There are a couple of ways to brew kombucha, neither of which is really difficult. The most common way I see people doing it today is not the traditional method, but the easiest. It involves brewing it in batches.
Batch brewing is probably the more popular method because it is the easiest way to insure success for a beginner. I learned how to brew that way but I graduated to the traditional continual brewing method. As I would recommend starting out with batch brewing and then progressing to traditional, continuous brewing, I will cover how I do both.
There are a number of distinct advantages to the traditional method not the least of which is the amounts and number of healthy nutrients produced. Hence, I will explain those after I go through the methodology.
You just need a few things to get started:
- a vessel at least a gallon or larger, preferably glass or pottery
- a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast)
- about a cup of kombucha
- a Tbsp (~1 bag) of tea per quart
- 1 cup of sugar per gallon
- a gallon or more of water, preferably filtered
- a small amount of fruit of your choice (optional)
I started brewing in a couple of one gallon glass cookie jars I purchased at a department store for about $10.00 each. A one gallon pickle jar, if you have one kicking around would be free. I was able to convert the same jars I stated with to continuous brew jars by adding a spigot later.
SCOBY’s will not do well in steel or plastic containers as kombucha is chock full of friendly acids, that is, friendly to human digestive tracts as opposed to some materials.
As with most natural ways of fermenting food and drink the starter, in this case the SCOBY, replicates itself and produces what people call babies. So, finding a SCOBY is often easy because many people in the kombucha brewing community, in keeping with the traditional pattern, are happy to give away their “babies.”
I was able to locate mine on Kijiji an online free advertising platform for secondhand selling. I didn’t have to fork over any money as we bartered for home fermented stuff. Although there are lots of sites online that sell SCOBY’s I much prefer to get one from a neighbor. If you are unable to locate one locally online may be your only alternative.
Whether you find a SCOBY locally or have to resort to the internet you need to also get about a cup of kombucha for starter. You used to be able to grow a SCOBY yourself with commercial kombucha as you can with the homemade stuff.
From many reports that I have seen that is no longer possible. I know that commercial producers ran into regulatory conflicts because of the minuscule alcohol content in kombucha. Part of the ferment is an alcohol ferment and it usually has around 0.5%. Over 0.5% in some jurisdictions makes it necessary for a license to sell alcohol.
Whatever commercial manufacturers did to overcome this problem has rendered their product incapable of its normal replicating reproducibility. That and the fact that it is grossly overpriced when considering how cheap it is to produce has deterred me from ever using it.
I began brewing with plain, organic free trade black tea, which is a common method. Due to how refreshing, tasty and healthy kombucha is I found myself going through a couple of gallons a week, especially when doing anything involving physical exertion in the heat.
So, being a tad concerned about how much caffeine is in black tea, even though I was only using 4 tea bags per gallon, I switched to green tea, just to be safe. You can use either, but I would recommend organic without additives or flavoring and free trade is always a good idea in my books.
Everyone has their own preference for making tea but as I use very little I leave the tea leaves to steep until the water has cooled. Never pour hot water over your SCOBY. As a rule of thumb I use body temperature as the upper limit.
I also mix a cup of refined sugar in with the tea to be dissolved by the hot water. In keeping with some traditions I let the water cool a few degrees after boiling before pouring it over the tea. I normally steer clear of refined sugar except for fermenting. It doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as bad for the health of the bacteria and yeast as it is for humans!
After the tea sugar mixture cools I strain it into the brewing jar, add the kombucha, put in the SCOBY and top it up to the one gallon with filtered water. I then cover the jar with a tea towel and an elastic band to keep out any bugs or dust, but allow the brew to breath.
Now, depending on the temperature of your place of residence it will take about a week to brew. The time also depends on your taste preferences. The longer you leave the brew the more potent it gets nutrient wise. But as the SCOBY continues to deplete the sugar in solution, the drink becomes more sour to the point of eventually becoming unpalatable.
The best way is to sample the brew occasionally until it is at your desired sweetness before bottling it. Although this is the method for brewing plain kombucha I prefer to double ferment it with some fruit. You can use whatever type of fruit you like and I have tried a number.
By far my favorite has become strawberry and I find I only need a few average sized strawberries per gallon. To double brew it I cut the primary brew to 5 days then strain it through my little metal strainer into 4, 1 quart mason jars with a few slices of strawberry in each. To do this I lift out the SCOBY and place it a bowl of kombucha for a bit.
I take care to leave about an inch of space at the top to account for any gas produced and cover tightly. I keep these at room temperature for a couple of days then strain it into clean jars and refrigerate. I understand that it will keep quite awhile, but that it continues to sour over time. I cannot attest to that as mine always disappears quite rapidly once it is chilled.
Although I have never experienced a problem the SCOBY can be contaminated and begin to grow mold. It is unlikely if you run a clean operation, but I check for mold whenever I expose the SCOBY just to be safe.
Potential contamination is one of the advantages of continuous brewing as there is less handling of the SCOBY involved. It is also more convenient to just fill a couple of jars from the spigot and top up the brewing container with some new tea mixture. But the most important benefit is the addition of more beneficial nutrients.
In some tests it has been shown that the nutrient value increases over time and this can be captured by continuous brewing. Some very useful acids don’t appear until 14 days into the brew. So, batch brewing doesn’t give opportunity to allow these benefits to accrue. If left that long without the addition of further sugar it become too sour for consumption.
I did a fair bit of research before I started brewing continuously and discovered some very confusing and complex calculations as to how much sugar and tea and etc. I also came across a lot of sites selling ridiculously expensive systems.
I got a local glass shop to drill a hole in my cookie jars for $5.00 each and bought spigots as a repair item for water jugs at a local hardware store. They are inexpensive and don’t pose much of a problem to find. I have seen them sold at Amazon also.
After I broke one of my brew jars I located an inexpensive large glass dispenser with a spigot at a department store. So, this is how I do my continuous brewing.
I brew the kombucha as outlined earlier but now I regularly drain a couple of quarts into mason jars and add fruit and ferment a couple of more days before refrigeration. I brew tea with a couple of Tbsp of leaves (~ 2 bags) and 1/2 cup of sugar and cool and then add it and top up my brew jar with filtered water.
As with any fermented foods results are not always predictable, but I find kombucha to be one of the easiest. With a little practice and experimentation you will probably find improvement in your brew. I have been doing this for a while, but I have got it down to a science for my particular taste buds. I am now producing a much superior brew to that when I first started. Enjoy!
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