Kombucha is the real foodie’s answer to soda. It’s Ginger Ale that bites back: tart, fizzy, not sweet (although you can make it so) and, because it’s a fermented* drink, it’s loaded with healthy, life-giving probiotics.
Click here to read a short article on The Benefits of Fermented Foods.
Probiotics populate your gut with healthy flora and bacteria. When Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut,” he was talking about guts that don’t have healthy flora! If you want to know how to make kombucha and keep your flora (and your taste buds) humming, read on.
We started pursuing probiotics and gut health in earnest after I got out of the hospital. My stomach was a mess before, but three weeks of intense antibiotics finished off any healthy flora that might have still been living with me.
We were introduced to kombucha by drinking Dave’s. We were in the health food store, saw a bottle and bought one. Love at first sip! Dave’s mom, Lorraine, swears kombucha helped her defeat cancer. From everything I’ve learned about curing cancer, it fits.
Before long, we really got a ♥ on when it came to kombucha: downing at least a bottle a day each, yelling, “OK, who drank the last kombucha???” when we discovered none left in the fridge. Addicts.
We were either going to go broke feeding our habit or we had to start making our own. So I watched a couple of videos, read a how-to, asked around and a friend brought me a SCOBY.
SCOBYs are GROSS, btw. Here’s a picture of my
two 5-gallon continuous brew kombucha tea (KT) jugs:
Told ya. Gross. The top is like a big mushroom (the “mother”) with fungus growing off the bottom (the “daughter”). Yeah, we drink that. In fact, we can’t wait to drink that!!!
Re. jars. No clue where to get these 5 gallon jars now. Amazon has the 2-gallon Anchor Hocking which I would use again. Or you can get creative: a friend installed a spigot on an aquarium for his massive quantities of kombucha! Jars with spigots are everywhere now. You’ll want a glass jar with plastic spigot, a top is not needed. Sometimes the spigots leak but they are better and better quality as time goes on. And spigots are usually replaceable.
I took my friend’s SCOBY, made a gallon of sweet green tea, and tossed it all in a big 1-gallon glass jar.
(This jar has no spigot. Some purists prefer a spigot-less container so there’s no plastic contamination in their KT. We go through so much of the stuff, I like a spigot.)
I also wanted to try growing my own SCOBY, so I took a bottle of Dave’s Original Raw (unflavored) Kombucha and poured that in another gallon glass jar with sweet green tea.
Then I waited.
Two weeks later, my friend’s SCOBY had turned the sweet tea to a smelly vinegary kombucha — exactly like it’s supposed to!
In the other jar, the brand new SCOBY was slowly forming. Way cool food science: bacteria forming a thin layer of SCOBY on the top of the tea. Took another month for this tea to ferment, but it did and now that SCOBY is just as big and gross as the first one.
See? I can cook.
How to Make Kombucha: Overview
- Ferment sweet tea using a SCOBY
- Drink as is. Or…
- Flavor, bottle and do a second ferment
- Chill and drink.
Okay, let’s get going. Step 1: Ferment sweet tea using a SCOBY. First, make sweet tea:
How to Make and Ferment Sweet Tea
24 grams (4.5 tsp.) of organic green tea
1.5 C sugar*
1 Gallon of filtered water (we ♥ our Big Berkey)
1 half-gallon Mason or Ball jar (these are available at Walmart, Costco, Target, etc.)
1 large strainer
1 Gallon size kombucha brewing jar (KBJ)
*Best to use organic sugar. Non-organic cane sugar is usually sprayed with glyphosate — it’s used as a ripening agent. Horrible.
- Bring 1/2 gallon of the water to an almost-boil (tea is better with almost-boiling water). I use this stainless steel electric water kettle — it’s fast.
- While the water is heating, put the sugar and tea in the mason jar.
- When the water is ready, pour about 1/2 of the water over the sugar and tea and stir with a wooden spoon till the sugar is melted. Then pour the rest of the water into the jar and stir.
- Cover the jar lightly (I use the metal circle part of the lid) and let steep for about 30 minutes.
- Once the tea is room temp, pour the tea into the KBJ, straining out the tea leaves with the strainer. I use the big strainer because it fits the opening of the KBJ. Set the strainer on there and pour. Little tiny flecks of tea may end up in my SCOBY, but that’s never been a problem.
- Pour the other half gallon of the filtered water into the KBJ.
- If your SCOBY is not already in there, go ahead and add it. Make sure the tea is room temp or cooler. If it’s too hot, it could kill the SCOBY.
- Cover the opening of the KBJ with a piece of fabric that has a good tight weave, like a handkerchief, a piece of sheet/pillowcase or t-shirt and secure with a rubber band to keep the fruit flies out.
Fruit fly tip: keep a little container (like a tiny food storage or monkey dish) with a drop of detergent and a few drops of kombucha or wine or sweet juice in it. The flies go for that instead of trying to get through your KT cover.
SCOBY: is it good?
Your SCOBY may sit on the bottom or rise to the top or be on the bottom most of the time and s-l-o-w-l-y rise to the top… it doesn’t matter. It will still ferment unless you got a bad SCOBY and you won’t know that for two weeks when your sweet tea doesn’t sour. Conventional wisdom holds that a SCOBY that doesn’t float is not good… just have to keep an eye on it!
Otherwise, the only bad thing that can happen is that it grows mold. Bad mold is hairy. You’ll definitely see black spots on your SCOBY (harmless), gross stuff hanging from the underneath (like what isn’t gross about a SCOBY?) BUT if you see hairy mold, you have to toss the whole thing and start over.
If you get a fruit fly in there, just dig it out. If you threw out a SCOBY every time it got a fruit fly on it, you’d never get ahead.
We used to test for ph when we first started brewing, but we don’t anymore. When the ph reaches 3 or so (our benchmark was 3.2), the first ferment is done. These days, we know when ours is ready by the smell and taste.
Once it’s fermented (you’ll know by ph, smell and/or taste), go to Step 2:
2. Drink as is — lots of people do. Or…
3. Flavor, bottle and do a second ferment.
We flavor! Adding flavor requires a second ferment to eat up the sugar in the flavoring and really get the fizz going. We add ginger and frozen grape juice, but flavoring ideas are endless. Any kind of juice really: pineapple, lemon, lime, cranberry… Some people add raisins only, or raisins and juice or dried fruit and juice… seriously, endless flavoring ideas. Master a flavor, then branch out!
2nd Ferment: How To Make Ginger Grape Kombucha
1 Gallon fermented KT
Two 1/2-gallon Mason jars
1 C. minced unpeeled ginger (because peeling it is such a pain)
2/3 C. frozen grape juice
4 32-oz bottles with tight-fitting caps (we use the Grolsch bottles)
Funnel – this base fits in the bottles.
Strainer – this is the perfect strainer for the job — see notes below.
1. Put 1/3 cup of frozen grape juice into each Mason jar.
2. Add ginger to taste: mince the ginger in a Cuisinart. You can mince by hand but the finer the mince, the more ginger juice it imparts to the KT. We end up with about 1/2 cup of minced ginger in each jar. (We ♥ ginger!)
3. Fill the jars with KT to just below the rim and stir.
4. Let this sit for about two hours so the KT soaks up all the yummy ginger juice. Again, I set a metal circle from the lid on top while the ginger soaks.
5. Fill your fermenting bottles with the flavored KT, straining out the ginger as you go. This requires some finesse: you are pouring from a wide-mouth jar into a small funnel. This strainer works great because you don’t have to hold a strainer handle while you pour — so been there, what a mess! If you are a ginger fanatic like me, you’ll want to really push the KT out of the strainer and get all the lovely ginger juice into the bottle! Oh — don’t fill your bottles too full or else you’ll taste the rubber used in the seal. Yuck.
6. Set aside to ferment for 3-4 days to a couple of weeks, depending on your tastes. In the beginning, you may have to pop open a bottle now and then and have a taste to see where it is in the process. When you open a bottle and the top actually “pops” like champagne, you know you are getting good fizz!
WARNING: while it’s never happened at our house, some people have had bottles burst during the second ferment, so I set my bottles in a deep wire mesh basket for the 2nd ferment. You could use a plastic bin or a cardboard box — anything to hold the booch and glass in case of a bust.
7. Once the second ferment is done to your liking, transfer the bottles to the fridge. You’ll learn how fast or slow that 2nd ferment takes in your kitchen by trial and error. Basically, the longer the ferment, the more sugar is eaten up and the more tart the finished product.
4. Chill and drink. Tada! I swear something happens in the fridge, something that adds to the fizz because it’s always fizzier after a day in the cold. No clue why. And I basically don’t care why… it’s so good, I’m not going to mess with delicious success!
- For a sweeter kombucha: more juice, shorter ferment.
- The longer the ferment, the more tart the finished product.
- The ferment occurs as the bacteria eats up the sugar.
- If you are going to do a shorter ferment, use less juice or the KT will be very sweet and not as fizzy.
- If you are battling candida or bugs, sugar feeds the baddies so you’ll want the result to be more tart with all the sugar eaten up by the ferment.
- By the same token, you need to add some sweet because sugar is what feeds the ferment. Isn’t it ironic that sugar feeds both the good and the bad bacteria?
You’ll get the hang of it and find your balance of sweet to fizz. Heck, homemade kombucha is practically free. Experiment! Please share your flavorings and let us know what works for you!
First published in May 2012, this recipe has been updated. Are you making kombucha now?