Brew your own Kombucha!

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This post has literally been years in the making. After countless requests for a kombucha brewing method and recipe, I finally feel confident enough to write about such a HUGE topic. Considering the fact that there are entire books about this one subject, I’ll start off by saying that I do not consider myself a kombucha-brewing expert. Although I’ve brewed hundreds of liters of the stuff by now, I am still learning and just happy to share my processes and experiences with you so far. Everyone has a slightly different way of brewing and this is mine – it works perfectly for me and I hope for you too!

Making kombucha, like any “kitchen project” seems pretty daunting until you actually do it. Once you take the first step and brew your own batch, you won’t believe how simple and easy it is to make your own kombucha and be able to drink it every day of your life! You’ll also wonder why you waited so long to start. With just a 20-minute time investment every 7-10 days you’ll have access to the most delicious, high-vibe kombucha you’ve ever tasted at a faction of the cost of buying from the store. Plus, if you make it yourself, it will be 100% raw and full of those precious, digestion-supporting enzymes that our diets are typically lacking, whereas commercial kombucha has often been pasteurized – a process that destroys enzymes. You can ferment it to suit your taste, make it as fizzy as you desire, and even add flavourings. How rad is that?

What is Kombucha?
Although kombucha is experiencing a major surge in popularity, it has actually been around for thousands of years. It is essentially sweetened tea, fermented with the help of a SCOBY, transformed into a fizzy, effervescent drink. SCOBY is an acronym, which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s an odd-looking thing – often compared to an organ, a slippery mushroom, or a rubbery pancake – but it’s the essential ingredient in making the miracle beverage that is kombucha. Its flavours can range from pleasantly vinegar-y to champagne-like, with sweetness varying according to the original brew and second fermentations.

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Where can I get a SCOBY?
Since the SCOBY duplicates every time you make kombucha, there are plenty out there in the world for free! I recommend asking at your local health food store – in my experience it seems like the place to either purchase one, or connect with someone who brews and enjoys spreading the kombucha gospel and giving their extra SCOBYs away. Alternatively, try your local Craigstlist to find a culture. You can even buy them online. Here is a worldwide source: www.kombu.de

What about sugar?
Yes, you need sugar to brew kombucha but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be consuming it – it’s only food for the SCOBY! What starts off as very sweet tea completely transforms through the fermentation process, and that SCOBY turns all of that food into a delightful mixture of beneficial organic acids, B-vitamins, and enzymes. If it’s something you are concerned about, just let your kombucha ferment for the full 10 days, or longer. The longer the tea ferments the less sugar it contains. Usually by day 10 there isn’t a trace left – but your tea will be rather acidic-tasting just so you know!

There are a few types of sugar you can use for feeding the SCOBY, but cane sugar is the most recommended by seasoned brewers. I use the least processed form of cane sugar I can find – organic evaporated cane juice – but even the most sugar-avoiding, health-conscious people I know brew with refined white sugar. Remember: the sugar feeds the SCOBY, not you!

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What about caffeine?
The caffeine range in kombucha is extremely broad, and is mostly dependent on the type of tea used to brew it. Black tea contains substantially more caffeine than green tea for instance, and since I am sensitive to caffeine, I always brew with green tea. In general, brewed kombucha will contain approximately 1/3 of the caffeine of the original tea. If black tea contains 30-80mg of caffeine per cup, the same sized up of kombucha would contain 10-25mg. Green tea kombucha may have just 2-3mg per cup. Whatever you do, do NOT use decaffeinated tea to brew kombucha. Instead, blend the black tea with green tea or simply use green tea alone.

What about alcohol?
Fermenting anything sweet with yeasts is going to produce booze, that is just nature! With kombucha you’re looking at an average of 0.5 – 1% alcohol by volume. With home-brewing, there is always a risk of more alcohol forming since it is in an uncontrolled environment, so keep that in mind if that is a concern for you or someone you are serving it to.

What are the health benefits of Kombucha?
First, kombucha is a probiotic drink, so it is an excellent beverage for improving digestion, and supporting healthy bacteria in the gut. Its high enzyme content also promotes healthy digestion and nutrient assimilation.

Lab tests show that kombucha has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and the ability to improve liver function and reduce oxidative stress in the body. Many people report success in relieving their symptoms of arthritis, allergies, chronic fatigue, hypertension, metabolic disorders, and digestive issues.

What I think is very exciting and promising about kombucha however, are the acids formed during fermentation. These acids have incredible detoxifying and antioxidant capabilities. Glucuronic acid, for example, is the body’s most important detoxifier and made by the oxidation of glucose. Glucuronic acid binds to toxins in the liver and flushes them out through the kidneys. It also works in conjunction with gluconic acid, which binds with heavy metals and ushers them out of our systems. Acetic acid inhibits the action of harmful bacteria. Usnic acid protects against viruses through its antibiotic properties. Malic acid helps detoxify the liver. Butyric acid is produced by the beneficial yeasts in kombucha and protects cellular membranes and combines with gluconic acid to strengthen the walls of the gut to combat harmful yeasts such as candida albicans.

Of all the healthy habits I’ve adopted in my life, I’d say that drinking kombucha has actually made a difference in how I feel. Every time I take a sip it feels like every cell of my body is screaming YAAAAAHHHHHSSSSSS! Really and truly. To me, it is life elixir, and a fabulous drink to add to your healthy lifestyle. But I will also say that kombucha is not a panacea. The hype around this beverage has reached astronomical heights and I believe it’s important to consume kombucha without the expectation that it’s going to change your life. What works for me, may work for you and it may not. At the end of the day, kombucha is purely delicious and I think it’s best to enjoy it for that reason alone.

Can I drink too much kombucha?
Kombucha, like anything, should be enjoyed responsibly. Just as you wouldn’t eat a pound of chia seeds in a sitting, nor should you drown yourself in kombucha (although it would be a delicious way to go). If you have never had kombucha before, start out with about half a cup (125ml) and work your way up over the course of a few weeks or months. I probably drink around 1-2 cups a day (250 – 500ml) but my body is used to it and I too eased into this amount. Remember: food is medicine! You never know how your body will react, so it’s best to take things slow with such powerful potions.

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Second fermentation – flavouring your brew and making your kombucha fizzy
Although kombucha straight after the first fermentation is delish, I love to flavour it and make it really fizzy through a second fermentation. This involves adding a sweet substance, like fresh fruit or juice (I use unfiltered apple juice), to the bottles of brewed kombucha and letting it sit, sealed at room temperature for another couple of days instead of refrigerating it right away. This extra dose of sugar will feed the kombucha further and produce gas, which builds up inside the sealed bottle. This step is optional, but will make your kombucha really special and sparkly!

It’s essential that you use flip-top bottles with good seals for this step, since you want the gas to build inside the bottles at this stage. But because the pressure can be quite strong, I always recommend “burping” your bottles once a day until they have reached the amount of fizz you’re after. Simply flip the top on the bottles and you should hear the gas escaping, which is just enough to take the pressure off – there will still be plenty of sparkle in the kombucha. If you fail to burp your bottles, you may end up with an explosion on your hands! Needless to say this is quite dangerous, so set a timer for once  day if you’re a forgetful person.

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Taking a break from fermenting
There will come a time when you’ll have to pause your kombucha brewing cycle – perhaps if you’re traveling for a period of time, or simply feel like stopping – in which case, you need to know how to take a break.

Remove the SCOBY from the jar, separate the mother and the baby and put them into the same or separate glass jars (separate if you’re giving one away) with enough brewed kombucha to cover it, and seal with a plastic lid (remember that kombucha can not come into contact with metal, so stay on the safe side and use plastic). Keep this in the fridge where the temperature will slow down fermentation, and it will keep for many months. When you want to brew your new batch, remove the SCOBY from the fridge and let it come to room temperature before adding it to the sweetened and cooled tea, along with kombucha from your last batch, the SCOBY and the liquid it was stored in.

If you can time it properly, it’s a nice to be able to bottle your last batch right before you leave so that you can put your SCOBY away at the end of a cycle. I time it so that my second fermentation ends on my travel day so that I can store my bottles in the fridge while I’m gone. If it doesn’t exactly line up, you can do this by increasing the first or second fermentations by a few days. Remember that if you bottle early, it will be sweeter, and if you leave it longer it will be more acidic. Some people will leave their kombucha brewing for up to a month and that may suit you, but I personally wouldn’t leave mine for more than 2 weeks. If you are flexible on the taste and don’t mind these flavour variations, it will be a lot easier to time your break.

Whatever you do, don’t start a brew right before you leave for more than a couple weeks (unless you like very vinegar-y kombucha), and definitely don’t leave your second fermentation bottles out at room temperature! You’ll come home to an epic mess or worse.

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I know that this seems like a lot of information, but I wanted this post to be thorough so that you could have all the information you need to start brewing! If you have another variation on brewing, or tips and tricks that you think others would find helpful, please let me know in the comments! And because I know you’re going to have a lot of questions, I’ll try to check in on this post more often to answer them.

Here are some great online resources for those who want more information on brewing kombucha:

  • The most in-depth kombucha brewing info and how-to videos: Cultures for Health
  • Step-by-step photos: The Kitchn
  • Excellent troubleshooting resource: Bestweb

Remember that it may take a few batches (and a few SCOBYs) to get your kombucha just the way you like it, but it’s a really fun, empowering and delicious project that will make you feel like you can do anything in the kitchen! Did I mention you’ll get to drink kombucha every day for the rest of your life? Yes, there’s that too.

All love and happy brewing,
Sarah B.

Show me your kombucha on Instagram: #MNRkombucha

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