Make your own kombucha

The Brewing Operation

Here is my complete guide to making kombucha using a continuous brew system.

Purchasing commercial kombucha at $3-5 a bottle will make you go broke, but making kombucha tea (KT) using a continuous brew system is easy and effective.

To learn more about the health benefits of kombucha, visit Kombucha Kamp.

Pictured from left to right:  

I experimented with growing a scoby from commercial KT in a mason jar (See my article on how to grow your own.)   Behind it are the empty Celestial Seasonings bottles I cleaned and reuse.  Next to my developing scoby is a small jar for making sweet tea.  I have added 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tea bag to “feed” the developing scoby. 


Next to my DIY scoby is my continuous brew container, my electric kettle, wooden spoon, plastic pitcher full of sweet tea, and plastic measuring cup.

Supplies
1 starter scoby (mother culture) with 1 cup of starter kombucha tea
1 lb of organic vegan cane sugar ($5)
1 package of bagged green tea ($2-6)

1 glass beverage dispenser with plastic spigot, 1.5-2 gallons ($12-25)
1 white flour sack towel ($2)
1 fat rubber band ($0.50)
1 wooden spoon ($2)
1 glass mason jar to use as a spoon rest ($2-5)
1 qt distilled white vinegar for cleaning ($2)
1 plastic measuring cup set ($2-6)
1 gallon-size plastic pitcher ($2-4)
1 electric kettle, or other means of safely boiling water ($20)
6 pack of glass bottles (I saved, washed, and reused ones from Celestial Seasonings kombucha, so it cost me about $18.)

Recipe for 1 Gallon
12 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
8 tea bags

The Continuous Brew System

A simple $25 two-gallon glass beverage dispenser from Bed Bath and Beyond or a $12 one and a half-gallon one from Wal-Mart will get you started making KT.  The container should have a spigot made from food-grade plastic.  Never use metal, and don’t fall in the trap of buying gimicky, overpriced kombucha kits!

Replace the included glass lid with a flour sack towel, because glass will keep air out and prevent the KT from fermenting.  Cut the large towel in half, fold it in half again, and secure it to the top of the container with a thick rubber band.  (The ones from broccoli stems work great.)  Be sure to recycle the glass lid!

Before we brew, let’s talk about supplies.

The Ingredients

This cane sugar is organic, vegan and made by Florida Crystals.  Wal-Mart sells it for about $5.  I make my tea with a dollar brand of green tea, which makes for a very light and very flavorful KT.  You can also use black tea (pictured), white tea, or oolong.  Don’t use flavored teas like chai or Earl Grey, as the oil will kill the scoby.

The Scoby
This is the gorgeous scoby (or mother culture) that Faith sent me.  It was about 6 inches across and 1/4 inch thick, large enough to make a full gallon of KT.Always inspect a new starter scoby for signs of mold or infection.Never use a dehydrated scoby.  Your fresh scoby should come with 1/2 to 1 cup of starter kombucha tea.  Don’t toss a scoby into new sweet tea without including already fermented kombucha tea.Now that I have my own system going, I am happy to share my scobys.  Email me at save198veg@gmail.com if you need one!A new scoby will grow on top of the KT each time you brew.  You can keep 1-3 scobys in your container to speed up the fermentation process, but know that they do take up a lot of space and you may not be able to get a full gallon (or two gallons) in the container.  I usually keep two scobys in each of my two continuous brew containers, and it cuts the fermentation time down to 1.5 weeks.

Keep your starter scoby in its packaging until you’re ready to use it.  Don’t leave it out on the counter for long periods of time, and don’t handle it unless you have thoroughly washed your hands with vineger.  Never use soap on any of your KT supplies, as it will contaminate and/or kill the scoby!

The Sweet Tea
Now, get out your plastic pitcher, tea kettle, wooden spoon, and plastic measuring cups. Wash everything with vinegar and water, never soap. Measure out 1 cup of sugar, and place it in the plastic pitcher with 8 tea bags.If your tea bags have tags, secure them to the side of the pitcher using a plastic chip clip.  Don’t allow the tea tags to float around in your water– It gives it a weird taste.Boil 12 cups of water and pour it over the 8 tea bags and 1 cup of sugar.  Use the wooden spoon to mix the sweet tea.  Rinse and store the wooden spoon in the glass mason jar.Take the tea bags out after about 5 minutes, and allow the sweet tea to cool completely.  If you pour hot tea over your scoby, it will kill it!  You can speed up the cooling process by placing the pitcher in the freezer for 10-20 minutes, or just leave it to cool for 2-3 hours.  It should be room temperature before it comes into contact with the scoby.
The Waiting Game

Finally, once the sweet tea has cooled, pour it into the clean continuous brew container.  Add your scoby with 1/2-1 cup of starter tea on top of the sweet tea. New scobys will form at the top of the KT, but scobys from previous brews may sink or flounder.  This is completely  normal.  As long as the scoby is healthy (and shows no signs of mold), you’ll be fine.

Cover the spigot on the beverage dispenser with a plastic bag in case it drips, and save your receipt in case the container leaks.

Your kombucha will be ready for bottling in one to two weeks.  Test the KT after one week by using the spigot to dispense a small amount into a glass.  Some people like their KT sweeter than others, but I prefer mine pretty sour.  If you’re using more than one scoby, it will take less time to ferment.

You can carbonate kombucha by storing it under pressure in clean, air-tight bottles such as grolsch bottles, or by sealing it with a bottle capper in beer bottles.  Do this after about a week and a half of fermentation, and allow the kombucha to undergo secondary fermentation in the bottles.  Read this article for more about carbonating.

Some people really enjoy the fresh fizz of carbonated kombucha, but it’s neither here nor there to me, so I save myself a lot of effort by skipping the bottling process altogether.  I siphon off as much KT as I want using the plastic spigot, and sometimes store it in glass bottles I saved from commercial Celestial Seasonings KT.  Six of these bottles will hold a gallon, but be sure to leave a little wiggle room in each in case the KT starts to expand and carbonate.  You don’t want your bottles to explode!

The KT

If you can’t store it in a pantry or a closet, cover your continuous system with an old t-shirt to keep out light.  KT needs to be stored in dark dry, warm places like a pantry, a shelf in the laundry room, or a closet.  I keep mine above my dryer, and it does extremely well.  Fermentation is a snap in these conditions!

After 1.5 Weeks
This is what my KT looked like after a week and a half of fermentation.  This was from my first batch. Now my KT grows 1-2 inch thick mother scobys and I keep 2-3 of these in each container to speed up the fermentation.
One final note on kombucha:  While KT is no more alcoholic than vinegar or sauerkraut, there are ignorant people who consider it to be the same as wine or beer.  (Read more on that here.)  Be cautious about taking it with you to work or school, and honestly describe it as a fermented tea drink, not alcohol.
How I use my kombucha
Immune-Boosting Super Drink:  Mix plain green tea kombucha with 1 packet of Emergen-C powder, 1 dose of Green Vibrance supplement in a large container (it gets really fizzy.)  Add carbonated water if you like to dillute the flavor, and drink daily, or whenever you’re feeling a cold coming on.
Best-Ever Face Wash:  Mix 1 part Dead Sea mud, 1 part bentonite clay, 1/2 part St. Ives Apricot Scrub, and 1/2 part kombucha. Add more KT if necessary to thin. You can find many of these ingredients on Etsy.com.
My face feels is refreshed, vibrant, and toned. I use this daily in place of make up remover, and I leave it on a little longer as a facial.
Weekly Hair Tonic:  I rinse my hair with plain KT once a week to remove built-up product residue.  I store it in a large plastic pump dispenser and add fresh lavender from my herb garden to tone down the vinegary scent.  After I rinse with KT, I use an all natural shampoo and conditioner as normal
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