How to make your own kombucha at home
Tired of paying upwards of £3.50 for a small bottle of kombucha in Shoreditch? Make your own for the price of some teabags and sugar.
Kombucha is just fermented sweetened tea. Many hail it for it’s medical properties but to be honest I just drink it because it is delicious. If you know someone who makes kombucha, I’m sure they would be happy to give you a mother (also know as SCOBY) to get started. My own kombucha mother, which originated in Korea where it had been cultivated for 4 years, came to London via Berlin last year. It now has a few offspring around London, and I love tasting my friends’ brews. If you don’t know anyone who could give you a mother, they are also for sale on Amazon.
Making it is surprisingly easy if you take a few precautions. The equipment needs to be clean. And plastic and glass is better than anything metal. To start with I recommend using a pure black tea, I’ve had a lot of success with an assam single estate from Yumchaa, but any black tea will do. And go for cheap white sugar, none of that fancy brown stuff. The white sugar is practically tasteless, whilst the brown sugar will add a lot of flavour.
Step 1: Clean all your equipment with hot water (the professionals believe in rinsing with vinegar, but leaving this out hasn’t failed me yet).
Step 2: The base recipe is 6 grams tea + 60 grams sugar per litre of hot water. (I usually make either 2 or 3 litres at a time). Boil the amount of water you wish to make.
Step 3: Measure out how much tea you need for the amount of hot water you are making. Steep for 6 minutes. If you are using a different type of tea check the recommended steeping time for that tea. When you’re done steeping, filter out the loose leaf tea.
Step 4: Dissolve the sugar in the hot tea (60 grams per litre).
Step 5: Wait for the water to cool down to body temperature, and pour it into the jar you’ll be using for fermenting. It’s very important that you let the tea cool down, too hot tea will hurt the bacteria in the mother.
Step 6: Add the mother gently to the top of the jar (make sure your hands are clean when handling the mother). Unless it is a completely new mother, it will have one light side and one darker side. The lighter side should face upwards. Pour in all the juices that came with the mother too, it will protect the kombucha from bacteria and mold. If you didn’t get any juice (aka mature kombucha) with your mother, you can use a tablespoon of vinegar instead.
Step 7: Put a muslin/cheesecloth over the top of the jar and secure with a string or elastic. The muslin is reusable, and I clean mine in the washing machine. Put the jar somewhere out of direct sunlight.
Step 8: Depending on the temperature, let the kombucha do its thing for 4–10 days before starting to taste. Summer in London takes about 6 days, but winter takes more like 10 days to reach a nice taste. You can keep tasting it with a straw to check every now and again. You could drink the kombucha just like that, but why stop there when you can flavour it and make it fizzy!
Part 2: Secondary fermentation
When the kombucha has reached a nice taste, the secondary fermentation can begin. This is where you can add fun and interesting flavours to your brew. The only rule is that it has to be a bit sugary (think fruit and fruit juice). Things I have successfully flavoured my kombucha with:
- ginger (1 tablespoon pureed fresh ginger per bottle, I like mine spicy!)
- Jamaican ginger & sorrel juice (1 part juice, 9 parts kombucha)
- that lingonberry juice syrup from IKEA I had in my cupboard for ages (1 part cordial, 9 parts kombucha)
- elderflower cordial (1 part cordial, 9 parts kombucha)
- cascara (1 cup for 2 litre brew)
- hibiscus (I used two teabags for a 1 litre brew)
- fireweed honey (I used 1 cup for a 3 litre brew)
Pour your kombucha into suitable containers (glass bottles or plastic bottles). Add your flavouring of choice. Seal the bottle. Leave to ferment for a bit. For me this takes about 3 days but it will depend on the temperature in your home.
Note: if you’re using glass bottles don’t leave them too long or forget about them, they could explode.
In that regard plastic is safer as it will start to bulge and visually give you an indicator that you should stop fermenting and put it in the fridge. The longer you leave it the more carbonation/fizz you will get. I like mine quite fizzy but not so fizzy that it explodes when you open it.
When your bottle has reached your ideal carbonation, put it in the fridge to stop the fermentation. Enjoy your kombucha!
- the mother sinks — don’t worry! it may start floating again, or float sideways, or start making a new film on top. In either case it will still turn into kombucha.
- it turns out too weak — add more tea/steep for longer/add more sugar next time. Experiment with flavours. Take notes of how much you use and see what works best for you.
- it turns out too sour — ferment it for less time next time! If you let too-sour-to-drink kombucha ferment even longer it turns into delicious vinegar you can use for salads and in dressings. In worst case scenario you can use it as cleaning agent for your next brew.
- the mother looks gross — yes, it does. It is also normal for the kombucha to develop brown strings. It may look gross but it’s perfectly fine.
Tips and tricks:
- When your scoby gets really thick through continuous brewing peel off some layers and give them to friends so they can start brewing.
- Keep a scoby sample in the fridge as a backup in case something goes wrong. Just put it in a sealed container with some very sugared tea and it can sleep for months in the fridge.
- If you see mold, throw it away. Do not drink. Start over. (I’ve never had this happen to my kombucha, but you should be aware of it). People have brewed kombucha for a very long time in environments a lot dirtier than the average modern kitchen, so don’t be scared.