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Kombucha for Beginners

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

K-am-boo-ch-uh? K-ahm-bew-kha? k-ahm-boo-cha? However you pronounce it, kombucha has become very popular in natural health circles in the past several years.

What is this crazy stuff, where did this trend originate, what is it for, and how do I make it?

Kombucha for Beginners | Musings of a Modern Hippie

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Well, simply put, it's a sparkling drink made from fermented tea. That might sound very strange, but think of it similar to beer or wine except with very minimal alcohol content, if any. It also contains quite a high number of naturally occurring probiotics, which beer and wine don't have. The first known records of this drink came out of China in the Tsin Dynasty, circa 221 BC.¹ That's over 2000 years! Records from all over the world have been found touting various health benefits for centuries.²

What about that weird mushroom-looking thing floating in the fermentation jars? Well, it's called a SCOBY (sk-o-bee) and it stands for Symbiotic Culture of Yeast and Bacteria. Simply put, it's just a living organism made up of good yeast and bacteria - it does the work of fermenting the sweet tea, like yeast does in bread, beer, and wine. The scoby doesn't end up in the final product, though some of the bacteria does (yay probiotics!). And as long as you keep it fed, and in a cool dark place, your scoby can produce kombucha for you for years and years.

Due to increasing popularity in natural wellness over the last decade, commercial availability of kombucha has skyrocketed. In my small city alone there are around a half dozen small commercial breweries, but in cities like Portland and Seattle, that number jumps much higher, with kombucha bars being quite popular. Why the popularity?

With the increase in awareness of the importance of a healthy gut for so many areas of wellness, kombucha has become a great alternative to drinking soda due to its much lower sugar content, while still offering a refreshingly sweet carbonated beverage that people enjoy. The taste is similar to soda, but with a bit of a yeasty vinegar hint to it. While the convenience of commercial kombucha certainly can't be matched, there are several benefits to brewing your own, which include lower sugar levels, and naturally occurring probiotics as most of the commercial varieties have been pasteurized for safety, and contain either very few probiotics, or have added lab-grown probiotics after pasteurization.

How do I brew my own?

Once you have your tools and ingredients gathered, the process is quite simple. Tools: 2 x 1 gallon glass jars


6 bags of black tea*

1 cup of organic sugar*

3 quarts of filtered hot water

1 cup of starter liquid (not required but tremendously helpful, often comes with the scoby)

1/2 cup of pieces of fresh fruits and/or herbs, your choice (also optional)

*black tea is required for regular kombucha. Decaf is ok to use as well if you are sensitive to caffeine, which does remain in the final product. Real sugar is also required, preferably organic cane sugar. There are other types of kombucha teas that can be made with herbal and green teas and honey, but they use a different type of scoby than traditional kombucha.

Directions: In 1 glass gallon jar add 1 cup of sugar. This may seem like a lot but the sugar is used as food for the scoby and is almost entirely used up by the time the brew is done.

Fill to just below the curve of the neck of the jar with boiling hot water.

Once sugar has dissolved, add the 6 bags of tea.

Cover and leave overnight to brew and cool.

Once cool, remove the tea bags, add starter liquid and scoby. Scoby may sink or float sideways, this is fine.

Cover with a dry coffee filter or very clean cloth and secure with a rubber band to keep dust, mold/mildew, wild yeast, and bugs out of it. This is a very important safety step, and why I use a new paper coffee filter each time.

Place kombucha brew in a dark, room temperature place (like that little cupboard above the fridge that no one can ever reach without a chair!) for 1 week. The warmer the room, the faster it will ferment. You can peek at it as much as you like, but resist opening it up. You should see white stuff start to grow on top of the liquid. This is not mold but a new scoby starting to grow and is normal and and a good sign. There may also be stringy brown stuff hanging down from the scoby, and this is also perfectly fine.

Kombucha for Beginners | Musings of a Modern Hippie
This guy has been growing for a while!

After one week open it up and taste a bit of the brew with a clean spoon or straw, being careful to use a clean one each time you remove some to taste. If it is too sweet to you, cover it back up and let it go a few more days and taste again. How long you let it ferment is a matter of personal taste preference. The longer it brews, the more vinegary it will taste. You will also start to notice a vinegary smell to it as well.

Once it has reached the taste that you like, pour the fermented tea into the other gallon glass jar, leaving behind the scoby and about a cup of liquid. In the 32 oz glass bottles, add a few pieces of your favorite fruits. This is totally optional. There are a TON of second ferment recipes out there but a few of my favorites are ginger-pear, pineapple-peach, and lemon-cayenne.

Distribute the fresh brew to the 4 bottles, cap and place in the fridge for 2-3 days to second ferment. Be sure to open the lids once a day to avoid excess buildup of carbon dioxide (trust me, a kombucha explosion in your fridge is NOT fun to clean up. BTDT!). After a few days, enjoy your delicious home-brewed kombucha!

Kombucha for Beginners | Musings of a Modern Hippie
Look at that fizz! Ginger Pear 2F Kombucha

I recommend starting out with a few tablespoons a day if you've never tried it before or this is your first home batch. Each scoby is unique in its composition and your gut will need time to adjust to the new bacteria you are introducing. Drinking too much too fast can cause gastric distress and headaches. Things to Watch Out For: If your scoby grows fuzzy or green on top, the whole thing will need to be discarded, and started again from scratch. Be sure to wash your glass jars very well. It is generally not recommended to give kombucha to babies or small children due to the low alcohol content and live cultures. If your brew is still very sweet after 10 days, it may just need to go longer. This often occurs with a commercially purchased scoby, or if your house is kept at a cooler temperature. Give it more time, and eventually it will grow!

What do I do if I want to take a break from brewing?

There are a few options, you can loan out your scoby to a friend who wants to try brewing and when you are ready again they can give you one of their new scobies back or cut off a chunk of the original.

Start a scoby hotel. Put your scoby in a gallon jar with a full batch of fresh brewed tea/sugar, cover and leave it in a cool, dark place. It will hang out, do its thing, and eventually become really vinegary, but you can just take it out a long with a bit of the liquid when you are ready to start back up. I've had a hotel going for many years now. The liquid does evaporate slowly, so when the scobies start to get uncovered I top it off with fresh sweet tea. I also often put the new baby scobies in the hotel after each brew, and give them away to friends who want them. If you have any questions about brewing or are wondering if your brew is healthy and your scoby looks normal, feel free to reach out on Facebook with a picture!

Kombucha for Beginners | Musings of a Modern Hippie
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