The first time I heard about kombucha was when a friend of mine sent me a picture of a strange, somewhat bubbly liquid that had a slimy film on top of it. I asked if she was planning to put any of that in her mouth, and she reassured me that it wasn’t just delicious, it was loaded with health benefits. It took months before I was prepared to try it, but it turns out that it really is quite fabulous, and it’s also easy to make at home—you need just a few simple ingredients, and enough patience to let things ferment for a couple of weeks.
What Exactly Is Kombucha?
Basically, kombucha is a lightly fermented sweetened tea that’s slightly fizzy with natural carbonation (a side effect of the fermentation process).
Some of the benefits of this lovely drink apparently include:
- Raising the body’s pH level to a more disease-resistant state
- Boosting metabolism
- Fighting degenerative disease with its polyphenols (super-charged antioxidants)
- Aiding digestion via active enzymes
- Liver cleansing and detoxification via gluconic and glucuronic acids
- Energizing with a slew of B vitamins
Many people who have been hooked on carbonated sodas, and even caffeinated beverages like teas and coffee, have supposedly been able to kick their habit by drinking this brilliant beverage instead. Considering the slew of benefits that kombucha has, it’s difficult to argue why a cup of coffee would outweigh a probiotic super-drink first thing in the morning.
The key to making a good kombucha is a SCOBY: (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast), also known as the “mother” or “mushroom” that forms on the top of the brew. Now, there are all kinds of sources that tell you how you can grow your own, but if you’re new to kombucha-making, it’s recommended that you get yourself a fresh SCOBY from a reputable dealer—either a health food store near you, or a good online retailer. They aren’t terribly cheap (you’ll likely look at somewhere between $15 and $35 for a decent-sized starter), but when you consider that you only have to make this investment once and can use the mushroom as the “mother” for all subsequent brews from here to eternity, it’s actually the wisest course of action.
A few good online retailers for SCOBYs are:
Another way to get your hands on one is to ask around among your friends: chances are that at least one person has a surplus of SCOBYs around and would be happy to give you one, or trade for something you can provide. Once you’ve gotten your hands on a happy, thick culture, you’re ready to rock.
What You’ll Need:
- 1 gallon filtered water
- 1 cup of sugar
- 6 teaspoons of loose organic black or green tea, or 6 teabags of the same
- 1/2 cup plain, store-bought (or donated) kombucha tea
- 1 SCOBY
- 1 large pot
- White vinegar
- Measuring cups/spoons
- Wooden spoons
- A funnel
- Large, clean glass jars for fermentation (you’ll have a gallon of liquid to work with, but remember that you’ll need 1 SCOBY per jar). If you can find a large glass pitcher or such that can hold it all, that would be best.
- Clean stoppered glass bottles or mason jars to decant into
- Breathable cloth
- Elastic bands
It’s always best to use organic tea as well as organic sugar, and try to stay away from strongly-flavored teas like Earl Grey: the oils therein can interfered with the fermentation process. Although refined white sugar is easiest to come across, vegans might prefer to use organic cane sugar, as there’s no risk of bone char.
Be sure to wash all of your jars and bottles with slightly soapy water, then swish some vinegar around in them, rinse them thoroughly, and allow them to dry upright.
How to Brew:
- In a large pot, bring your filtered water to a boil and add the sugar, stirring constantly so it dissolves quickly and evenly.
- Remove from the heat, add your tea (loose, or in bag form), and let steep for about 10 minutes.
- Take out the bags or strain the liquid to remove the leaves, and transfer into the glass jar to cool.
- Once it’s cooled, you can add the SCOBY gently, and then cover it with a cloth. Secure the cloth with an elastic band.
- Place the jars in a warm, dry place that doesn’t get any direct sunlight.
- At average room temperature, your kombucha should take 10-15 days to ferment. If your home is on the warm side, the fermentation process will be quicker.
- To check your kombucha, slide a straw down the inside of your jar, past the SCOBY, and take a sip from the deepest part of the jar that the straw can reach. The longer you ferment it, the more vinegary it will taste; if it’s too sweet, it needs a bit more time.
- To bottle your drink, remove the SCOBY gently from the jar and place in a shallow bowl with a bit of the freshly brewed kombucha to keep it damp.
- Distribute the liquid into stoppered glass bottles or mason jars.
*Note: For a smaller batch, just halve the ingredients.
If you’re more visually oriented, you can find a great step-by-step picture tutorial here.
The SCOBY you removed will have formed a “baby” on top during the fermentation process. This is another layer of film that can removed easily, and it’s this baby that you can use to brew your next batch. Just keep both “mother” and “baby” in a jar with a couple of cups of brewed kombucha to keep them happy and healthy until you’re ready to brew again.
Once you’re comfortable brewing regular “plain” kombucha, you can get experimental with flavorings and such. Try using white tea instead of black or green, herbs such as lemon balm or mint, and even berries or fruit juice.
If you’re brewing for the first time and are nervous about the process, as it can seem super-weird with the stringy bits and such, it’s reassuring to look up kombucha troubleshooting sites and pictures to ensure that all is going as it should. As a general rule, bumps, slight discolorations, and strands of yeast on your SCOBY are all normal, but if you see any traces of blue, green, or black mold, dump the lot and start again.
An avid permaculture gardener, locavore, and novice (but enthusiastic!) canner, Lana Winter-Hébert joins Inhabitat after spending the last decade working as a writer and event guru for non-profit/eco organizations. In addition to her work with this site, she writes features and blog posts for Vegan Cuts, Green Pigeon, and several event planning websites based in London, UK. Currently, Lana divides her time between writing, and doing collaborative projects with Winter-Hébert: the design studio she runs with her husband. Best described as “endearingly eccentric”, she spends any spare moments wrestling with knitting projects, and devouring novels by obscure Czech writers. A Toronto native, she has recently chosen to leave that splendid city in favor of a tranquil lakeside nook in rural Quebec, where she and her Sir co-habitate with two hand-raised sparrows that live in their writing-desk.