Learn these quick and simple tips to have fool proof brews. By using these simple steps with the kombucha recipe below, you’ll have a continuous kombucha brew process in place
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Kombucha is one of my favorite beverages, and I’ve been drinking it for years, even before it was trendy and well before hard kombucha came out. It wasn’t until recently that we began brewing our own kombucha at home. Making kombucha is really simple. When I started brewing kombucha, many people asked what tools and ingredients I use, and how to get started. I decided to compile a list of all the things I use so you can have successful brews.
Table of Contents
What is Kombucha and Why You Should Drink It:
The History and Benefits
Kombucha has become quite the trend in recent years as people become more concerned and aware of their health. And why shouldn’t we drink kombucha?! It’s a beverage brewed for thousands of years that’s jampacked with lots of benefits. Kombucha is a low sugar, carbonated, fermented tea, made by bacteria and yeast. Many different cultures have made it for thousands of years. The collection of bacteria and yeast is known as a SCOBY, also known as symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. SCOBY is used during fermentation to break down the sugar and tea.
Fermentation goes back 9,000 years and used throughout history in different cultures from Egypt to China to Rome, as a means to preserve all sorts of goods like wine, beer, vegetables, and kombucha. It is a chemical process in which molecules like glucose, break down anaerobically, causing it to become effervescent, or carbonated. (We’ll get into carbonation specifically while discussing bottling kombucha.) There is a minimal amount of alcohol content in kombucha in comparison to wine and beer. However, there are slowly more “hard” kombucha’s entering the market. This blog post and subsequent ones will only cover traditionally made kombucha and does not delve into hard kombucha.
Probiotics, or live good bacterias and yeasts, are important for maintaining healthy digestion. An overabundance of bad bacteria in the gut, for example caused by an infection, can throw our systems out of balance. By incorporating good bacteria, it allows our bodies to get rid of any bad bacteria that may exist. Science is slowly discovering more and more about how the gut’s effects on our overall health, including our mental health.
Recommended Articles for Gut Health
If you’d like to learn more about this connection, I highly suggest researching the gut microbiome. There are two great articles that I recommend reading:
- The Gut Microbiome and the Brain by Leo Galland who discusses the influence of the microbiome on memory, mood, and cognition.
- The Gut Microbiome and Mental Health: What Should We Tell Our Patients?: Le microbiote Intestinal et la Santé Mentale : que Devrions-Nous dire à nos Patients? by Mary I Butler, Sabrina Mörkl, Kiran V Sandhu, John F Cryan , and Timothy G Dinan. The article discusses using the gut microbiome as a potential therapeutic target for mental illness.
How to Get Started: What ingredients do you need to make kombucha?
To get started with brewing, there are few things you need. I’ve compiled a list of all the items I purchased and have been using. Our first kit we started was not successful, but that’s ok. We learned from our mistakes and took note of them and haven’t had a failed batch since. With the first batch, we simply did not have the correct conditions (I’ll be reviewing the right conditions down below). Having the correct conditions for the brew are very important. If it is too cold, mold will most likely form and it will ruin the whole batch, which is what happened to our first batch. If it is too hot, it will kill the bacteria and yeast.
What You’ll Need
- Glass gallon jar – it is highly recommended that you don’t use plastic and instead use glass. Plastic can leach chemicals into the ferment. While looking for glass, you want to be aware of lead being used to make the glass. These jars are made in the USA, and they are are USDA certified for brewing.
Suggested jars: Paksh Novelty 1-Gallon Glass Jar Wide Mouth with Airtight Metal Lid
- Glass flip top bottles – although it is possible to bottle and ferment in plastic bottles during the second fermentation. I selected the below bottles since these explicitly state they are lead free. It is also very helpful to have flip top bottles when they have to be burped.
Suggested bottles: Bormioli Rocco Giara Swing Top Bottles 33 ¾ Ounce/1 Liter (6 Pack)
- Breathable cover: When the brew is going through the first fermentation, a breathable cover will be needed. The brew will need to breath, but not allow any foreign objects or dirt/dust to get through. Not getting anything in the brew is important since anything that falls in will contaminate it. We use organic unbleached cotton fabric that’s multi-layered. It can be used for other items in the household which is why I chose this type of fabric.
- Heating Wrap (optional) – if it is cooler in your home, you may want to grab a heating wrap. The heating wrap we use has an adjustable temperature and comes with a thermometer that adheres to the outside of the jar.
Note: We started brewing in the winter/spring and the first batch we attempted wasn’t any good. It grew mold because the room where it was kept wasn’t the correct temperature.
- pH meter (optional) – it is suggested to use a pH meter to test the brew’s acidity. However, we haven’t had a need to use it. Instead we taste test the brew.
- Rubber band – used to secure the cloth around the rim of the jar.
- Thermometer strip – the thermometer strip goes along the side of the brewing jar. The strip makes it easy for temperature readings instead of disturbing the jar with a thermometer inserted into it.
- Brewing Live Culture– the easiest way to get started is by having purchasing the brewing live culture. Yes, there are ways to start your own SCOBY, but that will be shared about in a separate blog post. The one we purchased is organic and makes one gallon of kombucha. Essentially, you’ll need a a kombucha home brew kit.
We use(d) the Fermentaholics ORGANIC Kombucha SCOBY With Twelve Ounces of Starter Tea , which can be purchased on Amazon.
- Black tea – it’s recommended to brew with black tea. It’s possible to brew with green tea, but brews will come out better with black tea.
- Cane Sugar – you’ll need 1 cup of sugar per gallon. Don’t worry, the SCOBY will feed off of the sugar during the process to the point where there is barely any sugar. This is not a sugary drink. In my research, sugar substitutes do not usually work very well when making kombucha.
- 14 cups of filtered water – it’s important to use filtered water and not water from the tap if you are connected to city water. City water is treated with chlorine and is still present in your water when it comes out of the tap. Using water with chlorine in it will kill the SCOBY.
What a Kombucha Starter Kit May Look Like
The Live Culture
The live culture we used from Fermentaholics was super simple to use. The package comes with a SCOBY in a packet of mature, active tea starter. For each brew you start, a batch of tea from a previous brew, or the brew from kombucha kit, is added. It brews a gallon of kombucha, which is a great deal. Buying individual bottles of kombucha from the store costs $5 to $6. The package includes instructions on how to add everything into your brewing jar.
The SCOBY is definitely one of the weirdest looking things. It basically looks like a glob of snot. It’s not the most appetizing thing to look at, to be honest. You could equate it to “the mother” in apple cider vinegar. It has a dense, rubbery-like texture and a tan color. It should have a vinegar smell to it, and should not smell moldy or like cheese. During fermentation, the SCOBY will convert sugar into alcohol, which then further breaks down into enzymes and vitamins.
After just starting with one SCOBY, it split into two (!), and we then started brewing two gallons at a time. Since we were drinking so much kombucha, it just made sense to naturally brew two. With the two gallons, we’re able to fill all 6 of our glass flip top bottles, since we leave room at the top for the kombucha to accumulate carbonation during the bottling process.
A common question is about the positioning of the SCOBY. If it does not float in the brewing jar, that’s ok. There is no right or wrong position for the SCOBY to be in.
Kombucha Recipe: The First Step to Brewing Kombucha, or the First Ferment
The brew is known as the first ferment. Before starting the brew, the glass jar needs to be washed to ensure cleanliness and that there are no contaminants. Be careful not to use anti-bacterial soap. Since the SCOBY has live bacteria and yeast, anti-bacterial soap kills all bacteria, whether it’s good or bad.
If you have a live culture package, follow the instructions of the kombucha recipe closely. A tip that we learned when adding all of the ingredients is the order in which to add the steeped tea, sugar, and the remaining water. After boiling the water and then steeping the tea, we add the tea into the brewing jar, followed by the sugar. Add the tea and the sugar first. This allows the sugar to dissolve in the hot liquid.
To have a successful brew, the temperature should be between 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that reach 90+ degrees Fahrenheit will kill the SCOBY. If the temperature in your home is colder, it is best to use the heating wrap mentioned above. The wrap is really helpful in maintaining the temperature since if it becomes too cold, it can lead to mold issues. The kombucha can then sit for 7 to 21 days, depending on the temperature. Keep the jar our of sunlight and in a dark room. It’s important to not fuss with the jar while the brew is fermenting as it disrupts the SCOBY. After all, the SCOBY has live organisms and it’s like disturbing their home.
Remember, cold equals mold.
During the first ferment, you may see some bubble begin to accumulate.
The Next Steps: After Brewing
After the kombucha has completed the first ferment, it will then be time to bottle it. This is probably my favorite part of the process (besides tasting it!) since it’s during the bottling stage that you get to flavor your drink any way you’d like. There are a variety of different flavors that you can choose from. It is also during this stage that the kombucha will become carbonated. Since the bottles have caps on them, the released carbon dioxide can be captured.
By following each of these steps, kombucha can be continuously brewed. After removing the SCOBY from the gallon jar, you can start to brew another batch of kombucha while your first brew is in the flavoring stage.
- What is the main ingredient in a kombucha recipe?
The main ingredient for making kombucha is the SCOBY. Without this important group of bacteria, you won’t have kombucha!
- How long does kombucha ferment?
It can take up to as long as 20 days for the entire process, from the first fermenting to the second ferment to carbonate it. If you are making your own SCOBY, then it will take longer.
- Can you make your own SCOBY and how do you make one?
Yes! You can either buy a brew kit which includes the SCOBY, or you can make your own. To make the SCOBY, all you need is filtered water, sugar, black tea, and an unpasteurized store bought kombucha. Recipe coming soon!
- How long does the SCOBY last?
Technically a SCOBY can be used for many years, but realistically, it will most likely last for 6 to 9 months. It also depends on whether you keep it well-maintained, i.e. fed and stored in the right conditions if you’re not brewing. If you’re not brewing, the SCOBY can go into dormancy and then stored. A SCOBY is no longer able to brew if you notice it has changed a dark brown color, grows an excessive amount of yeast, develops mold, or begins producing kombucha that doesn’t taste good or too acidic.
- What happens if you put in too much sugar?
If too much sugar is used, the brew can become overrun with bacteria, or it will not progress in the fermenting process.
- Can other types of sugars be used to brew the kombucha?
Although there are some recipes that list sugar substitutes and do not use sugar cane, in my research, I have found that sugar cane is the best type of sugar to use. It’s important to remember that the SCOBY is a living being (even though it may not look like it!) Other types of sugar do not seem to provide an adequate amount of feeding in comparison.
Find out in the next post what our favorite flavor has been so far!
What flavor do you think is our favorite? Share below in the comments!