Let's Talk Kombucha

April 7, 2022

 I've been drinking kombucha since 2009, and was in the crowd of people who were devastated when it was taken off the market around 2010. If you love fermented foods, this is the mother of all of them. An ancient Chinese tea concoction full of probiotics and acetic acid. It's fizzy and tastes amazing. 

And healthy. It's healthy. 

With the constant rise in kombucha prices I had been wanting to get into making my own. This fall I ran into a friend who said she could give me a scoby and get me started on my first batch. 

I really thought that there was no way that this could be easy, I mean seriously... I blew up a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge. That wasn't easy and smelled like it might poison me. 

But kombucha, it's easy. Just find a friend who is willing to give you some plain starter tea and a scoby and you are good to go. 

The Scoby Hotel

The little jar in the front, that's my scoby hotel. It's a nice little place to grow replacement scoby and ferment some tea to the point of vinegar. 

You'll only need to add a new 2 cups of tea sweetened with a cup of sugar once every two months or so. Some say one month, but with our weather, two months gave me a really strong vinegar that could also be used as a starter tea for someone else. 

Any small scoby you initially put into your hotel doesn't have to be perfect. While it is allowed to sit and ferment for an extended period of time it will develop new layers of scoby and grow to the size of the jar. 

Here's an up close view of my hotel. You can see at the top where a second layer has started. 

Just make sure when you are replacing/feeding the kombucha that you keep 2 cups of the kombucha that has been fermented to add to the 2 cups of sweet tea at all times.

The Scoby

As this baby grows to the size of whatever jar you put it in, you will see new scoby forming. (some people call this a pellicle) 

The darker bits are the older scoby, stained from the tea. The newer bits are a cloudy white. 

As this scoby ages and grows you will want to peel off older bits and discard them. Sometimes you'll want to thin your scoby if it becomes too thick... just add those bits to your hotel. 

And finally, how I make my kombucha tea every week. 

The Kombucha Process 

I like to continuous brew and keep my ferment to one week for each step. I'll add links to exactly what I use on each item. Here's my process: 

Sunday - Boil two cups of water, add in one cup of sugar (I used an organic unbleached sugar) and 5 tea bags. These need to be caffeinated and not flavored. Black, white tea, and green tea work best. Let the sweet tea cool down to room temperature completely. I tend to do this in the morning. 

(On a side note, nothing will kill your brew faster than earl grey tea. The bergamot isn't your friend. Do not use herbal teas. It's really best to stick to quality teas. Prince of Peace offers great tea that is also organic for very reasonable prices.) 

Sunday Evening: Once the tea is completely cool I will get out my large measuring cup, two large mason jars, a small dessert plate to hold my scoby, and a funnel. At this point I wash my hands and the pie plate off with white vinegar, antibacterial soaps will kill your scoby. I take off my coffee filter that protects my jar, and grab the scoby out with my clean hands, placing it on my small plate. 

(detailed much lol) 

Reserve two cups of your kombucha in one of the mason jars. Using your large measuring cup, pour the kombucha into the containers you will use for your second ferment. (that big gallon of kombucha is considered the F1 or first ferment) I use old GT Synergy Kombucha bottles, these will go about a year before I need to replace them. Every week I get about 5 16 ounce bottles filled and then one bottle has 8 ounces of kombucha. I like to decant my kombucha into that Pyrex measuring cup and pour it through a funnel into the GT bottles. 

After I have poured all of my first ferment kombucha into their bottles I will add my flavoring, tightly seal the lids, and store them in a dark cabinet for one week. Daily you should "burp" your bottles and let off a bit of the carbonation to prevent them from exploding like champagne when you finally decide to open them. This also let's you gauge how carbonated you want your tea to be. 

Now on to the big gallon jar again - from here I pour my 2 cups of cooled sweet tea, and  2 cups of kombucha in my jar. Next I fill the jar up with filtered water, put my scoby back into the jar, place the coffee filter back on top and secure it with a rubber band. 

This big jar of kombucha will sit in a dark corner of the house, undisturbed, for one solid week. Until I start the process over next Sunday. (You don't have to do Sunday, that's just my day that I swap it all over.) 

How Long Can I Ferment my F1? 

You can let your first ferment go anywhere from 7-21 days. Keep in mind though that the longer it ferments, the higher the alcohol content (all fermented foods contain alcohol as a by product), and the more sour it tastes. 

I have been sticking to a 7 day ferment. That is just long enough to reap the benefits of the acetic acid and develop the probiotics. It also allows the kombucha to eat up most of that sugar. I recently saw an interview with Dave from GT where he was talking about how companies solved the alcohol content crisis of 2010 that pulled kombucha from shelves. Some bought million dollar machines to remove the high alcohol content and pasteurize the kombucha after a 21 day ferment. Dave chose to just lower his first ferment to 7 days and this kept the alcohol level down to super market standards. 

If 7 days is good enough for Dave, 7 days is good enough for me. 

The benefit to this is that if you have to go over a day or two due to the happenings of daily life, it's no big deal. However, the batch I was making when Dad passed away had a back bite that tasted like beer because I had let it ferment about two weeks. 

But don't worry, even if you fermented if for 21 days the alcohol content would be so low that you'd have to drink 24 16 ounce bottles to feel the effects. Before you ever hit that 24th bottle you'd be visiting the bathroom for what that much kombucha would do to you stomach anyway. 

What I've Learned from Flavorings 

When you have your second ferment going, and it's brewing away with a touch of flavoring added, it's important to have a touch of sugar in there for good measure. No, I don't literally mean to add more sugar. Instead use juices or fruits that will add some natural sugar. Just enough for the kombucha to feed off of it and create that signature fizz. 

My favorites flavoring by far is blueberry ginger. 

I've made this by cooking blueberries down into a syrup, or even using organic blueberry juice. This pas week I used only ginger, and while it has an amazingly smooth gingery taste it is lacking majorly in the fizz department. 

Too little sugar for that F2. 

I tried apple twice, it was no bueno. Something about how it fermented at home caused a high sulfur content and it smelled awful. Too much lemon also causes this, but if you get it right the lemon/ginger is great. 

This summer I would like to try lavendar/honey or lavendar/lemon

That about wraps this up. If you have any questions about kombucha, or live close enough that you'd like some of mine... let me know!