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The Beginner’s Guide to Kombucha

The Beginner's Guide to Kombucha

I’ve often been told that my kitchen looks somewhat like a science lab with odd concoctions brewing on my counters.  Many people recognize things like sauerkraut and pickles, but the one that I get the most questions about is kombucha. Is it a mushroom? Is it Jello? Is it an alien?!

It may look like something out of a science fiction novel (the type Steven King writes) and it smells a lot like vinegar, but drinking “booch” is something I look forward to every day. Kombucha used to be something only extreme health nuts drank, but now you can even find bottles for sale at Costco, Walmart, and just about every major grocery store. 

But kind of like drinking a Starbucks latte day after day, at $3-5 dollars a bottle, it can be an expensive habit to develop (albeit a much healthier one).  Thankfully, making your own kombucha at home is extremely easy and has some pretty amazing health benefits too! Keep reading to learn more about this cultured fizzy drink or skip ahead to the end for my homemade kombucha recipe.  

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha tea

Kombucha is an effervescent, fermented tea beverage that likely originated in Asia as far back as 221 BCE. Many cultures have incorporated this “Tea of Immortality” for thousands of years, including Eastern parts of Europe, China, Russia, and Japan. 

This sweet and tangy drink is traditionally made from either black, green tea or white tea, sugar and a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY).  Depending on the method, a batch takes about a week to brew, although many people choose to do a second ferment to achieve a level of fizziness that resembles soda. 

This second brew is usually done using fruit, juice, or herbs for flavoring and helps to reduce sugar content.  Brewing your own kombucha may sound intimidating, but the process is surprisingly easy, saves a lot of money, and allows you to control things like sugar content and acidity. 

Kombucha Benefits

The health benefits of Kombucha stem from its rich probiotic content as well as the amazing compounds found in tea.  A final batch is said to be high in B vitamins, vitamin C, minerals, polyphenols, enzymes, antioxidants, antibiotic substances, and probiotic cultures.  

While very little research has been done on this naturally fermented drink, many people believe it to be a panacea, improving digestion, balancing the gut microbiome, and even improving conditions like arthritis and cancer. 

One small human trial did find that individuals with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus showed stabilization of blood sugar levels to within normal range after consuming just 60 mL of kombucha for 90 days (1).

Woman drinking kombucha

While human studies are lacking, research in animals and human cells have shown that the four key benefits of kombucha are detoxification, antioxidant activity, energizing potential, and immune stimulation. The evidence suggests that this drink may be effective against broad-spectrum infections as well – a huge plus considering the epidemic of antibiotic-resistant organisms (2).

Some of the other reported benefits of kombucha that haven’t yet been verified by research are:

  • Cholesterol reduction
  • Weight loss
  • Cancer prevention
  • Joint pain
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Anti-Candida
  • Preventing and healing stomach ulcers
  • Cardiovascular support
  • Liver and Kidney function
  • Diabetes – blood sugar regulation

How Much Caffeine Does It Have?

coffee beans

Kombucha is made from tea, so it does have some caffeine. If caffeine is a concern or you are considering making kombucha for kids, you can make this beverage using decaf tea. After fermentation, typically only 1/3 of the caffeine content remains or roughly 10-25 milligrams per serving.  

Does Kombucha Contain Alcohol?

Alcohol is a natural byproduct of the process of fermentation, but thankfully the amount is so small that commercial varieties can legally be sold as non-alcoholic beverages in the United States. Most batches contain less than 0.5% alcohol content, which is about the same amount found in balsamic vinegar.

Store Bought vs. Make at Home

I love the option of being able to grab a bottle of kombucha while I’m out running errands or taste a local variety on tap at my favorite coffee shop. I’ve even enjoyed buying kombucha by the case from Costco when we moved across the country and I was waiting to get a new SCOBY.

Convenience is definitely at the top of my list for purchasing store bought kombucha, but there are far more reasons why I prefer the DIY approach. At $3-5 dollars a pop, it can be hard on the wallet (especially if your kids end up loving it too).

Making your own kombucha also allows you to reduce the sugar content by doing a second brew and using fruit, ginger, or spices to flavor instead of more sugar and juice like in many of the options you find in stores. I love being able to customize kombucha from batch to batch, making decaf for my littles or using green tea one week and black tea the next. 

Store bought kombucha may be pasteurized (heated to high temperatures to kill any harmful bacteria). Many products like milk and juice also undergo pasteurization to reduce foodborne illness. Unfortunately, pasteurization isn’t selective and destroys all of the beneficial probiotics as well.

I like to think of store bought kombucha as a treat when I’m out and about or choosing a drink at a café. Just like coffee, if you plan on making this an every day beverage, it makes more sense to brew at home.

Where to Find a SCOBY

kombucha SCOBY

A SCOBY is what transforms plain tea into a fizzy, probiotic drink. This jellyfish like colony of microbes is a living and thriving organism that eats the sugar and creates vitamins and probiotics. 

This living object grows a “baby” every couple of batches that can be separated and used to make more than one batch at a time or consumed in a smoothie or probiotic recipe. Many people just throw these extra babies away, but if you are lucky – you may find someone willing to give you one.

Thanks to the popularity of probiotic-rich foods, many companies now allow you to order a SCOBY online. Our favorite company is Cultures for Health

You can also try your hand a growing a SCOBY from a pre-made bottle of kombuchaas long as it hasn’t been pasteurized. This can be a lengthy process and may or may not work.

Continuous Brew vs. Single Batch

With the single batch method, you make an entirely new batch every 7-30 days (although I usually never go beyond 2 weeks with this method). Keep in mind that the longer kombucha ferments, the less sweet and more vinegary it will taste. Doing a single batch every week or so gives you more control over changing the type of tea, making a decaf batch, and producing smaller amounts at a time. 

The continuous brew method is ideal for families or those who prefer a closed system with a little less maintenance. To make continuous brew kombucha, you use a large container with a spigot and simply add fresh sweetened tea as you remove kombucha. This system is said to yield a more consistent batch with a higher amount of beneficial bacteria.

How to Make Kombucha

Step 1: Choose Your Equipment

kombucha with SCOBYs

Before you begin, you will need to find the right container to brew your “booch” in. If you will be using the single batch method, you will need a quart size jar (I like using mason jars).  Glass is considered the best option for brewing kombucha and is what I have always used. It’s affordable, non-toxic, and can withstand the harsh acidic environment of kombucha.  

If you decide continuous brew is the way to go, you’ll need a large container with a spigot that can hold anywhere from 1-5 gallons. (It is important to use a spigot that is plastic, not metal, as metal can damage the kombucha SCOBY.)

Other material options are ceramic, porcelain, and wood. Avoid using plastic containers for brewing kombucha since it can harbor foreign bacteria that is detrimental to the kombucha SCOBY. Metal containers should also be avoided.

The only other equipment you will need is a plastic or wooden spoon and something to cover the vessel with. This needs to be something breathable but sealed enough to keep bugs out (some continuous brew vessels will come with a lid). A coffee filter, muslin cloth, or cheesecloth are all great options.

Equipment Needed:

Brewing Vessel

– Wooden or Plastic Spoon

– Paper Coffee Filter, Muslin, or Cheesecloth

– Rubber band (to secure your cover) 

Step 2: Gather Ingredients

The most important thing you will need is a SCOBY. We talked earlier about where to find those. Next, you will need to choose your tea. You can use tea bags or loose leaf tea as long as there are no added flavors. Black tea, white tea, or green tea are all acceptable options and decaf versions of any of these would work as well.

In terms of sugar, organic cane sugar is the best option since it hasn’t been bleached (yes, white sugar is bleached) and has a low mineral content. Avoid brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and artificial sweeteners as these can shorten the life of your SCOBY and produce inconsistent results.

Finally, you will need some “starter” tea (brewed kombucha) and pure water that is free from fluoride, chlorine, and other harmful contaminants.  I recommend a water purifier if you will be brewing kombucha on a regular basis (we use this one), but boiling water and leaving water sitting on your counter for 24 hours will also reduce some of the chlorine content.

Ingredients Needed:

SCOBY

– Starter Tea (Brewed Kombucha)

– Cane Sugar

– Tea

– Pure Water

Step 3: Decide How Much to Make

If you are just starting out, it may be hard to know how much to make. If you already drink kombucha, think about how many ounces you consume on a daily basis. Does anyone else in your family drink kombucha? This may help you decide how much to brew.

Keep in mind that each batch takes a week or longer and you need to save some “booch” for your next batch to act as your starter tea. If you brew a quart at a time and go through that in just a day or two, you’ll be waiting at least 5 more days before your next batch is ready (longer if you do a second brew).

Once you know how much you want to make, you can use these ratios as a guideline for making your kombucha. For example, if you want to make 2 quarts, simply double the amount of ingredients. 

One-Quart Batch:

– 3 cups of water

– ½ cup starter tea

– ¼ cup cane sugar

– 2 tea bags or 1-2 tsp of loose tea

Gallon Batch:

– 12 cups of water 

– 2 cups starter tea

– 1 cup cane sugar

– 8 tea bags or 2 tbsp of loose tea

Kombucha Recipe:

bottled kombucha

Follow these instructions to make kombucha tea at home, or print them out to reference later!

bottled kombucha
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Easy Homemade Kombucha

This homemade kombucha recipe is perfect for beginners who are looking to try their hand at making their own kombucha. Save money and control the amount of sugar in your "booch" by trying this "brew it yourself" method.

Course Drinks
Keyword black tea, Fermented, green tea, kombucha, Probiotic, SCOBY, tea, white tea
Prep Time 30 minutes
Author Raina Cordell

Ingredients

  • 2 tea bags (white, black, green, or combo) or 1-2 tsp of loose leaf tea
  • 3 cups purified water fluoride and chlorine free
  • ¼ cup organic cane sugar
  • ½ cup brewed kombucha from a previous batch
  • 1 SCOBY

Instructions

  1. Heat water to boiling then add tea and sugar to your brewing vessel, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Tea bags can be removed after ten minutes or left in for a stronger tea.

  2. Allow the sweet tea to cool to room temperature.

  3. Remove the tea bags or strain the loose leaf tea if you haven't already done so.

  4. Add the kombucha tea from a previous batch (you can use distilled vinegar if you don't have any).

  5. Add a kombucha SCOBY.

  6. Cover securely with a breathable lid (coffee filter, paper towel, cheesecloth) and a rubber band, being careful to prevent this from getting wet. Bugs are drawn to the vinegary smell so it is important to keep kombucha tightly covered.

  7. Place the kombucha in warm spot, out of direct sunlight and away from other ferments.

  8. Kombucha can be brewed for 7-30 days based on your taste preferences. It tends to brew faster in warmer temperatures and slower in cooler temperatures. Shorter brews create a sweeter taste and longer brews are more vinegary and acidic.

  9. Once your "booch" is done, prepare a new batch using some of the brewed kombucha from your first batch and carefully transfer the SCOBY using a plastic or wooden spoon. Avoid metal as this can damage the SCOBY.

  10. You can drink your kombucha, placed it in the fridge for later, or bottled for a second ferment. This is when you can add flavoring like fruit, herbs, or spices and create a soda like beverage.

  11. Grolsch-style bottles make great vessels for a second ferment since you need a tight lid (not the breathable type) this time.

  12. After you have added your flavors, fasten the lid and allow the mixture to sit for 2-10 days. Be sure to "burp" your bottles every couple of days to prevent too much pressure from building (and a big explosion).

  13. Enjoy!

Are you a kombucha fan? Have you tried to make your own “booch” at home? Leave me a comment below and let me know your favorite flavor!

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1 thought on “The Beginner’s Guide to Kombucha”

  1. 5 stars
    Thanks, Raina for such a wonderful recipe of kombucha. Those points and benefits which you have mentioned in this article are very useful. Thanks again for this valuable content.

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