In this chapter you’re going to learn how to make kombucha. Kombucha can be fizzy, flat, sour, sweet, fruity, complex, or simple. The possibilities are endless. In this chapter in addition to learning how to make basic kombucha, you will also be introduced to the many ways you can alter and enhance the flavor, consistency, and aroma of your kombucha. After reading this chapter you'll be well on your way to starting your own delicious batch of kombucha!
If you’re having trouble remembering, a SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast that resembles a gelatinous pancake. The flavor, aroma, and health benefits of kombucha come from the SCOBY.
There are two ways to get a SCOBY. You can grow a SCOBY using store bought kombucha or you can buy a SCOBY that has already been grown. I’ve made great kombucha both ways, but (especially if you're making kombucha for the first time) I wouldn’t recommend growing your own SCOBY for two reasons:
The SCOBY protects the kombucha from foreign, potentially bad bacteria by acting as a lid and protecting the kombucha, so when you grow your own SCOBY your kombucha is vulnerable to contamination until the SCOBY has sealed the kombucha from the air.
Growing your own SCOBY takes time. If you are new to making kombucha you are probably eager to get started, and growing a SCOBY is going to add 2-4 weeks to the process.
In summary, both ways can work well but growing your own SCOBY requires more vigilance and time, so I would only recommend growing a SCOBY if you’re a seasoned kombucha maker looking for a bit of a challenge.
Buying a SCOBY from a professional kombucha company saves you from a lot of hassle and ensures that your SCOBY is made safely in the proper environment. The company where I bought my first kombucha kit was nice enough to give me a small commission on sales I send their way, so if you’re interested in buying a SCOBY or kombucha starter kit, check out KombuchaKamp.com . They are great about answering your kombucha questions and their products make delicious kombucha.
Every time you make a batch of kombucha a new SCOBY is formed. This means that you can double the amount of SCOBYs you have with every new batch of kombucha that you make. If you’ve inspired any friends to start making their own kombucha, you can give them the extra SCOBY from your first batch—it will work just as well as the original SCOBY (sometimes known as the “mother”). Of course if you are instead feeling greedy, you can always just make an additional batch of kombucha for yourself.
Tea kettle or pot
1 gallon glass container
3 quarts of purified water
1 cup of sugar
4-5 tea bags or 4-5 tsp loose leaf tea
1-2 cups of starter liquid
Cloth cover & rubber band
Heat 4 cups of purified water in a tea kettle or pot.
Just as the water starts to boil, turn off heat & let cool 1-2 minutes, then add to your (sanitized) brewing vessel.
Add 4-5 tea bags (green, black, or a combo). Steep 5-10 minutes.
Remove the tea bags and stir in 1 cup of sugar until dissolved.
Add 2 quarts (8 cups) of purified water; this should bring the temperature of the boiled water down to lukewarm (test with hand to make sure). No warmer than body temp (~100 degrees Farenheight).
Add a SCOBY and 1 cup of starter liquid.
Cover container with a tightly woven cloth and rubber band.
Place the container in a dark, warm, ventilated area for 7-21 days (depending on taste, temperature, etc). It may or may not get fizzy. The SCOBY may rise to the top or sink to the bottom, doesn’t matter, the new culture will always form at the top.
When you are ready to test your kombucha, take a straw and gently slide it beneath the new SCOBY and have a sip. When it has the right balance of sour and sweet, and the ideal pH of 3.5-2.5, then you are ready to enjoy!
Note: For the perfect batch of kombucha, remember to keep your batch out of direct sunlight, between the ideal temperatures of 75 and 85 degrees Farenheight, and between the ideal pH of 3.5 - 2.5. Make sure all kombucha equipment is sanitized to reduce the chance of contamination.
Now that you have made a batch of delicious kombucha, the “mad scientist” inside you might be wondering can I flavor or enhance the kombucha with additional ingredients? The answer is yes!
The process itself is very easy and involves one of two methods. The two ways to flavor your kombucha are by infusion and “second fermentation.” An infusion simply involves mashing your ingredients and adding them to your decanted kombucha. Whereas, a “second fermentation” involves mashing your ingredients, adding them to your decanted kombucha, and then allowing your kombucha to ferment (again) with the mashed ingredients for up to three days.
Infusions are generally sweeter and with simple flavor profiles, and “second fermentations” tend to be more sour and with complex flavor profiles. “Second fermentations” result in a more complex flavor profile because the fermentation process metabolizes the added ingredients and converts their original characteristics into new, different profiles.
The ingredients and method you choose to flavor your kombucha depends on how you want your kombucha to taste. Below I discuss ways you can flavor your kombucha using different ingredients and techniques.
Method: “second fermentation”
Ingredients: anything with sugar, for example fruit, raisins, honey, and sugar.
Directions: mash your ingredients and add them to your kombucha. The carbonation comes from the kombucha eating the sugary ingredients and creating CO2 as a byproduct. Allow your kombucha and the sugary ingredients to ferment between 1-3 days (maybe longer if you’re fermenting in a cooler temperature) in a sealed container, like this one. It’s important that you do the “second fermentation” in a sealed container because this traps the CO2 in the bottle. When fermenting in a sealed container you need to be extra careful not to over ferment the kombucha. If the kombucha ferments for too long the CO2 builds up and can make your container explode. For this reason try not to let your kombucha “second ferment” for over 3 days and don’t fill your bottle more than 3/4 full. Filling your container all the way to the top will not give your CO2 any room to expand. If you want your kombucha to have carbonation without additional flavoring add a couple of raisins to your kombucha before a “second fermentation.”
Method: infusion or a short “second fermentation"
Ingredients: fruit (specifically pulpy fruit), juice, honey, and sugar
Directions: the length of time you let your sugary ingredients ferment in your kombucha determines how sweet your kombucha will be. A short fermentation creates a sweeter kombucha, whereas a long fermentation creates a more sour kombucha. Following this line of thought, if you desire a sweet kombucha use the infusion method or a short “second fermentation.” When using fruit, my experience has shown that pulpy fruits work the best because the flavor releases easier. Examples of pulpy fruit are peaches, cherries, plums, citrus, and berries. The more you mash the fruit the more flavor your kombucha can extract. Aim for 1/2 C of fruit per 3-4 C of kombucha, and if you’re using juice, 1/4 C of juice for 3-4 C of kombucha.
Method: infusion or “second ferment”
Ingredients: thyme, cardamom, cayenne, vanilla, cinnamon, mint, ginger, cloves, yarrow, fennel, rosemary, hibiscus, lavender, rose petals, basil, etc.
Directions: in my opinion this is where flavoring gets really fun. Herbs and spices create interesting and often unexpected results especially if used in combination with a “second fermentation;” however, if you’re not willing to risk ruining a batch of kombucha I would minimize experimentation with herbs and spices. Just as you may create the most incredible beverage your tastebuds have ever experienced, you may also create something you hate. Adding small portions of herbs goes a long way-especially when using the “second ferment.”
Method: long fermentation, “second fermentation”
Ingredients: none necessary, cherries, green apples, lemon
Directions: as mentioned before, if you ferment your kombucha for a short period of time it will be more sweet, so if you want your kombucha to be more sour, acidic, or vinegary, allow the kombucha to ferment for a longer period of time. If you’re trying to flavor your kombucha and add sourness, try a “second fermentation” with fruit. Just remember to monitor the buildup of CO2. If you’re not trying to create carbonation you can 1.) periodically release the CO2 by opening the container, 2.) put a balloon on the lid of the bottle (which gives the CO2 room to expand), or 3.) buy a CO2 release valve.
Method: “second fermentation”
Ingredients: chia seeds
Directions: chia seeds are packed with nutrients, omega 3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, which make them a nutritious addition to your kombucha. Maybe even better than the added nutrition of chia seeds is the texture chia seeds add to your kombucha after three days in “second fermentation.” The chia seeds have the same consistency as the tapioca balls in asian bubble tea. The little chewy balls make a nutritious and fun addition to any glass of kombucha. Add 1-2 tsp per 3-4 C of kombucha before the “second fermentation.”
Now that you know the fundamentals of making kombucha, experiment with the different ingredients and methods that we discussed. With a little practice you'll be able to make your own delicious kombucha--your friends and family will think you're a beverage-making genius!
In the next two chapters you'll learn all about kombucha safety and how to properly store your kombucha.