How to Brew Kombucha
This is, by far, the coolest homesteading activity I've ever done. (Well, keeping chickens years ago was rad. I enjoyed that.)
I periodically take a break from brewing it because my fiancé and I go through spurts of drinking it. Sometimes it languishes in the pantry and turns to vinegar before we can drink it. And dumping it out gives me physical pain. Not only am I wasting the tea and sugar (and honey, because I also brew jun), but it's a total waste of my time, too.
Kombucha isn't really a time suck, nor is it hard (AT ALL) to make, but it is time sensitive. If you don't get it into bottles for the second fermentation on time, or you don't stop the fermenting process by getting it into cold storage (the fridge), then it's pretty much ruined.
I'm sorry to say that the timing is all up to you, too. It's all about the taste. My basic time recipe is: brew for one week, bottle, let it set for four more days, taste, put it in the fridge (or leave for another two days or so, and then put it in the fridge.)
But Ali likes it stronger. So sometimes I leave it in the second fermentation longer for him--makes it more sour.
And, in the summer, the recipe goes out the window. I have to watch it like a hawk. Or a starving eagle. The heat makes it ferment faster, and before I know it, it's already vinegar.
I'm usually swamped in the summer with festivals and conferences and trips to the coast with the teens and their friends, camping, concerts, or visitors. So, even though summertime is a perfect time for a yummy glass of kombucha to quench my thirst, I often take my brewing break then.
Here is a quick video tutorial on my "quaint" set up for brewing: (Step by step how-to, with photos, will follow the video.)
1. Brew tea on stove top.
One gallon of water to eight tea bags.
2. Add sweetener.
Sugar to black tea.Honey to green tea.
Once the tea is at the strength that you like, take it off the heat and add the sweetener while the tea is still hot enough to melt and mix in the sugar or honey.
Now it has to cool. You cannot add hot tea to the scoby or it will die. I will either put the pan on a trivet or cooling rack and forget out it for an hour, or I'll pour it into 1/2 gallon jars, dividing it up to make it cool faster--depending on my needs that day.
3. While waiting, bottle the last batch.
This is brewed jun. Notice the grainy "scoby." It looks different than the kombucha scoby. (Kombucha is in back. I've already bottled that, but you can see the difference in the color of tea.)The kombucha scobies are more "mushroomy" than the jun ones.
3a. Set out the bottles you're going to use. I use recycled Perrier bottles. I like the color. But the best ones are the flip lids you can get at kitchen stores.
3b. Add a spoonful of sugar to each bottle. For kombucha bottles only. The jun is sweet enough. The extra sugar gives the kombucha a little something extra to eat, and somehow--miraculously (because I'm not a scientist)--it makes the final product a little more sparkly. And I like the fizzy.
3c. Pour the brew into a spouted container for easier pouring.I strain out the scoby's goobers and floaties at the same time, because I don't like to be surprised by a mouthful of the slimies while I'm chugging my brew. Leave some of the fermented tea in the jar with its scoby so the "culture" will act as a starter for the next batch.
3d. Using a funnel to prevent huge messes in the kitchen (don't ask me how I know this), fill the bottle with the brewed kombucha, or jun.
3e. Cap it and tag it.
I label it with what's inside, the day that I originally brewed it, and the day I bottled it. This will tell me by reading the label if I can drink it yet.
3f. Pantrify it.
Once it's bottled, I put it on this shelf and wait.I wait 4 to 7 days before drinking, because that's when I like the taste the best. When you've got it just right, *refrigerate*!
My darling Ali, despite repeated instructions, still doesn't know that he can drink the bottle if it's in the fridge. He wants stickers.
"If it has a sticker on it, I'll know I can drink it," he says.
4. Once the sweetened tea has cooled down to lukewarm or colder, you can pour it into the old jars with the lonely scobies.
I took a homesteading class once, whose instructor told me to fill it about 3/4 of the way full, and then add tap water to fill it up. I liked the taste of it, so I continue to do that, but if you like a stronger tasting tea, perhaps filling it straight to the top with your tea would be best. Play around with it.
It doesn't matter what size the kombucha is. You can cut it up and expand your brewing, or give away the "babies" to others who want to brew their own. The scobies grow bigger (with more layers) every time you brew, so after awhile, I end up with a whole jar with nothing but scobies.
If you find that after awhile your fermented tea doesn't taste very fermented after its brewing period (still sweet), you can either throw that scoby away and use a "fresh" one from another "mother," or you can try adding store-bought plain kombucha to your scoby starter to beef it up.
5. Cover your new tea with cheese cloth and rubber bands to keep the fruit flies out, and let it sit for one week.
If you are brewing BOTH kombucha and jun, make sure to do this brewing process as far apart as you can. I had some jun go rogue on me once. It cross-pollinated with the kombucha scoby. Still fine to drink, just a different brew. Basically kombucha made with green tea and honey. ;-)
I hope you found this article useful. Please share with whomever you think would like to start brewing their own beverages. It's super cheap, easy, and good for you. And don't worry about the amount of sugar and honey you add to the tea (one cup per gallon of tea), the fermentation process eats away all the sugar and you're left with a low-calorie drink. (Like, 30 calories a glass.) (But don't quote me on that.)