I am admittedly late to the kombucha home-brewing party (no surprise there). I’ve been drinking it for years to help with candida issues and was forking over the $4+ per bottle without even blinking because it always provided such a noticeable difference. I love GT’s original formula, particularly the Enlightened Botanic No 3 or 7. And as I learned more about the benefits of fermented foods for gut health, I began purchasing them more and really started to feel the weight of that $4 price tag.
My first attempts at fermenting involved learning about the process and basic attempts at lacto-fermented veggies. This led to a serious sauerkraut addiction (a good addiction to have) and an urgent need to ferment more and more things. Kind of like this…
Anyways. Kombucha seemed like the next natural step. It’s fun to have something other than water to drink, especially something that can improve your health. And it’s fun to not have to ration a 16 oz bottle of booch over 3 days! So the following are my tips based on a beginners experience of brewing for just about 6 months now. With a little guidance from a friend, I found that large batch brewing was easy enough to jump into after doing small batches for just a month or so. And I followed her example of starting out using juices for the 2nd ferment, keeping the process as simple as possible.
My favorite tea to use is green OR a ⅔ green, ⅓ oolong combination for a slightly floral note. (UPDATE 2016: Despite popular opinion, I’ve since found that herbal tea works well for booch brewing! I now use a green rooibos and red rooibos combo.) My SCOBY is currently needing just 5-6 days for the 1st ferment and then I do 3 days for the 2nd ferment. I would highly recommend Suja juices for the 2nd ferment. They are cold pressed, organic, and non-GMO and they can be found in Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other natural grocers. If not that brand, find a good juice. Brewing a healthful beverage like kombucha and then adding in GMO-packed from-concentrate juices that are rampant even in health food stores just makes no sense.
The following tips and instructions are based on my personal experience. You’ll find that others do things slightly different and it still works for them. While it is a precise science, you’ll find that slight variations can be made and you’ll still get a great result. Please comment with any questions and I’ll be happy to help. And stay tuned for future booch posts since I’ve recently graduated to the art of simply adding fruit for the 2nd ferment. Though it’s a little trickier so I’ll be posting separately about my experience with that in the near future!
Beginner’s Kombucha Tips (for any size batch):
-If you’re new to brewing, start with shorter fermenting periods. This ensures you’ll never be “starving” your SCOBY (happens when there is insufficient sugar left in the brew). You can gradually build up fermenting times to your particular tastes.
-Allllllways use clean containers, utensils, and most importantly clean hands when brewing.
-Glass is best for brewing jars. Contact with metal or plastics during fermenting will generally leech foreign particles into your brew (this is one reason I have opted against the Continuous Brewing method, as most spigots are made of metal or plastic; that and the spigots get clogged so easily).
-Use organic ingredients as much as possible. Pesticides, chemicals, and foreign bacteria can interfere with the healthy bacteria cultivated by your SCOBY.
-NEVER seal your jar on the 1st ferment. ALWAYS seal your jar on the 2nd ferment.
-Strive for brewing temperatures of 70-80F. Lower will drag out the fermentation process and higher will hasten it, and both can cause mold and/or a dormant or even dead SCOBY.
-Use tea with zero added herbs, oils, or flavors. Pure tea is needed to maintain the proper PH for your brew.
-Try to disturb the jar as little as possible during the 1st ferment. Your SCOBY will thicken best when floating at the top of the liquid and bumping it can cause it to sink. Once you know the approximate number of days you like your ferment to run, you should be able to leave your brew alone for the entire 1st ferment.
-1 SCOBY is all that is needed, regardless of the size batch you are brewing.
-Signs of normal, healthy SCOBY growth include white spots, brown stringy threads, and small or large bubbles. Various factors like improper ingredients ratios, soap contaminants, or airborne bacteria (never brew near a garbage can!) can cause mold to grow. You’ll be able to detect mold from other normal growth because it will generally be orange, black, or green and will become fuzzy.
-Choose your brewing vessel wisely: it needs a wide mouth and plenty of head space (aka air above the liquid within your jar) to ferment properly. With larger batches, you’ll want to aim for a large surface area, of which the surface area length is approximately equal to the height the liquid takes up in the jar. Purchasing a 1 ½ Gallon Jar for a 1 Gallon batch will meet both these criteria, as shown in the pictures below.
-The basics: longer ferment times mean less sugar and more healthy bacteria in the resulting booch. Less sugar is generally better (healthier) but you want to make sure it’s palatable to your tastes. Ideally, you should choose a fermenting period that allow for a small amount of sweetness to be present so the batch does not taste like straight vinegar.
A quick rundown of the above infographic (from left to right):
1. When starting your first batch, rinse out your jar with distilled vinegar to clean (not soap).
2. Reserve your SCOBY & necessary starter tea volume in a separate jar/bowl.
3. Brew a new batch of sugar tea (see below for instructions).
4. Allow it to cool to room temperature before combining with the SCOBY & starter tea.
5. Once cooled, combine the sugar tea, SCOBY, and starter tea. Rest at room temperature (70-80F) to ferment for 5-14 days, dependent on desired sweetness/sourness.
6. Ferment is now complete (occasionally test with a straw to taste for readiness). Notice the SCOBY is floating and has grown a bit during the process.
7. Set aside the SCOBY & starter tea for your next batch (see step 2). Portion the kombucha into smaller jars for the second ferment, along with pure organic juice: approximately ¼ c. juice to every 16 oz bottle.
8. Allow to ferment at room temperature for 3-7 days, depending on desired level of fizz!
Continue reading for detailed recipes for either a 1-Quart or 1-Gallon batch.
brewing jar for 1st ferment (see below to choose size)
distilled vinegar (for cleaning)
large stock-style pot
4-8 c. measuring cup (dependent on the volume you are brewing)
cheese cloth, tea towel, or paper towel
smaller jars (optional for 2nd ferment)
funnel (optional for 2nd ferment)
1 Quart Kombucha
Container to ferment in: glass quart mason jar
2 ½ c. filtered water (chlorine- and fluoride-free, preferably)
¼ c. organic cane sugar
2 green or black or rooibos tea bags (1 ½ tsp. loose leaf)
½ c. starter tea**
optional: ¼ c. pure organic juice (for 2nd ferment)
1 Gallon Kombucha
Container to ferment: 1 ½ gallon glass jar
12 c. filtered water (chlorine- and fluoride-free, preferably)
1 c. organic cane sugar
8 green or black or rooibos tea bags (6 tsp. loose leaf)
2 c. starter tea**
optional: 2 c. pure organic juice (for 2nd ferment)
Rinse your brewing jar with distilled vinegar (soap is not recommended), dry, and set aside.
Bring the filtered water to a boil in a large pot for 3-5 minutes (to remove any bacteria/impurities). Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Turn the heat off and add the tea bags. Cover and let steep 10-15 minutes, or to desired tea strength (no more than 10 minutes recommend for green or it may be bitter).
Allow the sweetened tea to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add to your brewing jar along with the starter tea and SCOBY. Cover with a towel and secure with a rubber band. Allow to sit at room temperature for 5-14 days, depending on desired sweetness/sourness. The long it’s left to ferment, the less sugar will be present and the more sour it will taste. Begin tasting at 5 days by inserting a straw (careful not to disturb the jar and SCOBY much) to learn the number of days fitting for your tastes and the strength of your SCOBY. Refrigerate the resulting kombucha and repeat the process, remembering to reserve your starter tea and SCOBY for the next batch. Optional: continue with the next steps to flavor your kombucha with a second ferment.
2nd Ferment (optional):
Portion the organic juice into smaller jars (like this or this, as shown above) using a funnel, add approximately ¼ c. juice for every 16 oz bottle. Fill with your prepared kombucha, leaving 1-2″ headspace. Seal the bottle tightly and leave at room temperature to ferment a 2nd time for 3-7 days, depending on desired fizziness. Like the 1st ferment, testing it out for the first batch or two will provide a more definitive timeline to use for your particular tastes. WARNING: letting the 2nd ferment go too long will create a lot of built-up pressure in the bottle so take care when opening.
**A Note on starter tea and SCOBYs: If you purchase your SCOBY from Oregon Kombucha, they will send you the starter tea along with it, which makes the process VERY simple. I have a couple of friends who have used them and been very happy with the flavor/results. I personally have a SCOBY purchased from Cultures for Health, which was sent to me dehydrated. They do not send starter tea and the process to rehydrate the SCOBY is a bit complex and is not something I’ll go into here (you can find instructions on their site). Cultures for Health is a little cheaper and the flavor and ease of brewing is just as great now that my SCOBY is hydrated and brewing regularly so I recommend purchasing from either company.