Brewing your own Kombucha tea

I started making my own Kombucha tea over three years ago when I read about all the health benefits and I have to admit, only now I thought maybe I should write a bit more about it!
Kombucha is simply green, white or other varieties of tea that are fermented, and after a few weeks turns into an effervescent healthy beverage.  It is fermented simply with a bacterial and yeast culture that sooner or later, in the right environment creates a SCOBY.  Scoby stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacterial Yeasts.  The Scoby is not actually the main part of the kombucha tea, it is just a by product of the bacteria and yeasts at work.
First, a bit of the history behind Kombucha tea.  Kombucha originated in Northeast China or Manchuria and later spread to Russia and from there to the rest of the world.  It was thought that this showed up in China as early as 206 BCE.  It became the norm over time to always share your extra kombucha tea and SCOBY mamas as this allows others to enjoy this healthful beverage.  Kind of a "pay it forward" type of idea.

Basic Recipe
1 quart water, boiled
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
4 T organic green tea

 2 quarts cold filtered water
½ cup kombucha from previous culture
1 kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) along with 2 very young baby scobys1 gallon wide-mouthed jar
Tea towel to cover the jar during fermentation (even an old t-shirt will work)
Rubber band that fits over the mouth of your jar
2 quart stainless steel pot
spoon (I have a very strong fiberglass spoon that I prefer for this)
funnel (for bottling)

 swing-top/grolsch style bottles (preferably green or brown tinted glass)

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil in your stainless steel pot. The goal is for your water to hit a temperature of 180 degrees.  This kills off any harmful bacteria that might be present in the water or the pot. Turn off heat and allow water to stop boiling. Add tea and steep for 15-20 minutes.  Dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Add remaining 2 quarts of cold water (or water mixed with potable ice made from filtered water) to the brewed tea.
Add at least ½ cup of the kombucha from the previous culture (or, if this is the first time you’re brewing, add any liquid that came with your scoby). Stir to combine.
Once liquid has come to room temperature, place tea into your one-gallon container. Place SCOBY on top (shiny side up).Place the cotton cloth over the jar and secure with rubber band. Store in a safe place at room temperature.
Approximately one week later, give or take, you will need to get yourself a small cup just to get a taste. See if it is to your liking.  Is it still too sweet for you?  Is it too sour? Too tart?  If it is still too sweet then you'll need to let it ferment for a while longer.  Once it has reached the flavor you prefer, remove the newly fermented tea out of the jar and decide if you want to do a second ferment or use it as is.
  Best way to do a second ferment is to simply use a grolsch style bottle.  Amazon sells these for a very reasonable price.
If you do go ahead with a second ferment then I have to advise some caution later here.  Fill first with your fruit of choice.  I've found I really liked a strawberry mint combination and since during the spring months both mint and strawberries were easy for me to get it made it easy. You can do almost any kind of fruit combination but remember, the more sugar the fruit has in it the more effervescent your finished product will be. The yeasts and bacteria are simply feeding off of whatever sugar is present in the kombucha.
Now the cautionary note.  Please remember to pop your bottles during the second ferment at least every few days.  The bottles will explode because of the pressure that builds up inside. The same thing that creates true champagne is at work in your newly fermented kombucha.  When you put this in a glass bottle with a stopper on top in room temperature areas, it will grow more effervescent but it can explode.

A few tips I have learned on my own for the three years I have been doing this.

  • This is NOT an exact science.  This is an art.  It is like brewing your own beer, making your own wine or baking your own bread.  It takes time to get it to just the right taste for you and your family.  Actually time and practice. 
  • Next tip, when handling your scobys, emptying your kombucha into another vessel or anything else that will bring your hand/s in contact with the cultures, always make sure to rinse your hands with VINEGAR. Plain white vinegar.  Vinegar is an awesome thing to have in your house. It actually does the best job out of any item out there for cleaning your house simply because bad bacteria (the bacteria that can do us harm) cannot survive when plain white vinegar is used on it. So, yes, it will possibly sting your hands LIKE CRAZY if you have cuts on your hands but just simply rinse your hands with a bit of vinegar and it will remove any of the bacteria that could do your beneficial bacteria harm.  
  • Always store your kombucha in Glass. Plastic has so many unnatural ingredients used to make it and Kombucha will leach those chemicals into your finished product.  You don't want that in your healthy beverage.  I usually kept my kombucha that was currently fermenting in large glass jars which were then covered with a thin cloth nappy (yes it was washed and clean. Ewww), and then made sure to seal it so fruit flies could not get in with just a rubber band around the top of the jar. 
  • Fruit flies.  You will not like fruit flies come summer.  If you eat fresh fruit from just about anywhere you will find the few fruit flies that might have come in with your fruit will find your kombucha.  They will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame and you have to really make sure your fermenting tea is protected from these little buggers. They will ruin whatever teas they get into. I can vouch for it, it's very gross. 
  • Adding chia seeds actually can make your kombucha even MORE explosive!  It's awesome because it makes your finished kombucha as sparkly as a glass of New Years champagne but it also adds a bit of danger to your kitchen (or wherever you allow your bottles to do their second ferment).  So back to my cautionary note.  POP YOUR BOTTLES.  Secondary ferments can be slightly dangerous because if you do forget to pop them, then BOOM! Glass and kombucha all over the place.  
  • Store your fermenting kombucha AWAY from odors like what you find from your kitchen. Kombucha will absorb those and possibly give your finished product an odd taste.  Its best to store it somewhere out of the way, where it will not be bumped, will not have anything spilled on it and will be somewhat removed from the odors in the house.  I can promise you, as its fermenting you will start noticing the odor that the kombucha is producing!  Its very apple cider vinegar like.  
  • The bacteria and yeasts that are at work in Kombucha love it when they are kept at a temperature of about 70-73 degrees.  We have found the best way to encourage this is to simply get a heat mat and a thermostat for your heat mat and set the temperature on it to about 72 degrees. Amazon also sells both of these.  I have included a link and picture to both of them here.  It works like a charm.  
  •   The bacteria and yeast in the kombucha will still grow and ferment your tea but, first your tea might take a bit longer, especially with winter right around the corner as I write this, and it will not be as bubbly as some of the store bought varieties.
  • Each time you start your tea, you can use tap water but remember, most tap water is chlorinated.  Chlorine kills bacteria.  Sometimes this is good when it's a bacteria such as E-coli or Salmonella is present but not in the case of Kombucha.  Kombucha has wonderfully helpful bacteria such as the Gluconacetobacter xylinus.  We found for the health of our kombucha scobys and the fermented tea it was best to filter our water using a Brita Water filter and then just let the water sit overnight to allow the chlorine to escape, thereby making our water okay for the kombucha making process. Amazon also sells Brita Water Filters along with the pitchers.  Since we live on a military post we religiously use ours to keep our water just a bit safer for drinking.  
My last bit of advice, is to simply, RELAX.  Enjoy this.  Like I said, it is like an art.  If it doesn't come out just the way you like in the beginning then just do it again but tweak things here and there.  I can give all this advice simply because that is what my husband and I have done, over and over. 
If at first you don't succeed, try try again. 
Enjoy. Oh and remember to "pay it forward"

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