Disclaimer: I am not a Kombucha Making Expert. I have so far had good results in the past month of making the drink (the equivalent of 4-5 brews), and my mom has run through issues that I know to avoid, so I will do my best to answer any questions not answered in this post. But if you’re still doubtful, Google it. It’s what I do.
I first started loving Kombucha sometime before I was pregnant with Asa. I don’t remember the exact time, but I came upon it in the produce section at our local grocery store, and my first thought was “what in the world is this stuff?” I had been on a health kick and was trying to drink less soda and juice, and more smoothies and other things, so instead of grabbing an Odwalla or a Naked as I usually did, I decided to try Kombucha. And thus, my love for it was born.
I never thought that I would become one of those people lumped into the “crunchy mom” category and start making it myself, though. My mom was the one to begin, because she loved Kombucha, but the store-bought brands all had too much caffeine in them for her to handle. Once she realized she could make it herself with decaf tea, she got started! And after a long while, I finally took one of her Scoby’s splits, and started myself. I was a little wary because (sorry mom) I don’t really like the way my mom’s tastes, but it’s merely a difference of how we flavor ours during the second brew time. With my own flavor recipes, I’m completely in love with homemade and will NEVER go back to buying it. Unless I’m forced.
Ever since I started making it, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how to brew and flavor Kombucha, what it is, why they should drink it, if it’s pregnancy safe, etc… and today I am here to answer ALL of those questions (plus a few more, probably.)
Let’s start of with the biggest questions: what IS Kombucha??? And what the heck is that jellyfish-looking thing? And why would anyone ever want to drink that?
Let me introduce you to the SCOBY. A SCOBY is a “Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.” In simple terms, it’s the kind of bacteria that’s really good for you, that you might find in many probiotic things like fermented yogurts, kefir, and simple supplements. These bacteria and yeast cultures help keep your guts in good order, and while you COULD just take a probiotic pill… it’s more fun to drink tasty things, right?
So, subsequently, Kombucha is a drink made from fermenting the SCOBY with tea and sugar, and flavoring it with fruits, herbs, or juices. Just think of it as a fizzy probiotic juice. And depending on how you make it, it will taste sweet, vinegary, like tea, or like whatever herbs you might put into it.
And how do you make it? Well. That’s what I’m here to show you. (More FAQs at the end of this post!)
To brew and flavor your own Kombucha you will need:
For First Brew:
- a SCOBY (see how to grow your own here! If enough people want me to, I will try that method and do a post, or you can try that method and let me know how it works.)
- 5 bags of black or green tea, decaf is fine — you can use other types of teas (see below in the FAQ section) but they may interfere with how well your SCOBY thrives.
- 1 cup sugar (my mom has tried every kind of sweetener and has found that the cheap granulated processed sugar works best, so… save yourself money, get the cheap stuff.)
- 2 cups boiling water (approximately)
- a 1 gallon glass jar (no metal or plastic, which will affect the taste and health of your SCOBY)
- Coffee filters
- A rubber band
For Flavoring: all of the above plus
- 6-8 pint jars with airtight lids (metal rings and regular seals like used for canning work just fine)
- Freshly grated ginger, or powdered ginger, approx. 1/8tsp
- 1/4 cup juice, mashed fruit, or flavoring herbs of your choice (see here for flavor suggestions, or read on for my favorites so far)
- a bowl to hold your SCOBY + enough Kombucha to cover the SCOBY in the bowl
These instructions are for brewing Kombucha with a fully ready SCOBY. If you have a dehydrated one you need to activate, which I have never done, visit this site and it tells you how. And then, for the first three batches after that, you’ll need to follow these instructions.
Step One: Brew your tea! Using 5 tea bags of your choice, ideally green or black. Let the tea stew for at least five minutes in around 2 cups of water (you CAN brew this in the bottom of your gallon jar, but that’ll make it harder to get the tea bags out when your tea is done.), and then add 1 cup of sugar and stir until dissolved.
Step Two: In your clean gallon jar, add the tea and cold-lukewarm water until the jar is about 2/3 full of LUKEWARM tea/water brew. It’s very important that this water not be hot or icy, as too hot or too cold of water can kill your SCOBY. If it’s a bit cool or a bit warm, it should be okay.
I have seen some instructions advise you to use filtered water, but so far I’ve used tap water and my SCOBY is thriving very well. If you live in an area that you know chlorinates the water, then you should probably filter it.
Step Three: with clean hands, gently place your SCOBY in the top of the jar (if it sinks, it’s okay; a new SCOBY will probably grow at the top OR it will rise back up) and pour in the leftover Kombucha from the last batch (if you got a SCOBY from someone, they will have hopefully given it to you in its own bit of Kombucha. Otherwise you can pour in a bottle of raw, unflavored Kombucha from the store.).
Step Four: Cover the top with a coffee filter, and secure with a rubber band. This will allow the SCOBY to get the oxygen it needs, but keep pesky things like fruit flies and other contaminants from getting in. If you’re concerned about the appearance of your SCOBY, this post has advice on what a healthy SCOBY looks like, as well as a visual guide to discern between SCOBY bacterias and mold.
Store your jar of brewing Kombucha out of direct sunlight in a warm place for 7-10 days. (The warmer the spot, the faster the Kombucha will be ready. If you’re not sure, you can use a straw to taste the brew; it should be fizzy and only slightly sweet, with a vinegary taste. But really it’s up to your preferences! The less sweet you want it, the longer you should let it brew.)
And now the fun part: flavoring!
Once your Kombucha has gone through a first brew (the above instructions), get it out of your cupboard and place the SCOBY + enough brew to cover the SCOBY in a clean glass bowl. Set aside for later.
While your tea is brewing (again, above instructions), put around 1/8 of a teaspoon of ginger (if it’s powdered, use 1/4 teaspoon; if you hate the flavor, you can skip it or use 1/8tsp powdered and you won’t taste it. It’s just good for you.) and about 1/4 cup of juice or mashed fruit in your pint jars. I don’t actually measure any of these things, I just… dump until it looks good.
Pour in your Kombucha from the gallon jar, leaving about 1/2-1 inch headroom for the fermentation process. Too full, and your jars will spray everywhere, leak, or in rare worst-case-scenarios, explode and shoot glass shards everywhere. But as long as you leave adequate head room, none of that will happen.
Seal up your jars, finish making another batch of brew (first set of instructions), and put the gallon of brew and all of the jars in that nice warm dark place. After 2-4 days, take your pint jars of Kombucha out of the warm place, strain out any solids, and store them in the fridge to be enjoyed.
You CAN drink the Kombucha directly after the first brewing, or right after adding your juice or fruits or whatever flavoring you desired to put in them; it’s perfectly healthy and won’t hurt a bit. But the second round of fermentation is really good for you and will produce more probiotics in the pint jars as it sits, plus they’ll get fizzier as they sit and who doesn’t like fizzy things?
And once you’ve gotten through your first brew and your first flavoring session, all you gotta do is step and repeat every week! So, on to questions likely raised because you’re reading this.
Do I have to add sugar to my Kombucha? YES. If you don’t add any sugar during your brew sessions, your SCOBY will die. The bacteria needs the sugar in order to thrive, so don’t skip it! You can use many forms of sugar, including agave, honey, organic, brown, whatever, but use sugar! And like I said before, my mom has tried other forms of sugar as have a few others she knows who brew Kombucha, and they’ve all said that the cheap granulated processed sugar produces the best SCOBY. Who knows why.
Can I brew the first brew for longer than 10 days? Yes! You can brew your gallon of Kombucha for up to 30 days, or so I’ve read. It is all about how you want it to taste and how much sugar you want your end result to have. Your SCOBY will continue to eat up any and all sugar in the brew, so even after 7 days your end result will not have a lot of sugar, but if you prefer really vinegary Kombucha, brew it longer.
Will it hurt to let the pint jars sit longer than 4 days? Ideally, 2-4 days is best both for flavor profile and for the healthy bacteria to continue growing with the flavors, but you can leave it to brew a second time for up to 14 days. If you want sweeter Kombucha to drink, or if you are pregnant, let your second brew pint jars sit for less time. If you prefer less sweet, and more vinegary taste, let them brew longer.
My SCOBY looks like it’s growing layers, what’s with that? It’s normal, and means your SCOBY is healthy! The thicker your SCOBY gets, the faster it will produce your brew. You can let it grow, or you can split it and start a second batch/give the second SCOBY to someone/throw it away/whatever. If you DO want to split your SCOBY, all you’ll have to do is gently pull it apart at the natural seams where it grew more layers. Be sure that your SCOBY is going to still be at least 1 inch thick, though, to ensure that it remains healthy and thriving.
If you know someone who wants the SCOBY, pass it on by putting it in a clean glass container, covering it with enough of your Kombucha brew to submerge it completely, and covering it with plastic wrap. Store this in the fridge until they take it — and it is safe to store thusly for months, as long as it doesn’t dry out or get contaminated by other foods!
Is Kombucha alcoholic? Well, it IS a fermented drink, so there are trace amounts of alcohol in it. However, a Kombucha brew left to sit for 7-10 days will only have 0.5% alcohol or LESS, so it’s nothing to worry about.
Is Kombucha pregnancy safe/nursing safe/kid safe? Yes, although I would suggest only letting your second brew (the pint jars) sit for 2 days max if you’re pregnant or going to give it to kids. Or, get some inexpensive PH testing strips, and make sure your home brew is between 2.5 and 3 PH. Like I said, the more you let it sit, the more alcohol content it will have. Two extra days is not going to add enough alcohol content to harm you, your fetus, or your children at ALL. So, brew with the smarts I know you have, and you’ll all be just fine! Please note, I have done extensive research on this, having been pregnant twice and asked this question MOST of all and being a smart, concerned mom myself. Here are a few articles that further explain the cautions and safety of Kombucha during pregnancy/while nursing: One, Two, Three.
Personally, while pregnant or nursing I have found that drinking Kombucha, either storebought OR homemade, during pregnancy/nursing has had absolutely no ill effects and in this second pregnancy has actually helped a ton with morning sickness. I was very sick this time around, but if I woke up and felt sick, a few sips of Kombucha almost immediately warded off the queasiness. It’s kind of magical.
What kinds of tea can I use/can they be decaf? Ideally, use black or green tea, not flavored. The SCOBY will eat up some of the caffeine, but if you’re like my mom and can’t have ANY caffeine, decaf is just fine. If you use herbal tea, use at least 25% black or green tea as well. Teas with added oils and flavored teas can affect the health of your SCOBY. Here is a list of all the teas you can use to brew your Kombucha.
Can I flavor my Kombucha during the first brew? NO. Adding any kind of flavoring, fruit, or juice to your first brew of Kombucha (the brew in the big gallon jar) will contaminate your SCOBY and it will not thrive. It will also increase the chances of mold growing.
What can I put in my second brew to flavor it? Um… pretty much anything you want! Personally, I have tried cranberry juice, cran-raspberry juice, fresh watermelon, fresh blueberries, fresh cherries, and mango juice. My favorite thus far has been the fresh blueberry or cran-raspberry, but I have yet to taste this week’s brew, which I did half fresh mango and half fresh blackberries. This post and this post have good ideas for flavoring your brew!
Do I have to strain the fresh fruit out before refrigerating? No, but the longer you leave the fruit in the jars, the more sour/vinegary your kombucha will begin to taste after you stick it in the fridge.
There’s a weird little jellyfish growing in my second brew! Is that bad? No! That’s good! That’s just a baby SCOBY growing, and you can either strain it out if you think it’s kinda gross (I do), or drink it for an extra probiotic kick.
How long does it take to make Kombucha? After the 7-10 day fermentation period, the entire step-by-step process described above, from creating your first brew to flavoring your second brew, only takes about 10 minutes. Once you’re comfortable with the process, you’ll able to brew your tea, fill your jars with flavoring, pour your ready Kombucha in, and prep your liquid for another round of SCOBY fermentation REALLY fast. And this is coming from a woman who is 38 weeks pregnant and has a 1.5 year old to deal with. It doesn’t take up much time.
How much drinkable Kombucha will one batch make? If you fill your gallon jar up every time to brew, it will make you around 8 pint jars for second brewing, which, if you’re like me and have to Google how much a pint is, is roughly 128oz of Kombucha. (A pint is 16 ounces. You’re welcome.)
How much will it cost me to keep up? So once you have your SCOBY and are on your way to making yourself a batch of Kombucha weekly to drink, you’re wondering… is it worth the effort and the initial investment if I can’t find someone who already has a SCOBY they can give me? And I am here to tell you… I wondered the same thing. Last night, I calculated the costs of regularly brewing Kombucha VS how much it would cost me to buy the same amount from the store every month.
And you might want to sit down for this.
Given that my Kombucha yields me about 8 pints of drinkable brew each week, this means in a month I will have made around 32 drinkable jars of Kombucha. If I were to buy that at the grocery store, it would cost me — on sale — $95.68 a month. Or $23.92 a week. And this is just going by the general GT Dave’s bottles when they’re on sale. Regular priced, it’d cost $127.68/month, or $31.92 a week. (So that’s $2.99-3.99 per bottle, which is the cheapest I have found anywhere)
Brewing my own Kombucha regularly, one month of 32 drinkable jars using cran-raspberry juice to flavor costs — ready for this? — just about $13.44. PER MONTH. Or $3.36 a week. That’s $0.42 per 16oz, versus $2.99. Using fresh fruit, I calculated that this week’s Mango kombucha, which is the most expensive fruit I’ve used so far, cost me a grand total of about $0.62 per jar, $5.36 per week, or $21.44 per month.
So, buy it for $95-127 a month, or brew it for $13-21?
And that’s all I have today! Hopefully I have covered the biggest questions about making and drinking and safety and all of that, but if you have ANY other questions, ask away! I will either know the answer, or direct you to Google. Ha!
Most of all, enjoy your Kombucha if you decide to make it!