Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Kombucha Project

This past year, I've been obsessed with the fizzy-sour and slightly sweet taste of kombucha; a fermented tea full of nutritional benefits. If you've ever picked up a bottle at Wholefoods or a health food store, then you're familiar with the $3.29 and upwards price tag. After a year of obsession, it became evident (to the powers that be) my habit was fiscally out of control! I watched some YouTubes, read some articles, and dove right into the art of brewing. I even found a brewing buddy on Facebook, and she gave me great tips! Thank you, Amy Thorpe.

My notes are packed with tidbits of golden knowledge that will spare you from the noob mistakes I made. If you're like me and get overly excited about trying new things, it can backfire while brewing. This delicate art requires the right temperatures, accurate pH levels, suitable materials, etc. Seriously consider exchanging your apron for a lab coat and follow the directions carefully so you don't end up throwing out 4 batches, as I did!

Half-gallon size wide mouth mason jar. I bought a 6 pack at Walmart for about $11.00.
7 cups of good quality filtered water
1 cup organic cane sugar
5 teabags of organic green, black, or oolong tea
A scoby
1 cup starter tea OR store bought unflavored kombucha OR 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
Coffee filter or a cut up t-shirt to use as a cover for the mason jar.
Rubber band
Glass bottles with a non-toxic lid. No plastic. Enough for bottling approximately a half-gallon or more if you double the recipe. I save old kombucha bottles or juice bottles purchased at the health food store.
**Recipe yields a half-gallon batch. I usually double the recipe, but I recommend starting out small. Once you get the hang of it and grow another scoby, double the recipe.

Kombucha 101
Scoby is an acronym for symbiotic colony organism of bacteria and yeast. This live little creature looks like a white disc of jelly and before you know it, you'll consider it part of the family. The scoby needs sugar and oxygen for sustenance. In exchange, it produces carbonation, probiotics, and B vitamins as byproducts. A scoby will also produce a trace amount of alcohol, usually less than 1%. It should not affect you unless you have an alcohol sensitivity.

How do you acquire said scoby? My advice is to get one online or from a brewing friend. Do not try to grow one from store bought kombucha, although, I've seen it done on YouTube. I went through 3 batches of tea, and 3 weeks time, trying to grow a scoby and couldn't produce more than a thin fragile layer. If you're successful growing one, please comment below and share the knowledge.

I ordered from poseymom on Amazon and paid about $11.00 including shipping. Three days later I received 2 small scobies wrapped carefully in plastic baggies and surrounded in a small amount of starter tea. The live scobies looked perfectly healthy, white in color. It's possible for a scoby to become contaminated with mold. Always inspect the coloring and if you see anything resembling green or black fuzzy texture, throw it out. Over time, tea will discolor the scoby and it will look brownish in color. It will also produce stringy looking matter. This is completely normal and healthy scoby activity.

Poseymom provided a recipe which I found to be too sweet for my liking. I have reason to believe my scoby may have become dormant in transit or perhaps I should have used store bought kombucha for starter tea instead of white vinegar on my first batch, because it was unusually sweet and sluggish to ferment 16 days in. I altered the recipe by simply using less sugar, and my second batch really kicked into gear and perfectly white smooth baby scobies were forming by day 5. You can imagine my excitement after so many failed attempts!

Directions for Kombucha
Before starting, wash all surfaces and materials any water or tea come in contact with. I run all dishes/utensils used, in the high heat cycle of the dishwasher and I spray them with white vinegar and rinse thoroughly. Soapy residue left behind can injure your scoby. Wash your hands frequently. What you don't want to do, is introduce different cultures of bacteria in the mix.

-Heat 7 cups of good quality filtered water in a pan. Do not use distilled water. Do not use alkalized water. Do not boil! Steeping tea in boiling water will cook away all the healthy beneficial properties of tea. Aim for hot to the touch, about 106 degrees. Transfer the heated water to a glass dish. Do not use plastic. Porcelain may be used so long as it doesn't have lead. Avoid metal coming into contact with your kombucha because it can alter the pH of the brew. I use an anchor glass measuring bowl with spout for easy pouring afterwards to steep the tea bags and later impregnate my tea with the scoby.
-Add 5 tea bags per half gallon of water. Steep for 15 minutes. I used 2 organic green tea and 3 oolong tea bags because it's what I had on hand. After further research, I read it is best to use black tea for the first few batches and then switch to green or oolong. Do not use flavored teas or herbal teas as the oils can injure your scoby.
-Add 1 cup of organic cane sugar and stir with a wooden spoon. Remember no metal. Do not use honey, maple, stevia, or other sugar substitution.
- Cover with a plate or lid to avoid contamination and walk away. Let the tea cool to room temperature. Do not skip this step. High heat will injure the scoby. Ask me how I know that! ;)

Starter tea
 If you do not have starter tea from a previous batch, use 1 cup of store bought unflavored kombucha OR 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar.

After the tea cools to room temp, add in 1 cup of starter tea and the scoby. Stir carefully. This will impregnate the tea with the active cultures from the starter tea and help speed the fermentation along. Transfer the contents to a half-gallon mason jar. Cover with a piece of cotton from a clean t-shirt and secure with a rubber band to protect your brew from fruit flies and debris. Your scoby needs oxygen to survive so make sure to use breathable material. Coffee filters or a paper towel work well, too. Place in a dark cupboard for about a week. The longer it ferments, the less sweet and more acidic it becomes as the scoby is eating away at the sugar. Near 30 days, your brew will become like vinegar in acidity and not so palatable. Taste 5 days in by inserting a clean straw and drawing out liquid. Your first batch may be sluggish. Do you like it? If it's too sweet, wait a couple days, taste again.

After the kombucha reaches your desired sweetness, it's time to bottle. When you bottle kombucha, you are using a lid to trap the carbonation. This is when it really fizzes. I keep a variety of glass bottles stored, for this last step. You can bottle as is, or flavor with fruit juices. Use a funnel or make one by cutting off the top of a 2 litter bottle and pour into your glass bottles. If you choose to flavor, save a cup of unflavored kombucha to store your scoby and use as starter for the next batch.

With so many flavorings to choose from, this next step can be loads of fun! I've flavored my batches with freshly squeezed lemon and ginger, compliments of my juicer. I fill the bottom of each bottle with an inch or two of mostly lemon and a little ginger juice. And then fill the remainder with kombucha.

Do not fill to the very top. Leave about an inch of air. Cover tightly with a lid and place back in a dark cupboard for another couple days for a second fermentation. The longer you wait, the less sweet it becomes, as the active cultures continue to eat away at the sugar. Burp your bottles so they don't explode. I heard it can happen so I burp them. Refrigerate before drinking and consume within a month.

I'm learning as I go and I welcome any edits and corrections. Still very much an amateur, I've made 3 successful batches to date but I couldn't wait to share my experience with you. I must admit, this was the most fun and challenging experience I've had in the kitchen thus far.


Photo Gallery

The finished, long sought-after kombucha!

This is the anchor dish I use. Holds 8 cups.
Impregnating the tea with the scoby.

I used a clean cut up t-shirt for a cover and rubber band to secure it.
Five days after bottling, I saw this perfectly formed, smooth white baby!

My collection of glass bottles


  1. In the inoculation step, I'm curious if you leave the mother scoby in the batch or remove it after impregnating the tea for fermentation. Also, I assume you end up with a number of new baby scoby when all is said and done. What do you do with them? If you keep and feed them, what is that process? How do you maintain a scoby if you take a break from brewing, like going on vacation?

    1. Hi Kari. I leave the mother scoby in the batch until fermentation is complete and yes, I get a new baby every time. I had to take a break from brewing this month so I'm glad you asked. I moved from Oklahoma to Florida and carried them with me on the road trip. I kept them in a jar, covered by a cloth and transported them in a thermos. For longterm storage say, more than a month you can keep them refrigerated in glass covered with a cloth. The cold slows down the metabolic process. What you don't want is for them to run out of sugar and get malnourished. If it smells too much like vinegar, add sweet tea to it. So far, I have 6 or 7 babies I'm storing. Eventually, I will give them away to friends. Right now, I'm excited to try brewing big batches and experimenting with more flavors. Great question!

  2. Thanks for the reply and input!! I thought of another question for you regarding the storage of the kombucha after all brewing is completed. I assume I can store these in any glass container with a screw on lid and keep in a refridge until consumed up to one month. Will I need to burp these bottles during the month? These is no "canning" process to be done to the final kombucha?