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A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO KOMBUCHA

Discovering the origin, benefits and how you can make this sassy, enzyme-rich fermented beverage.

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by Jody Gowans in Beverages, Kombucha, Recipes, The Basics
December 6, 2016
Kombucha on the back deck

Once found only in health food stores, Kombucha is now the “in” drink available at most grocery and corner stores.  This tasty beverage has actually been around for centuries, first documented in China in 221 BC. Known as the “Tea of Immortality”, it spread throughout Eastern Europe and Russia.   The name “kombucha” is said to have originated in Japan circa 415 AD, after a Korean doctor “Kombu”/”Kambu” prescribed the Japanese Emperor this special tea “cha” for his ailments.

WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?

Kombucha is a living drink made by fermenting sweetened tea with a “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast” (SCOBY).  

bottling-kombucha-2

 

WHAT IS A SCOBY?

scoby

Resembling a rubbery pancake, the SCOBY is actually a microbial biofilm or pellicle formed by the bacteria to glue together this happy community of yeast and bacteria. Basically, the symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship between the 2 organisms occurs when the yeast consumes the sugar in the sweetened tea and produces alcohol (ethanol).  The bacteria (generally acetobactor and gluconacetobacter) digest the ethanol and produce acetic acid, adding a vinegary tartness to the drink.

close-up-fizz-neck

Lovely kombucha bubbles!

 

WHY DRINK KOMBUCHA?

The overall result of the fermentation process is a delicious drink fortified with probiotics and a range of healthy organic acids.   Although there are conflicting studies regarding kombucha’s health benefits, the delicious taste, delightful fizz and bonus of probiotics are motivation enough to drink this sassy beverage.

 

2f-bottles-kombucha

A weekly kombucha batch for the family!

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN KOMBUCHA

Commercial kombucha is available from a variety of producers such as GT’S/SYNERGY, Rise, BAO Food and Drink to name a few.  They are excellent choices when on the run, but with just one SCOBY and starter tea, you can start brewing your own kombucha for a fraction of the cost.  Basically, with the right care and conditions, your SCOBY (also called the “mother”), will devotedly provide you with delicious kombucha.  It will also produce another SCOBY or “baby” that you can use along with finished tea from the previous brew (starter tea) to start an additional brew, give to a friend or use for other projects.  I’ve had the same “mother” for a year and she has been super busy producing delicious kombucha and lots of babies!

A weekly kombucha brew

LET’S GET BREWING!

HOW TO MAKE KOMBUCHA

**Kombucha is typically made in 2 stages: First fermentation (1F) and Second Fermentation (2F).  Although it is drinkable after the 1F, it is in the 2F that we can add endless combinations of flavor and achieve the effervescence this drink is known for.**

Fermenting time: 1-2 weeks for the first fermentation (1F), + 2 days to 1 week for the 2nd fermentation(2F)

Ingredients:

  • 2 litres (2 quarts) filtered water
  • 3-4 caffeinated tea bags  (preferably black tea) or 2-3 tsp tea leaves
  • 3/4 cup sugar (cane, sucanet)
  • 1 SCOBY or one piece of a SCOBY (at least 3 cm/2.5 ” in area)
  • 1 cup of kombucha starter (from a previous batch, or use a bottle of GT Synergy Original Kombucha)

FIRST FERMENTATION (1F)

1f-kombucha

Supply options for first fermentation 1F

1. Brew tea, let steep for at least 10 minutes.  Remove bags/strain leaves and add sugar, stir to dissolve.

2. Let sweetened tea cool to room temperature and add to fermentation container.  WITH CLEAN HANDS OR TONGS place the SCOBY and kombucha starter in the jar.  It will likely sink to the bottom and slowly rise to the top over the next few days.  Don’t worry if the SCOBY doesn’t rise, it is still active if on the bottom or floating mid-way in the jar.

scoby-in-sweet-tea

SCOBY in sweetened, room temperature tea

 

3.Cover the top of the jar with a clean dish towel, cloth or coffee filter and secure with an elastic band to keep out fruit flies and other contaminants.

covered-brew

Cover kombucha to keep out the critters!

4. Place jar in a cupboard or out of direct sunlight, ideally in a temperature of between 22-30 degrees Celsius/ 72-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Sample the tea after a week.  If it is tart enough to your liking, start the 2F process.  If not, leave it to ferment a few days longer.

6. Remove the kombucha to another container and reserve the SCOBY and approximately 1 cup (8 ounces) of the liquid to use for the next batch.  You can also remove the new SCOBY (baby) that was produced and start an additional brew or leave it attached to the existing SCOBY to fortify it for further batches.

SECOND FERMENTATION (2F)

2-f-scoby-bottles

Kombucha bottling – Look at that healthy SCOBY baby!

1. Pour the kombucha into sterilized bottles, leaving a 1″ space to the top of the bottle

 

bottling-kombucha

Second fermentation (2F) bottling- Ginger and lemongrass flavor

2. Add the flavoring of your choice (see FIZZ AND FLAVOUR COMBINATIONS FOR KOMBUCHA & WATER KEFIR for inspiration)  For extra fizz, you can choose to add a few sticks of organic ginger, 1/2 tsp of sugar or a few organic raisins.  I personally always add ginger to all my 2F.

3. Close bottles and give them a little swirl to mix the contents.  Place bottles out of direct sunlight or in a cupboard for 2-3 days.  Please note that it is a good idea to “burp” them every 2 days or so to release some of the built-up carbon dioxide caused by the 2F.  After 3 days, store them in the fridge.

Jody pouring kombucha into a glass

Cheers!

16 Comments
  1. Joanne Lam says:

    Hi Jody! Me again! Just finished bottling my first batch. Used guava juice as flavouring. Can’t wait to taste the finished product.
    Question…I reserved the mother and the baby Scoby but I inadvertently split them apart. They’re both in a 3l vessel with 2 cups starter tea. Should I use them both in my next batch? I’m confused about whether the recommended 1 scoby & 1 cup starter tea per 2 quarts is the exact ratio to be respected or just the minimum requirement? Thanks for all your help and patience!

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Joanne-Congrats on your brew! What bottles did you end up using? You don’t have to keep the mother and baby together- remember the starter tea is the potent part of the culture, so as long as you have reserved starter tea for both SCOBYs, you can start 2 batches at once. Alternatively, you can combine the SCOBYs and starter tea and make one batch. One cup of starter tea is the minimum recommendation for a 2 quart brew, 2 cups gives extra insurance for a mould-free brew.

  2. Joanne Lam says:

    Hi Jody! So i have my first kombucha 1F going. Today is day 2. The recipe I used called for only 1/2 cup of sugar for 2 quarts, less than your recipe. Hope it’s enough? During this first week, what day to day changes should I expect to see? The SCOBY is still at the bottom. I have no idea what to look for to know if this batch is successful. Right now it is looking very quiet… room temp is 80f and no direct light is reaching it. Fingers crossed! 😊

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Joanne- I would use the amount of sugar listed in my recipe- I have been using it for years and it has never failed me. You can add the extra sugar directly to the kombucha brew. Don’t worry, the yeasts will consume the majority of the sugar, more so the longer you leave it to ferment. It doesn’t matter where the SCOBY is. The culture is not really in the SCOBY but is more prevalent in the starter liquid you would have added with the SCOBY. In approximately a few days, you will see an opaque film develop on the surface of the brew. This is a new SCOBY forming and is indicative that fermentation is underway. Good luck!

  3. Joanne Lam says:

    Hi Jody! It’s Joanne – we saw each other at the MWLUC networking event a couple of weeks ago. So I got a cute SCOBY from a good friend and plan to follow your guidelines. Wondering where the best place is to buy the bottles? The ones on amazon don’t always get good reviews. And it’s not easy to find the growler-type in local stores. Any advice? Thank you!
    Ps very nice website!

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Joanne- Congrats on your kombucha culture! There are some food flip-top bottles available on Amazon- just be sure to buy bottles made for carbonated beverages to avoid them breaking from the built up CO2. Alternatively, I use recycled VOSS water bottles, or flip-top bottles from carbonated lemonades/beverages. The VOSS water is a little pricey, but the bottles are made of very heavy and solid glass. You can easily find these at Provigo. I go into more detail in this article -http://theculturedfoodie.com/container-choices-for-your-ferments/. Growlers are not easy to work with (they can be difficult to clean). Good luck and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions!

  4. Meghan says:

    Hi Jody!
    I grew my own scoby with sweet tea and a bottle of original GT’s. I just started my first batch of kombucha (first ferment) and used 1/2 cup of that starter tea that the scoby grew in. My kombucha batch is only 1.5L because I dont have big enough jars yet. Sooo I’m left with just over 1 cup of the original starter tea that the scoby grew in. Should I keep it or toss it? If I keep it how should I store it since there is no scoby to store in it yet because I only have one that is being used. Aka its a hotel without guests!
    Thanks!
    I hope that made sense..

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Meghan- Good job growing your own SCOBY! It doesn’t have to be exactly one cup of starter tea added to the sweet tea. I always recommend to put at least one cup of starter tea as a guarantee to acidify the sweet tea- if extra starter tea is added, it won’t affect the fermentation. As for storage, you can store the starter tea in a glass jar and loosely lid the jar or cover it with a cloth secured with an elastic band. Then you can leave it until you want to use it. Bear in mind, that the kombucha culture is found in the starter tea, and you will eventually see a new SCOBY form- so you will create your first guest in the SCOBY hotel.

      1. Michel Claude says:

        Hi my name is Michel and would like to know why my Scobys die? Every time I create a new batch of sweet tea I always make sure it’s at the right temperature before adding the scoby into the tea. From time to time my scoby turns dark brown and the new one on the top starts to look bumpy and do not stay intact or has small dots looking things on it… but not funky fuzzies though. This is when I get scared and I throw it away and we start over with a new kombucha starter from the store. I need help please and thank you.

      2. Jody Gowans says:

        Hi Michel, thanks for your interest and question. From the information you have given me, it doesn’t sound like your culture is dying. You mentioned that another SCOBY forms in the new batch, a good sign the culture is active. I don’t have a photo of of your culture to go by, but it sounds like the dots or bumps are probably just formed by air pockets. As long as the bumps are not fuzzy, then mould is not present. SCOBYs can change colour based on the type of tea you use and the amount of yeast in the culture. Always make sure to use starter tea with the SCOBY for every new batch of kombucha to ensure adequate acidity to ward off any pathogens like mould. Also try not to use dehydrated or frozen SCOBYs as they can be hard to reanimate and subsequently allow for mould to grow in the brew. The fermentation period for each batch can run from 7-10 days, depending on the temperature in your home.
        Hope this helps- please try a new batch and give us updates!

  5. Angel says:

    My mom drinks kombucha. I find it gross considering the horrid smell. I noticed that kombucha is quite healthy, and I want to start liking kombucha, but I won’t drink anything that smells weird. Help!

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Angel- yes, the smell can be a turn off. I really enjoy the taste and don’t really smell it anymore- once it is bottled and refrigerated, the strong odour goes away Maybe if you find a flavour that you really enjoy, you might get over your aversion. Two of my favourites are raspberry-lemongrass and blueberry-lemongrass. Good luck and give it a try!

    2. Matt Biebel says:

      My mother is similar to you in this way. My father makes lacto-fermented pickles which taste great but have a strong smell as well and she keeps throwing them away.
      Before you start making your own I do suggest trying some of the Synergy Drinks made by GT’s. I was recommended them and they are good for beginners. They have strawberry, mango, and watermelon flavors for instance with all the probiotic benefits of say a Turmeric or Beet juice Kombucha blend and the scent on those is not quite as grassy. They taste like if you had brewed Soda Pop at home with yeast.

  6. Melissa says:

    Hello!
    I love the idea of making kombucha at home!
    Few questions for you:
    *Where can I find a SCOBY? (living in Canada here).
    *How long can I keep the kombucha when it’s done the second phase of fermentation.
    If it’s anything like kimchi, then I already have a broad idea.
    *How and where do I store the SCOBY?

    Really like the website and the ideas! I am really happy that you give the microbiology class at the beginning. The facts consolidate with your recipe processes 😛

    Really appreciate the concept of the website as I have mastered making kimchi at home and needed a few more ideas for fermenting other foods! 😀 🙂

    Have a great day!

    Melissa

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Melissa- Thanks so much for reaching out, glad you like the website! In regards to making kombucha, some health food stores might sell kombucha cultures and you can also try buying them online. Make sure that your culture includes the SCOBY as well as starter liquid. You can make your own SCOBY culture using a commercial brand of kombucha (I suggest GT Synergy, plain flavour). I also sell kombucha cultures locally (I’m located in Montreal). Good luck with your kimchi- the effort is SO worth the flavour and health benefits!!

    2. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Melissa- sorry, missed replying to your other questions:

      After 2nd fermentation, you can store the kombucha in the refrigerator for at least a few weeks. We go through it pretty quickly in my house, so I can’t comment on long term storage. Bear in mind that although refrigerated, the culture is still living and will continue to ferment, albeit slowly .

      Storing a SCOBY: I will make a post shortly about SCOBY storage. If you need to take a break from making kombucha or have excess SCOBYs, you can store them in sweetened tea at room temperature. There are mixed views as to how to cover the jar- I like to maintain airflow and use cloths secured with rubber bands, however you need to check on the liquid level if you are storing for long term (the liquid will slowly evaporate and will need to be topped off with sweet tea)

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