how to make your own kombucha

Easy Beginners Guide: How to Make Your Own Kombucha

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From when we first tried kombucha about eight years ago to the present, kombucha has been a staple in our house. Because the process is so easy, we currently make about 5 gallons every two weeks. We will give you an easy step-by-step guide on how to make your own kombucha, so that you can also enjoy homemade kombucha.

Making kombucha is a really passive process, so even if it may seem to have a lot of steps, most of the steps are really spaced out in time. You’ll also get the hang of making kombucha really quickly, which will take any guesswork out of the process.

We were once beginners at making kombucha and understand the process can seem daunting. As newbies to making fermented beverages, we feared the idea of cultivating wild yeasts and bacteria outside of a fridge. We didn’t want to get anyone sick!

However, fear not, so long as you can follow instructions, you should be fine. We tried to make our “How to Make Your Own Kombucha” guide as easy-to-follow as possible. If you still have questions though, feel free to comment with them at the end.

Let’s dive into some basics, in case you’re new to kombucha.

Health Benefits

You can read our article on the Top 4 Kombucha Health Benefits to learn more, but here are some health benefits in a nutshell:

It contains probiotics, i.e. healthy, living bacteria that can benefit your gut health.

It also contains beneficial vitamins and minerals.

Benefits of Making Your Own Kombucha

Here are some benefits of learning how to make your own kombucha:

Cost Savings

You can make a whole gallon of kombucha at home for less than the cost of one bottle from the store. After accumulating your equipment, the only repeating cost is to replenish your tea and sugar supply, but you can buy those ingredients in bulk. 

Thus, once you learn how to make your own kombucha, you should incur minimal costs thereafter.

Volume

If you enjoy kombucha as much as us, you’ll enjoy making large quantities. We currently make 5-gallon batches, since our family drinks it daily, and we give some away to family and friends.

Once you learn how to make your own kombucha, you can make however much suits your consumption. Keep your fridge capacity in mind, however. If you have limited fridge space, you’ll need to plan for storing your finished product, whether through reorganizing or getting a mini fridge.

Basic Kombucha Vocabulary: SCOBY and Fermentation

SCOBY 

Before you learn how to make your own kombucha, you should be familiar with the term “SCOBY.” SCOBY is an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”

Your kombucha starter should contain the necessary yeasts and bacteria for kombucha. Either you can use unflavored store-bought kombucha (i.e. GT’s Classic Original Kombucha or you can buy a SCOBY from a seller. The former is way cheaper.

The SCOBY basically looks like a large, somewhat translucent mushroom cap. It feels slimy to the touch.

Fermentation

The bacteria and yeast work together in a “symbiotic” relationship. First, the yeast breaks the sugar down into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Then, the bacteria breaks the alcohol down into beneficial organic acids.

Most people do a second fermentation with kombucha to increase carbonation. Adding sugar during second fermentation can increase carbon dioxide production (i.e. carbonation). The second fermentation is also where you add any flavor infusions, like fruits and herbs.

Because the second fermentation occurs in an airtight container, the carbonation can build up in the beverage.  Once you learn how to make your own kombucha, timing the fermentations will become simpler.

How to Make Your Own Kombucha – Supplies Needed

Here are the supplies you’ll need to get started. I provided links for your convenience and as examples.

  • 1-gallon glass jar (get 2 if you want to do continuous batches)
  • Cotton cloth (We use cut-outs from an old T-shirt. If you don’t have any disposable T-shirts, feel free to buy a cotton cloth or use a washcloth). The cloth should be large enough to comfortably secure the mouth of your jar.
  • Large rubber bands (Large enough to wrap the cloth around the mouth of the jar.)
  • Black tea (loose leaf or tea bags). Not decaffeinated.
  • Filtered water 
  • 1 bottle of plain kombucha (We always use GT’s Classic Original Kombucha – not GT’s Original “Enlightened”.)  
  • Granulated sugar 
  • 16-oz Swing top glass bottles. Ensures better carbonation than larger bottles.

How to Make Your Own Kombucha – The First Fermentation

Supplies Needed to Make 1 Gallon

  • 1-gallon glass jar
  • 14 cups of filtered water (or 16 cups if using a SCOBY)
  • 2 tbsp. of caffeinated black tea (or 8 tea bags)
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • Cotton cloth to cover 1-gallon jar
  • Large rubber band to secure cloth
  • 2 cups of unflavored, store-bought Kombucha (e.g. GT’s Classic Original Kombucha) 
  • 8 swing top glass bottles

Step 1

Bring 7 cups of water to a boil in a large stockpot with 2 tbsp. (or 8 tea bags) of caffeinated black tea. Once boiling, add 1 cup of granulated sugar and turn off the stove. Stir to dissolve all of the sugar. 

Step 2

Add 7 cups of water to the pot. Cover the pot and let the water come down to 90 degrees, or room temperature. (Anything above 110 degrees can kill the SCOBY bacteria. We reduce the temperature to 90 degrees to be safe.) You can use an ice bath or ice water to expedite.

Note: In Step 1, we boil 7 cups of water and then add 7 cups of un-boiled water in Step 2 to expedite the cooldown. You are free to boil all 14 cups from the outset, however, if you don’t mind waiting longer.

Step 3

After your tea has sufficiently cooled, pour it into your 1-gallon glass jar, along with 2 cups of your store-bought kombucha. 

Step 4

Cover your glass jar with your cotton cloth and secured it with your rubber band. Let your brew sit for at least 10 days in a dark place at room temperature. 

Step 5

After 10 days, start checking on your kombucha weekly (or more frequently, if you’re curious). To check on your kombucha, just sample a large spoonful to see if the taste is to your liking. 

The longer your kombucha ferments, the more tart/vinegar-like it will taste. We typically let ours ferment in a 78-80 degree home for two weeks. However, yours may be tarter sooner if your house is warmer, or may take longer if your house is cooler. Sometimes ours takes about a month to develop an acceptable flavor when cooler.

Note: Other guides often overcomplicate this step in terms of giving proposed timing. Basically, the first fermentation is done when the flavor appeases you (i.e. it’s subjective). You will know the yeasts and bacteria have been doing their job by the increasing tartness and SCOBY growth.

Step 6

When your kombucha has sufficiently completed its first fermentation, take your SCOBY out, along with 2 cups of your unflavored kombucha. Be sure to read the “Maintaining Your SCOBY” section below. 

As for your kombucha, I’d highly recommend a second fermentation to increase carbonation. If you choose to skip a second fermentation, then (after saving 2 cups for your SCOBY) funnel the kombucha into your swing top glass bottles and store in the fridge. 

Otherwise, to proceed with a second fermentation, see the steps below.

How to Make Your Own Kombucha – The Second Fermentation

At this stage, you can infuse flavors (e.g. fruits, spices) into your kombucha. If you want to skip flavoring, then skip to Step 2. (We will have a separate article soon on kombucha flavors if you want some ideas on flavor infusions.)

Step 1

Stir your flavor infusers into your kombucha. If adding fruit, we usually add 300-350 grams of mashed fruit per gallon. After adding your flavors, put the cloth lid back on and let your brew sit for another 2 days.

Really, the quantity of flavoring ingredients you add is a personal preference and on the flavor strength of that ingredient. You may have to experiment to see how much you like, particularly with herbs and spices. 

Step 2

Funnel your kombucha into your swing top glass bottles, straining out any fruits, spices, etc. Leave about an inch from the top of the bottle without liquid (to leave space for gas). Securely close the swing top and store the bottles in their dark place for 2 days.

Note: Try your kombucha after the two days. If it’s not carbonated enough, then let it sit longer. The process may take shorter/longer depending on your house’s temperature.

Second Note: If you did not add fruit for flavoring, then you may need to add granulated sugar to increase the carbonation. Add ¼ tsp of sugar per pint bottle, then reseal the bottle to sit another 3 days. It may take shorter/longer depending on your house’s temperature.

Step 3

If everything seems right, store your kombucha in the fridge and enjoy! 

Final Notes

  • As you make more and more kombucha, you will learn what fermenting times work best for your taste and home environment. For instance, with our house temperature, we expect the first fermentation to take two weeks in the summer, but up to four weeks in the winter.
  • Your house temperature can influence how carbonated your final product is, and whether you need to add more sugar and wait longer during second fermentation. We find that the sugars from added fruit is sufficient for super carbonated kombucha, so never add more sugar to our fruit-infused kombuchas during second fermentation.
  • If this is your very first kombucha batch, then you should have a SCOBY now! Don’t worry if it’s not too thick or opaque yet, it will get there with more batches.
  • Have another 1-gallon container available if you want to immediately start a new batch with the SCOBY after first fermentation.

Maintaining Your SCOBY

We always start another batch immediately after removing the SCOBY after the first fermentation of a prior batch. We simply put the SCOBY into another 1-gallon jar with new sugar tea to start a new kombucha batch. 

Otherwise, you can keep your SCOBY in a Tupperware or other airtight container submerged in 2 cups of your unflavored kombucha. Store your SCOBY in your pantry. No refrigeration required. However, if you choose to refrigerate your SCOBY, understand that it may not work as quickly when you reuse it.

Mainly, you want to ensure your SCOBY doesn’t dry out or run out of food. If the liquid evaporates too much, you can add more unflavored kombucha or sugar tea (the sugar tea made in Step 1 of First Fermentation).

When you’re ready to make your next batch, then just add new sugar tea to the kombucha/SCOBY that you saved and repeat the whole process of making kombucha that we outlined in this article.

Note: Don’t worry if you somehow lose your SCOBY (e.g. dries out). You can always make more kombucha by simply using 2 cups of your homemade (or store-bought) unflavored kombucha in the same fashion that we outlined above. 

Fun fact: You actually don’t need a SCOBY to make more kombucha, so long as you have plain kombucha on hand. However, we do like the barrier it forms at the top of the jar and it does add more microorganisms.

Comments

Please do comment below with any questions you have on making kombucha, or if you have any helpful tips or flavors you love!

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