I've been making my own kombucha at home for about a year now.
Making kombucha at home is a lot easier than most people think. Your first batch or two might not taste all that great if you bottle it too early or too late, but then you should find what you like best and have fresh, bubbly kombucha just the way you like it at your convenience! Also, while it does take time to brew and space in your home, it's much cheaper than spending $5-10-20 per day on the bottled stuff from the store!
Everyone makes it a little bit different, but this is how I got started and continue to keep the brew going month after month!
Buy the supplies
- SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. You can get one of these things locally, if you know someone selling them or giving them away (like me!), you can buy one and have it shipped (which is what I did to get started), or you can actually just use vinegar and some kombucha cultures from a bottle (you know those stringy parts in some kombuchas). If you want to buy a SCOBY, I got mine from Amazon here and it worked great!
- Big glass jar. You can use anything you have around the house that's glass (no metal), preferably the larger the better. It should have a wide mouth so that you can grow a SCOBY on the top and be able to take it out. I use this 1-gallon glass fermentation jar, also from Amazon, but you can use something you already have, or buy something locally.
- Bottling jars. Again, you can use anything your heart desires to put the finished kombucha in as long as it has a top that closes tightly. You won't be able to make it nice and carbonated unless the jar has a secure closure. I use these 34 oz Quattro Stagioni glass bottles and I usually need 3-4 of these to bottle all the kombucha from a 1-gallon brew. You could also check out The Container Store for a selection of tons of different types of jars and bottles. I probably spent way too long comparing them all, haha.
- Sugar. Seriously, any white sugar works. I use plain white sugar that I bought at Walgreens, but if I run out of sugar I would get organic white cane sugar next time.
- Distilled white vinegar. You will only need this for the first brew if you don't have 2 cups worth of starter kombucha. Just make sure it is not apple cider vinegar or any other type of vinegar. You want distilled white vinegar.
- Tea bags. This is where you can start to personalize and get creative. The type of tea you use is up to personal preference. But DON'T USE herbal teas with any oils in them. In fact, just steer clear of any herbal teas until you've had a few successful brews and you want to get more creative and try things out. For your first brew choose either black tea or green tea. I like the flavor, caffeine content, and phytonutrients of green tea so I use that. Trader Joe's Green Tea bags is what I have been using because it's pretty inexpensive, but other brands will also work, as long as it's not mixed with other herbals.
- Cheesecloth. This is optional, but nice to have. When you're brewing your kombucha in the 1-gallon jar, you'll want to leave it open to breathe, but don't want anything to drop into the jar. Any breathable covering will work, but I had cheesecloth so that's what I use. It's not that expensive and comes in handy when I'm filtering.
- Funnels. This is also optional, but really convenient when pouring kombucha from your 1-gallon jar into your smaller bottles. You might even already have one in your kitchen, so you don't need to buy this. If you do buy something, go ahead and get one with a filter in it too if you prefer your kombucha more filtered (meaning, no slimy particles).
Brew Your Kombucha
The following instructions are for a 1-gallon jar.
- Boil about a liter of water (approximately half the gallon jar, but it doesn't matter at all if you boil a little more or less). Put the water into your 1-gallon jar.
- Put 8 tea bags into the gallon jar. Let steep for a few minutes, maybe 10, maybe more. I usually let them steep and walk away and come back quite a while later, when I remember. But don't wait for the water to get cold because you need hot/warm water for the next step!
- Take the tea bags out of the water.
- Measure out 1 cup of white sugar. Pour the sugar into the jar with the tea and stir with a plastic or wood utensil until fully dissolved.
- Let sit until cool. For me, this usually takes a few hours or more.
- Add about 2 cups of starter tea or vinegar. This will depend on if you bought a SCOBY, are using commercial kombucha, or something else. The SCOBY I bought came in a little bit of fluid, so I put the starter fluid in the tea and then used distilled white vinegar to fill the rest of the way up to 2 cups.
- Fill the jar the rest of the way almost to the top with cold filtered tap water (your kombucha will only be as good as the water you put in it!). Leave enough room to put your SCOBY in there.
- Now's the time to put your SCOBY in the jar with the tea. Go ahead, do it. If you can place it so that it floats on top, that's perfect. If it doesn't, that's fine, it will just grow a new SCOBY on top.
- Cover the jar with something breathable, like cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.
- Place your jar somewhere warm and dark to ferment. The dark part is less important, but the warm part is pretty important. If you keep your jar in a cold place it will take forever to ferment. The warmer the room, the faster it will ferment. I keep my jar in the warmest cabinet in my kitchen.
- Now you just leave the jar there to ferment for 5-15 days. On average, I would say it takes me about 10 days to ferment but in the winter it can take closer to 2 weeks. In a warmer climate or during the summer I would take a straw and taste-test your kombucha after 5 days and every other day thereafter so that you start to notice how the taste is changing over time. Remember, you don't want it to over-ferment because it will basically all turn to vinegar.
When is your kombucha ready?
This is personal preference, but you want to find the sweet spot between sweet tea and vinegar. It's not ready yet if it is really sweet and still tastes just like sweet tea. It's been too long if it tastes like vinegar and is unpleasant. Experiment! For your first batch, I recommend taste-testing frequently so that you don't wait too long.
Bottling & Second Fermentation
If you like your kombucha fizzy and carbonated, you'll want to do a "second fermentation". Basically, you just bottle up your kombucha, secure the lid, and put it back in "storage" in the same warm place for another day or two to get some bubbles. I let mine ferment for 2 days, given my climate. If you're in a very warm climate, you might only need 1 day. Unless you're in a very cold climate, don't wait more than 2 days because you probably won't get any more bubbles and risk leakage!
- When you think your kombucha is ready, it's time to bottle it! Take off the breathable covering and pull out your bottles and funnel.
- Note: if you want to add flavoring, you can do that in this step. I add some fruit, juice, and/or herbs to my bottles here before pouring the kombucha into them. If I use juice, I usually just put 1/4 cup juice at the bottom. For fruit, I usually use a few frozen strawberries. For herbs, I love throwing in a few sprigs of fresh mint! You don't have to put anything in now, though.
- Take out your SCOBY(s) and put it in a bowl with about 2 cups of the tea and set aside for your next brew.
- Put the funnel over your bottle and pour the kombucha in, leaving an inch or two at the top. Fill each bottle this way until you're out of tea.
- Cover the bottles with their lids and/or secure the top.
- Place the bottles back in the same place you stored the 1-gallon jar to brew.
- Let sit for 1-2 days
- Your kombucha is now done! Stick the bottles in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
That's it! Kombucha tastes best cold, so wait until it's chilled off before pouring yourself a glass. Enjoy!
I hope this helps. Please let me know if you end up making kombucha and how it goes for you! If you run into any problems, leave me a comment and I'll try to trouble shoot with you!