With the warm weather, there is nothing quite like a refreshing drink to beat the heat. A great alternative to soda is Kombucha, but unfortunately it often sets you back $4 a bottle. However, making it at home will cost you pennies per cup and tastes far better in my opinion. As you’ll see below, once you get the hang of things (the first few times are always longer), my simplified recipe for Kombucha will take you as little as 15 minutes of your time to complete.
So why all the hype with Kombucha? Well, for one, it is probiotic drink that tastes great! Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that provide a beneficial effect on the host, whereas pathogens—and why most of us fear germs—cause a detrimental effect. Having healthy bacteria provides many health benefits, some include: communicating with our immune system in a positive way, filling up vacancies in your intestine to crowd out pathogens, protection from bowel issues resulting from antibiotic use, and predigesting foods to allow the nutrients in these foods to be more readily absorbed and utilized by your body. To make Kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt, pickles and many other foods loaded with these beneficial microbes, cultures around the world have relied on a fermentation, often dating back thousands of years. Fermenting is a process in which one makes the environment hospitable for select microbes to flourish. My biggest fear when I started fermenting was the safety—is really safe to leave something on the counter for a week or two and then eat or drink it? For Kombucha, you start with a Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeasts (SCOBY) and the food source is cane sugar mixed in a green or black tea. The probiotics then digest most of the sugar, multiply rapidly, and because the environment becomes more acidic, it becomes inhospitable to pathogens. Yay!
4 green tea bags
2 black tea bags
1 cup of cane sugar
¾ gallon of water
1 cup of orange juice (optional)
- Heat up about 2 cups of water. If the water is boiling, wait about 2 minutes for it to cool down slightly (best for green and black teas).
- Add tea and steep for 4-6 minutes. You can do all black tea for a stronger flavor (about 4 bags) or all green tea for a milder one (about 6-8 bags), but my preference is mixing the two (2 black and 4 green). On a side note, the benefit of this concentrated tea method is that it is far more efficient use of time compared to other kombucha recipes that call for steeping the tea with a large amount of water and then waiting several hours for the tea to cool to room temperature.
- Add sugar into 1 gallon glass container. It is important to use a glass or ceramic container, since long periods of time required for the fermentation process will often corrode metal (unless it is a very high grade stainless steel) and plastic containers.
- Remove tea bags and pour hot tea into glass container. Mix with a wooden spoon to dissolve most of the sugar.
- Fill most of the way (about ¾ gallon) with filtered room temperature water and stir—just leave enough room for the SCOBY and a couple of inches of air to the mouth of the jar. It is important that the water is filtered, since the small amount of chlorine in tap water can kills the bacteria, including the ones found in the kombucha. It is also essential that the temperature of the mixture is at room temperature and not exceeding about 90°F, otherwise it will kill off most of the beneficial microbes.
- Add SCOBY and about 1 cup from the previous batch to the room temperature tea.
- Cover with a cloth or very loosely fitted lid and place in cool dark area, such as a pantry or cabinet. When carbonation builds up, it will need room to expand. Being in too much sun can also negatively affect the fermentation process.
- Leave for 5-7 days. In the colder months, I sometimes leave up to 2 weeks. This is because bacteria and yeast multiply faster the warmer it gets. Even in the refrigerator, these microbes are digesting the sugars and multiplying, only the process is slowed down substantially. If in doubt, take a spoon and taste periodically during this time. Too sour means it was left too long, though perfectly safe to drink, and the level of fermentation taste will depend on your preference.
- Once ready, place SCOBY and about 1 cup of this liquid aside for the next batch.
- If desired, place a strainer over a mixing bowl and pour the liquid through it into the bowl. I use a large mixing bowl with a small pouring spout, which makes it easier to pour. I don’t use a strainer, but just pick out any darker pieces (they are perfectly safe, it’s just a preference to remove them) and I don’t bother removing any “mini SCOBYs” that are formed, since I don’t mind drinking them.
- Pour into several bottles (leave 2-3 inches of air) or two 64 ounce growlers (leave 3-4 inches of air). Even mason jars will work (leave 1-2 inches of air).
- Optional: Add juice into bottles (about 2 oz for every 12 oz).
- Tighten the lid and place in the refrigerator if juice was not If juice was added, or you want more carbonation, leave at room temperature for another 1-2 days for a “second ferment” and then place in the refrigerator. As the bacteria and yeast digest more of the sugar leftover in the tea mixture and fruit juice, carbon dioxide is released. With the lid tightly sealed the carbonation becomes contained and the drink becomes fizzy. Only be cautious that the jars can support the high pressure and if left out for too many days, it can either break the glass or comes bubbling out like shaken up champagne!
After your initial batch, and to save time, I start on steps 1-2, then jump to steps 9-13 while the tea is steeping, and then return to steps 3-8.
Now keep in mind that if you get your SCOBY online, where it has been dormant, the first batch or two will likely take longer to ferment (when you taste it, it just tastes like tea with sugar), sometimes 2-3 weeks. After this time it should produce nicely.
There are other options for a second ferment of the Kombucha so you can have a variety of flavors. Some of my favorites are orange peach mango and lime ginger Kombucha. You can use juices, jam, or freeze dried fruit such as apple cinnamon. The possibilities are endless!
Lastly, the SCOBY (i.e., the “mother”) will form an additional SCOBY layer (i.e., the “daughter”). You can give the daughter SCOBY to a friend to start their own Kombucha or you can just throw it away.