Kombucha has long been one of those enigmatic entities to me––like horror movies, or ghost stories, or roller coasters––where there’s no good reason you should like it, but you sorta do. In many ways kombucha resembles vinegar––from the way it tastes to the culture used to make it––but it’s lighter, sweeter, and more refreshing. This sparkling, fermented, sweet black tea is often said to help improve your immune system and digestion, regularly hailed as a detoxifier and probiotic. Kombucha’s also commonly employed to preemptively fight cancer, but likewise could simply make a tasty and healthy alternative to soda. If you’re not familiar with it, and if I haven’t thoroughly intimidated you with all that vinegar talk, go to your local health food store and pick some up. Like the first time you get on a roller coaster, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised, or delightfully frightened.
Below is a recipe in case you’d like to try making your own: it’s easy, affordable, and best off all, you can choose exactly how you like it!
-A kombucha mother or SCOBY (see below)
-1 cup kombucha from previous batch (usually comes with SCOBY)
-5 bags of plain black tea (or 5 tbs of loose)
-1 cup raw sugar or turbinado (found at health food store––I personally avoid white sugar, but it works)
-3 quarts filtered, distilled, or spring water (preferably not tap, the chlorides could affect the fermentation)
-A 1 or 2 gallon glass container or clay crock
-Thin cloth to cover and string to tie
Acquiring a Mother
The Mother, or SCOBY (Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeasts) looks like some sort of translucent alien pancake, but is necessary for brewing kombucha.
There are multiple sites online selling mothers for around $20––kombuchakamp.com, kombuchabrooklyn.com, etc.––but if you know anyone brewing it, you can likely get one for free––we have a new mother just about every two weeks as the culture multiplies with every batch. I’ve also heard of people making their own by brewing a cup or two of sweet black tea (as described below), letting it cool, and pouring it into a covered mason jar with the contents of a bottle of kombucha from the store. After a week or so, a new small kombucha mother should form, floating on top. Et voila, keep a cup of the liquid and the mother, drink the rest, and rebrew following the instructions below.
In a sauce pan, heat the sugar with 1 quart of water until sugar is fully dissolved––not quite boiling.
Remove from heat and add loose tea or tea bags. Let tea steep for 15 minutes (or longer if you like a stronger brew).
Remove bags (or strain loose tea). Add other 2 quarts of water to brew and let cool to room temperature––you never want to pour hot tea over the kombucha mother, it could kill it.
Place the kombucha mother and cup of leftover kombucha in large glass bowl or crock.
Once at room temperature, add brewed tea to the crock with kombucha mother.
Then cover with the cloth, tied tightly and securely. Now it’s brewing.
Leave it on the counter and let it sit for 5-10 days, tasting it once a day after 5 days until it’s to your liking. I always let it go half a day longer than I think I like it because you might enjoy it sweeter in a sip than you would for an entire glass. The mother should be floating, but if for any reason it’s not, it might be dead and you’ll have to acquire a new one. Don’t worry, it’s pretty hard to screw up, but you’ll get a sense of how you personally want it after a couple batches.
After it’s done brewing ladle it into bottles or mason jars (though if you use jars, place a piece of plastic between the liquid and lid so the metal doesn’t taint the kombucha), leaving one or two cups of kombucha for your next batch. Then? Rebrew!
Ferments are sometimes a little like pets: if you neglect them for too long, the culture will die. I always try and rebrew after every bottling (or “harvest” as they say), in order to keep it going. It will stay good in bottles for a long time, and often even gain a little more effervescence. If I can’t rebrew, I place the mother in a little old kombucha and put it in the fridge until I’m ready again (don’t try that with your other pets.) Also, so long as your proportions stay the same, you can adjust this recipe to make more or less kombucha as you please. To make a flavored kombucha I would recommend adding fresh fruit or herbs after the brewing. Flavored teas might work in some cases, but using fresh product will always taste better, and will not affect the fermentation.
Can you use honey in place of sugar? Yes and no. Some mothers will take to honey better than others, and to avoid killing the mother, I’ve been weaning ours off of straight sugar by using half honey and half turbinado every time I brew––slowly adding more and more honey. I’ve noticed the more honey I add, the faster it brews, so check it more often if you try this. Kombucha brewed with honey is often called Jun, and unfortunately there is not a lot of information on it, how it’s made, or where to get the culture. If I get a solid recipe for it, I’ll definitely post it here. Or if you have a good recipe for it or a good source for finding a SCOBY––Jun or otherwise––feel free to share!
Any questions or comments you have, please don’t hesitate to leave them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4 thoughts on “The Skinny on Fermentation: Kombucha”
I have been brewing kombucha for the past few years. Love bottled kombucha/grape juice…gets fizzy like pop! Have scobies for sale too! Just email email@example.com for details!
Hi! Firstly, I LOVE your fermentation posts! Keep em’ coming! Secondly, do you know if it would be OK to use flavored kombucha from the store to grow a mother? Or would the juice that is added affect the growth of the mama?
Thanks you for the kind words! Although I’ve never grown one from a flavored kombucha, my instinct is to say it would be fine since I’ve noticed mothers already growing in them at time of purchase anyway. However, I do doubt it will take on any of the characteristics of its flavor, but if you try it let us know how it goes!
I have Jun, very different than kombucha. Great group on Facebook called Kombucha Nation, and they have culture sharing and loads of info.
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