The Magic of Making Kombucha: The Mainbrew Way
So you want to make your own Kombucha? What exactly is it? What is a SCOBY, and what the heck is it all about? This brief walkthrough should get you through the basics of Kombucha, and get you to a point where you are comfortable creating your own Kombucha for a fraction of what you pay at the store. There are endless recipes for Kombucha, but here’s what you will need for 1 gallon:
1 gallon wide-mouth Glass Jar
Pot for boiling
1 Cup cane sugar
1 gallon Water
Cheesecloth or a breathable fabric
PH test strips recommended
Let’s break it down. Kombucha itself is a tangy, fermented tea beverage. Most fermented beverages tend to have an Alcohol-By-Volume (ABV) over 4%, however, due to the dual fermentation process of the Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY), Kombucha naturally falls in the 0-3% ABV range. The SCOBY is a rather unusual looking colony of microorganisms working together to turn sweet tea into a vinegar-like beverage. The yeast within the SCOBY gets to work first, fermenting the sugar into alcohol, and giving off Carbon Dioxide as a bi-product. As the yeast does its thing, the bacteria (Acetobacter) has a job of its own: turning the alcohol into acetic acid. Because of this complex process of change, it takes our southern-style sweet tea, and transforms it into a light, clean, thirst-quenching, carbonated beverage.
After that high school science crash course, you may be feeling uneasy about how difficult it actually is to make the stuff. In reality, if you can make Kool- Aid, you already have all the skills you will need. So let’s get started.
To make 1 gallon of Kombucha, we will start with cleaning and sanitizing all of our equipment. This includes our fermenter, boil pot, and any hardware you may use to aid with transferring your kombucha. Cleaning involves stripping away organic/physical matter and can be done with brewer’s cleaner or Oxygen based agents. Sanitizing takes care of microbes that cleaners don’t kill. Star-san or iodophor works well, as well as distilled white vinegar in a pinch.
Bring 2 quarts of your favorite water to a boil and turn off the heat. Next we add in our “food source” for our SCOBY: Sugar. Cane sugar, Brown sugar, Honey, Malt extract, virtually any sugar source should work for Kombucha; however, the amounts added and the final flavor of your Kombucha may vary. For 1 gallon of ‘Booch, I use 1 cup of regular cane sugar. When your sugar has fully dissolved, we add tea for flavor. 5 teabags per gallon steeped for about 5 minutes or so is just about perfect. I just use cheap, black, teabags, which contribute an apple cider vinegar taste in the final product. Do not over-steep your bags. Over-steeping gives off bitter, astringent tannins and are not good eats. Fish out your teabags and add 2 quarts of cold water to bring the temperature down to hopefully around 95°F, and one full gallon of sweet tea. If you don’t quite fall that low in temperature, be patient. Stir your tea and wait for the temperature to drop. Once your tea is below 95°, transfer it to your fermentation vessel and drop in your SCOBY. A SCOBY purchased from MAINBREW will have enough mature Kombucha (or “Starter Liquid”) to lower the PH slightly so the SCOBY can get to work quickly and effectively. The SCOBY will look odd (I promise) and that’s fine. Let it work out its new environment, and don’t fuss with it too much. Cover with a breathable fabric, such as cheesecloth, and let sit between 65°- 85°f.
Over the next 10-14 days (or longer!) your SCOBY will reproduce and grow a new SCOBY right on the surface of the tea. Do not be alarmed if it has a slight sour aroma, its perfectly normal, as well as some bizarre bacterial formations. The only growth-related concern involves mold: anything blue or fuzzy is a telltale sign to dump your whole batch (and SCOBY) and try again. Fortunately, this is a very rare occurrence, and I have yet to ever see this happen. Kombucha naturally acidifies itself, and PH test strips are recommended as open air fermentation allows other yeast/bacteria to thrive in environments above 3.5PH, so once your ‘Booch drops below that acid level, it’s safe to drink.
You are totally fine drinking your Kombucha as-is, but if you want an extra kick of carbonation, or to evolve those flavors one step further, you will need to transfer it to an airtight container. Flip-top bottles are a staple in the ‘Booch brewers world, but realistically you can use almost anything that can hold pressure. Be sure to save back the SCOBY from the top of your fermenter, as well as 1-2 cups of mature Kombucha.
For bottling plain Kombucha, simply add a bit of the sugar you used initially, dissolved if needed. The size of your vessel changes how much sugar to add, but a good starting point is 5% of your bottle should be sugar, or a teaspoon or so into a 500ml bottle. As you become more familiar with this process, you may find you desire more or less carbonation, and feel free to tinker with the dosage, but be wary: too much sugar will cause fermentation to restart and may lead to explosive results.
If flavored Kombucha is more your speed, you may flavor and sweeten in one fell swoop. The easiest solution is to use blended fruit or fruit juice, but you can also flavor it without sugar (such as with mint, lemon, even gin or rum) and just add in a bit of sugar for the spritz factor.
! Once our bottles are appropriately incorporated with sugar, let them sit out at room temperature for about 3 days. This gives whatever yeast are still around one last chance for food, and enough time to break down the sugar and give off CO2 gas once again. The Carbon Dioxide should pressurize the bottle just enough to carbonate the ‘Booch a little further without blowing up your bottles. NEVER open a warm bottle of ‘Booch, as it may spray everywhere. Leaving it in the fridge helps reduce that chance as well as opening your bottles slowly. You may also discover baby SCOBY’s in the neck of your bottle, do not be alarmed, they are harmless to drink/eat, and may even propagate future generations of Kombucha!
Finally, I tend to think of making Kombucha more of a “Culinary Art”, than a “Fermentation Science”, though it is very much of both worlds. So have fun, play around with recipes, and experiment a little. Your only limit for flavor combinations is your own imagination. Happy Brewing!