What you need to make your own kombucha

I didn’t start brewing my own kombucha until they yanked it off the shelf. I was hooked on the stuff, I was having on average one a day. I had no choice to brew my own, but the math was also compelling. What I was paying $3.50 retail for I could make myself for about 20 cents once I had the equipment (it’s only sugar & tea!). My all in, including equipment I now know I don’t need, was $137.65 so I’d pay for my investment after 42 bottles, or 6 batches.

What you’ll need for initial brewing (primary fermentation):

  • (1) Large stainless steel stockpot (big enough for 20 cups of liquid).
  • (6) 64 ounce (1/2 gallon) wide mouth canning jars.
    • You’ll use 3 jars per batch, so 6 is enough for 2 rotating batches.
    • Jarden 68100 6 Count Wide Mouth Canning Jars were the perfect solution for me. About $20 including shipping ($10 if you can find locally).
    • Some sites will say to use 1 gallon jars, and you certainly can, but I don’t have room to store such a large container and didn’t cherish the thought of lugging such a big heavy thing around. Plus, as it turns out, brewing 1.5 gallons is what fits in my stockpot and gives me a week’s supply (7-9 bottles).
  • Basket style paper coffee filters
  • (6) rubber bands. If you shop at Whole Foods they’ll keep you in plenty of rubber bands if you ever buy sushi or eggs.
  • SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast), aka “mother” or “mushroom”. I got mine from Nick’s Natural Nook on ebay. She shipped immediately and it arrived in perfect condition. Or try the Worldwide SCOBY exchange
  • pH Strips. You want your kombucha to have a pH of 4.6 or lower upon initial fermentation and 3.0 or below when you bottle. The strips you’ll most easily find are designed to test saliva or urine and won’t go low enough. You want to have strips that will measure from 0-6, or those designed for wine testing have an even narrower range.
  • Organic Tea (green, black or a mix). Nothing fancy required but I always use organic when available. I use the cheapest bags of 365 organic tea from Whole Foods.
  • Organic cane sugar. Again, nothing fancy. Plain organic sugar.
  • Gloves? Don’t bother. Wash your hands.

Equipment for secondary fermentation (bottling):

  • Straws…or you can go overboard and buy a Wine Thief like I did for $5, but free straws you can swipe from your local Starbucks or Whole Foods? Much cheaper.
  • You’ll be using those pH strips again, at least until you get the hang of what your kombucha should taste like when it’s ready to bottle.
  • A dozen 12-16 ounce bottles ($20-$50, you’ll use 7-9 per batch if you use my recipe).
    • I like the .375 liter Voss water bottles which retail for about $1.50 a piece. They’re heavy, glass, have a plastic cap (important, kombucha doesn’t like metal) and I know the only thing that was previously in them was clean water. I use these for bottles I give to other people. I don’t feel bad if I never see it again.
    • For reusable bottles, I love E-Z Cap Beer Bottles. I got mine online from a place that asked me to remove their link – that’s a first). $26 for a dozen bottles plus shipping which was $16. I could have saved myself the shipping fee had I done a Google search for home brewing beer supplies, there’s a specialty shop in my city. C’est la vie.
  • plastic funnel. I like this one (which happened to already be in my kitchen): Oxo Good Grips 3-Piece Funnel and Strainer Set, $8. It has little rubber grippy things so it stays put when you put it in the bottle and fits perfectly into the E-Z Cap Bottles. It also has a stainer which comes in handy for catching seeds when squeezing fresh lemon juice into a bottle of ‘buch.
  • If you use a 1 gallon jar to brew in, you’ll need a plastic ladle to transfer into your bottles. Oxo Good Grips Nylon Ladle, $7. Remember, kombucha doesn’t like metal! But if you use 1/2 gallon jars you won’t need this, it’s light enough to just pick it up and pour.
  • If alcohol is a concern – or you’re just plain curious like I am – you’ll want to test the potential alcohol level of your kombucha with a hydrometer & a test tube. Completely optional however. I tested my home brew and it tested almost zero alcohol. If there was one thing I bought that I consider a waste of money it was this.
  • SCOBY hotel. At some point you’ll have extra SCOBYs. You’ll want to hang onto a few just in case you have a batch go bad (very rare from what I understand). As much as you want air to get into your kombucha as it’s brewing, you don’t want your SCOBY hotel to breathe. One of your canning jars with lid will work fine (it’s ok if it has a metal lid – as long as it doesn’t touch your kombucha). I’m using some smaller canning jars I had. Too small for brewing, but big enough for a SCOBY hotel. A pyrex container with a plastic lid also works. Don’t store in plastic though. Glass please.

Time to brew! My basic recipe and brewing instructions are here.

Basic Kombucha recipe

See Related Post: What you Need to Make your own Kombucha with equipment list and helpful links.

Ingredients:

This recipe makes three 1/2 gallon jars (8-9 bottles).

  • 20 cups filtered water (filtered, bottled, RO’d or distilled. Tap water will have chlorine in it = SCOBY killer).
  • 2 cups organic cane sugar.
  • 4 bags organic green tea (as in individual tea bags, or use loose tea and strain)
  • 4 bags organic black tea
  • 3 SCOBYs plus 1-1/2 to 3 cups of kombucha (1 SCOBY and 1/2 to 1 cup of kombucha per brewing jar)

Sweet Tea

“Kombucha” is the finished product. It starts out as sweet tea.

  • In a large stainless steel stockpot bring water to a boil.
  • Remove from heat, add sugar and stir to dissolve.
    Sounds like a lot of sugar, I know. But it’s not for you. It’s for your SCOBY. It’s fermentation baby. Sugar is required. Don’t worry, studies show there’s not much left by the time your SCOBY has done its magic.
  • add tea bags and let tea steep for 10-15 minutes
    Recipe is very forgiving, you can add more tea if you’d like a stronger brew, or try using more black or more green tea proportionally. You can, of course, use loose tea and strain it after steeping. I’m a big tea drinker, I have tons of different kinds of loose tea in my cabinet, but I use the most basic of teas for my kombucha and I like the convenience of using tea bags. I use Whole Foods 365 brand organic teas.
  • Remove tea bags, squeezing between 2 spoons to extract out the tea goodness back into the pot of sweet tea (or strain out loose tea leaves).
  • Cover and let cool to room temperature. Below 90°F is a MUST or you’ll kill your beautiful SCOBY. The easiest thing I’ve found is to make your sweet tea at night and jar it the next day.
  • In a rush? Use 4-5 cups of water, keeping amount of sugar and tea the same. Boil, steep, remove tea, let cool to 90 degrees or so then fill to 20 cups with fresh water (again, no tap water).

Initial Fermentation (Jarring)

  • Ready 3 clean 1/2 gallon glass jars (or if you’ve just bottled a batch, you can re-use the jars you just emptied, just rinse them out with distilled white vinegar).
  • Pour sweet tea into jars, leaving an inch or more space at the top of the jar (room for the SCOBY and some started tea).
  • It’s SCOBY time! Remove any rings and wash your hands well. No antibiotic soap please. I like to finish with a dip of my hands into distilled white vinegar.
  • Add SCOBY (disgusting brown side down if it has one) and at least 1/2 cup of kombucha tea from a prior batch to each jar. Careful. That sucker will be slippery! Your old SCOBY may float, sink, or somewhere in between. Matters not. After adding the SCOBY and some of the “old” kombucha tea there should still be space at the top of the jar. A new SCOBY will grow and it needs room.
  • Draw out some of the new-old blended tea using a clean straw or wine thief and test the pH. If not 4.6 or less (it should be already, but you never know) add either more kombucha tea from a prior batch or white distilled vinegar until the pH is 4.6 or lower.
  • Cover jar with coffee filter and secure with rubber band. Do not use the lid that came with your canning jar. Kombucha needs air to ferment. A clean dish towel will also work. I’ve found paper towels too dense. Cheesecloth isn’t dense enough and fruit flies will feast on your beloved brew. Coffee filters seem to have the right density and you don’t have to wash them.
  • Label your jar with the date.
  • Stash your new brew somewhere where it won’t be disturbed and out of direct sunlight (another SCOBY killer). On top of the fridge. Pantry. Mine goes into a bathroom cabinet but I leave the door open (kombucha needs air). Warmer is better than colder.
  • Wait 7 days at least. Mine takes 12-14 days. Brewing takes longer in the winter. Patience grasshopper.
  • Look for signs that your kombucha is ready to bottle. It will have a new white SCOBY sitting on top at least 1/8″ thick. It will smell faintly (or not so faintly) of vinegar.
  • Extract a sample with a clean straw or wine thief (careful going around that new SCOBY, try not to tip it upside down just in case it’s not done doin’ its thing). Give it a sip, it should be slightly sweet. Test the pH. If the pH is 3.0 or less you’re good to go. Where to get pH strips? Click here: What you Need to Make your own Kombucha

Bottling (Secondary Fermentation)

  • Once you get going this is the first step, not the 2nd.
  • Remove any rings and wash your hands well (no antibiotic soap).
  • Mise en place. Fancy cooking term meaning “everything in its place”. Assemble:
    • (clean) plate to put stuff on, funnels, measuring spoons, lemon reamer, whatever
    • (clean) plastic funnel
    • (clean) plastic ladle if using a large brewing jar (kombucha doesn’t like metal remember)
    • (clean) bottles – I get 7 to 9 per batch
    • any flavoring you want to add (that’s a whole other post).
  • Wash your hands with water. I know. You just did. Seriously. Again. And you took your rings off, right? You’re about to touch your beloved SCOBY.
  • Extract SCOBYs. Careful! Slippery little sucker. A new one grew on top, so now you have two. Or perhaps they mated. SCOBY lovin’ isn’t a bad thing. You can usually gently separate them with your hands. One might rip. It’s ok. SCOBYs don’t have feelings. Or leave them mated. Who cares?
    • I put my SCOBYs in a my large pyrex measuring cup or a big (clean) bowl and cover them with about a cup of kombucha tea until I turn around and make my next batch.
    • Take your kombucha from the top of the jar as your starter tea for the next batch, not the murky stuff at the bottom of the jar. From the top will keep the right balance of bacteria & yeast.
  • Ready for bottling. You’ll need that funnel. And if you’re using a jar that’s so big you can’t easily pick it up you’ll need a plastic ladle (no metal ladles, SCOBY killer). You can use a plastic strainer to catch any errant SCOBY goo which might be left in the jar. It’s a personal preference, it’s not bad for you. It will bubble so go easy. Before it’s entirely full put in any flavoring you’d like to add. Ginger and lemon is a favorite of mine. But as I said, that’s a whole other post. Most people like their kombucha on the fizzy side. To get carbonation you’ve got to fill that bottle UP. If your first few batches don’t fizz, fear not, it’s still good for you. And future batches with more “mature” SCOBYs will be fizzier.
  • I label my bottles with the date and the flavoring I used. But that’s just me.
  • SCOBYs!I know, I know, you want to just drink it now. But it's not done. Stash it back in the cupboard for another few days. A week even. Then into the fridge. Kombucha should definitely be enjoyed chilled.

    Oh, the SCOBYs you have from each old batch? If you’re organized you’ve got a new batch of sweet tea ready for jarring and one can go right into a new batch, along with 1/2 to 1 cup of the finished brew. If you’re not ready to start a new batch, store them in an airtight container. A canning jar (with lid this time, no air please), a pyrex or corning ware container with a plastic lid, or short-term in a plastic ziploc baggie (plastic’s not suitable for long-term storage). You can put them in the fridge but they’ll go dormant so it’ll take them a while to perk up when you decide to brew with them again. If you’re going to brew in the next week or two they’ll be just fine at room temp. Once you have enough SCOBYs you’ll want to set up a SCOBY hotel for your spares just in case you have a batch go bad. After that do the world a favor and give a SCOBY to a friend.

Timing

After your brew your sweet tea you’ll need to let it cool to room temperature (less than 90F or you’ll kill your SCOBY). This takes longer than you think it might. Save yourself the waiting and brew it before going to bed and let it cool overnight.

If you always want to have kombucha on hand you’ll have to have at least 2 batches at different stages. My initial fermentation takes about 2 weeks. I brew sweet tea every Saturdays, let it cool overnight. On Sundays I bottle and jar up a new batch. I bottle the 3 jars that are ready to go, and re-use those jars for my next batch. The following week 3 more jars are ready for bottling. Btw, you’ll always use a little kombucha from the old batch in your new batch and will lose more if you’re storing extra SCOBYs (or giving them away) so there’s never 100% “harvest”.

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Part 1: Contact!

Before touching your SCOBY wash your hands. With hot water. For 30 seconds. You can use disposable surgical gloves if you’d like (nothing with powder in them!). But I think they’re a hassle. I do a final dip of my hands into white distilled vinegar before touching the SCOBY.

Part 2: Mind Your Surfaces.

If you need to take your SCOBY out of it’s brewing jar and set it down before putting it to work in the next batch, place on a clean plate or bowl. Do not put on a cutting board. God knows what’s still living in there.

Part 3: Brewing Jars

Either immediately re-use your brewing jars for your next batch or clean them in the dishwasher. Use the antibacterial setting if it has one. And/or use the hot water rinse if it has it. I rinse mine with a little distilled white vinegar if I’m feeling like being extra godly.

Part 4: Bottles.

Rinse your used bottles immediately after use and wash in the dishwasher. Again, use any extra cleanliness settings it may have. You can boil the bejesus out of your bottles if you want. I choose not to. Rinsed and dishwasher is clean enough for me. Yup, that’s me. Living on the edge.

More Kombucha Info

I’m a kombucha newbie, here are some links from more experienced brewers with brewing tips and other info on kombucha: