Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kombucha - Part II: The Brew

A lot has happened in the last week in the world of kombucha.  First off, I'm proud to say that I successfully finished brewing my first batch.  Unflavored, made with black tea, and so refreshing.  There's definite satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment in my world right now.  The other bit of news that came to me this past weekend was the massive recall of kombucha teas from Whole Foods Markets because of the possibility of elevated alcohol levels not identified on the label.  Don't get the wrong idea.  Drinking kombucha isn't going to get you sauced.  The elevated levels found in the Synergy brand kombucha sold at Whole Foods were just slightly over the 0.5 % alcohol content permitted without a government warning about the dangers to unborn fetuses and the like.

Since WF isn't currently a reliable source of kombucha, there's even more incentive to brew your own.

It feels serendipitous that I finished my first batch of brew just two days before I heard about the recall.  Psychic abilities?  Check.

So how did I do it?  Well, I've already explained how to grow the SCOBY.  Remember how simple that was?  Brewing the kombucha is even easier.  Keep in mind that there are many methods and opinions about the best way to do this.  These directions are based on my personal experience.  These are the items you'll need:
  • 8 C. water
  • 4 tea bags or 4 T. loose tea leaves (I used loose black tea leaves)
  • 1/2 C. sugar (white, granulated - this is the food for the SCOBY)
  • 1/2 C. reserved tea mixture from the making of your SCOBY (if you bought a SCOBY it should have come with some liquid.  This is what you'll use)
  • 1 kombucha SCOBY, mother, mushroom (or whatever you wanna call it)
  • 1 - 1/2 gallon glass jar
  • 1 clean kitchen towel
  • 1 rubber band
Once you've assembled your arsenal, you're ready to get down to business.  There are a lot of steps here, but don't let that scare you away.  I'm just really breaking it down for you.
  • First, bring the water to a boil in a pot.  When it has just begun to boil, take off the heat, and add the tea bags or leaves.  Let it steep for 5 minutes, then remove the bags or strain the leaves out completely.
  • Add the sugar and stir until all of it has dissolved.
  • Now the waiting game. THE TEA MUST COOL TO ROOM TEMP before you proceed any further.  If you add the SCOBY while the tea is still hot, it will die.  What a miserable death that would be.
  • After a couple of hours, your tea should be cool enough. 
  • Pour the sweetened tea into the glass jar, and add the 1/2 C. of liquid you've saved with your SCOBY or the liquid your purchased one came with.
  • Place your SCOBY on top of the liquid in the jar.  Don't worry if it won't stay afloat on the surface.  It may sink, it may swim. Either way, that mother is gonna chow down on the sugar and tea in that jar and make you some mighty fine kombucha.
  • Place the towel over the opening of the jar and secure with the rubber band.  This will ensure a critter-free brew.
  • Put the jar in a dark place.  I keep mine in a cabinet.  It needs to be out of direct light.
  • Let it sit there for 5+ days (more on this below)
  • Remove the SCOBY and place in a glass container, then pour 1 C. of the finished kombucha over the SCOBY - you'll need this for your next batch!
  • I strained my kombucha to remove any pieces of SCOBY that were floating around, but this isn't necessary.
  • Drink it up!

Important Notes:

About Time: 
The amount of time it takes to brew your kombucha depends on temperature and personal taste.  The warmer it is, the quicker the fermentation process.  I brewed my first batch for 5 days, and it turned out a little less fizzy than I like and sweeter than if I'd let it continue to ferment.  The longer it ferments, the more sugar is eaten up by the yeast and bacteria, and the less sweet it will be.  You can let your kombucha ferment for 10 days if you like the way it tastes after, although the average length of time I've seen recommended was 5-8 days. 

About SCOBYs:
While the kombucha is brewing, a second SCOBY will begin to form on the surface.  If your SCOBY is floating on top, this means that another one will begin to form on top of it.  This is totally normal! If your SCOBY was a sinker, another one will still form on top of the liquid.  In the case of Siamese twin SCOBYs they may come apart after your first brew, or it may take a couple of brews before you can separate them.  The new SCOBY can be used in your next batch of kombucha and the old one saved as a back up, given to a friend in need, or discarded.  You will end up with a new one after every batch.  

About mold, discolorations, or other weirdness:
Brewing kombucha can be a little bit... interesting.  The SCOBY is strange, there's no doubt about it.  Often, ugly-looking brown stringy things will form on the under side of the SCOBY. Do not be alarmed (I freaked out when I saw this, but you don't have to!), this is a byproduct from the tea and the fermentation process.  It is not mold!  Mold is fuzzy.  Mold is not limited to the underside of the SCOBY, either.  Look at this website for pictures and details about what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to color, etc. of your SCOBY.  It helped me tremendously.

Good luck on your journey toward the mastery of kombucha brewing! Feel free to hit me up with questions, if you have any.  I'm going to grab a cold glass right now. This 95 degree weather is killing me!


  1. If you wind up with two SCOBYs, how do you save them? Room temp, refrigerated, closed or open container? Do you need to feed it like a sourdough mother?

  2. Excellent questions! I used one of them to immediately start my next batch of kombucha. They can also be stored in a closed jar with at least 1/2C. of kombucha. They do need to be fed, so if you are not planning to use the mothers for awhile, add some fresh tea and sugar to the jar and don't fill it more than half way. Every 2 weeks replace the tea/sugar in the jar with fresh. Make sure it's not hot or it will kill your SCOBYs!
    Hopefully that answers your questions.

  3. mmmmmm Kombucha! I'm addicted, but have never made my own. You've inspired me to do it. You really have!
    p.s.I'm so glad you liked my cooking show. There's more to come very soon :)


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