombucha out of glass bottles or glass cups.
Note: It’s fine to have your drink in plastic for a short amount of time without your kombucha breaking down the plastic. But, actually, ANY time plastic touches any sort of food or drink, there’s a chance of the plastic leaching chemicals in your food. So I just try not to use plastic at all. =)
If your kombucha sits too long and starts tasting way too sour and vinegar-y…. Yikes, bummer. There’s really not much you can do to save a batch of kombucha that’s gone too long.
If it’s your continuous brew that’s sour, keep no more than 1/2 cup of kombucha for starting your next brew. Otherwise, the sour flavor might affect your next batch too.
I’ve found that if it’s just a shade too acidic, you can add some sugar when you bottle it and that can help make it slightly more bearable, but it’ll still have that apple cider vinegar taste.
BUT, you can use the liquid pretty much the same way you’d use apple cider vinegar! Why not try it in a vinaigrette? Or in your homemade conditioner? (link coming soon) =)
People sometimes ask if there’s alcohol in kombucha… Well, yes, a tad, because it’s a fermented drink, but only has trace amounts- by law, store-bought brews are required to have less than 0.5% alcohol, but homemade brews can have up to 2%.
So you probably shouldn’t drink ten bottles in one sitting, but other than that you’re fine. You don’t need that much sugar anyway 😉
Fun fact for adults: You can also include a splash of vodka or any other alcohol to make your kombucha a mixer! This is especially yummy with flavored kombuchas. Since the kombucha is already slightly fermented, it shouldn’t damage the probiotics, but you will want to drink it pretty soon after mixing.
Kombucha sugar content
Lots of people drink kombucha for the health benefits- but you should be aware that you are still consuming sugar when you drink kombucha. A very sweet kombucha will have more sugar content.
To reduce the sugar content, let your kombucha sit for as long as you can still drink it. The more acidic the flavor, the less sugar it has because the bacteria have had time to eat more of it.
Caffeine in kombucha?
Kombucha brewed with caffeine will have residual caffeine in the finished brew- around one-third of whatever tea you’ve used. It varies from brew to brew. (source)
In order to cut out caffeine, I would not recommend using decaf black tea. Usually, teas are decaffeinated using a chemical process that leaves a residual toxin. This can be true even if it says “natural” on the packaging.
You’ll need to experiment with your batches of kombucha (and this is where those extra scobies come in handy) but you can try substituting green or white tea to cut the caffeine in half.
Some brewers have also suggested that caffeine levels decline along with sugar the longer your brew sits, but I can’t personally verify that claim.
To avoid caffeine, you can also try using herbal teas!
Brewing kombucha with herbal tea
Herbal teas, rooibos, and tisanes can all make kombucha as well, with a whole new range of flavor possibilities!
Keep a black tea brew going, and use pieces of that scoby for your experimental brews. You can try a blend of teas, or a completely black-tea-free version. You can also try brewing kombucha using black tea every third brew or so, or whatever keeps the scoby happy.
Scobies that don’t have black tea available might not grow and could eventually stop fermenting completely, so you’ll want a regular brew that you can return to for more scobies if needed. As always, test the brew while it’s going to make sure it’s getting to the right levels of sweet vs. acidic.
Best types of sugar for kombucha
If you’re just starting out with kombucha, use normal white sugar. Organic is best. In my house, brewing kombucha is pretty much the only reason to keep normal white sugar around!
Once you’ve got the hang of it and would like to try something different, you can use a piece of scoby to try making a new brew using coconut sugar, birch sugar, honey, etc. Just note that different sugars might change the appearance of your scoby and you might have to use different amounts of sweetener, but it’s something to try!
There’s actually a type of kombucha called jun kombucha that’s made with green tea and honey, and it’s delicious! It’s like the champagne of kombuchas.
The only problem with making it yourself is that it’s super hard to find what makes the scoby happy. The brew can ferment super quick and go bad in no time, so it’s definitely not for beginners. My brother-in-law makes it but I haven’t had much luck the few times I’ve tried, which is why I don’t go over it here.
Once you’ve got this down and are brewing your own homemade kombucha like a pro, why not try second fermenting (or naturally carbonating) your kombucha? It’s super simple and lets you turn your kombucha into a sparkling, effervescent treat. Learn how below!
If you have any questions, either email me or comment below and I’d be happy to help you.
5 easy steps to carbonate and flavor your kombucha
Below you’ll find all the information you need to start a secondary fermentation with your kombucha!
I love doing this because it makes my kombucha taste even more refreshing and delightful. And it’s so so easy! Just a few items and a couple days of bottling, and you’ll have a delicious, carbonated, probiotic, soda-replacing treat to enjoy.
To start, you’ll need to have your batch of kombucha going and fermenting like normal. If you haven’t started with your first batch, go back to the instructions above to catch up on how to get started!
You’ll want to start with kombucha that’s slightly on the sweet side, because as it sits in bottles the bacteria will keep working on eating the sugar in the bottle with it. That’s what makes it carbonate, totally au natural! Here are the five simple steps you need to make your kombucha AWESOME.
1. Pour your brewed kombucha into bottles. Grolsch bottles like these work great for adding juice, or one with a wider mouth is good if you’re going to add pieces of fresh fruit. Or feel free to use mason jars or repurposed glass bottles of any kind! It just needs to have an airtight lid. Leave about an inch empty at the top if you’re adding anything.
2. Add flavoring! The easiest addition to flavor your kombucha is any sort of fruit juice. I especially enjoy using pineapple, apple, or orange juice. You can also cut up pretty much anything you can think of and add it- the sky’s the limit! Feel free to experiment, sprinkle in some spices, and get weird! Here are some ideas I’ve tried and loved:
- Chopped ginger root
- Chopped apple
- Orange ginger
- Ginger mint
- Apple ginger
- Pretty much anything with ginger actually….
- Lime juice and mint
- Apple and cinnamon
- Cayenne and lemon
- Coconut water
3. Close tightly. Store somewhere out of direct sunlight.
4. If you put fruit or fruit juice in your kombucha, you’ll want to burp your brew. Especially bottles with actual fruit in them.
All this means is that while the bottles are sitting at room temperature, you’ll need to crack the lids every day to let some air escape. The carbonation will build up and it needs somewhere to go! Let it fizz for a little and then close it back up. This step is critical, because you don’t want to come home to sticky grapefruit ick all over your ceiling and cabinets, trust me….
5. Refrigerate when ready. When it’s good and carbonated, just pop it into the fridge until it’s chilled, then sit back and enjoy! You won’t need to release any built-up air once your bottles have been refrigerated.
If you added pieces of fruit, you might want to strain them out before serving. Totally up to you though- they’re completely edible and kombucha-infused! Yumm.
Tips on secondary kombucha fermentation
Once your bottled kombucha has been sitting at room temperature for a few days, it will start forming a baby scoby of its own (It will stop growing once it’s in the fridge). You can keep this and start a new batch, gift a friend, or just do what I do and drink it. Remember, it’s good for you =)
Some people might not enjoy a little surprise jellyfish in their drink though, so you might want to strain it first if you’re serving it to kombucha newbies.
You might find it helpful to write down the date you started carbonating your kombucha, especially if you’re doing multiple batches. I usually just keep the older batch separated out on one side of the shelf, and make sure I drink those first.
That’s it! What do you think? Will you be starting your own kombucha any time soon?
Please feel free to email me at email@example.com or comment below if you run into any problems or have any questions- I’d be happy to help you on your way to becoming a successful home kombucha brewer!