“To ferment your own food is to lodge a small but eloquent protest - on behalf of the senses and the microbes - against the homogenization of flavors and food experiences now rolling like a great, undifferentiated lawn across the globe. It is also a declaration of independence from an economy that would much prefer we remain passive consumers of its standardized commodities, rather than creators of idiosyncratic products expressive of ourselves and of the places where we live, because your pale ale or sourdough bread or kimchi is going to taste nothing like mine or anyone else's.” ― Michael Pollan
There is nothing quite like drinking a cool glass of carbonated, fruit flavored kombucha to jump start your day or to cool off after a long run or hard workout. What makes this drink even better though is not only knowing that it's good for your health, but that it's easy to make from home and can save you a lot of money in the process. It's a very satisfying experience to nurture your own kombucha and to build a relationship with it over time, tweaking it here and there to give it the perfect flavor suited to your personal taste buds.
If you're unfamiliar with this ancient Chinese beverage, kombucha is a slightly acidic, fizzy, fermented and sweetened tea and has a tart flavor and a healthy dose of probiotics to strengthen your gut's microbiome. It's made from a base of tea (usually black or green), sugar, and the magical workings of a SCOBY. It is largely classified as a functional beverage, meaning that it is a non-alcoholic drink that contains vitamins, amino acids or other nutrients associated with health benefits.
It's an ideal healthy alternative to soda or pop, especially if you're trying to wean off of such drinks. This is my go-to drink especially after working outside in under the blazing sun. It has the fizz, flavor and freshness like a soda but is way better for your health! So, ready to get to know the one that makes it all happen? Meet the SCOBY.
What is a SCOBY?
Simply put, SCOBY is the acronym
for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." These bacteria and yeast feed off sugars, creating a fermentation process that results in the formation of a SCOBY. The basic ingredients of kombucha are tea, sugar, and the SCOBY, which consumes the sugar as well as some of the nutrients in the tea leaves, creating the widely beloved beverage.
This fermentation process forms a culture of bacteria often referred to as the “Mother.” It is given this name because a healthy SCOBY will continuously generate "babies", essentially small layers that begin to form and grow on top of the original SCOBY (a.k.a Mother) that can be peeled off to create brand new SCOBY's for brewing new batches or sharing with friends who want to get started. They can also be stored for later use in a "SCOBY hotel," a process which involves stacking the baby SCOBY's in a jar with some tea and sugar and then kept in a dark cool place (cool temperatures help to slow the growth rate). These ‘babies’ can be separated when they are about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick.
Personally, the texture of a SCOBY reminds me of a jellyfish, but it is often described as a flexible, cellulose pancake. The SCOBY is critical to kombucha making and is a living, growing organism that needs regular care to keep the process going. The fermentation process produces acetic acid (found in vinegar) and several other compounds, trace levels of alcohol and gases. This is what makes the drink carbonated.
The SCOBY is what makes this sweet tea into a kombucha. Without it, you'll just have the good ole house wine of the South, a batch of sweet black tea.
Where do you get a SCOBY? There are many places where you can order one online, but it is even better is to find someone who's brewing it at home to give you one. I keep a jar of “SCOBY babies” from my Mama SCOBY that I hate throwing into my compost, so reach out and see if I have one. If I do, I’d be happy to share with you!
Health Benefits of Kombucha
Kombucha is easy to make, tasty, and GOOD FOR YOU. You can't beat it. As a fermented drink, it has the same health benefits as fermented foods.
Fermented foods enrich the gut bacteria and improve the health of our human microbiome. A balanced microbiome regulates the immune system, metabolism, sustains the gastrointestinal tract, supports mood and brain function, and produces crucial vitamins and nutrients. Kombucha also contains probiotics and many antioxidants, which can assist with immunity, weight loss, and reduce heart disease risk.
When to Drink Kombucha
There isn't one best time to drink kombucha, but there are a few times throughout the day you may find it to be most helpful:
In the morning on an empty stomach for the most significant benefits all day long - but be mindful of adding this to your morning routine. It can take a bit for your body to adjust to this powerful punch of a beverage.
How Much Kombucha Should I Drink?
Kombucha has incredible health benefits, but if you've had it before, you know that it packs a good punch, which means that it's potent stuff! A little bit goes a long way. With that said, incorporating a little bit of Kombucha into your daily routine is ideal, but you don't want to overdo it.
Like many fermented foods, your body may need time to adapt to the potency of the probiotics. At most, you should stick to 1-2 cups of kombucha a day, starting off with a small serving size (like half a cup) and slowly building over time. The kombucha that I brew is quite strong, so I always dilute mine with some water.
If you find that you are experiencing gas and other gastrointestinal upsets, it's likely that you're having too much. Cut back significantly until you find a happy place. With time and patience, slowly increase your intake.
EASY RECIPE FOR HOMEMADE KOMBUCHA
1 or 2 gallon glass jar with spigot
Tightly woven cloth or towel to cover the jar
Hermetic Lid sealed Bottles: 3-4, 37oz glass bottles
28 cups water
2 cup sugar
16 bags black tea, green tea, or a mix
4 cups starter tea from last batch of kombucha or store-bought kombucha (unpasteurized, neutral-flavored)
1 SCOBY per fermentation jar
*Recipe makes about 2 gallons
STEP 1: Making the Tea Base
Add the 28 cups of water to the large pot with the 2 cups of sugar (I use organic sugar). Add your tea bags (I use a combination of black and green tea) and cover with a lid. Turn on medium-high heat until it boils and then turn off the heat. Allow the tea to completely cool. Depending on the size of your pot, this will take a few hours. I usually leave mine overnight. You don’t want to burn the living SCOBY, so ensuring its cooled completely is really important.
STEP 2: Prepare the SCOBY
In a large 2 gallon glass container with a spigot, place your SCOBY with the 4 cups of starter tea (either from the previous batch or using original flavored kombucha from the store). The starter tea makes the liquid acidic, which prevents unfriendly bacteria from taking up residence in the first few days of fermentation.)
STEP 3: Add the Sweet Tea Base
Remove the tea bags or strain out the loose tea. Pour the sweetened tea into the 2 gallon container with the SCOBY and the 4 cups of starter tea.
STEP 4: Date & Cover the Batch
Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of tightly-woven cloth or a towel and a rubber band. (If you develop problems with gnats or fruit flies, ensure you use a tightly woven cloth, which will do a better job keeping the insects out of your brew). Then, date the jar, or mark check kombucha on your calendar in one week.
STEP 5: Ferment for 7 to 10 days
Keep the jar at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, and in a place where it won't get jostled. I place mine in the corner of our kitchen counter where it’s dark and undisturbed. Ferment for 7 to 10 days, checking the kombucha and the SCOBY periodically. It's not unusual for the SCOBY to float at the top, bottom, or even sideways during fermentation. A new cream-colored layer of SCOBY should start forming on the surface of the kombucha within a few days. It usually attaches to the old SCOBY, but it's ok if they separate. You may also see brown stringy bits floating beneath the SCOBY and sediment collecting at the bottom, or bubbles collecting around the SCOBY. This is all normal signs of a healthy fermentation!
STEP 6: Tasting
After 7 days, begin tasting the kombucha daily by pouring a little out of the jar and into a cup. When it reaches a balance of sweetness and tartness that is pleasant to you, the kombucha is ready to bottle.
STEP 7: Bottling & Flavoring the Finished Kombucha
Prepare your 3-4 hermetic lid sealed glass bottles with the flavoring of your choosing. Add sugar if necessary ( I personally don’t because I flavor with fruit or other naturally sweet flavorings).
Flavoring is my favorite part of kombucha because you can get creative with your combinations.
Here I’ve listed a few ideas with some of my favorites, and there are so many!
OPTIONAL FLAVORING EXTRAS FOR BOTTLING:
1 cup chopped fruit (apples, pears, mangos, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, raspberry, etc)
2 cups fruit juice (preferably all natural juice concentrate)
1 to 2 tablespoons flavored tea (like hibiscus or Earl Grey)
1/4 cup honey
2 to 4 tablespoons of fresh herbs or spices (mint, lavender, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, etc)
Once your bottles are flavored, pour the fermented kombucha into the bottles using the spigot. Leave about a half inch of head room in each bottle.
MY FAVORITE FLAVOR COMBINATIONS:
1 cup strawberries
6-8 mint leaves
2. Tropical Zest
1 cup mango
1 cup squeezed Orange juice
½ cup Chia seeds
½ inch ginger grated
1 cup blueberries
STEP 8: Allow Bottles to carbonate
Allow the bottles to sit for 1-3 days before drinking and refrigerate. You will get a feel for how quickly your kombucha carbonates. The temperature and size of your kombucha vary on how quickly it will carbonate. Refrigerate to stop fermentation and carbonation, and then drink your kombucha within a month.
STEP 9: Make a New Tea Base of Kombucha and Repeat the Process
* Covering for the jar: Cheesecloth is not ideal because it's easy for small insects, like fruit flies, to wiggle through the layers. I like to use a good ole towel with a rubber band.
* Batch Size: To increase or decrease the amount of kombucha you make, maintain the basic ratio of 1 cup of sugar, 8 bags of tea, and 2 cups of starter tea per gallon batch. One SCOBY will ferment any size batch, though larger batches may take longer.
* Putting Kombucha on Pause: If you'll be away for 3 weeks or less, just make a fresh batch and leave it on your counter. It will likely be too vinegary to drink by the time you get back, but the SCOBY will be fine. For longer breaks, store the SCOBY in a fresh batch of the tea base with starter tea in the fridge. Change out the tea for a fresh batch every 4 to 6 weeks.
* Other Tea Options: Black tea tends to be the easiest and most reliable for the SCOBY to ferment into kombucha, but once your SCOBY is going strong, you can try branching out into other kinds. Green tea, white tea, oolong tea, or even a mix of these make especially good kombucha. Herbal teas are okay, but be sure to use at least a few bags of black tea in the mix to make sure the SCOBY is getting all the nutrients it needs. Avoid any teas that contain oils, like earl grey or flavored teas.
* Avoid Prolonged Contact with Metal: Using metal utensils is generally fine, but avoid fermenting or bottling the kombucha in anything that brings them into contact with metal. Metals, especially reactive metals like aluminum, can give the kombucha a metallic flavor and weaken the SCOBY over time.
Troubleshooting Homemade Kombucha
*Texture: It is normal for the SCOBY to float on the top, bottom, or sideways in the jar. It is also normal for brown strings to form below the SCOBY or to collect on the bottom. If your SCOBY develops a hole, bumps, dried patches, darker brown patches, or clear jelly-like patches, it is still fine to use. Usually these are all indicative of changes in the environment of your kitchen and not a problem with the SCOBY itself.
* Smell: Kombucha will start off with a neutral aroma and then smell progressively more vinegary as brewing progresses. If it starts to smell cheesy, rotten, or otherwise unpleasant, this is a sign that something has gone wrong. If you see no signs of mold on the SCOBY, discard the liquid and begin again with fresh tea. If you do see signs of mold, discard both the SCOBY and the liquid and begin again with new ingredients.
* Signs to start again: A SCOBY will last a very long time, but it's not indestructible. If the SCOBY becomes black, that is a sign that it has passed its lifespan. If it develops green or black mold, it has become infected. In both of these cases, throw away the SCOBY and begin again.
* Keeping it fresh: To prolong life and maintain the health of your SCOBY, stick to the ratio of sugar, tea, starter tea, and water outlined in the recipe. You should also peel off the bottom (oldest) layer every few batches. This can be discarded, composted, used to start a new batch of kombucha, or given to a friend to start their own.
* Keep brewing: If you're ever in doubt about whether there is a problem with your SCOBY, just continue brewing batches but discard the kombucha they make. If there's a problem, it will get worse over time and become very apparent. If it's just a natural aspect of the SCOBY, then it will stay consistent from batch to batch and the kombucha is fine for drinking.
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James, Meredith. "How to drink kombucha: Bottoms up for Gut Health." TofuBud. Accessed 09 November 2021. https://tofubud.com/blogs/tips/how-to-drink-kombucha.
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