Last year during my fermentation kick, I tried brewing my own kombucha tea with mixed results. Kombucha is a brewed and fermented tea that is slightly sour, slightly sweet, and full of healthy probiotics.
I learned I like freshly-brewed, homemade kombucha much more over bottled (like you get in the healthy food section of your local grocery). I also tried flavoring and bottling my own kombucha, which looks pretty in the bottle, but still prefer the taste straight out of the brewer.
I set up a continuous brewing system with two 2.5 gallon porcelain brewers. I ordered my original culture (called a “SCOBY” for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) online. The rest was easy:
First, sanitize your first brewing urn by swirling with white, distilled vinegar. Don’t use any soap. Drain through the spout and wipe out any residual vinegar. Here is what I used to get started:
Cloth cover (you can also make your own)
PH meter to test readiness – you’ll know by what tastes good to you; I like mine around 3.2 PH.
Swing top bottles — if you decide you want to bottle some
Tea — you can use whatever black or green tea you like, but Hannah’s blend is delicious
Sugar — I use organic cane sugar; everyone says that works much better than any other type of sugar
SCOBY — I’ve had good luck with Hannah’s; started each urn with two full-size cultures. You could start with one, but it will take longer.
To start the brew:
- Boil 4 cups of filtered water (tap water might have chemicals that kill the SCOBY; I filtered mine using a Brita filter)
- Take water off the burner. Put 3-4 tsp. black tea in a tea ball or muslin bag and steep in the boiled water for 9-10 minutes.
- Take out the tea and add 1 cup of sugar. Stir to dissolve.
- Pour the hot tea/sugar mixture into 12 cups of cold filtered water. Put the watered down tea/sugar mixture in the urn. That should get it about 1/2 way full.
- Repeat to fill it almost to the top. You could double the recipe from the get-go, but the smaller amount is easier to deal with in my experience.
- Sanitize a knife or scissors with distilled white vinegar, and cut open the SCOBY pouch if you bought one online. Pour the SCOBY and liquid into the urn with the tea/sugar water.
- Cover and let sit undisturbed for 10 days. Test PH until you get to 3.2 — then it’s ready to drink.
Once my first urn is ready to drink, I wait a week to start the second. You don’t want to have the brew sitting in the urn for too long or it might get either too sour or too yeasty. If you decide not to bottle and drink only fresh, you’ll have to see how much you consume to get the timing of starting the second brewer right. And you might decide you don’t even want a second brewer. We go through a couple gallons a week, which makes the two-brewer system perfect.
Since I live in Montana where the winters get cold, I also invested in a winter heating system (the striped plastic band you see wrapped around the brewer), as well as a temperature monitor.
A few other tips:
- The tea likes to stay around 75F throughout the brewing process, plus or minus a few degrees. If it gets too warm, you’ll get an overproduction of yeast, which will make the brew sour quickly (still safe to drink, but not as tasty). If it gets too cold, fermentation will stop altogether or at least go really slow. Even if the brewer feels slightly warm to the touch on the outside (80-90F –ish), I’ve found the liquid to be 5-10 degrees cooler on the inside, which is about right.
- Never put the SCOBY in the refrigerator or freezer — it is totally safe to leave it at room temperature.
- If you see what looks like green/black bread mold on the SCOBY, toss everything and start fresh. According to what I’ve read, this rarely happens. However, if it does, the mold can make you very sick. You will likely see brown spots, brown threads, and black flecks on the SCOBY — these are all totally normal. Look for SCOBY mold images online if you have a question about what the bad stuff looks like. Here is a healthy SCOBY:
I really like having freshly brewed kombucha around as an alternative to plain tea, water, or coffee. It’s easy to make, has a nice sweet/sour refreshing flavor, relatively low calorie, and great for gut health.