Yes, you can brew kombucha

Kombucha brewing

Kombucha brews can be drunk after one fermentation, or bottled for a second fermentation.

I live a pretty spartan existence.

Our family doesn’t live high on the hog, always out shopping or dining at the most expensive places. We don’t vacation much, and when we do, it’s all about going local — Virginia inns, wineries, and natural and historic sites. Basically, I’m pretty frugal, do many things DIY style, and otherwise am so into conservation that I don’t want to buy much anyway.

But I have to confess to what was a serious addiction to GT Dave’s Synergy raw kombuchas.

GT Dave's Synergy Drinks

GT Dave’s good-looking, awesome-tasting, but costly kombucha.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, kombucha is a fermented tea. And GT Dave’s kombuchas are fermented teas with added fruit juice (or ginger or spirulina) which have a second fermentation that adds bubbles, leaving a soda-textured, probiotic, tasty drink that just shouts out from health food and grocery shelves, “Buy me, even though I can cost up to $5 bucks per 16-ounce serving.”

At one point, I was buying at least one of these babies a day, rationalizing that since they were actually good for me — they have low sugar, few calories, and are loaded with healthy cultures — this one indulgence wasn’t so bad. That was as long as I didn’t think about the glass bottles on their long transport from GT Dave’s bottling HQ in sunny California.

Once I faced that this was not a local product, I had to make the hard decision to give it up, since buying it, even though it was outrageously tasty and made me feel like a million bucks of healthy woman, didn’t fit with my commitment to local foods sourced from local farmers and friends. (I do wish GT Dave’s the best success for kombucha drinkers not so far away).

But the truth was that I couldn’t give up this kombucha easily and was determined to make it on my own. Barefoot Bucha, located less than an hour from us, also makes top quality kombucha. A friend of mine had taken a workshop with them and had their tips for making kombucha (tips you can also find in any of Sandor Ellix Katz’s books).

So I got started and I’m going to tell you how so that you too can make kombucha for your health at an incredibly low price and without the fossil-fuel footprint that comes with commercially produced versions.

I like to make a second fermentation so that I can get as close as is possible to GT Dave’s unmitigated taste-perfection. However, some folks are happy with only one fermentation, in which case you don’t need as many of the basically inexpensive supplies listed below. I’ll explain both fermentation techniques and you can decide.

Supplies

You’ll need:

  • A SCOBY (see below)
  • A large (one gallon at least) brewing pot
  • Black tea
  • White sugar
  • Large industrial-size wide-mouth jar for fermentation period
  • Cloth or unbleached coffee filter and industrial strength rubber band
  • Funnel
  • Grolsch-style flip top (resealable) bottles
  • Organic non-GMO juice(s) (or ginger root/other flavorings)

Getting started

First you need a SCOBY, a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacterial Yeast. People equate a SCOBY with many things — I say it looks like a jelly fish, many folks call it a “mushroom” — but it is essentially exactly what it says, a living colony of yeast that work together for the good of the whole, eating sugar and giving off beneficial bacteria that helps foster good gut flora in drinkers.

I even treat my SCOBYs as if they have a perceptive intelligence, not unlike the gardener who talks to her plants (that’s me, too).

You can buy a SCOBY, but legend has it that it’s better luck to be gifted one from somebody’s existing SCOBY (a SCOBY is called a “mother” and as she grows, her “babies” can be peeled off from her in layers and given to others to start their own kombucha). So ask around; in this increasingly relocalizing, DIYing, permaculture-happy world of ours there’s bound to be a local kombucha-brewer eager to share the SCOBY love.

Clean hands, good results

Always have very clean hands throughout this procedure.

So, you get your SCOBY from wherever and you have about 24 hours to get started until the SCOBY might peter out. Keep the SCOBY in its liquid, refrigerate it, and get started.

The next thing is to brew some black tea (some say you can’t do it with green or herbal tea, some disagree, but for the sake of brevity, let’s just use black tea). For a gallon of black tea, I use two family-size tea bags, but depending on the strength of the tea, you may want to adjust the number of bags.

While the tea is still hot, add a cup of white sugar. Some experts say not to use honey, brown sugar, molasses, sucanat, agave, maple syrup, or other natural or artificial sweeteners of any kind. Just use white sugar, which the SCOBY eats up and transforms for you. So that’s what I do.

Once your sweet black tea is completely cooled, use a funnel to get it into the thoroughly clean wide mouth jar. (You can use this kind of jar, or just get a big glass pickle jar from a local deli.)

Slide your SCOBY into the glass jar.

Place a clean, breatheable cloth or, (as I do), an unbleached coffee filter, on the top of the jar and secure with an industrial strength (or very thick) rubber band or hair tie. You may see the SCOBY sink or glug around a bit but eventually it will rise to the top.

Place the jar in a warmish, dark location. Some people use a heating pad to get warm temperatures but I simply store my jar as it is, placed in a corner of our dining room to keep it away from other in-home fermenting foods and drinks (in the kitchen, my hubby brews beer). I even sometimes use my basement, which is decidedly cooler than the rest of the house year round. I’ve had tremendous success so I’m not so sure the heating pad is necessary, especially for those of us who want to do things without added electrical energy.

Time to drink

Opinions vary on how long to wait to drink the kombucha from its first fermentation. Most will say any time after three days and before a month (too long and it gets too vinegary tasting). But much depends on temperature — without a heating pad I find it takes longer and I seldom do my second fermentation before three weeks has elapsed. And much depends on your personal flavor preferences. I like a decided sweet-and-sour taste to mine, and always give at least two weeks.

Whatever the case, if you want the reputed benefits of kombucha tea without the wait or effort of a second fermentation, you can start tasting after three days and decide when it tastes good for you and start drinking. When your stash gets low, repeat the process, slipping your SCOBY into the new batch.

Second fermentation

Even though I may never brew as perfectly as GT Dave, I have become pretty successful at making twice-fermented kombucha at a fraction of the cost (about 30 cents per bottle versus $3.69-$4.99 a bottle for GT’s) and with a very small impact (after bottle purchases and the inevitable use of black tea). If I switch to local herbal teas (I’ll learn how and will then write another article when I do), I can bring the impact down even more.

mykombucha

My kombucha isn’t as fancy at GT Dave’s, but it’s tasty and less costly. Photo: Lindsay Curren.

For my second fermentation, I start the day before by brewing another batch of the black tea as described above and letting it cool over night, setting it aside for now.

Then I line up my twelve 16-ounce flip top bottles on the counter and bring out the big jar with the fermenting kombucha.

Using a clean, plastic strainer** to catch the SCOBY if necessary, transfer the brewed kombucha into a clean pitcher to ease pouring into the 16 ounce bottles. If the SCOBY comes out of the jar, catch it with the strainer and put it back in the jar after the jar is empty. (I don’t clean my brewing jar from use-to-use, but others do. Do as you see fit.)

Take a moment to pour the newly brewed and cooled black tea into the brewing jar on top of the SCOBY (or add the SCOBY in afterward), cover with a coffee filter, secure the filter with a rubber band and set the jar aside as before to begin a new batch.

Now return to your second fermentation process by taking out a funnel, more white sugar, and a bottle of fruit juice. I always use sour cherry juice because I love a cherry taste and because cherries are reportedly good for joint issues, which I have. But I’ve also used ginger juice, ginger slices, grape, pomegranate, and cranberry juices.

Using the funnel, add about one teaspoon of sugar to each clean, empty bottle. Then go back and add about 2-3 ounces of your 100% fruit juice of choice (if it is ginger, use one ounce ginger juice and one ounce of water). Finally, go through and fill with the fermented kombucha to within about 1/2″ to 1″ below the top of the bottles.

Cap the bottles and set aside to ferment. Some people drink these within 24 hours. I usually wait three days and then put one in the fridge every day, giving me almost two weeks until it’s time to do it all again.

Worth the effortless effort

In terms of actual time spent in direct activity, there is very little effort involved in making this twice-fermented kombucha. It take 15 minutes to make the first batch of tea. After it passively cools, it takes 3-5 minutes to get it into the brewing vessel, covered and set aside, plus a moment for clean up. The second fermentation takes about 10-15 minutes for assembly, pouring, clean up and to begin the new batch. The rest is just time for the SCOBY to do its thing or time to pass.

From this I get a bubbly, fruity, nutritious drink that I love and that my husband has so taken to that I need another set of  twelve second fermentation bottles. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this re-skilling thing, and the lower carbon footprint benefits are none to shabby either.

Cheers!

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

*Read my other two articles in this series:

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Comments

  1. Katie McCaskey says

    Lindsay,

    Thanks for sharing your experience (and your kombucha mother!). The first batch was a success and I’m busy on the second…!

    cheers,
    Katie

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