Want a super healthy yummy alternative to soda?
A carbonated beverage that is actually good for you?
Kombucha is an all natural, super easy to make fermented tea. If you’re a tea lover then it could be a perfect fit and a great alternative to soda. You might call it soda with benefits……:)
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of room in a healthy diet to enjoy a handcrafted natural soda. The kind without all of the chemicals and preservatives, that is fun and easy to make. I allow my kids to drink my husband’s all natural soda and I might have a sip on special occasions. Handcrafted natural soda is also a great transition drink for those trying to kick the really nasty commerical stuff.
Kombucha is what I lovingly refer to as grown-up soda, although we do let our kids drink it in small quantities. The benefit of drinking kombucha is that it contains probiotics that help your gut bacteria stay healthy. It also has been said to help with everything from arthritis to heartburn. I often use it for heartburn relief because I have a hiatal hernia.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is produced by fermenting sweet tea using a "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast", often referred to as a SCOBY. A kombucha ferment is a ferment that has both bacteria and yeast. So it’s a kind of mixed ferment, since other ferments usually rely on either yeast OR bacteria - this is what makes it different than wine or beer. (You can learn more about the different kinds of ferements in episode four of the Self Reliant Living Show.) However, kombucha can contain a small amount of alcohol (usually less than 0.5%). But if you brew your own that amount can fluctuate some so taste it to be sure before giving it to kids, and only let them drink it in moderation.
What is a SCOBY?
A SCOBY kind of looks like a white blob, although it can be dark in color too. It’s a gelatinous, cellulose-based film that forms where the air meets the liquid. When making kombucha it’s helpful to add a SCOBY from another brew to speed up your brew but it’s not 100% necessary. Read on for how to make kombucha without a SCOBY.
A SCOBY is sometimes called a mother culture.
2 Different Ways To Make Kombucha
By the batch--You can simply make one batch of kombucha and drink it. Or you can make one batch and then bottle it for a second ferment which will makes it carbonated and enjoy added flavors.
Continuous brew--Another way to brew kombucha is with a continuous brew system. I’ve had a continuous system before, but I prefer to brew kombucha in batches so that I can bottle it for a second ferment all at once. Also, I find that the spout gets clogged with SCOBY gunk or loose parts of the SCOBY. Additionally, the system has to be kept pretty clean, you don’t want nasty stuff in your kombucha and I find it hard to get on a cleaning schedule with continuous brew. And finally, most of the crocks are over-the-top expensive.
Let’s brew some kombucha with a SCOBY and a bit of starter.
All you need is a 1 or 2 gallon glass container. If you want to use a crock that’s fine, but you don’t need to. This recipe is for 2 gallons.
- 2 gallon glass jar
- 6 quarts of purified water
- 2 cup sugar
- 10 black tea bags
- 1-2 cups starter liquid
- 1 SCOBY
- Cloth and a rubber band to cover the brewing jar
You can add more than one SCOBY if you’d like to speed up the process, or if you want to keep more than one SCOBY as a backup you can add more than one to your brew. I would not recommend doing this on the first brew, but after you’ve been brewing for a while and get the hang of it you can easily do it.
What if the SCOBY won’t fit?
It’s not a big deal if the SCOBY you are starting with does not float on the top. The new SCOBY (a healthy brew will produce new SCOBYs) will take the shape of the container you’re brewing in.
- Using a different kind of tea--you don’t have to use black tea. You can use green or white tea, or your favorite blend. Use some type of tea and not an herbal blend (sometimes called herbal tea) unless you mix some black tea with it.
- Using a different kind of sweetener--You can use any type of sugar that comes from sugar cane, so that means you can use white sugar, evaporated cane juice, sucanat, turbinado or any other derivative of sugar cane including molasses. You can use honey, maple syrup, agave, or coconut palm sugar. You just can’t use something like stevia or xylitol because they are not fermentable. Using different sweeteners will give your kombucha different flavors. The yeast will be eating most of the sugar so if you’re worried about sugar intake don’t be, the sugar is for the SCOBY to consume. Although you’ll get trace amounts when you consume it, it will be a lot less than the sweet tea you start your brew with.
- Using a different kind of SCOBY--There is another probiotic drink called Jun. The SCOBY for Jun is a little different and some will argue that you can make (or convert) a Jun SCOBY from a kombucha SCOBY. It ferments a little faster than kombucha and has a bit of a different flavor, but other than that the process for making it is exactly the same. Jun is made with green tea and honey and tastes slightly different than traditional kombucha. (Source)
- Changing the recipe--if you have a SCOBY that you’ve been brewing with for a while and you’d like to transition over to another sweetener, give your SCOBY some time to adjust. Maybe do a half and half scenario and transition a little at a time, otherwise your first few batches with the new ingredient might seem off. Remember, a SCOBY is a living thing, so give it some time. A stronger SCOBY will take less time to transition.
So How Do You Know Your Kombucha Is Done?
The number one way that I figure out whether my kombucha is done is taste it. Does it taste too sweet, too sour, or just right? If there is a nice mixture of both then it’s done. You can test to see if it’s done with a ph meter. The meter should have a pH of 3 or lower (remember, with pH the lower the number the more acidic).
Now It’s Time For The Second Ferment
Once you get that really nice balance between sweet and sour then it’s time for the second ferment. This is where the fun flavors come in. You can flavor your kombucha with fruit juice, fresh fruit, candied fruit, frozen fruit, or dried fruit. (We have a great recipe for making candied fruit inside of Self Reliant School. The good kind without all the additives and chemicals). You’ll need to grab some bottles suitable for fermenting. This would be like soda bottles or beer bottles.
Fill up your bottles with ¼ cup to ½ cup of juice or fruit and then fill the rest of the way with Kombucha. Let it ferment for 3 to 4 days - longer if you have a cold house - and then refrigerate and enjoy. Since it’s in a closed bottle there is nowhere for the CO2 to escape so your kombucha should be carbonated and ready to drink. It’s a natural process so if you don’t get a carbonated drink then it just means your kombucha might have not been completely done when you bottled it. It’s still good to drink.
Be sure to put the bottles in a separate bin while they ferment in case they over-carbonate. Mine rarely do but every few years I might get one that breaks. Then move them to your refrigerator to slow down the ferement. I usually burp my bottles before putting them in the refrigerator because they will continue to ferment.
What do you do with all of those SCOBYs?
SCOBY Hotel--You can put your extra SCOBYs in a SCOBY hotel, which just means you move them to a smaller jar and cover them with liquid. This liquid will continue to get sour and will become your starter liquid for your next batch.
Kombucha Candy--Believe it or not the SCOBY is actually good to eat. You can dehydrate it and make kombucha candy. You can learn a lot more about dehydrating in our dehydrating eCourse.
Dehydrating Your SCOBY--I do not recommend buying a dehydrated SCOBY, or dehydrating one yourself and using it later. I’ve never had good luck with bringing them back from their dormant state.
What If I Don’t Have A SCOBY
You’ll just need to wait a little longer for your tea.
You will need
- 2 cups store bought kombucha
- 2 cups water
- 2 tea bags
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ gallon container (I use a Mason jar)
Brew your sweet tea using the sugar, tea bags and water. Let cool to room temperature. Then add the store bought kombucha. Cover and let ferment for 2 to 5 weeks. When a SCOBY forms on the top then you’re ready to brew you first batch of kombucha. Use the 2 gallon kombucha recipe above in this post. Use your new SCOBY then add 2 cups of the remaining of the liquid as your starter liquid.
Here's what the brew should look like as it progresses.
Right after you mix up the brew.
Day 2–There is a little bit of SCOBY rising to the top.
Day 3–There is a film starting to form.
Day 4–The SCOBY is taking shape.
Day 5– More coverage.
Day 6–Almost there.
Day 7–I have a SCOBY.
Note: When I made this SCOBY it was Summer and warm in my house. Your SCOBY could take anywhere from 1 week to 5 weeks depending on the temperature in your house.
SCOBY hotel drys out--Well the trick here is not to let this happen…..:) But if there is not enough starter liquid then just add a SCOBY or two to your recipe. It might take a little longer but if your SCOBYs were healthy you should be fine.
My kombucha tastes like alcohol--Sometimes with rapid temperature changes your kombucha might taste a little different. Let the kombucha brew for just a little longer and the alcohol will dissipate; then you should be able to do a second ferment with no problem.
My kombucha tastes like vinegar--You let your kombucha ferment too long and all of the sugar is gone. You can add more sugar or you can use the batch like you would use vinegar - for example in cooking or salad dressing. You can sweeten this batch in a second ferment or you can use something like stevia to sweeten your kombucha.
My SCOBY is fuzzy--Your SCOBY probably has mold. It’s time to grow a new SCOBY.
What is your favorite flavor of Kombucha?