How to Make Kombucha Tea
Kombucha is not only easy to make, it is a delicious, probiotic-rich, dairy-free beverage your whole family will enjoy.
**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.
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
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.
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.
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. Each batch of kombucha is unique and therefore may not proceed exactly as the previous batch. Some common variations include:
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:
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.
Click here for additional troubleshooting information.
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.