This summer, a friend offered me her dormant kombucha SCOBY (known as a “mother”) so I could make kombucha. She was on medical rotations and had neglected hers for about nine months.
My friend has been brewing kombucha for years. Living in a warm location like Las Vegas, she warned me that the SCOBY would grow quickly during hot summer months. This meant lots of kombucha. She gave me a brief rundown, but I still had unanswered questions.
Why black tea and not any tea? What did she mean by pulling apart the mother and daughter SCOBY? Did she really want me to throw the old SCOBY out on average once a week?
The research began.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made with tea, sugar, yeast and bacteria. Slightly fizzy with less than 1% of alcohol, kombucha contains beneficial probiotics and enzymes along with vitamin B and healthy acids, like folic acid.
Why Drink Kombucha?
The flavor can take some getting used to, but this lightly fermented, probiotic brew can aid digestive health. Read up on why probiotics are good for you!
Other health claims have been reported, but remain unstudied. They include boosting the immune system, increased libido, improved mood, weight loss, and better sleep.
What Is A SCOBY?
A Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, the SCOBY is a zoogleal mat. This can include a variety of yeast, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, and Zygosaccharomyces bailii. Some of these same yeasts are used to brew beer.
The bacteria varies also but almost always includes Gluconacetobacter xylinus, a bacteria responsible for changing sugar into alcohol.
If you want to purchase a SCOBY, there are a few reputable online companies to choose from. Kombucha Kamp and Cultures for Health (who also sell Keffir Water Starter Kits, if you want to go that route).
How To Make Kombucha
I’ve simplified the steps here, because there are so many resources online and so many different ways to make kombucha. My favorite guide to follow was from Kitchn.
- 3.5 quarts of Boiling Water, preferably filtered
- 8 bags of Tea (4 Unflavored Green Tea and 4 Energizing Moringa Tea)
- 1 cup White Sugar (try not to substitute as white sugar preforms best with fermentation – most of it will be eaten by your bacteria and turned into acids)
- ½ cup Starter Tea (reserve from previous batch, or raw unpasteurized store bought)
- 1 SCOBY
- Gallon glass jar
- Coffee filter or cheesecloth
- Brew your tea. Bring water to a boil, add tea bags, remove from heat. Preferably use black, or at least tea with caffeine. There is a symbiotic relationship between caffeine and your SCOBY. For this, I used half green tea and half Energizing Moringa Tea. (If you don’t have moringa tea, you can add the powder to the brew after it has cooled a bit and strain it before moving to the fermentation process.)
- Add sugar. While the tea is still hot, add white sugar and stir to make sure it dissolves fully. Don’t skimp on the sugar – your SCOBY needs it to grow!
- Let cool. Be patient! If you don’t want until the brew is cool, reintroducing your SCOBY could kill it!
- Place in brewing jar. Pour your sweetened tea into your jar for fermentation along with the Starter liquid from your previous kombucha batch.
- Add SCOBY. Then put your jar in a place where it can sit for 7-10 days until it is done fermenting. If you live in a cooler climate, preferably in a spot that gets sufficiently warm. SCOBY’s like it between 65-85°F to ferment.
- Wait. You can check on your kombucha every so often to make sure there’s nothing funny going on, but really you just have to be patient. Don’t freak out if your SCOBY migrates, sinks, tries to leave the jar (this is from gases forming as a byproduct of fermentation – feel free to gently push it back down into the kombucha), or does other funny things. You may notice a thin, clear film forming on the top of your brew – this is a baby SCOBY!
- Check it’s ready. Around day 7, you should taste a bit of your kombucha to see if you like the sweet-to-vinegary ratio. If you want it less sweet, wait longer. Ideally, there should still be a bit of sweetness with some tartness.
- Move to sealed bottles. (Strain) kombucha into sealable jars or bottles. I like glass bottles that already once held kombucha, but my friend swears that plastic bottles keep carbonation better. The benefit to plastic bottles is you can feel the outside of the bottle to check how carbonation is going on the inside!
- Add additional sugar or flavors. This is where you can put a twist on your kombucha. Add fresh juices from fruits (or whole fruits, although be careful with this as you may get extra stringy-bits in your brew), pre-bought organic juices, or extra sugar. I add some strained strawberry juice to mine.
- Wait for secondary fermentation. If you like it fizzy, seal off that bottle, leaving some space on top, and leave it on the counter for an extra couple of days (1-3 days recommended). This will give it a nice effervescence.
- Repeat. When you remove your kombucha for secondary fermentation (or to drink), you can prep your next batch of sweet tea to make your next batch of kombucha!
What You Should Know Before Home Brewing Kombucha
Here are my general tips to keep in mind before you start brewing.
- Make sure all your equipment has been washed and dried.
- Wash your hands before handling your SCOBY.
- Yes, you should use your hands. Just get in there and get dirty.
- Don’t use metals. Stick to wooden utensils and glass jars.
- Make sure your tea has sufficiently cooled before reintroducing your SCOBY. Unless you want cooked SCOBY.
- If it doesn’t smell vinegary, be safe and don’t drink it. Start again.
- Always leave a reserve or back up if you are trying something different or new.
- Start small and work your way up. I used a ½ gallon jar to start and then moved up to a full gallon.
- Every couple of batches, be sure to use plain black tea as the Camellia sinensis, the fermented leaves of which make up black tea, will maintain the right pH, minerals, and nutrients for your SCOBY. Using flavored or other teas can possibly destroy the balance of yeast to bacteria in your SCOBY.
Here’s a great kombucha brewing video from Munchies if you’d like to visually see this process step-by-step.
Option to shake in a small teaspoon of Pure Moringa Vegetable Powder if you made your kombucha with black tea! Have fun and experiment. It’s like being back in science class, but instead of exploding volcanos, you’re making tasty kombucha.
As part of this probiotic recipe series, check out other delicious #moringainspired probiotic recipes.