Small Life, Slow Life: DIY – How to Make Kombucha! {Photos, Recipe, Resources!} (Updated 04-01-13)

It's so much easier than you think to make your own kombucha - I was blown away!

It’s so much easier than you think to make your own kombucha – I was blown away!

I’ve been wanting to make my own kombucha for a very long time!

I actually began a batch late last year – I grew my own SCOBY (that’s a symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast, for the newbs) from scratch and had transferred it to sweetened tea and was just days away from taking my first sip – but then life intervened and the whole batch got flushed down the drain. Sadness!

I tried using the same brew method when I was in my new place, but found that I couldn’t get a SCOBY to even begin growing. What gives?

Well, since the whole “there’s alcohol in kombucha” ordeal happened, distributors changed the formula and now it’s nearly impossible to grow a SCOBY from just a bottle of kombucha and sweetened tea, like you used to be able to.

I’d heard from Food Renegade and other places that you could order a healthy SCOBY from a place called Kombucha Kamp, where the owner, Hannah Crum, had perfected the SCOBY growing method. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to make the almost $30 investment in a SCOBY during a financially lean time.

I’ve mentioned here that I suffered from a host of stomach problems last year, and it was really when they began to return recently that I took a hard look at my diet and what had cured my stomach problems last time.

Some combination of these things stopped my stomach distress:

- Giving up gluten and most other grains (I eat white rice on occasion)
- Giving up sugar of all kinds, including fruit
- Giving up all alcohol (except for the little bit in kombucha)
- Adding one bottle of daily kombucha to my diet, sometimes more

In the early part of this year, I’d lost a lot of weight and went a little overboard with trying to put it back on. After a few weeks of eating candy and bread when I wanted to, my stomach loudly complained and I cut them out. But I still had tummy troubles, and I decided that the healthy probiotics in kombucha had probably healed me more than anything else.

With that in mind, investing the $25 in a SCOBY from Kombucha Kamp was a no brainer.

It arrived in just a matter of days and let me tell you, this thing was bigger and much scarier than any SCOBY I’d been able to grow on my own!

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At well over an inch thick, this thing (which I later named “Big Mama”) scared the crap out of me!

The instructions included with the SCOBY were remarkably simple – much simpler than the ones I’d been following online last year. I’m pleased to report that Big Mama took well to my batch of brewed sweetened tea and a new baby SCOBY was growing healthily on top of the mixture in a matter of days!

Baby Boocha SCOBY, growing happily on top. Big Mama is lurking in the depths below, turning sweet tea into a magic healing potion.

Baby Boocha SCOBY, growing happily on top. Big Mama is lurking in the depths below, turning sweet tea into a magic healing potion.

It took just eight days to brew the most fizzy, delicious kombucha I’ve ever had. It tastes almost like apple juice and I am in love. Big Mama and Baby Boocha are back in a new batch of tea as we speak.

So, are you ready to take the plunge? Brewing this stuff is easier than you think!

What you’ll need:

- 4-5 bags of organic green or black tea (black tea adds a stronger flavor; green tea is more subtle – you can feel free to mix the two! Avoid teas with oils or other flavorings)
– 1 gallon brewing vessel, preferably a glass jar. You can use an old pickle jar or buy a glass sun tea jar. I found some really cheap 1-gallon jars at a health food store, but have seen them at regular grocery stores (Ralphs/Kroeger) too
– Kombucha SCOBY
– 1-2 cups brewing liquid (aka kombucha – but be careful what you use here – store-bought brands may no longer work as well. If you order a SCOBY through Kombucha Kamp, they’ll send you the liquid you need included with the SCOBY)
– A clean cotton towel and a rubber band
– Clean hands – and clean them with vinegar, not soap

Okay, so! Here are the simplest kombucha instructions ever, courtesy of Kombucha Kamp:

1. Boil 4 cups of purified water. (Purified means filtered & without chlorine. If your filter doesn’t dechlorinate, simply place 4-ish cups of filtered water out and let it sit overnight. This is important – chlorine will harm your brew).

2. Just as the water begins to boil, turn off the heat. Let cool for 1-2 minutes. Add the boiled water to your brewing vessel.

3. Add 4-5 bags of the organic tea of your choice to the brewing vessel. Let steep 5-10 minutes.

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4. Remove tea bags. Add one cup of sugar (I use unbleached organic cane sugar – yes, it must be cane sugar, and don’t worry because your SCOBY “eats” it so you don’t have to) and mix until dissolved.

5. Add 8 cups of purified (sans chlorine) water to the mixture. This should cool everything down so that the tea is around room temperature. Test with your (clean) finger – if the water is cooler than your finger, you’re good to go. If it’s still too warm, let it sit, covered with a cloth, for 30 minutes and test again.

6. GENTLY add kombucha SCOBY and starting liquid.

7. Cover the mouth of the jar with a cotton towel and secure with a rubber band. Place the mixture somewhere dark that has ventilation – mine sits right under my sink with the cabinet door open, but on top of the fridge or on a counter will work as well.

8. Check your kombucha everyday. After a few days, you will notice a new baby SCOBY growing on top – this is good! Each batch you make will grow a baby SCOBY and once they’re mature, you can give them to friends to share the kombucha love!

Here’s how my kombucha progressed as the days went on. You can see the little baby SCOBY growing! By day 8, the kombucha tasted exactly how I wanted it and I bottled it up!

9. The Hippie Truth – When I grew my SCOBY last year, my man and I sang to it, told it we loved it, and did other slightly kooky hippie-ish things, like leaving a little post-it note with a heart drawn on it on the jar. It had been growing slowly, and I suggested as kind of a joke that we tell it we love it everyday. (Don’t laugh at me – I’d heard about this and was serious!) And, placebo effect or not – the SCOBY started growing like crazy after that!

I was really surprised when I got my how-to from Kombucha Kamp and Hannah had suggested the same thing! She suggests blessing the kombucha, singing to the SCOBY, playing it music, etc! “Good vibes, crystals, happy music, and talking or singing to your Kombucha will encourage positive growth. Your SCOBY is a living organism – treat it with care and it will be your booch buddy for life!” Hey – whatever works, right? I happen to get very attached to my SCOBYs (read below – I got unbelievably worried when I feared that I had to save mine from a certain bacteria) and I feel connected with them!

So anyway, I say hello to my SCOBY everyday and, um, every once in a while, you might  catch me putting my iPhone under the sink and playing it happy music. Whatever.

10. After about a week, gently stick a clean straw under the baby SCOBY and take a sip. If it has the sweet/sour punch of kombucha, you’re done! If it’s still too sweet, check every other day until it tastes right!

Bottling

What you’ll need:

- 5-7 Glass bottles (I recycle my store-bought kombucha bottles – avoid bottles with a metal lid that can corrode)
– Clean bowl and clean cotton towel
– Ladle
– Funnel
– New batch of sweetened tea

When your kombucha is mature, you’ll need to follow the steps below:

1. With clean hands, remove baby and mama SCOBY and set them in a clean bowl. Pour 2 cups of your mature kombucha over the top – this is your starting liquid for your next batch. Cover with a clean cloth towel and set aside.

2. Place a funnel in a glass kombucha bottle. (Note: My 1-gallon jars, minus the two cups of starter liquid, yielded me about 5 1/2 bottles. Once you have two mature SCOBYs, you can brew at the same time in different 1-gallon jars and make more.) You can use a regular old funnel, though I bought my funnel from Target and it has a built-in strainer so I can avoid the little yeasty parts:

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3. Ladle your kombucha into each bottle.

4. If you’re going to do a second fermentation, now is the time to do so. You can add a little fresh fruit, dried fruit or fruit juice at this point. The fructose adds to the yummy fizz most kombucha has, so if that’s the part you love, you’ll probably want to do a second ferment. I’m not too experienced with this yet, so you can find some great resources for a second ferment here, here and here. I personally want to make a cherry lime flavor and a pineapple/coconut water flavor!

5. If you’re not doing a second ferment, you have a few choices – you can seal up your bottles nice and tight and place them in a box or other container (reason? sometimes bottles EXPLODE as they keep fermenting – yikes). You can then “burp” the bottles once every day. This process will increase the carbonation of your brew. Keep tasting them to avoid them getting too vinegar-y for your liking. Or, you can stick them right in the fridge to slow the fermenting process and enjoy at your leisure!

YUM!

A note on water: MAKE SURE you have a really good filter! My first batch of kombucha tasted amazing, but it had a sliiiiiight sulfur smell to it. It freaked me out, and for me, it made the batch undrinkable! Some municipal water systems can create this smell in your brew. It seems to be safe, but I changed my water filter to avoid this issue. For my second batch, I bought distilled water & boiled it to be safe. (There’s a link on good water filter resources below.)

If you love kombucha the way that I do, you’ll find that brewing is super easy and really inexpensive. The whole process is really, really fun. I documented the progress on facebook and I’ve had more requests for samples than I can handle! I was surprised how many friends asked that I tell them how to do this or to give them my baby SCOBYs. Kombucha is a great health drink that is super fun to share. I’ve left you a number of links below so you can learn more. (The only thing I’m really an expert at is drinking it!)

Recommended Reading 

Kombucha Kamp – The Benefits of Drinking Kombucha. This list is amazing!

Kombucha Kamp – Brewing Safety Tips. A TOTAL must-read. I did several things wrong when I was brewing last year.

Food Renegade – Double Fermentation Process. An equally good resource!

Holistic Squid – How to Make Kombucha (A Visual Guide). Another super good resource.

Holistic Squid – Has My SCOBY Gone Bad (and other Kombucha Questions Answered) – ‘Nuff said.

Village Green Marketplace – Water Filter Options
. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you either buy distilled water or purchase a nice water filter. My BRITA, along with letting the water sit overnight, wasn’t enough to stop a sulfur, rotten-egg-like smell from coming from my first batch. Some resources say you can have sulfur in your tap water – others say this is a kind of bacteria that grows that gives off the sulfur smell! I didn’t know which was the case, but I had to assume it was bacteria just to be safe. I had to go into overtime to save my SCOBY, including soaking it in distilled vinegar overnight. Don’t spend $25 on a SCOBY just to get attached to it and have your heart break! Do it right with a pure water source the first time.

Has kombucha helped your health? How so? 

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5 thoughts on “Small Life, Slow Life: DIY – How to Make Kombucha! {Photos, Recipe, Resources!} (Updated 04-01-13)

  1. Pingback: Small Life, Slow Life: What to Do When Your Body Says No. {Plus Link Love!} | small life, slow life

  2. Pingback: Small Life, Slow Life: How I Got My Ex Back. (Seriously.) | small life, slow life

  3. Thanks for the fun and easy-to-follow instructions for home brewing kombucha! I started drinking it a few weeks ago and think it’s delicious. But the cost per bottle was really putting a crimp in the wallet. I’m super excited to try this out!

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