A gallon size jar
1 kombucha culture (SCOBY)
1 cup organic sugar
10-12 black tea bags (you can substitute about half the black tea for green, but not all, because the culture needs the black tea to grow.)
½ cup kombucha starter tea or organic vinegar
The most difficult part of making kombucha is finding a mother SCOBY. Which is nonsensical, because when you start making your own, you end up with so many SCOBYs you can’t get rid of them fast enough. They’re like the hippie-health freak version of Amish friendship bread. As a matter of fact, if you live in the Rogue Valley in Oregon, email me and I’ll give you one of mine. PLEASE.
If you haven’t got a friend to give you a starter SCOBY, you may have to get creative. Some enterprising kombucha aficionados list their surplus mushrooms on Etsy. I found mine on Craigslist (the place of beginnings for any love affair.) I’ve even seen them on Amazon, but that’s a line I’m unwilling to cross. (Sorry, Amazon.)
Just in case my valuable tidbits came out like gibberish and you’re scratching your head with a blank look on your face and a giant question mark hovering, weightless, over your head, let me clarify.
The word SCOBY is an acronym for Symbionic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. Commonly (but inaccurately referred to as a kombucha mushroom.)
Kombucha is a naturally carbonated beverage that is the by-product of fermenting tea using a SCOBY. A healthy SCOBY will have a slippery glossy appearance. The color range will vary from white to tea-colored, and may have some natural black-looking slop attached to the bottom, similar in consistency to egg whites. Your SCOBY doesn’t need to be thick, but it should be at least three inches in diameter. When looking for a SCOBY, try to find one that’s only been fed with organic ingredients. When you buy a SCOBY, it should come in a plastic bag or container with about a cup of kombucha liquid. SAVE the liquid, because its an essential part of fermenting the tea. If your SCOBY is shipped dehydrated, you may need to substitute vinegar for the kombucha tea.
1. Boil two quarts of water in large pot and add sugar, stirring until dissolved.
2. Add teabags and turn off heat.
*** FOR RAW FOODISTS: Step2 can be ommited and substituted with sun tea to avoid exceeding 104 degrees. Raw sugar should be added at the same time as the tea bags, as the unrefined crystals take longer to dissolve.
3. After tea has steeped, add the second two quarts of COLD water to cool the tea. If you’re in a hurry, you can substitute cold water for ice. If you’re not in a hurry, you can cover it and let it sit overnight.
4. When the tea has cooled to room temperature, pour into glass jar. Add starter tea and culture.
5. Cover the opening of the jar with a lightweight cloth (I use a vintage hankie because it may as well look adorable whilst taking up space on my counter) and secure with a rubber band.
6. Set the jar in a warm-ish place where it won’t be disturbed. On top of the refrigerator is a good place. Avoid keeping your kombucha near any other ferments you may have going, because the friendly bacteria may cross-contaminate each other and you’ll kill off your cultures.
7. Kombucha will be done in about a week (less during warmer times of the year) and when a new SCOBY forms tries to attach itself to the mother SCOBY.
* When brewing kombucha, a new culture will begin to grow and will usually try to attach itself to the original culture in layers. These layers can be separated by gently pulling them apart. The new culture may have the appearance of a thin layer of clear scum on the top of the tea, but in reality, it is a sighn of a healthy ferment. If you’re still unsure, try lifting the layer with a spoon. The formation of a new culture will be one thin layer that stretches across the diameter of the jar. If what you see isn’t one piece, but a cloud of debris, then your kombucha is officially a disaster. Which won’t happen. I’m only sharing this with you because the first time I made my own kombucha, I had done a lot of research and knew just enough to be dangerous. I was in a panic about mold, and my fear became irrational, like when you talk about head lice and can’t stop scratching your head. I saw mold everywhere.
* Be sure to save about a cup of kombucha to use as starter for your next batch of tea. If you forget, you can substitute vinegar.
* Your culture needs sugar. You cannot make kombucha with Splenda or alternative sweeteners. No honey. The sugar is for the SCOBY, not for you. Most of the sugar will be gone by the time you drink the finished tea, so there’s no need to get all crazy.
* Avoid covering your gallon jar with a lid or putting it in the cupboard, as kombucha needs plenty of air to do its thing. Do keep it covered with thin fabric or a hankie (not muslin, the weave is too loose) to keep fruit flies out. This stuff is a fruit fly magnet. As a matter of fact, if you have a fruit fly problem, you can set out some kombucha vinegar and let the little nasties drown themselves. Problem solved.
* Avoid using herbal teas during the fermentation process. They do not provide the nutrients needed by the kombucha culture. If you feel you must use herbal tea, creating a blend of at least 25% black tea will keep your culture alive.
* Black, green, white, pekoe, oolong, Darjeeling teas can all be used. The SCOBY will stay healthier if at least some black tea is used, as it is the most nutritious for the SCOBY.
* To increase the fizzyness of your kombucha tea, double ferment it after the first ferment is completed by pouring finished tea into glass bottles or jars and seal tightly with a lid. Let it sit for an additional day or two. The ph level will stay unchanged (meaning it won’t turn to vinegar) and the carbonation will build up under pressure. I’ve poured double-fermented kombucha that was so highly carbonated that it had a head that rivaled a good beer using this method.
* Kombucha can be flavored after it has finished fermenting. I pour mine into quart canning jars and add about two tablespoons fruit juice concentrate to each jar. Cranberry juice and raspberry blends are two really good flavors. I also add about a half-cup cooled lavender tea to each quart jar. Some people enjoy adding chia seeds to their tea. If you plan to double ferment your kombucha, do it after adding flavorings.
* "Jellyfish" are a reality of drinking kombucha. They’re small cultures that have formed during the fermenting process that haven’t grown big enough to attach themselves into the mother culture yet. If you swallow one, I promise nothing bad will happen. They’re helpful bacteria and will help. That’s what they do.
*Kombucha can be strained by pouring it through a clean cloth secured by a rubber band if need be. The method I prefer is using a sprouting lid, which are designed to fit onto canning jars. Whenever I open a Kerr jar of kombucha tea, I take the canning lid and rim off and replace them with the sprouting lid and pour my tea through that to strain any jellyfish that might otherwise swim down my throat.
*If you need to take a little break from fermenting, or if you have surplus SCOBYs you can’t re-home, they can be stored in the fridge in a jar, as long as they’re covered with finished kombucha tea. They can stay there for a looooooooooong time. Not as long as cockroaches would rule the earth after a nuclear disaster, but a while.