One of my favorite things to do is wait until my kids are down for naps to eat my lunch. It means I can eat in silence, while reading a book, without sharing my food. Our house is usually SUPER hot by that point in the day. I have some amazing, huge windows in my kitchen that let in a LOT of natural light which I love… but they also let in a LOT of natural heat, which I do not love. There’s something about sitting down with a super cold, fizzy drink at lunch time that is so refreshing. Years ago I would have probably kept soft drinks stashed in my fridge for those occasions, but now kombucha is my go-to refreshing drink.
Kombucha sounds scary to a lot of people… it sounded scary to me until a friend taught me about it almost exactly a year ago. It took a little experimenting and time before I really got the hang of it, but now it’s a bit like riding a bike. I have a system in place where I process it at regular intervals, and it keeps my fridge stocked and ready to go.
So first, what is kombucha? It is a fermented tea drink that has super awesome probiotic benefits. It is rich in antioxidants, can help manage cholesterol, help with arthritis, and possibly even help prevent cancer. Two very informative articles about kombucha are this one from Healthline that mentions some specific benefits of kombucha made with green tea and this one from Wide Open Eats that also mentions energy and mood enhancement… which, let’s be honest, all moms need!
How do you make kombucha? Well, you start with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). It’s basically a flat pancake-like mushroom. When it sits in a jar with your tea and a small amount of sugar, it ferments the liquid, making kombucha. I’m not going to lie, they are kind of freaky looking, but they are totally harmless. You can buy SCOBYs online, but you can also just get one from a friend; they tend to reproduce easily. My SCOBY is named Toby; I highly recommend naming yours as it’s going to be your pet and your friend for a very long time.
I prefer to make my kombucha with black tea; I just like the flavor of black tea better. Recently, however, I started making it with peach oolong tea (shout out to my Aunt Dawn who taught me this amazing trick!) and it’s by far my favorite kombucha. Oolong has it’s own awesome set of health benefits and combining it with kombucha makes a super drink that is awesome for you!
Simply boil six cups of water and drop five tea bags into your water. Remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it sit 20 minutes. Remove the tea bags and stir in 1/2 cup of white sugar. Yes, sugar free/low carb people, it has to be regular old white sugar. Your SCOBY will eat it and there won’t be any residual effects from it, I promise.
Once your tea has cooled to room temperature (an important step, since your SCOBY does not like extreme heat), pour it into a 1/2 gallon jar with your SCOBY and 1 cup of starter liquid (which is just finished kombucha; if you get a SCOBY from a friend, they should give you liquid along with it). Your SCOBY may float and it may not; it doesn’t matter.
Put a coffee filter with a canning ring on the top of your can and – if you are forgetful like I am – write the date on top. Sometimes I forget to process mine on the correct day (gasp) and that helps me keep track of how long it’s been fermenting.
Just like any fermentation process, the warmer and more humid it is, the faster it will go. Here in south Alabama, in the summer I let Toby work for 5-7 days. In the winter it takes more like 10-12 days. Storing it in a warm, damp place helps, but I’ve discovered that storing it on an “outside wall” of your house isn’t always ideal. For example, when I first got my SCOBY I kept my kombucha in a cabinet on the outside wall of my laundry room. My logic was that the warmth from my dryer would make it a good spot. In the winter, though, it refused to ferment. I think the cold seeping through the wall kept it from living it’s best life. Now I keep it under my kitchen sink, which is technically an outside wall but is far back from the elements under a carport. My Grandma and a friend of mine both kept theirs under their sinks, which are outside walls, but when it got cold outside (my Grandma’s pipes actually froze), their SCOBYs grew mold. Mold is a good sign that your SCOBY got too cold, and is sadly something it can’t recover from… it requires starting over with a new pet.
After your kombucha is fermented (taste it – the longer it sits, the more of a vinegar flavor it will have. That is totally up to personal preference), you can either remove your SCOBY and sit the whole thing in the fridge, ready to drink, or you can go on to the next step and flavor and carbonate it. If you choose not to go on to the next step, you’ll have a tea-like drink with a slight vinegar taste. It’s super yummy, but I crave the carbonation I get from the second round of fermenting.
To (optionally) flavor and carbonate your kombucha: Reserve 1 cup of liquid for your next batch, then pour your kombucha into brewing bottles. I really like these from Amazon. If you want to flavor your kombucha, you can put berries into the bottles (crush them a little between your fingers first). Some people add extracts. Basically the only thing off-limits is citrus fruits; the citrus interacts with the fermentation process. When I use peach tea for my kombucha, I don’t usually add any flavorings, but once this summer I added blueberries to it and really liked it!
Let your bottles sit out on the counter for another 3-5 days. Do not (I repeat, do not) fill them too full… a lot of pressure builds up in there as they are fermenting the second time. That’s what makes the carbonation, but it also can be bad if it builds up too much. I recommend “burping” your bottles (just open them) every day to release a little pressure. Adding fruit seems to cause the fermentation to speed up so I especially recommend burping them if you’ve done that. When the bottles are carbonated to your satisfaction, placing them in the fridge will stop the process. You can either leave the berries in or strain them out. A half gallon of kombucha typically gives me two bottles, my 1 cup of starter, plus a teeny bit.
When Your SCOBY has a baby: Okay, let’s talk really quickly about SCOBY reproduction. Most SCOBYs make a baby SCOBY each time they are used. If your SCOBY sank, it’ll grow another one at the top of the jar. If it floated, it’ll grow it’s “baby” on the top of it. Sometimes the baby is big and thick and fat, but sometimes it’s just a teeny thing.
The two SCOBYs will peel apart easily. You can either use both of them and make two batches this time (as long as the baby is a decent size) or you can discard one… or you can give one to a friend! I typically discard my older one and use the newer one. I am reminded of a discussion in Philosophy 101, where we were asked “if parts of a ship were replaced one board at a time over many years until eventually none of the original wood of the ship remains, is it still the same ship?”
The answer my discussion group landed on was yes, because a ship’s identity is found in the spirit of the ship, not the wood. So in case you are worried about throwing your pet into the trash, you can find comfort in the idea that the spirit of your original SCOBY still remains. This may be Toby 52.0, but it is still Toby the SCOBY.
What do you do if you want to put the kombucha production on hold? I didn’t want to keep up with it all for a couple months after my youngest was born, so I hit “pause” on the whole thing. To do that, you just make a SCOBY hotel. Put your SCOBY with a couple cups of starter liquid in a jar, put the coffee filter on top, and put it in a cabinet. Make sure you check every couple weeks to ensure it still has liquid in it, but for the most part you can forget about it. I quite literally forgot about mine for approximately three months. When I “found” it again, Toby had reproduced so many times that I had one giant pint-jar-sized SCOBY. This is a cautionary tale: make your SCOBY hotel in a wide-mouthed jar. I almost had to break the jar to get mine out. Another cautionary tale: don’t use your “hotel liquid” to drink or make another batch of kombucha. That stuff is potent.
It is not recommended to start drinking kombucha for the first time if you are pregnant or nursing. If you’ve been drinking it regularly before, then enjoy it in moderate amounts.
Hopefully this makes you excited and ready to try some kombucha on your own… it’s delicious, healthy, and so super easy!
6 cups water
5 tea bags
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup starter liquid (completed – but not carbonated – kombucha)
1/2 gallon glass jar
berries or extracts to flavor
Bring the water to a boil; add the tea bags, cover, and remove from heat. Let steep for 20 minutes, then remove tea bags. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring it to room temperature.
Place your SCOBY and 1 cup starter in jar. Slowly pour the finished tea into the jar (your SCOBY may rise to the top – it doesn’t matter if it does or doesn’t!).
Put the coffee filter over the jar and secure with the canning ring. Place in a warm place and let it sit for 5-7 days (longer if you’re in a cool climate).
Remove SCOBY and 1 cup liquid for your next batch. Pour the kombucha into brewing bottles and add any flavorings you desire. Seal the bottles and let them sit for 3-5 days, burping each day. Place the bottles in the fridge to stop the fermentation process. Enjoy!