My apparatus: New tea brewing on the left, 2 different types of bottles I've collected for home-brews, and the 2-qt jar I use as a fermentation vessel, with the remainder of the finished kombucha waiting for the tea to come to room temp. The SCOBY is in the plastic lid in front, and there's the straw I use for sampling.

My apparatus: New tea brewing on the left, home-brew bottles, and the 2-qt jar I use as a fermentation vessel (with the remainder of the finished kombucha waiting for the tea to come to room temp). The SCOBY is in the plastic lid in front, and there’s the straw I use for sampling.

I’d been thinking of trying kombucha for a little while, but I didn’t know anyone who made it, so I would have had to actually leave the house to buy some, or else send away for a SCOBY, and I’m entirely too lazy/cheap for those options. Heh.

But then, at a friend’s┬áSolstice party, I noticed a jar with a towel rubber-banded to the top. Hmm. Sure enough, kombucha! So she set me up. I’m still pretty new at the whole thing, but it tastes yummy and purportedly even has health benefits.

Here’s how I do it.

For a gallon of kombucha, you need:

a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast)

6 black tea bags (regular or decaf)*

a cup of white sugar**

and of course, a gallon of water.

Brew your sweet tea, let it cool, add the SCOBY, cover with a towel secured to the top, and wait. It’ll take about a week, but you can taste it to see how sweet or dry it is. When it tastes how you want, it’s done. Take the SCOBY out (along with 1/4 to 1/3 of the finished kombucha, for the next batch), pour the brew into whatever container you’ll store it in, and put it in the fridge. If you leave it on the counter, it’ll grow a new SCOBY, and continue to ferment. (And it’s REALLY WEIRD to feel a newly formed SCOBY in your mouth! Bleaahh!)

SCOBY close-up

SCOBY close-up

If your fermenting container is smaller than a gallon, just use proportionally smaller amounts. I use a 2-qt mason jar, but I’m on the lookout for a larger dispenser-type jar with a spigot on the bottom. SCOBYs don’t like metal, so use only glass, wood, or plastic to handle the SCOBY or what it will be in contact with. The SCOBY will add a layer on top for every new batch, so when it gets too thick, just peel off the bottom & toss it. Or give it to a friend! The SCOBY will take the shape of the top of whatever container you use. It may sink in a new batch of tea, but even if the old SCOBY stays at the bottom, the new one will form at the top.

To taste it as it ferments, stick a plastic drinking straw down the side, plug the top with your finger, and empty it into your mouth or a glass. I like mine fairly dry, some like it sweeter. It’ll taste more & more like vinegar as time passes, because the yeast takes the sugar, turns it to alcohol, and then the bacteria takes the alcohol and turns it to acetic acid, aka distilled vinegar.

The finished kombucha can be treated a number of different ways– it’s really good with fruit in it, or grated fresh ginger, or you can do a secondary ferment for more bubbles. If it’s still pretty sweet, just put it into a stoppered bottle for 24 hours on the counter, or if you let it get fairly dry add some sugar before stopping the bottle. The residual yeast will make the carbonation for you. Once it’s bubbly, refrigerate, or you could end up with broken glass all over your kitchen. Hasn’t happened to me yet, but I don’t doubt it could if I weren’t careful.

And enjoy!

*For a couple batches I added a lemon-ginger tea bag, but I couldn’t really taste the additional flavors once it was done fermenting. My friend also told me that it’s only black tea that has the right nutrients for the SCOBY– you can combine it with green tea, but there has to be black tea in there somewhere or the SCOBY will get too weak.

**White sugar is it for this stuff. Other sweeteners won’t work, apparently. I haven’t done any experiments yet to try out other kinds of sugar, though. Maybe someday.