Once a happy SCOBY is obtained, making kombucha–that fermented tea that’s cropping up all over the place these days–is a simple matter of a little bit of work and a lot of patience.
To make kombucha, you’ll need a few ingredients. These ingredients will need to be conglomerated into a SCOBY house–some sort of glass or lead-free ceramic jar. How much kombucha you make depends on how much you want and, more importantly, how much room you have.
- Black tea. Go for plain black tea. Definitely don’t use anything that has oils like Earl Grey. The SCOBY doesn’t like oils and it’ll make it go rancid. Some people like to use high quality tea, but I have no problems with using something like Red Rose–one of those brands where you can buy, like, 100 tea bags for $2.
- White sugar. Other sugars could potentially be used, but white sugar is the easiest for the SCOBY to eat. Definitely don’t use honey, and don’t use any sort of artificial sweetener like corn syrup.
- Water. Pretty self explanatory. Most people recommend using distilled water, but I haven’t had any problems with tap water. If you come from an area with bad tap water, use an alternate source.
- Kombucha vinegar OR kombucha from your previous batch. Don’t throw away the liquid stuff used to make your SCOBY! It needs something acidic to get the process going. After you make your first batch, use some of the kombucha from a previous batch for this purpose.
The general ratio is 8 tea bags and 1 cup of sugar and about 1 1/2 cups (10%) of kombucha vinegar for 1 gallon of water. So, for half a gallon you’d need 4 tea bags, 1/2 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of kombucha vinegar. You get the idea. Don’t try to skimp on the sugar. You’ll starve your SCOBY.
A few notes before we get to the concoction: make sure to clean everything as well as possible before using it. The SCOBY is a colony of bacteria and yeast, and you don’t want it to get infected by something nasty. It’s pretty difficult to corrupt a SCOBY, but it is possible. Clean it real well, pour boiling water over it, etc. If you use soap, make sure it’s rinsed off real well, however, because SCOBYs don’t like soap either.
Also, don’t let your SCOBY touch metal. As I am writing this, I am realizing that SCOBYs are finicky little guys. It’s fine to use metal to heat up the water or stir the tea, but don’t use metal on your SCOBY.
That being said, let’s make some tea!
- Heat up half the water, either in a pot on the stove or in a kettle.
- Add the tea bags and the sugar to the boiling water. Make sure the sugar completely dissolves. Let the tea brew for a good long while. It should be nice and strong.
- Once the tea is brewed, take the tea bags out and add the rest of the water. It should be cold, or at least room temperature, which should make the tea about room temperature. If it isn’t room temperature, wait until it is.
- If it isn’t in there already, pour the tea into whatever receptacle you’re using and add kombucha from your previous batch.
- Put the SCOBY in! It should float on the surface, but if it sinks that’s fine–it will make absolutely no difference.
- Cover the opening with a coffee filter or towel. The mixture needs to breath while keeping flies out.
That’s it! Kombucha making isn’t for the impatient, however: it has to be left for a good while. The longer you leave it, the more sugar the SCOBY will convert and eat, so the less sweet and more acidic it’ll be. Most people leave theirs for a week or two. I prefer to leave mine for about three weeks. Don’t leave it for more then about four weeks though–the SCOBY will eat all of the sugar and you’ll be left with sour vinegary stuff.
When you’ve decided it’s done brewing, take the SCOBY out, pour off a reasonable amount of liquid to use in the next batch, and bottle the rest of the kombucha in glass or ceramic jars and close them up tight. This is called the second ferment. At this point, you can add any sort of flavoring you want–lemon and ginger, juice, etc. The longer you leave it, the more it’ll ferment. So if you aren’t going to drink it within a week or two, refrigerate it so it’ll last longer.
And there you go! Kombucha for less than it costed to buy the starter.
Next time: an overabundance of SCOBYs? Ideas for experimental kombucha flavors.
- Don’t throw those extra SCOBYs away! Here is how to make a SCOBY hotel for backup kombucha buddies.
- This article (and ones linked on the bottom) go further in-depth than I did here.
- This busts many myths about kombucha and goes into the science involved. It’s the most informative article that I have read on the topic.
- Cultures for Health provides SCOBYs for sale and a lot of free information about kombucha. Additionally, if you make an account for their website, you can get access to free ebooks about kombucha among other topics.