Friday, April 13, 2012

How to Make Kombucha (part 1)

How to Make Kombucha (part 1)

By Michael T. Lagueux II, B.A., D.C.
Positive Edge Chiropractic

Kombucha has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason!  It's amazingly delicious, and has quite a few health benefits. It's essentially fermented tea, so all of the health benefits of tea are present (polyphenols, antioxidants, etc.), but the fermentation process by a variety of beneficial bacteria and yeasts results in the production of many other important substances. These include organic acids such as acetic acid and glucaric acid. It is these substances that may be responsible for the "detoxifying" properties of kombucha that many people talk about. Although there isn't much formal research on kombucha to go by, it has been consumed in various forms for thousands of years by many different cultures. We think it's great stuff, and even learned to brew our own. It makes a pretty easy and fun home project! Dr. Mike wrote a guide on how to make it, which we'll post here in two parts. Here's part one, which covers the basic process. Next will be part two, which includes some very useful tips for both the brewing and bottling processes. Ok, now onto the guide!

Guide to Making Kombucha (version 1.1, October 2011)
(Part 1 of 2)

Equipment needed:
A large metal pot with a lid
Wooden spoon or plastic spatula (anything but metal)
2 to 2.5 gallon glass container with lid
A funnel
A towel
Glass bottles with screw caps (enough to fit approx. 2 gallons)

Ingredients of a Kombucha brew:
2 gallons of distilled and/or purified water
16oz (2 cups) of organic evaporated cane juice
12 bags (24 grams) of green, white, or black tea
A healthy SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts)
16oz (or more) of unflavored Kombucha or Kombucha vinegar
Juices and/or fruit (of your choice) for the bottling stage (optional)

How to make a SCOBY:
1. Purchase a bottle of plain (unflavored) kombucha, pour it into a glass or plastic cup, and cover it with a towel. Place it in a dark place between 70 and 80 degrees F.
2. After 14 to 21 days, a whitish gelatinous layer (“biofilm”, or zoogleal mat) will form on the surface. This is microbial cellulose, produced primarily by the bacteria Gluconacetobacter xylinus, and is the matrix in which the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) live. Microbial cellulose is a highly prized material and is used for a variety of diverse applications.
3. Remove the SCOBY before all of the liquid is absorbed/evaporates.

How to brew Kombucha:
1. Bring one gallon of water just to a boil, and turn off the heat.
2. Add the 12 tea bags and let them steep for 5-7 minutes (even more is fine). When you remove the tea bags, squeeze out the remaining liquid, but be careful not to break any of the tea bags.
3. Add the 2 cups of sugar and begin to gently stir. Make sure that all of the sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Cover the mixture of sugar and tea and allow it to cool to room temperature (no warmer than 80 degrees F). This is now a viable substrate for microbial growth! So be careful not to allow any foreign items, substances, or undesirable organisms any access to the vessel at this stage.
5. Pour the cooled mixture of sugar and tea into the glass container. Add the other gallon of water and briefly stir to achieve a homogeneous mixture, leaving 1 to 2 inches of space at the top of the vessel.
6. Next add the kombucha or kombucha vinegar and then the SCOBY. Place the SCOBY on top of the mixture, but don’t worry if it sinks down a bit (or even to the bottom). It will eventually float to the top, as kombucha fermentation occurs primarily aerobically and hence at the interface of the liquid and air.
7. Cover the container in a towel (to block out light and provide insulation), and store it in a dark place with a consistent temperature from 70 to 80 degrees F. Kombucha will ferment more slowly in colder temperatures, so if it gets too cold it will take a bit longer to finish.
8. After about two weeks the SCOBY will have fermented out most of the sugar in the mixture. Sample the mixture on days 10 and 12 and try to detect any sweetness. Finished Kombucha should have little to none! In addition, the kombucha will most likely be slightly carbonated at this stage. The flavor should be similar to an unflavored lambic, gueuze, or sour apple cider with some weird funk to it (if any of that description helps). Not to worry, you will get pretty good at tasting kombucha and knowing when it’s ready. The important thing is to recognize its extremely sour flavor, the lack of sugary sweetness, and the fairly “dry” cider-like finish.

How to bottle Kombucha:
The simplest way to bottle kombucha is to pour it into glass bottles and screw the cap on tight. Pretty obvious, I know! You can drink it right away, or you can allow it to continue fermenting in the bottle. Just place it in the same area that you store your kombucha fermenters. Refrigerate after five days so that the fermentation slows down. You can keep it for a month in the refrigerator, or maybe even more. But be careful of exploding bottles, it may eventually happen!

The other method of bottling is secondary fermentation or bottle conditioning, and is similar to the “m├ęthode champenoise” in making champagne and also to the bottle re-fermentation process used in many Belgian-style beers. In the case of kombucha, this involves adding an additional sugar source at the time of bottling such as more evaporated cane juice or various juices of your choosing. The amount of juice added should be somewhere within the range of 5-10% of the total volume of the bottle you are using in order to achieve the best results with this method. Remember that at the time of bottling, the kombucha brew should nearly be free of sugar. So adding more at bottling time (in whatever form you have decided upon) “wakes up” the bacteria and yeasts and allows them to undergo another round of fermentation within the bottle. Store the bottles at room temperature for up to five days, and then refrigerate them. This will dramatically slow down the fermentation process so as to prevent exploding bottles! And now, congratulations are in order, as you have discovered how to make one of the most delicious naturally carbonated beverages on the planet!


  1. readers should be advised that growing a scoby is not the same as it was before 2010 and may not result in a "full-strength" Kombucha brew, details here:

  2. Thanks for your comment, and for the link! That's a pretty great site with a lot of good information. Thanks again!

  3. I'm a fan of natural medicine and I found this article a great find. I would definitely want to try this, I hope it's not that difficult and complicated as it seems. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Glad you enjoyed this article! Good luck in your brewing adventures, it's really not very difficult. You'll be a kombucha master in no time! Feel free to email me with any questions, or ask them here, I'll be glad to help.