Kombucha is a fermented tea, originally touted as an ancient Eastern remedy. It has a complex sweet and sour flavor, punctuated with a light effervescence, and boasts extensive health benefits.
Kombucha can only be made with a specific culture, known as a kombucha mother, mushroom or SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria & Yeast). If you know anyone who brews, they will likely be happy to give you a culture, as the mother multiplies with every batch. We also sell kombucha mothers right here at The Haberdashery ($10). You will also need at least 1 cup of mature kombucha for a strong start.
A kombucha mother is a living culture. It requires regular attention to maintain a healthy mother. Your kombucha will need to be re-brewed every couple weeks. If you need a break from the demands of brewing kombucha, store your mother in the refrigerator with some sweet tea. The cold temperature will slow the rate at which it consumes the sugar. If you neglect your mother and she begins to mold, it is recommended that you discard your culture and start anew.
what you’ll need
A kombucha SCOBY
Tea (traditionally green and/or black)
A large glass or ceramic container
(The wider the better, spigot optional)
A piece of muslin & a string or rubber band
Cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer (optional)
Glass bottles or jug
(If you like your kombucha good and fizzy, single-serving, air-tight bottles are a must-have!)
1 gallon water: 4 tbsp loose tea or 4 tea bags: 1 cup sugar: ~1 cup mature kombucha
1. Heat up one-quarter of your water on the stove, dissolve your sugar in the water, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add your loose or bagged tea. Steep for a few minutes, then add the remaining three-quarters of your water, chilled or room temperature.
When I was 19, I bought Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and read the whole darn thing cover to cover. I was totally fascinated. Kombucha was one of my first fermentation endeavors, and I'm still brewing to this day. I've always played fast and loose with the "rules" of making kombucha, not only because that's my style, but also because Wild Fermentation heartily encourages it, and it never did me wrong. In his second book, Art of Fermentation, Katz admits that perhaps not all kombucha cultures are hardy enough to ferment Mountain Dew and that cultures from different origins can vary widely in resiliency, in bacteria makeup, and in the flavors they create. Though I have only personally used a few different SCOBYs, each had its own distinct flavor profile.
The point is, go ahead! Experiment wildly. Try making kombucha with herbal teas and honey, or Coca Cola if that's your thing, do it! But maybe reserve a layer of your culture just in case your mother decides that crazy combo was the last straw.
2. Make sure your sweet tea mixture isn’t hot to the touch, as extreme temperatures can kill your culture. Add the lukewarm tea, mature kombucha, and mother to your jar.
3. Cover your brew and set aside in a safe place for fermentation.
4. Brew time depends on the ambient temperature where your kombucha is stored and how strongly you prefer your kombucha. Your brew time will be shorter in the heat, and slower in the cold. Taste your brew after a week or so, and continue tasting it every few days until you are satisfied with the degree to which it has fermented.
5. Now it's time for bottling! Remember, even after you've removed the culture, your kombucha will continue fermenting unless you refrigerate it. If you want to bottle your brew for ultimate effervescence, it would be wise to bottle shortly before your kombucha has reached satisfactory levels of fermentation, as your bottles will need to remain unrefrigerated while the yeast works its carbonating magic.
6. If you don't care so much about effervescence, you can bottle your brew in any old bottle. Strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter to weed out the goopy culture strains. Throw it in the fridge, it's ready for drinking! Now is the time to rebrew for your next batch. But if you want the bubbly stuff, forge onwards!
7. You will need airtight single serving bottles and a funnel (unless your vessel has a spigot, like mine) and a fine mesh strainer, if using.
8. Add 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of sugar or a few tablespoons of fruit juice to the bottle to feed the yeast and encourage good carbonation.
9. Fill your bottles so there is just an inch or less of headspace. The kombucha culture contains both yeasts and bacterias. The yeasts are anaerobic; they do not require oxygen to survive. The bacterias are aerobic; they do require oxygen to survive. The yeasts, and not the bacterias, are the carbonating agents. Reducing the amount of oxygen available inside your bottle by filling up to a narrow neck and leaving little headspace, will give you a better fizz.
10. Seal your bottles and set them aside. Again, the brew time depends on the temperature (typically 2 - 5 days). You can monitor carbonation without opening the bottle & letting it all out, by gently shaking the bottle and watching for bubbles.
Warning: I've heard tell of exploding bottles. Now, I've done it many times and seeing my own results, it seems highly unlikely. However, if your kombucha is producing a powerful carbonation, be forewarned and take care.
11. Begin again! To maintain a healthy culture, always brew a fresh batch of tea after bottling.
Now pop it in the fridge and enjoy!