There are many tutorials out there on how to make kombucha, but I have had enough people ask me for instructions that I decided it would be helpful to post how I do it. If you regularly buy kombucha, making it yourself will save you a fortune.
When I started growing the kombucha culture (often called the "mother" or "scoby") for the first time, I was very careful to have everything sterilized by immersion in boiling water. This may be a good idea until your kombucha is established, but I can say for sure that by the second week I was much more relaxed about sterility, and the kombucha has done just fine ever since. I also used to keep two gallon jars of kombucha going, not because I needed that much kombucha, but because if something were to happen to one jar, I would still have the other one. Well, my confidence in the ability of kombucha to thrive, or my ability to take good care of it, has grown- so I've gone to just keeping one gallon jar going.
Things you do want to be careful of: Always have clean hands, jars, bowls, and instruments when handling kombucha. It's a powerful culture, and once it's established it doesn't let much else grow, but it's always possible for it to get infected with something foreign. Pay attention to the smell, which should be clean and a bit vinegary, not rotten or foul in any way. The scoby itself can look very different and still be healthy, but if you have actual mold growing on it, it would be prudent to throw it away and start over. I have never had this happen though.
|A healthy scoby|
The process is simple:
Make a big pot of sweet tea using 3 quarts of water, roughly 2 tablespoons of loose tea (probably the equivalent of 5 teabags) and 1 cup of sugar (in these pictures I had used sucanat, which gives it a darker color and stronger flavor than plain sugar- but I've found I prefer to make it with a lighter colored sugar). You can also make a sweet ginger tea if you like ginger kombucha. I have read that kombucha needs to be made from black teas, but I've had great success using all kinds of herbal teas, and have come to the conclusion that any kind of sweetened infusion will work. Bulk organic teas are available at great prices from Mountain Rose Herbs or your local health food store.
The sweet tea needs to cool down until it's just warm to the touch, and then you can combine it with your starter scoby and a cup or two of the mature kombucha in a nice big jar or crock. A good rule of thumb is to retain about 10 percent of your mature kombucha liquid to help inoculate the next batch. If you are adding water to top the jar off, I recommend using dechlorinated water, which you can easily make yourself. Just follow the link for instructions.
The scoby will float to the top of the jar, and over the course of the next week it will probably double in thickness. You can let it get pretty thick; I take mine apart about once a month, either sharing the extra scoby with friends or chopping it up for my chickens. One woman dehydrates her extra large scobies and forms them into clothing. I am not kidding. Click here to see the Ted Talk about it.
Keep your jar covered using a dish cloth and a large rubber band to prevent flies from accessing it. Fruit flies will hover around it during their season, don't let them in. Store the jar out of direct light. The warmer the room is kept, the faster it will mature. We keep our kitchen fairly cool and make a new batch of kombucha every week, just because that's an easy schedule to remember. You might try your kombucha sooner than that to see if you like the flavor earlier. Too early and it will be too sweet, but if you let it go too long it will be very strong and vinegary.
I bottle our kombucha in German beer bottles, the ones with wire bound stoppers. Ours were purchased from a local brewery supply store. They form a nice strong seal, which helps the kombucha in it's final stage of fermentation: carbonation. Some people like to bottle their kombucha, store it at room temperature for 24 hours until it's fizzy, and then store it in the fridge so they can drink it cool. Storing it in the fridge keeps it from fermenting any further. I don't have a lot of fridge space, and find it easier to simply bottle it and stick it in a lower, dark and cool kitchen cabinet. I do store a bottle or two in the fridge so we can drink it chilled, but the rest keeps in a cupboard just fine for many weeks. In the fridge it might last indefinitely. If you don't have German bottles, screw top jars also work, though they'll only carbonate if you can get a very tight seal.
There are many things kombucha can be used for besides just a refreshing beverage. Kombucha works as a starter culture for many other fermentation projects. A bit of kombucha in some flour will kick-start a sourdough starter, for example (click here to see how). Kombucha can also be mixed with flour into a dough, and left for 12-24 hours to help the grains become more digestible. This can then be mixed up into pancake or muffin batter, or cooked as a hot cereal. Check out my recipe for a delicious, easy soaked grains breakfast cake, made with kombucha-soaked flour. I put about 2 cups of kombucha in our green smoothies as well.
The health properties of kombucha are beyond the scope of this article, but the information is widely available. To put it briefly, kombucha is one of many fermented drinks traditionally made all over the world to aid digestion, increase energy, and reduce sickness. You may prefer yours diluted with some water, since it can be pretty strong full strength. However, if you make it with a tea that you like, and find the right balance of sugar and fermentation time, you will end up with a drink that is not only good for you, but light and bubbly, and a pleasure to drink!
For more information on the benefits and history of kombucha, as well as a whole world of fermentation ideas, check out the original source of my inspiration, two books by Sandor Katz. Both probably available from your local library, but also definitely worth owning. If you buy either through my ad links below, Amazon gives me a tiny bit of cash. Thanks in advance!
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Make Your Own Kombucha
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