Byeee Commercial Kombucha!

The first time when I tried Kombucha from a store, I knew I just loved it! Without thinking about the health benefits of it or its 2000 year history, I was just fascinated by its taste. Fizzy, sour and bubbling. Even better than a beer or soda, although it does contain some alcohol between 0.5-3%.

But if you keep spending four or five dollars on a bottle everyday, that can be another story. Why not save that money on something else and make your own kombucha at home? It’s cheap and easy. You just need four simple ingredients: water, tea bags, sugar, and a Scoby, which is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. That’s all! The best part of it? You can flavor it with your own preference.

I have been brewing kombucha at home for years, and I never failed as following the right direction. Don’t be scared away if you read some kombucha makers’ articles about how complicated the process is. It is really not hard. Just as easy as making pickles and everyone can do it. As long as you pay attention to a few things which I would mention below, you are unlikely to fail, and you are ready to go!

What You Need

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 gallon water
  • 4-6 tea bags
  • 1 Scoby with starter tea
  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 Ball 1-Gallon Super Wide Glass Jar
  • 1 coffee filter
  • 3 32 FL OZ glass bottles
  • Fruits or herbs to flavor
  • Sticker and pen
  • PH tester

Steps

First Fermentation

  • Boil sugar, water and tea bags in a pot and let it cool down.
  • Put Scoby with some starter tea in the glass jar. Pour the mixture into the jar when it’s warm. You can use finger to test the temperature. Hot mixture may easily kill the yeast while warm mixture can help to speed up the fermentation especially in winter.
  • Use cloth to dry the edge of the jar and then cover it with a coffee filter. If you don’t have a coffee filter, use a kitchen towel instead to cover. Do not use the original metal cover of the jar so the yeast can breath the air.
  • Seal it with a rubber band. Attach a sticker to the jar and write down the date to track the time.
  • Place it in room temperature (mid 70F ideally) and avoid from direct sun. Wait 7-14 days for the first fermentation to be done. It’s ready when PH level goes between 2.5 and 3.5. You can get a tester on Amazon to test the PH level. Once you brew it more often, you can tell if it’s ready by just tasting it. It takes much longer to reach to the right level of acidity in low room temperature.

Second Fermentation

  • Once the first fermentation is finished, fill out the glass bottles with the kombucha.
  • Add chopped fruits or/and herbs in to give the yeast a little bit of extra sugar to eat.
  • Leave 1-2 inch of head-space at the top of each bottle. This helps the yeast continually breathe air and generate carbonation. It also helps cut off the pressure, which may cause explosion when you open the bottle.
  • Leave the bottles in room temperature for 3-4 days and transfer them to the refrigerator. Same as the first fermentation, it takes longer to be ready if the room is cooler. I usually do 3-4 days in summer around 70F and 7-10 days in winter when the room is around 60F.

Note: DO NOT leave the second fermentation out too long because the glass bottle can explode with continually growing carbonation. You definitely don’t want any accident to cause harm! You can unseal the cap to release some air daily if you are not sure, but meanwhile, it can be less fizzy due to less carbonation. 

A Few Important Things

1. Tea leaf or tea bags? Black tea or green tea?

You can use loose tea leaves or tea bags. Whichever works for you. You can also use flavored tea as well. I think tea bags are usually easier because you don’t need to filter out the leaves before pouring the mixture into the jar.

Green tea comes with a lighter taste than black tea. I prefer to use black tea or breakfast tea since it tastes stronger after fermentation. The caffeine content will be cut down to 1/3 after fermentation.

2. Do I need to fully boil the tea?

Some people like putting tea bags in hot water and then adding tap water into it to fasten the cooling time. I prefer to fully boil the tea and let it cool down slowly because (a) it can kill any potential bacteria in the water; (2) it can extract most content out of the tea.

3. Do I need to clean the jar after each fermentation?

Yes you can, but not necessary if you can make sure your hands and tools are always clean when making kombucha. This is very important because unclean hands or tools may cause mould and ruin everything. I don’t wash the jar every time as many people do and I never had a problem. Here is what I do:

  • Leave some kombucha in the jar with scoby after bottling.
  • Carefully remove the scoby and place it in a clean bowl.
  • Carefully pour out the clear part of the kombucha into the bowl.
  • Shake the rest of the kombucha with sediment on the bottom and then dump it. The sediment usually contains some yeast and tea fragments.
  • Pour some clear kombucha from the bowl into the jar, shake it well and let it go around the wall inside.
  • Dump it, and then use a paper towel to wipe the wall inside the jar where some yeast stains remain.
  • Put the scoby and the rest of the kombucha as a starter tea back to the jar for reuse.

As long as you make sure everything is clean and nothing else may potentially contaminate the scoby, you don’t need to fully clean the jar every time.

4. What is a scoby hotel?

After each fermentation, a new baby scoby will be born and float to the top of the jar. You can keep collecting them and put them in a separate jar filled with some tea and sugar mixture. It’s like building a hotel layer by layer slowly, and that’s where the name is from.

Once the yeast digests all sugar, the acid level will be similar to vinegar and keep the scoby healthy forever. You can add some mixture to the jar every few month so the yeast can have some food to keep alive. Also because the liquid evaporates along the time, it helps the top part of the scoby hotel from dryness.

A scoby hotel is a backup plan: if you ruin any kombucha or run out of scoby, you can have a substitute right way. You don’t need to build a scoby hotel if you don’t want to. Instead, you can just give them away or throw them in the compost. 

5. Do not use plastic or metal jar and bottles.

Because of the acid level, always use glass jars and bottles. Some commercial kombucha brewers use steel containers to produce kombucha and they need to be high quality steel. Home brewed kombucha always go with glass for health reasons.

6. Swing Top Glass Bottle or Boston Round Glass Bottle?

Doesn’t matter as long as they are high quality bottles with a thick glass wall. I prefer to use boston round glass bottle because it can slowly release the air when unscrewing the cap. Opening a swing top glass bottle is like opening a champagne. You can go with it if you love that sound. You may also choose the amber color glass instead of clear glass so it can add some UV protection so the yeast won’t generate carbonation too fast.

7. What fruits do well or not do well to flavor kombucha?

Some people like using fruit puree or juice, and some people like adding herbal extract. I prefer to use chopped fruits or fresh herbs because it’s just easy and all natural. You can be always creative on this part and try different ways. Remember to use a strainer to filter out the fruits before drinking the kombucha.

Here are a list of fruits I tried to flavor my kombucha:

Fruits do well:

  • Strawberry
  • Raspberry
  • Passionfruit
  • Blackberry
  • Grapefruit
  • Pineapple
  • Grapefruit + Rose powder
  • Blackberry + Mint

Fruits do okay:

  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Orange

Fruits don’t do well:

  • Apple
  • Peach
  • Grapes
  • Pear