Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kombucha 101

My kombucha brewery. Different batches at various stages.
Wouldn't it be terrific if there was a way to make drinks that were fizzy, sweet, chemical free, and best of all, healthy? Soda drinkers of the world, take note- you can have your cake and eat it too!
Kombucha is a lacto-fermented drink that has been embibed for centuries (or more) in the far east, and more recently by the health "nuts" and traditional food enthusiasts worldwide. This tasty beverage is made by adding a kombucha "mushroom" (also known as a SCOBY or tea mushroom) to sweetened tea, tranforming it from a standard drink to a probiotic that is an antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and downright tasty, making it the perfect soft drink replacement with numerous purported health claims.

To make kombucha, you first need to obtain either a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast ) or grow your own from purchased Kombucha tea (click here to learn to grow your own SCOBY). If you know any kombucha makers, they'll likely pass on a SCOBY, as each batch of kombucha results in yet another “baby” mushroom, and you can only use so many. You can also get from people in online kombucha communities like this one- Kombucha Yahoo Group . Because of some laws the Ministry of Health in my country, I was unable to purchase Kombucha tea and didn't know anyone locally who had mushrooms, so my kombucha plans were put on hold until a friend's mother brought her a tea mushroom from the States... and since then, I haven't looked back.

Kombucha growing has a small learning curve, but once you've got the basics down, you can make so many variations of this superb concoction that you'll never want to buy those cheimical filled fizzy drinks again.

Making Kombucha

1. Start off with a large clean glass jar, like a mason jar. Boil water in a kettle then pour it into the jar, filling it most of the way. Add sugar- I add roughly ¾ of a cup to my quart sized mason jar. Mix until all the sugar is dissolved.

2. Add a few teabags of regular black tea and let it seep. You want the tea to be very dark, much darker than you'd usually drink tea. I usually put between 3 and 5 bags of tea, depending on the brand. Lipton brand is the strongest, I've discovered, and I can use only 3 bags, but with the knockoffs, I need to add 5.

This is a much larger batch than I usually make. I bought this jar because the usual quart sized mason jars weren't making enough to fill the demand. The quantities listed are not for a jar this size. This picture is to note the color of the tea. This is on the lighter end of what the tea should look like. (I used 10 teabags for this.)
3. Cover your tea and let it cool down. You want to wait until the tea is comfortable enough to touch. Too hot and the SCOBY will die.

4. Add your Kombucha mushroom to your tea. Depending on the mushroom, it will either sink to the bottom or float up to the top. This makes no difference. Eventually, it will most likely float up to the top.

This is what the mushroom will look like. This is two together in a batch of ready kombucha. I stored it here until I used it for my new batch. Kombucha needs to be stored in tea with sugar at all times or it will die.
5. If you have any kombucha tea, add some of this as a “starter” to your tea, to help the tea be colonized by the beneficial flora quicker. If you do not have kombucha tea to use as a starter, add some vinegar or citric acid (about 1-2 teaspoons) to the tea to make the environment ideal for the kombucha cultures to grow.

6. Cover with a cheese cloth or cloth napkin. Put a rubber band tightly around, making sure there are no gaps so that no bugs come in. I once found bugs walking across the surface of my tea; another time I found some dead bugs floating within. Make sure that they have no opening to get in.
And now the wait begins. The larger the batch, the longer it takes to be ready. I assume this big batch will take at least a week, if not more, to be ready.
7. Let your kombucha tea sit in a warm place for a couple of days. Depending on your climate and your taste preferences, the kombucha can take anywhere between 3 and 14 days to be ready. I prefer my kombucha usually on day 4 or 5 usually, but it's been very warm here (yes, still!) so it probably is growing faster than it would in cooler climates. To taste, pour a drop of kombucha into a little cup and taste. Your kombucha will start off sweet and flat; as time goes on, your kombucha will become more tart and fizzy. I prefer mine fizzy and equal parts sweet and sour; if you like it differently, “harvest” it when it tastes right.

8. When your kombucha is ready, it will most likely have grown a “baby” mushroom across the top of your tea, often attached to the “mother”. You can separate these two and use both to make separate batches of kombucha tea. Disturbing the kombucha tea while it is fermenting will make the baby not form, or take longer to form. If you're having difficulty growing a baby, try to just let your kombucha sit without touching it, for as long as it takes before you see a new baby stretched across the top of a jar.

9. I usually like to have 4 or 5 batches going regularly, because we usually finish a batch the same day we start it, and I like to be able to have kombucha daily. This way I have one batch ready each day.

From left to right- a batch of ready kombucha, a batch of finished kombucha, now undergoing another process, two batches of unfinished kombucha, and a secondary ferment of flavored kombucha. Note the whitish pancake floating across the top of the finished kombucha? That is what the mushroom will look like.
Kombucha has become the beverage of choice in our house and is much tastier than soda. My kids clamor for it and I have to limit their intake because there is never enough in our house. Cost of this drink? Water, sugar, and teabags. Haven't done an exact calculation, but definitely not expensive. Cheaper than soda, that's for sure, and much healthier too!

Once your kombucha is ready, you can pour it into another jar, minus the mushroom, and do a secondary ferment to make it even more fizzy and adjust the taste, but I'll get into that in another post.

Warning: Do not contaminate your mushroom. Only put your mushroom in plain black or green tea unless you want to risk killing it. This organizm is a fickle thing and can die under the wrong conditions, or get moldy if you introduce inappropriate things to the mix.

Note: Kombucha works as a detoxifier. Some people feel a slight discomfort (headaches, sometimes) the first few times they have kombucha, especially if they have many toxins in their body. (Having mercury/amalgam fillings can make you more likely to feel this discomfort.) If such is the case, start off drinking smaller amounts of kombucha and work your way up. A good starting “dose” is half a cup, but if that causes problems, have as little as a quarter of a cup each day. I have no amalgam fillings and I try to eat healthier foods; perhaps this is why I've been spared the discomfort when first starting off drinking kombucha, but I did want to give a word of warning in case you weren't as lucky. Don't stop drinking the kombucha because of the effect- if you're having a reaction, it means that the toxins are coming out, and it is especially important for you to detox and drink kombucha.

To read more about kombucha than you ever wanted to know, check out KombuchaFuel.com. It's where I learned most of what I know about kombucha.

Have you ever had kombucha before? If you could get your hands on a mushroom, do you think you'd attempt to make kombucha?

Linking up to Real Food Wednesday, Pennywise Platter Thursday and Works for Me Wednesday


  1. Just finished our first brew now and started a second. Love it!!

  2. you don't have a problem with your kids drinking this, seeing as it's got refined sugar and caffeine in it?

    1. I was just wondering the same. You use plain ol' white sugar, no? And the yellow label Lipton is caffeinated. Once it's ready - should/can it be strained so there are no floaties?

    2. The scoby "eats" the sugar in the fermentation process. Plain white sugar is easiest for the scoby to break down. Once it is finished fermenting, there isn't much sugar left; it has broken down into nitrogen and other components. I am not sure about the caffeine levels after brewing, but caffeine is a necessity for the scoby to function properly. (Much like me :) )

  3. would love to try this, but no idea where to find the starter

  4. would love to try this but no idea where to get the starter

  5. I am new to Kombucha and I want to start making my own Kombucha tea. My first steps are to purchase a SCOBY. I have seen different recipes online to try and I have read about all the health benefits. What I don't understand much about it is why a SCOBY is needed? and does the SCOBY go in first?

    1. The SCOBY is the starter culture, the bacteria and yeast that allow each batch of sweet tea to ferment. If you don't have a scoby but have 1-2 cups of raw kombucha you can still make kombucha, and if you allow some of that kombucha yo sit undisturbed for long enough, it will form a mother scoby. Most resources say when 1/8-1/4" thick the scoby is mature enough for use. The scoby can go in the batch in any order, it makes NO difference, just make sure the temp is no warmer than your body otherwise you risk killing various bacteria or yeast. Consider visiting Happy Herbalist.com for information (great analysis of kombucha article and resources) and a group on Facebook called Wild Fermentation is very friendly (with 40,000 members across the planet, with cultures to share).

      I will say, kombucha is NOT a guaranteed lactoferment, nor a consistent source of probiotics. It will depend upon your culture. Most commercial sources add the probiotic strains. Unless you do an analysis of your culture you won't know exactly what you have, but we know for sure you have activity by yeast and acetic acid producing bacteria; but the presence of lactic acid producing bacteria is a huge variable, plus fermentation does not guarantee a probiotic outcome.
      But, kombucha is still tasty.


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