How to Make Kombucha

 


**Please note a small change to the recommendations in our video: We now strongly recommend using white distilled vinegar when activating the culture and in the first batch. Please do not use rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar as they will lower the chances of your culture activating properly.

Prepare the Equipment and Ingredients

To make kombucha tea, first gather your equipment and ingredients and prepare the kombucha mixture for fermentation.

Equipment.  Click here for more information on choosing the best brewing container, cover system, utensils, and more

  • One glass jar (quart, half-gallon, or gallon)
  • A plastic or wood stirring utensil (never use metal in contact with a kombucha scoby!)
  • A breathable cover for the jar such as a tight-weave dish towel or paper coffee filter
  • A rubber band to secure the cover

 Ingredients. Click here for more information on choosing the best tea, sugar, and water source for making kombucha


*If you are working with a dehydrated kombucha scoby, please click here for instructions on activating the scoby through rehydration.

 

 Container Size

Tea

Sugar

Water

Starter Tea or Vinegar 

One quart

1-1/2 teaspoon loose tea or  2 tea bags

1/4 cup

2 to 3 cups

1/2 cup

Half-gallon

1 tablespoon loose tea or  4 tea bags

1/2 cup

6 to 7 cups

1 cup

Gallon

2 tablespoons loose tea or 8 tea bags

1 cup

13 to 14 cups

2 cups

 


A note about hygiene. When working with kombucha, it is important not to introduce competing bacteria to the brew. Be sure to wash and rinse your hands well prior to working with the tea mixture or the scoby. Also be sure to thoroughly clean and rinse the container and all utensils that will come in contact with the scoby. Beware soap and food residue the dishwasher may have missed. When in doubt, give everything an extra rinse. The brewing vessel can be cleaned with regular soap and hot water (rinse very well) or with vinegar. Never use bleach on any item that will come in contact with your brew.

 

The Basic Process for Making Kombucha

  •  Place hot water and sugar together in a jar. Mix until the sugar dissolves. The water should be hot enough to steep the tea but does not have to be boiling.
  • Place the tea in the sugar water and allow the tea to steep. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. (This will likely take most of the day if you are making a gallon-size jar.) You can remove the tea bags after 10 minutes or leave them longer for a stronger tea, but be sure to remove them before adding the scoby. If you are using loose tea, make sure no flakes remain in the brewing solution.
  • Place the kombucha scoby and starter tea or vinegar in the jar of cooled sugared tea.
  • Cover the jar tightly (keep the fruit flies out!) but allow the mixture to breathe. A towel or paper coffee filter along with a thick rubber band work best for this. Do not use an airtight lid!


Fermenting the Kombucha

Choose a safe spot. An ideal culturing spot should be relatively warm but not excessively so. Temperatures between 70° and 80°F are ideal (see below). The best fermenting spot for kombucha is out of direct sunlight. Indirect light or darkness is neither favorable nor problematic. Be sure the spot has reasonably good airflow as access to oxygen benefits the fermentation process. In addition, be sure the kombucha is not fermenting near any other cultured foods such as kefir, yogurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, etc. Cross-contamination by stray yeasts and bacteria can be problematic for the kombucha scoby and any other fermented foods you are working with.

Do not disturb. It is important to allow the kombucha to ferment undisturbed. Moving the jar or otherwise disturbing the contents will not ruin the batch but does make it more difficult to observe the most common signs the process is proceeding normally.

Allow the kombucha to ferment. Now comes the hard part: waiting for your brew to ferment. Fermentation periods are determined primarily by three factors:

Ambient temperature. Ambient temperatures that are too hot or too cold can disrupt the process: too cold and the process slows down, too hot and fermentation proceeds too quickly resulting in a less desirable flavor pattern. We recommend choosing a culturing spot with an ambient temperature between 70° and 80°F for ideal results.

Access to oxygen. Air flow assists the fermentation process so culturing in a container with a breathable cover will speed the fermentation process, while using a solid lid will slow it down and may harm the scoby.

Liquid surface area. The size of the surface area of liquid will influence the rate at which your kombucha brews. Kombucha brewed in a bowl with a 9-inch diameter opening will brew significantly faster than kombucha brewed in a jar with a 3-inch diameter opening.  

Remember: Faster fermentation isn’t necessarily better. Kombucha can develop a strong vinegar taste in a relatively short period of time if the temperature is too warm or the liquid surface area is too large. Slow and steady fermentation results in a more desirable taste profile.

Assuming ideal temperature, access to sufficient oxygen, reasonable liquid surface area, etc., your brew can officially be considered kombucha after it has been fermenting for 5 to 7 days. For the first few batches, we recommend using a straw to start tasting the kombucha every other day or so starting on day 7. This allows you to determine at what point to halt the fermentation process based on your own personal taste preferences. Some people like their kombucha best after it has been fermenting only a week. Others prefer 2, 3, or even 4 weeks or more of fermentation. Keep in mind that shorter fermentation periods will result in a sweeter brew. Longer periods will result in a more vinegar-like taste. Very long fermentation periods (over 30 days) tend to result in a strong vinegar-like taste. The longer the brew ferments, the less sugar will remain, so if sugar consumption is a concern, we recommend brewing for 3 to 4 weeks prior to consumption. Please note: at some point your scoby will run out of sugar and tea to consume and will start to suffer nutritionally. For that reason, we do not recommend over-brewing your kombucha. Assuming ideal conditions, over-brewing generally starts to occur sometime between 4 and 6 weeks.


How Do I Know If I've Made Kombucha?

Assuming ideal fermenting conditions, it is common to see signs of fermentation within a few days. These signs include:

Formation of a new “baby” scoby. This process begins as a layer of film developing on the surface of the liquid. Generally the layer will start off clear (and is often missed) but over the period of a few days or a week will become hazy and then less and less translucent, more white, and slowly thicker until it resembles the scoby you used to culture the batch. Please note: if the container is disturbed or vibrates during the early stages of the process, the newly developing scoby will often detach from the surface of the liquid and fall resulting in a roaming gel-like mass in the liquid. This mass is not harmful and is simply an immature scoby. This will also not harm the batch in any way: the brew will still continue to ferment on schedule and within a few days the process of a new scoby forming on the surface of the liquid will begin again. Keep in mind that if the new scoby falls at this early stage of development, it could delay the number of days it takes to observe a new scoby forming (often considered the best sign a batch is culturing normally). Every once in awhile, a new scoby does not form. This in and of itself does not indicate a failed batch. In a case where that happens, refer to the taste and pH level of the brew for further indication of whether the process proceeded normally.

An increasingly acidic (vinegar-like) flavor. As the kombucha ferments, the scoby will consume the sugar and tea and produce acids, vitamins, enzymes, and carbon dioxide. As this process proceeds, the brew will taste less sweet and increasingly acidic (a more vinegar-like taste). 

Lower pH. The increasing level of acidity can also be seen by a lowering of the pH. While not required, a pH meter or pH testing strips can be used to determine the pH of your kombucha.

The best signs your kombucha is ready include that at least 7 days have passed (assuming ideal fermenting conditions), that it has become more acidic than the mixture you originally began with, and that the taste is one that you find pleasing. While not required, it is also possible to test the pH level of your brew using a pH meter or testing strips. Kombucha should reach a pH level of between 2.6 and 4.0 prior to consumption.

 

Normal Variations vs. Signs of Problems

Normal Variations. Each batch of kombucha is unique and therefore may not proceed exactly as the previous batch. Some common variations include:

  • The scoby may float, sink to the bottom, hover in the middle of the brew, etc. The scoby may lie vertically or horizontally. None of these positions indicate any sort of problem and are likely attributable to atmospheric conditions including humidity level.
  • You may see a brown stringy substance floating in the container, brown blobs clinging to the scoby, or dark sediment forming in the bottom of the container. All of these are byproducts of the yeast culturing the liquid and are not a sign of a problem.
  • If the jar is disturbed or vibrates, or sometimes for unknown reasons, the new forming baby scoby may detach from the surface area and sink to the bottom or otherwise float in the liquid. This is not a problem and does not impede the process (see above).
  • Depending on the position of the scoby used to ferment the batch, sometimes the original scoby will attach and fuse to the newly developing scoby. Once the batch is complete you can separate them by tearing them apart (do not use metal such as a knife or scissors) or use them as a single culture to brew your next batch.


Signs of Potential Problems.  

Mold. If appropriate varieties of water, tea, and sugar are used, and the starter tea or vinegar is added, the acidic nature of the brew makes it very uncommon for mold to develop. In fact, the most common cause of mold is forgetting an ingredient or using improper ingredient ratios that alter the acidic level of the brew. However unlikely, mold can and occasionally does develop and can generally be seen by the formation of white, green, orange, red, or black spots on the scoby. Other potential causes of mold include:

  • Contamination from soap or food residue in the jar or on the utensils used to prepare the mixture.
  • Mold spores on the tea used to brew the kombucha.
  • Transient yeasts and bacteria in the air or poor hygiene practices when preparing the brew.  
  • Allowing your kombucha to ferment too close to a garbage can which can be a source of transient bacteria.
  • Allowing your kombucha to ferment too close to other fermented foods (yogurt, sourdough, kefir, sauerkraut, etc.) or rising bread made with commercial baking yeast.
  • Mold spores in the air from a humid environment such as a kitchen or bathroom or in the air ducts. (High humidity levels in general can make it more difficult to prevent mold.)

 

If mold does develop, immediately toss the entire batch including the scoby. Do not try to salvage a moldy batch or a moldy scoby. Doing so can be dangerous to your health. Obtain a new scoby, clean the jar thoroughly, and try again another day. 

Pests. Fermenting kombucha is very attractive to ants and fruit flies which is why we recommend using a tight-weave cover and securing the cover with a tight rubber band to keep the invaders out. If you find worms (maggots) have infested your scoby, this is a sign that fruit flies or house flies have invaded and laid their eggs. If this happens, immediately toss the entire batch including the scoby. Do not try to salvage an infested batch or an infested scoby. Doing so can be dangerous to your health. Obtain a new scoby, clean the jar thoroughly, and try again another day.  

Black Scoby. A black scoby (or black parts of the scoby) is a sign the scoby has died. While this doesn’t happen too often, any batch brewed with that scoby should be tossed and a new scoby obtained prior to making the next batch.

Taste of the kombucha doesn’t change. If you find that your kombucha does not seem to be fermenting, first determine whether the place it has been sitting is too cool. (Consider temperature shifts at night.) Often the problem can be resolved simply by moving the container to a warmer location. Also consider whether the place it has been sitting has adequate airflow and adjust the location accordingly.

pH Level.  While most Kombucha brewers do not test the pH level of each individual batch, we find pH testing to be useful when experimenting with non-recommended ingredients or ingredient ratios or when a problem is otherwise suspected. If a batch does not seem to be showing signs of fermentation and you have verified that temperature and airflow are not issues, it is worth testing the pH level of the batch to determine whether it has become more acidic and whether it is safe to consume. Kombucha should reach a pH level between 2.6 and 4.0 prior to consumption. While it is quite rare for a batch to fail, if it happens, just throw it out and start over.

Safety First! Please note, all this information is presented as suggestion only and does not substitute for using good judgment. No matter what ingredients or ratios you choose to use, regardless of whether visible mold is present or not, and no matter what the pH level of the finished brew, we advise you to always use your best judgment when brewing and consuming kombucha and to never consume any kombucha that looks, tastes, or smells unpleasant. 

Click here for additional troubleshooting information.

 

Harvesting Your Kombucha

Congratulations! You’ve brewed your first batch of kombucha. Now comes the fun part: harvesting and enjoying your brew.

Removing the scobys (both of them). Prior to harvesting your batch, you will need to make a new batch of sugar tea with some starter kombucha tea so you will have a place to put both the original scoby you started with as well as the baby scoby that formed during the fermentation process. You can use both scobys to brew a new single batch or you can separate them into two containers. When removing the scobys be sure to use clean hands without metal jewelry. If the scobys have fused together they can be torn apart if desired.

Straining. Prior to consumption, we do recommend straining the kombucha through a fine mesh plastic strainer. The strainer will catch the stringy brown yeast particles and any immature scobys that may have formed (often look like blobs of gel). While neither of these things is problematic if consumed, the texture isn’t particularly desirable either. Once strained, the kombucha can be consumed.

Flavoring. If desired, kombucha tea can be flavored using fruit, fruit juice, herbs, and more. Be sure to set aside some unflavored kombucha to use as starter tea for your next batch prior to adding flavorings.

Bottling. If desired, kombucha can be bottled for consumption at a later date. If using air-tight bottles, bottling kombucha can serve a secondary purpose beyond storage as the active yeast and bacteria will continue to consume the remaining tea and sugar in the brew but at a much slower rate. (This process continues even though the scoby has been removed.) The fermentation process produces carbon dioxide, which will build up under the pressure of the airtight bottle resulting in the fizzy texture kombucha is known for. This process can be further enhanced by adding juice or fruit for a secondary fermentation period. The added sugar from the juice increases the amount of food available to the active yeast and bacteria thereby increasing the amount of carbon dioxide the secondary fermentation process will create. Be sure to use extreme caution when opening the bottle as the contents are most likely under pressure.

Storage Tips. If the kombucha is stored in an air-tight container, be sure to use caution when opening as the contents are most likely under pressure. (This is particularly true if the kombucha has not been refrigerated as warmer temperatures speed the secondary fermentation process.) Also be aware that if the kombucha is stored for more than a few days, it may need to be strained again prior to consumption. The active yeast and bacteria in the kombucha continue to process the remaining tea and sugar in the brew even in the absence of the scoby. This process means that a new baby scoby may start to form over time (albeit at a much slower rate due to the lack of the scoby and the lack of airflow) and is typically visible as a gelatinous blob.

More Ways to Use Kombucha. Kombucha is good for more than just drinking!  Check out our ideas for using kombucha as well as our collection of recipes for more ways to use kombucha.





 

          
 JF  
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