I was totally hooked on kombucha after going to a kombucha workshop 2 years ago. The drink is delicious and easily adaptable to your own taste. And the process is easy and fun (said the fermentation nerd).
There is the condensed recipe below, but I definitely recommend you have a read at the FAQ below first.
HOW DO YOU BREW KOMBUCHA? Kombucha is brewed in 2 fermentation stages.
WHAT IS THE 1st FERMENTATION? The first fermentation is the process of the SCOBY* (see Ingredient FAQ) eating the sugars of a sweetened tea, transforming it to a more acidic drink, adding probiotics, and creating slight carbonation. During this stage, the SCOBY also creates a second SCOBY, often called a baby SCOBY, that grows underneath itself. This fermentation steps happen with the SCOBY, in a cloth-covered jar in a warm-ish place, away from direct sunlight.
WHAT IS THE 2nd FERMENTATION? The second fermentation is the process where the kombucha carbonates further and gets added flavor if you wish to. Flavoring is definitely recommended. This fermentation stage happens without the SCOBY, in an airtight bottle in a cool space or in the fridge.
HOW CAN YOU FLAVOUR THE KOMBUCHA? Flavoring the kombucha is the best part! More than that, it’s also the decoration phase and potentially the coloring phase with the help of the right fruit or herbs. See Ingredient FAQ for more info.
HOW CLEAN/STERILE DOES EVERYTHING NEED TO BE? I have read that some people fully sterilize their jars and equipment before each fermentation step. I have found it sufficient to thoroughly wash the jars and equipment with hot water and soap.
WHAT IS A SCOBY HOTEL? A SCOBY hotel is the common term for a jar where you can keep your extra SCOBYs. The purpose of having a few extra is to potentially give some away when friends and family join you on your kombucha journey, for when you don’t want to brew kombucha for a while, or because you want a back-up SCOBY in case something goes wrong.
To keep a SCOBY hotel, add your SCOBY in a wide-mouthed jar with enough kombucha to cover the SCOBY and then some more. Keep the jar covered with a cloth and a rubber band and store somewhere cool to keep your SCOBY as dormant as possible. Every 2-3 months, add a bit of new sweetened tea to “feed” the kombucha and keep it “alive”. Keep an eye on it regularly to make sure all the kombucha hasn’t evaporated, leaving the SCOBY to dry out and die.
WHAT IS A SCOBY? A SCOBY is a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s a gelatinous orange-brown brainy looking matter. The only way you can acquire a SCOBY is from an existing SCOBY or if you’re lucky, a store-bought kombucha can eventually (after a few months) create a SCOBY.
WHERE CAN I GET A SCOBY? You can buy a SCOBY online, or ask for one from a friend or an online kombucha/fermentation group.
WHAT TO DO ONCE YOU HAVE A SCOBY? If you acquire a SCOBY from a person you will probably receive it in a jar with a bit of starter liquid (liquid from their first or second fermentation). Make sure you keep that jar at room temperature covered with a cloth and a rubber band. If you keep it with a lid on it will die.
The previous owner will probably tell you how long ago your SCOBY was “fed” (the 1st fermentation process). If it was fed more than a month ago, I would feed it soon (start the first fermentation).
If you acquire a SCOBY from a company (dehydrated or fresh), follow the instructions provided.
THE SCOBY I GOT IS VERY SMALL – IS THAT OK? The size of your SCOBY doesn’t matter. A typical SCOBY is round with the width of a jar and anywhere between a few millimeters to a few centimeters in height. If you have a small SCOBY and ferment it in a big jar, a new baby SCOBY will appear and expand to the size of its new jar. You can easily put a small SCOBY in a big jar, but just be aware that it will take more time to ferment.
I HAVE A SCOBY – HOW CAN I SHARE IT? During the first fermentation process, the SCOBY sort of duplicates and creates a second baby SCOBY under itself. You have a few options for the new SCOBY. You can either keep the baby SCOBY with the old one which will speed up your next fermentation (double-power!). You can deposit the new SCOBY in a SCOBY hotel (see notes below). Or you can give it to someone who wants it.
Putting the new SCOBY in a hotel or giving it to a friend serves a nice “insurance” if you will. If your working SCOBY gets dropped on the floor, moldy, or stolen (who knows?), you have a back-up SCOBY waiting for you.
CAN A SCOBY DIE? You know your SCOBY is dead if it doesn’t ferment anymore – meaning it’s not creating a new baby SCOBY during the first fermentation, it’s not alternating the taste from sweet to acid and/or it’s not creating fizz. A SCOBY can become dormant however! So make sure you feed it (sweetened tea from the 1st fermentation process) and optimal conditions (warm temperature away from sunlight) over a long time to ensure it’s not dead.
When that is said, a SCOBY is very resilient! The few things that might kill it is not being fed for a very long period, being in contact with metal for too long, getting moldy (see Troubleshooting FAQ) and getting in contact with too hot tea. Make sure you always cool your tea down before mixing the SCOBY in.
MY SCOBY LOOKS WEIRD – IS IT NORMAL? A SCOBY can get a lot of different weird aspects which will make you doubt if you can keep it. The only bad thing a SCOBY can have is mold. This can be either green, purple or blue fluffy mold that grows on the surface. If your SCOBY gets moldy, you have to throw it and the liquid out.
What is okay on the other hand is black muddy tentacles in the liquid or on the SCOBY. I personally remove them for aesthetic reasons but you can keep them with no concerns. What also might look weird is when it gets old, it gets harder and darker but that fine as well.
CAN I USE WATER FROM THE TAP? SCOBYs do not like chlorine. Some recipes therefore call to boil the water for 20 minutes or leave the water on the kitchen counter overnight to let the chlorine evaporate. I did this is in the beginning but then I get lazy and skipped this step. It has worked fine for me, but depending on where you live, the chlorine levels might be too high for your SCOBY. If you have a back-up SCOBY somewhere, I would say take the risk! The chlorine won’t harm you, just the SCOBY potentially.
DO I NEED TO USE ORGANIC INGREDIENTS? I have used both over the years and both work fine.
WHICH TYPE OF TEA CAN I USE? Any caffeinated tea will do, meaning black, green, or oolong tea. Either in bags or loose leaf. I prefer loose leaves from a zero-waste perspective, but bags will also do.
WHICH TYPE OF SUGAR SHOULD I USE? Cane sugar is supposedly the best sugar to ferment kombucha because of how well the SCOBY can process cane sugar. I always use white sugar because that’s what I have at home and it works well too. I have not tried other sugars but apparently you can experiment with molasses, agave syrup, maple syrup, and honey.
WHAT’S A STARTER LIQUID? A starter liquid is basically a bit of the brewing liquid form at the end of the first fermentation. It works as a fermentation booster basically. If you forgot to set aside some of that liquid you can buy a kombucha bottle and use a bit of liquid from that. And if you can’t get bother buying kombucha, you should be able to make it without it but the process will take more time.
WHAT FLAVORING ELEMENTS CAN I USE?
- Fruit: berries, apples, pineapple, passionfruit, nectarines, guava, oranges, kiwi…
You can either cut fruit in small bits (small enough to pass through the bottles and back out), puree it, use the juice, or in true zero-waste spirit, use the peels and cores. Dried fruit works as well. The sweeter the fruit the stronger the taste. Acidic fruit tends to blend in with the taste as kombucha is already acidic. Red or reddish fruits are great to add color (berries, peach, nectarines, passionfruit…).
- Herbs: Mint, rosemary, thyme…
The herbs can be fresh or dried, twigs, or leaves. They’re particularly great for kombucha mixed into drinks. Gin and mint kombucha anyone?
- Infusions, teas: Ginger, lemon verbena, lavender, chamomile…
DO I REALLY NEED A WIDE-MOUTHED JAR? You need the jar to be wide so that you can take the SCOBY in and out easily. Having a wide jar also allows the SCOBY to be, or grow to be big. The bigger the SCOBY, the quicker it will eat the sugars and therefore create kombucha quicker.
DO I REALLY NEES AIRTIGHT BOTTLES? These are for the second fermentation and to store the kombucha for longer if needed. They need to be airtight, such as clip top bottles. Repurposed kombucha bottles work as well, but the kombucha tends to be a bit less fizzy if you ask me. If you are buying bottles second hand, make sure the rubber or plastic bit around the closing is intact because broken or old rubber will let air through.
DO THE BOTTLES HAVE TO BE NARROW NECKED? Ideally, the bottles also have a narrow bottleneck to favor carbonization.
THE KOMBUCHA IS TOO SOUR? If you have forgotten your kombucha (during either fermentation process), the taste will become very acidic. You can still salvage it! If you’ve forgotten it during the 1st fermentation, you can counterbalance the acidity by adding plenty more fruit in the second fermentation. If you have forgotten it after the second fermentation, you can water it out for drinking or you can use your kombucha for other things than drinking – like vinegar! The vinegar is good to use as a regular vinegar or even as a cleaning vinegar. Some use it as a facial toner. You can also use the sour kombucha as a starter liquid for future brewing.
WHY ISNT MY KOMBUCHA FIZZY? There are a few potential causes for a flat kombucha. For example, when sugar is completely consumed, the yeasts die and the kombucha will start to turn to vinegar. It can also be flat if you have used non-airtight bottles, which allows all the air to escape the bottle.
WHY DID MY SCOBY GET MOLDY? It’s usually hard to tell what caused mold but it can appear from a poorly cleaned jar or a poorly covered jar.
ANY OTHER QUESTIONS? Facebook groups for ferments or kombucha are great to learn more or to answer your questions! You can also drop a line in the comment field!
Kombucha recipeCourse: DrinksDifficulty: Easy
- 1st fermentation
4 tablespoons loose leaf tea, or 3-4 tea bags
1/2 cup sugar
1.8 L water
0.1L starter liquid (about 1/2 cup)
- 2nd fermentation
Flavor elements (see Ingredient FAQ)
Big wide-mouthed fermenting jar (2L capacity), or 2 smaller ones.
Cloth and rubber band to cover jar
Narrow-necked airtight bottles
- DAY 1 – Prep for 1st fermentation
- Make concentrated sweetened tea
Directly into the big brewing jar, mix the tea, sugar, and 0,9L boiling water (half of the water). Stir until the sugar is dissolved and then let the concentrated tea steep for 10 minutes.
Note: If you are using two smaller brewing jars, it might be easier to make the tea into one big baking bowl, then divide it into the two jars.
- Cool down the tea
Remove the tea leaves and add 0,9L of cold water. Dip your finger in the tea to make sure it’s is at room temperature or below. Hot tea will kill your SCOBY. If in doubt, add an ice cube to cool down tea even further.
- Add SCOBY
Note: If you used a baking bowl to make the tea, split the tea between the two jars and add a SCOBY to each jar. If you only have one SCOBY, use clean scissors to cut the SCOBY in two and add one half to each jar.
- Add the starter liquid (liquid from the last batch or that came with the SCOBY)
- DAY 1 TO 7-ISH – 1st fermentation
Find a spot away from direct sunlight at room temperature. The ferment can handle hotter temperatures, but the hotter it is, the faster the kombucha will ferment. Depending on the temperature and your taste preference, ferment for 4-10 days. Taste every now and then to check if the kombucha has the taste you like. The shorter the fermentation time, the sweeter the taste is, and the longer the fermentation time, the more acidic it becomes.
Pro tip: if you are forgetful as I am, add an alarm to your calendar to remind you to check the kombucha after a few days!
- DAY 7-ISH – Preparation for 2nd fermentation & flavouring
If you want to prepare a new batch straight away – You don’t have to start brewing a new batch straight away but if you do wish so, put aside the SCOBY and about 0,1L of fermented liquid out of the fermentation jar. Then follow the instruction of step 1 of the first fermentation.
If you don’t want to brew again – Take out the SCOBY from the fermentation jar and place it into a SCOBY hotel (check Method FAQ). Also, add 0.1L liquid to the hotel at the same time to “feed” it.
- Transfer to bottles
Use a funnel to transfer the kombucha (the fermented liquid in the jar) to the airtight bottles. Do not fill to the top as there needs to be space for a bit of air (as much as in store-bought beers for example) and potentially space for the flavor elements you’re adding in the next step.
- Add flavor elements
If you wish to flavor your kombucha, add flavor elements (fruit, herbs or flowers) directly inside the bottles. See Ingredient FAQ for ideas and method.
- DAY 7-ISH TO DAY 14-ISH – 2nd fermentation
- Burp it!
Burping you kombucha is the common term for opening your kombucha bottle every few days and allowing the excess fizz to escape the bottle. If you don’t do this, the kombucha might create too much carbon which will eventually lead to high pressure and the bottle can explode. If it’s summer or you live in a hot place, you might have to burp it every day.
Leave the bottles in the fridge (or in a cool cupboard) and taste every day to check the taste. Leave 1-7 days to allow the flavor elements to infuse properly. If you’re happy with the taste, move the kombucha from cool space to the fridge. This will make the kombucha more dormant and avoid the kombucha from getting sour quickly.