We often get questions about making kombucha, and I thought this might be the best place to explain the process we use!
Kombucha is a fermented beverage that is a probiotic and said to boost immunity. We drink it with lunch just about every day; the kids basically think it’s soda, and I really believe it’s helped our immunity since we’ve been in a consistently making it weekly and drinking it almost daily for over 6 months now.
We’ve made kombucha for years, but I’ve gone in and out of making it as life has gotten busy. It’s not difficult to make, but I could never seem to find a good rhythm with the “batch method” of brewing. It felt like one extra thing to do and to think about, and in the crazy busy seasons of life/business/school/whatever, kombucha-making just had to go.
I’m happy to say that we now have a “Friday brewday” system (using the “continuous brew” method) that works for us! Like anything, it still takes time, but it requires very little thought since we have a system in place.
I’ll lay out what we do, and hopefully there’s something here that you can take and adapt to your own life to make kombucha fit in if you’d like.
If you’re not interested in making kombucha, just tune back in some other time… everything that follows below is all about the “BUCHA,” as 2-year-old Adelaide calls it!
We brew 2 gallons of kombucha each week, and this amount gives us enough to start our next round of kombucha and fills about 6 1-liter bottles.
Having our large amount of kombucha separated out into smaller portions helps create better carbonation, allows for multiple flavor options (more on that in a minute), and serves as a built-in portion control. I’m not sure my kids would ever stop if we had a kombucha free-for-all. They now know that we drink 1 bottle each day; when it’s empty, we’re done!
You can easily halve this amount and change the bottle size to suit your family size. For example, you could brew 1 gallon of kombucha per week and then bottle it into 6 smaller (16 oz) size bottles. We’ll get into bottles and such in a bit.
BUT FIRST THINGS FIRST:
You need a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) to make kombucha. You have a few ways of getting your hands on a SCOBY:
- Ask a friend who brews kombucha.
- Order online from a reputable source like culturesforhealth.com.
- Grow your own SCOBY from a store-bought bottle of kombucha.
Ashley and I have both done it all these ways over the years – I got my very first SCOBY from her, and the SCOBY we’re both using to brew right now is one we grew from a store-bought bottle of kombucha. To do this, look for a bottle of kombucha that’s cloudy and “alive.” Let it sit on the counter for a few days and watch for a film to settle on the top and a SCOBY layer to form and grow. Since this SCOBY will be tiny, start with a small amount of fresh tea (2-4 cups) to make the first batch of kombucha. The more tea you use, the longer it may take to ferment. I think I started with a quart jar and just increased the tea amount to 1/2 gallon then up to 1 gallon, then 2 gallons.
THE EQUIPMENT :
This photo shows the large, 2.5 gallon glass dispenser container (lower shelf) that we use for brewing our kombucha. After the initial fermentation in this large container, the kombucha gets flavored and bottled (and then served from) the 1-liter swing-top bottles seen on the upper shelf.
This glass beverage dispenser came from Aldi, but I recently saw similar ones at Walmart for around $12 in the store (here they are at Walmart online), and since these glass dispensers are popular these days, you can find them all over the place.
If you want to brew a smaller amount, you could use a 1 gallon size beverage dispenser. I haven’t used this one personally, but you’re looking for something like this one from Walmart online.
*Be sure that the part of the dispenser that is inside the glass container is plastic; you don’t want metal coming in contact with your kombucha.
We ordered our 1 liter swing-top bottles from Specialty Bottle online a while back; they have various sizes and shapes. Ikea carries 1 liter glass swing-top bottles, and you can find swing top bottles on Amazon as well. Brewing 2 gallons each week will fill 6 of the 1-liter size. If you’re brewing 1 gallon each week, you could fill 6 of the 16 oz bottles, like these. (Or you could use even smaller size bottles if you want to bottle in smaller, individual servings…)
Every Friday, we brew sweet tea for our new batch of kombucha.
This is the main part that has stream-lined things for me…. kombucha recipes say to ferment kombucha tea for 7-10 days, plus an additional 2-10 days for the second fermentation with flavor. I could never seem to keep track of what day I had done what, or how long my kombucha had been going. My disorder created inconsistent, sometimes great, sometimes NOT so great results!
Making Friday my brew day has solved this and taken the guesswork out of when to do which step. Obviously, switch this up to whatever day suits you, but for ease of explaining, I’m just going to use Friday in all the examples below.
You can use almost any type of tea for your kombucha – I always use oolong tea. Oolong tea has numerous health benefits; Dr. Axe says it benefits the brain, heart, and skin! I buy this brand from Amazon or Vitacost.
For 2 gallons of tea, brew 16 tea bags with 2 cups of sugar in 2 gallons of water. For 1 gallon of tea, you’ll brew 8 tea bags with 1 cup of sugar. We use cane juice crystals, but you can also use regular white sugar. The kombucha SCOBY is going to eat the sugar, so your kombucha won’t actually be a sugar-laden drink.
I let the tea steep on the counter, remove the tea bags (at least an hour later… whenever I remember), then let it cool for several hours.
Once the fresh tea has cooled, pour it into the top of the glass container, where the SCOBY and some of the previous batch of kombucha remains.
Instead of the lid it comes with, you’ll cover the top of the glass container with a coffee filter or kitchen towel and a rubber band to allow your kombucha to ferment.
Let this ferment until next Friday, when you start this process again.
Also on Friday, bottle your brewed kombucha for the second fermentation.
First, add juice or flavors to the empty swing-top bottles.
You can use various types of fruit juice to flavor your kombucha; our favorite is the Juicy Juice Mango. We use about 1/4 cup juice per 1 liter bottle, or about 2 T flavor if we’re using a concentrated flavoring. We use some organic sno-cone flavors that a friend shared with us, and we also like to use the drink concentrates from Ikea that come in blueberry, ligonberry, and elderflower. Simply adjust these flavor amounts if you’re bottling into smaller bottles or according to your own personal taste. Bottling into smaller bottles also allows us to have multiple flavors each week – you can make as many flavors as you have bottles! (This is the fun part!)
After adding the flavor to the bottles, use the dispenser at the bottom of the glass beverage container to fill each swing-top bottle with kombucha to about an inch from the top, then securely close the swing-top lid. The “second fermentation” of kombucha takes anywhere from 2-10 days.
This process will flavor your kombucha, add carbonation, and give it time to eat the additional sugar you added in the flavor. We bottle & flavor our brewed kombucha each Friday and start drinking 1 bottle per day on Monday. By Monday, it’s flavored and fizzy enough, and the last bottle of kombucha we drink is usually extra fizzy!
We leave our bottles out at room temperature all week and don’t typically refrigerate it because we drink 1 bottle each day and then refill them all again on Friday. We just serve our kombucha over ice since we don’t refrigerate it.
If at any point you want to halt/slow the fermentation, put your bottled kombucha in the fridge. Keep in mind that kombucha will continue to ferment and carbonate as long as it’s at room temperature (and at a slower rate in the fridge), so you may want to “burp” your kombucha if you’re not drinking it quickly. To do this, you’ll open the lid to let the air & gas out, then close it again… I have heard tales of glass container – kombucha explosions, especially with grape juice as flavor; I guess the grape juice kicks up the fermentation! Remember this if you’re going out of town!!!
Here’s the condensed version of what each Friday brewday looks like:
- brew 2 fresh gallons of tea + sugar
- add assorted flavors or juice to the 6 empty swing-top bottles
- fill the swing-top bottles with the fermented kombucha using the dispenser on large glass container, (leaving some* kombucha in with the SCOBY)
- pour the cooled, fresh tea into the top of the glass container to start the next round.
The dispenser at the bottom of the glass container makes filling the swing top bottles a breeze… no more funnels, moving the SCOBY around, or lifting giant jars to pour.
We don’t serve & drink the kombucha from the dispenser on the large container; we use it just for ease of bottling at the second fermentation step.
Occasionally, the dispenser will get clogged, so every few weeks, I will remove the SCOBY and wash the container before adding the fresh tea, but for the most part, the fresh tea just goes right in the top of the container and continues to feed the SCOBY. This is the “continuous brew” method.
*I mentioned earlier that you’ll leave some kombucha in the large container each week. When you are bottling your kombucha in the swing-top bottles for the second fermentation, you won’t completely drain the container empty. Leave a little of the kombucha in to help ferment the new batch of fresh tea each week. I leave enough kombucha to cover the SCOBY and allow it to still float. I don’t ever measure, but with the SCOBY still in the container, I’d say the container looks about 30% full.
There are lots of variables at work anytime you’re fermenting, so you may have to make adjustments to SCOBY size, the amount of kombucha you’re leaving in each week, room temp (is it too close to the oven?) if your kombucha is fermenting too quickly or not quickly enough. The larger your SCOBY and the more kombucha left in the container, the more quickly your fresh tea will ferment.
As you’re brewing kombucha each week, your SCOBY will continue to grow. Each week, the “mother” will make a new “baby” at the top of the jar. I keep mine fairly large since I am brewing a pretty large amount of kombucha each week, but you will at some point need to reduce the size and give a SCOBY away… spread the kombucha love.
There are tons of articles online you can find about kombucha if you want to read instructions from other people or find out more on the health benefits.
The flavor combinations are endless; here are just a few of our favorites:
- root beer (using sno-cone syrup)
- pina colada (“)
- mango (Juicy Juice)
- strawberry rose (mashed fresh berries + 1/8 tsp rose water)
We used to always use fresh or frozen mashed fruit to flavor our kombucha, but I sometimes had off results in the second fermentation, so we almost always use the flavor syrups and fruit juice now because it’s just so consistent. However, I’ve already mentioned I wasn’t great at tracking or timing my fermentation previously anyway, so this could have been the source of the problem when I was using fresh fruit. Lots of people use fresh fruits & herbs, so I’m not ruling that out as a good option!
BTW, we aren’t receiving any affiliate kick-backs for anything in the links above, just sharing them in hopes to save you time.
Thanks for hanging in there with this longest post ever… we hope it’s been helpful, and happy kombucha-ing!