If you have ever been intrigued by a fizzy tea beverage called kombucha, this post will explain how to make your own by the gallon. As kombucha sells for $4 a bottle, it’s a significant cost savings to make it yourself (about 20 cents a bottle by my reckoning). It’s a delicious, naturally fizzy beverage that’s fermented, providing healthy probiotic cultures for digestion. Many other health benefits are attributed to it, such as detoxification. I like to drink a small glass in the morning as a tonic.
Kombucha is a specific type of culture, a squishy brownish mat of bacteria and yeast, that feeds upon the sugar and caffeine in the tea. It originated in northeast China, its usage spreading first to Russia and then the rest of the world.
Believe it or not, pictured here are ALL the ingredients you need to make kombucha, plus filtered water and time. I use organic everything. See notes below for substitutions and suggestions. If you don’t have a starter culture—also called a kombucha mother, mushroom, or SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast)—I have directions at the bottom for how to grow one. Some people have referred to kombucha as mushroom tea, but it has nothing to do with mushrooms. 4 black tea bags
1 gallon (3.75 L) filtered water
1 C. (250 g) granulated cane sugar
1 C. (235 ml) fresh plain kombucha with live cultures
A large clean glass jar that will hold a little over a gallon of liquid (4 L jar).
Boil about a third of the water. Pour the boiling water over the sugar in a heat-proof bowl and stir to dissolve completely. Add the tea bags and steep for 30 minutes.
Remove the tea bags, squeezing out the liquid. Add the liquid to your large jar with the rest of the water and let cool completely. Add the fresh kombucha and the SCOBY and stir gently. The SCOBY will eventually float to the top. Cover with a light towel and a rubber band. (The towel should not come into contact with the surface.) Put it in a cool corner of the kitchen out of direct sunlight. A cupboard is fine if you have the space.
Check after 4-5 days when it’s hot, allow at least 7 days in the winter. I taste it with a clean spoon. If it doesn’t taste sufficiently bubbly and vinegary, leave it another few days. Once it tastes to your liking, remove the SCOBY with clean tongs and 1 C. of the brew, putting them in a clean, well-rinsed glass jar with a lid. Store in a cupboard until next time. This will be what you add to start the next batch. You only have to buy a bottle of kombucha the first time you make it. (Note that I no longer store mine in a plastic container.)
Refrigerate the rest. Since this is a health beverage and does contain sugar, go easy on it. It’s really supposed to be used as a tonic, not drunk like soda.
- Like all fermentation processes, there is some art, some nature, and some practice involved. You MUST use at least two caffeinated tea bags, although I have seen some people who put in two bags of flavored tea at the beginning. You can use black, white, or green tea bags. Just don’t use tea bags containing any oils, as they will damage the SCOBY and might grow mold. Please let me know in the comments if you have tried any of these variations.
- Normal: dark, almost black, strands of culture, brown strands of culture
- Not normal: anything furry. If it’s furry or brightly colored, throw everything out and start over.
- If the liquid is too hot, it will kill the culture.
- If there is soap or chlorine in your containers, it will kill the culture.
- If you use tap water, which is chlorinated, it will kill the culture.
- After it has been brewed and the SCOBY removed, you can put it into smaller jars with caps and add flavorings like fruit juice or puree. Let sit out for 1-2 days to brew, then refrigerate. Be aware that pressure can build up from the fermentation so don’t leave them out too long and be careful when opening. I have done this with straight pomegranate and straight cherry juice, mixing half and half with kombucha and leaving it out for 2-3 days, cap tightly on. Then refrigerate. Very yummy!
- If you make a batch of kombucha and it doesn’t seem to get very fizzy and vinegary, add a fresh cup of kombucha from the store the next time to “recharge” it.
How to grow a new SCOBY:
If you don’t have a SCOBY, you can grow one. It takes 2-4 weeks to grow it. You will make the tea exactly as instructed above, minus the SCOBY. Instead, add the entire bottle of fresh storebought kombucha (plain, not flavored, with active cultures) after the tea has cooled and you have put everything in your gallon jar. Cover it as above, put in a cool, dark place, and wait. You will need to let it sit 2-4 WEEKS to grow the SCOBY.
Your first SCOBY will be thin but will thicken over time. Each time you make a new batch of kombucha, it will grow a new “baby” underneath. You can peel the babies off and give them to friends or compost them. While I have seen SCOBYs for sale on the interweb, it does seem like fermenters are about sharing knowledge for free, so see if you can find someone to give one to.
If you end up growing mold, start everything over with a fresh bottle of store-bought kombucha and follow the instructions to grow a new SCOBY.
Many thanks to all the wonderful bloggers out there for sharing their kombucha methods, including Carrie Vitt of Deliciously Organic.
Today’s post is part of our mission to help you rebuild your health through food and lifestyle choices. Look for posts on Mondays featuring gluten-free, sugar-free recipes made with healthy plant-based ingredients, Wednesday essays, and Friday giveaways (when available).
If you cannot find plain, unflavored kombucha, here is one you can order: