Most of my friends know that I love my kombucha and brew my own at home. Not only is Kombucha (aka. booch) a tasty tea-based drink, but it also has many health benefits because of the fermentation process the tea goes through. (Some scientific information here: Kombucha Fermentation and Its Antimicrobial Activity and Jayabalan_et_al-2014-Comprehensive_Reviews_in_Food_Science_and_Food_Safety )
I usually have spare SCOBY’s to pass on for others to start their own brew, so in order to save time (previously I had been writing out instructions for each person) I decided to write out and publish the instructions I use for brewing my booch. If you would like to brew your own please let me know and I will help you get started. I have heirloom kombucha tea SCOBY’s and Jun tea SCOBY’s to share!
(Printable PDF of instructions below: Kombucha Instructions)
Kombucha Brewing Instructions
You will need:
- 1 large empty jar or vessel (at least 4L) – I’ve seen them at Bulk Barn, Winners, Canadian Tire, and Ikea.
- Unflavored tea – black tea is optimal but white or oolong tea will also work. Do not use flavored tea.
- Sugar – organic cane sugar is optimal but refined white sugar will also work.
- Coffee filters or tight weave fabric for the top of the jar and a rubber band to secure. Do not use cheesecloth.
- SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and 1c of starter brew – provided by me
Directions for 1st ferment (1F):
- Make sweetened tea – Brew 2L of very strong tea, dissolve 1/2c of sugar, and let cool to room temperature.
- Thoroughly wash and rinse your jar and anything else that will come into contact with the SCOBY.
- Add cooled sweet tea, SCOBY, and starter brew to your jar. Note: before handling your SCOBY always thoroughly wash and rinse your hands.
- Cover jar with coffee filter or fabric and secure with rubber band.
- Place jar in an area out of direct sunlight where it will not be disturbed. Warmer areas of your home will make your kombucha brew faster than cooler areas, so when seasons change you might want to move your kombucha to a different location.
- Start to taste your brew after 5 days or so (I like to wait until I can see a new SCOBY forming on the top), it is “ready” any time but it can take anywhere between 5 and 30+ days depending on how sweet or tart you like it.
- When your first ferment is done, stir or swish around the liquid to get the yeast and sediment mixed with the kombucha, then pour or ladle out some of the brew (don’t forget to reserve some starter for your next brew), store in an airtight glass container (mason jars or flip-top bottles work great) and place in refrigerator. Brew will not ferment any more once refrigerated and can be stored for weeks or months. Note: kombucha can be drank now if the taste is to your liking or you can do a 2nd ferment at this point – instructions below.
- Let your reserved brew and SCOBY(s) rest in the jar before starting your next batch. You will have better results with a really strong starter. When ready, add sweetened tea to your jar with SCOBY(s) and reserved starter brew and repeat the process (you do not need to clean out your jar/vessel before each batch). You can change the quantity of sweet tea as long as you keep the recommended ratios as per the chart. This ensures that your SCOBY stays healthy and your brew is optimal and free of mold. If you don’t want to start your next batch yet you can leave it to sit for several weeks or months as long as there is enough liquid to cover the SCOBY.
Within a few days of starting your brew (or a few hours if it’s really warm in your house) you may notice it looks a little cloudy near the top of the liquid. There may also be translucent white patches or it may appear to have a “film” on the top. This is your new SCOBY forming and it will get thicker as your kombucha sits. Your new SCOBY will cover the top of the liquid completely and your old SCOBY(s) may float, sink, fold in half, float diagonally, or stick to its mother culture (old SCOBY) – it’s all normal. Older SCOBY’s will be different shades of beige (older ones will be darker) and probably have brown strings hanging off of the SCOBY, this is yeast and it totally normal. If you have fuzzy or dusty black/orange/green/ patches it is probably mold and the entire SCOBY and brew should be discarded.
Every new batch of kombucha will produce a new SCOBY. You can leave all of your SCOBYs in the jar, or when you start to run out of room in your jar you can transfer them to a new jar with some sweet tea (SCOBY hotel). You can also share your SCOBY’s and starter brew with your friends to make their own kombucha.
The 2nd Ferment (2F):
Note: This is an optional step. If you have followed the steps above and like the way your kombucha tastes put it in the fridge and start your next batch.
- In a separate jar add some fresh or frozen fruit, vegetables, or spices of your choice. Some common favorites are blackberries, pear, strawberries, mango, melon, pineapple, ginger, carrot, star anise, lemon, thyme, and rosemary. You can also use pure, unsweetened fruit juice – PomWonderful is my favorite.
- Add a pinch of sugar to taste (optional, fruits will add sweetness to your brew) and pour some of your kombucha into the jar with fruit. Sugar (either added or from fruit) will help with carbonation.
- Close lid tightly and let sit on your counter for a few more days and hopefully your brew will self-carbonate. If you have a very active/healthy culture (fizz in 1st ferment) you might want to “burp” the bottles/jars once per day to get excess gasses out if you are getting too much fizz.
- Strain into bottle or jar and refrigerate.
Your kombucha will keep for weeks or months in the refrigerator. If (either during your second ferment or in your refrigerated kombucha) you notice new baby SCOBY’s forming, brown stringy bits, or clear blobs that resemble egg whites it’s totally normal, it just means your kombucha is healthy. Although it’s all edible, I usually strain it out.
My Personal Process: 3 Ferments
- First ferment for 10 to 15 days, keep tasting until it’s only slightly sweet.
- Second ferment with fruit and/or herbs of choice in mason jars with tight lids for 2 to 3 days.
- Third ferment. Use a fork to squish chunks of fruit (if using chunks rather than puree or juice) to get the flavour out, scoop out fruit pieces or bits of SCOBY that have formed during second ferment. Pour through strainer into flip-top bottles to 1” headspace in the bottle. Leave bottles out on counter for an additional 2 to 4 days before refrigerating. Do not “burp” or open the bottle until you are ready to drink your kombucha.
That’s pretty much it! Please comment below or send me a message if you are interested in acquiring a SCOBY to start your own brew or if you have any questions. I will try my best to answer!
– – – – – NEW SECTION (still in progress) – – – – –
F.A.Q.’s and Answers:
Q: Can I add vinegar to my kombucha? A: No. If you use apple cider vinegar (ACV) you not only risk contamination with vinegar eels, but ACV is its own unique strain and your kombucha will become a hybrid and no longer a pure kombucha strain. You can use distilled white vinegar to clean your equipment but make sure you rinse really well with very hot water to ensure there are no traces of vinegar left.
Q: What can I do if I don’t have enough starter? A: Make more starter. Sometimes we forget to reserve some starter for the next batch or receive a new SCOBY without starter so it’s best to make some starter before brewing your next batch. Make 2 cups of sweet tea as per the standard recipe, add your SCOBY, cover and let it sit for at least 2 weeks. There should be enough liquid inside the SCOBY to ferment the small amount of tea. Starter tea is never meant to be drank so I don’t bother tasting it, I know it’s ready when it smells really strong and vinegary.
Q: Can I use cheese cloth to cover my jar? A: No. Cheese cloth has a very open weave that allows bugs, mold spores, etc. to contaminate your brew. Coffee filters, tea towels, old t-shirts, wash cloths, paper towels, etc. all work really well.
Q: Why has my kombucha not grown a SCOBY? or Why is my kombucha still too sweet? A: Many factors will determine how fast a brew will ferment including ambient temperature, strength and amount of starter, being moved (even gently), type and quality of culture. Some cultures will ferment faster than others and timing will change with the seasons.
Q: Can I use flavoured or decaffeinated tea? A: Some people have successfully made kombucha with flavored or decaffeinated tea but I think it largely depends on what type of tea is used and how often it is done. You can experiment with different teas but make sure you are using a spare SCOBY and do not share baby SCOBY’s from this type of brew.
Q: How do I get fizz in my kombucha? A: Fizz may depend on the quality of the culture and how healthy it is, what you use in your 2nd ferment, and they type of bottle you are using to store your finished kombucha in. Personally, the 3rd ferment guarantees me a fizzy kombucha, but some people swear by using the EZ cap flip-top bottles (although some people get plenty of fizz in a mason jar) and some people say that certain fruits guarantee ginger. You might have to experiment with other people’s methods to see what works well for you.
Q: Can I convert a kombucha SCOBY to a Jun SCOBY? A: No. Jun is a completely different culture than kombucha and uses green tea and honey rather than black tea and sugar. You can brew kombucha with green tea and honey with a kombucha SCOBY but it still will not be Jun.
Q: Can I grow my own SCOBY with store bought kombucha? A: Yes. If you leave commercial kombucha out it will grow a SCOBY and you can brew future batches. Commercial kombucha contains yeast inhibitors (yeast is the “Y” in SCOBY) and stabilizers to make it more appealing on the shelf, so it will not be the same as a home brew.
Q: What should I do with my SCOBYs while I’m away on vacation? A: Just make sure there is enough liquid in the brewing vessel, top up with sweet tea if needed, and cover. Your brew will be perfectly safe and you will have good, strong starter when you return.
Q: Can I store my SCOBYs in the fridge if I’m not going to brew for a while? A: No. Cool temperatures will weaken or damage some of the bacterial culture and it will not brew as effectively. Refrigerated SCOBY’s/starter often result in mold down the road because the culture is no longer able to create a strong enough starter.
Q: Can I add commercial kombucha to “help” my brew? A: Technically yes, but it’s not usually recommended. Commercial kombucha is from a different strain so if you mix it with your own brew you will get a hybrid kombucha. Please don’t ever do this with an heirloom or vintage strain!
Q: How do I make a SCOBY hotel and why would I want one? A: A SCOBY hotel is just a place to store your spare SCOBY’s as back-up in case of contamination and to give away. All you need is a large jar (the same type of jar you use for brewing), add your spare SCOBYs and enough sweet tea/starter/kombucha to ensure they are covered. The hotel can be covered with either a cloth/coffee filter or a solid lid. The tea in the jar will become very tart and vinegary and will not be for drinking, but will be the perfect starter tea for new batches. Remember to top up your hotel with more sweet tea once in a while to ensure your SCOBYs don’t dry out.