Home Brewing Kombucha

A couple of years ago, Josh and I were on our honeymoon in Denver, Colorado and we tried kombucha at the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. Crooked Stave had a few rotating handles of Happy Leaf Kombucha, and we were lucky enough to order some. It was love at first sip. Ever since this kombucha “discovery” we have sought out kombucha breweries and have tried many bottled varieties. For my birthday, Josh purchased me The Big Book of Kombucha: Brewing, Flavoring, and Enjoying the Health Benefits of Fermented Tea as well as everything else I needed to start home brewing kombucha!

But first, what is kombucha? Kombucha is a lightly fermented tea—traditionally black and green—that is lightly sweetened and carbonated. Kombucha starts out as a sweet tea but changes during the fermentation process when a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) eats away at most of the sugar in the tea which creates a tart, tangy taste. This fizzy tea’s tartness depends on how long it ferments. The fermenting process is pretty fun because you can taste test every few days, and decide when the tea is ready. Additionally, you can add flavors such as lemon, ginger, melon, lavender, etc. during the bottling/carbonation process. I personally like kombucha “as is” without added flavors because the teas are unique on their own. Although, I am not entirely opposed to flavoring and have just gotten into the process.

So far we have brewed five kombucha batches using green, black, and oolong tea. We have enjoyed the oolong tea most. All of the teas are great though, and I am excited to experiment with other varieties.

Anyways, here’s everything you will need to start brewing kombucha as well as a basic brew recipe…

What you need

Ingredients:

  1. 1 gallon filtered water
  2. 1 Scoby
  3. 1-2 cups kombucha starter tea (store bought—my starter tea came with the scoby)
  4. 6-8 tea bags (black and green are traditional)
  5. 1 cup granulated sugar
  6. Distilled white vinegar

Equipment:

  1. 1-gallon glass jar
  2. 1 rubber band
  3. 1 large sauce pan
  4. 1 long ladled spoon
  5. Paper towels or coffee filters to cover the top of the jar
  6. Six 16-oz glass bottles with plastic lids or six swing-top bottles
  7. 1 Small funnel

***Note: Avoid using anything with metal once the fermentation process has started. The metal will weaken the scoby over time and give the kombucha a metallic flavor.

Kombucha Recipe

Brewing Directions:

  • Boil ½ gallon of filtered water. Add sugar and stir. Add 6-8 tea bags and steep for about 10-15 minutes while simmering on a low heat.
  • While the tea is simmering, wash your hands with warm water and vinegar. Next, take the glass jar and clean the jar with warm water and vinegar.
  • Once the jar is clean and the tea mixture is ready, discard the tea bags. Pour the mixture into the jar. Take the unused ½ gallon of filtered water and pour into the jar. This will cool the jar before you add the scoby.
  • Ensure the tea mixture in the jar is room temperature and then add the scoby. Cover the top of the jar with a piece of paper towel or coffee filter and seal with a rubber band.

Fermentation Process:

  • The tea takes anywhere from 1-3 weeks to ferment. Place the jar somewhere at average room temperature, out of direct sunlight (to help the scoby grow), and where it will not be moved. The scoby may float to the top, bottom, or lay sideways. All of these positions are normal. After a few days, the surface of the jar will form an off-white scoby layer. This layer will thicken over time and may or not may be attached to the older scoby. The scoby may also have stringy brown pieces as well as bubbles. There may also be sediment at the bottom of the jar. These are all healthy signs that the tea is fermenting.
  • After 1 week you can start taste testing the kombucha by pouring a small amount into a cup. When the tea is to your taste preferences, you can either drink the tea “as is” or you can bottle the tea for a second fermentation. A second fermentation refines and customizes the overall taste.

Bottling Process/Second Fermentation:

  • You will need to remove the scoby. Before removing the scoby, brew up another batch of sweet tea and repeat the outlined brewing directions (wait to add scoby and starter tea).
  • Next, you should make sure your hands are washed with warm water and white vinegar. With clean hands, gently remove the scoby. Place the scoby on a clean surface. You can remove the bottom layer of the scoby if it gets too thick.
  • Once you have removed the scoby, you should measure out your starter tea from the finished kombucha tea. Set this starter tea aside and start bottling. Using the small funnel, pour the kombucha into the 6 clean bottles (clean with warm water and white vinegar), and include any flavorings. Here’s a great guide on flavoring and carbonating.
  • You should store your freshly bottled kombucha out of direct sunlight and allow a few days for the kombucha to carbonate.
  • Once you are happy with your kombucha’s second fermentation, you should refrigerate the bottles to stop fermentation and carbonation. It is best to use your kombucha within a month.
  • Lastly, you can start up your next batch of kombucha by adding the fresh starter tea and scoby to the new sweet tea mixture.
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