Before my Dad gave me starter liquid and my first SCOBY, I didn’t know kombucha was made from tea. I wanted to make kombucha but had no idea how so I researched. I read articles, forums and blogs.
There is so much contradiction and controversy in the world of kombucha brewing. ‘Use only black tea’ and ‘Only white sugar’ are my favourite dogmas.
There’s a lot of flexibility in brewing kombucha, with very few hard and fast rules. Here are the basic parameters for getting started with kombucha.
In order to get started brewing your own kombucha, you need 5 things:
1. A SCOBY/Starter culture (Pellicle)- (SCOBY= Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast)- If you have good quality starter liquid with live cultures, it can double up as the starter culture too, but to play it safe for a first go we recommend getting both. Technically, the SCOBY is all the live organisms, but the cellulose biofilm that the organisms make (the pellicle), is colloquially referred to as a SCOBY, which you can buy-here.
2. Starter liquid- (this is previously fermented, unflavoured kombucha)- can double up as your SCOBY if it’s good quality starter liquid.
3. Tea– we recommend using black, green or oolong tea to start with. My personal favourite is oolong! A great oolong variety and source is here.
4. Sugar– most sugars are fine for this, however non-caloric sweeteners such as stevia and Erythritol won’t be fermented, and honey has some controversy over fermentation. We recommend raw or white sugar to start with for the most predictable batches. (Personal favourite is raw sugar).
5. A container to ferment the kombucha in, along with a breathable cloth and rubber band to cover the container- the container will need to have an opening for oxygen transfer- I personally use K-Mart drink dispensers as the spout makes tapping the brew easy (even if I have to clean the spouts occasionally). I leave the lid off and use cheesecloth and a rubber band to cover it.
Note: There are recommended ratios we’ll get to in our recipes section.
For all your SCOBY, starter liquid and tea needs, you can find what we use here in one package- https://www.fernandlily.com.au/shop-online/kombucha-starter-kit/?v=6cc98ba2045f
We’ve cultivated our cultures carefully and selected the teas with years of experience so we strongly recommend these products.
Some of these ingredients have some wiggle room:
– You can substitute some starter liquid if you’re short on it, with white vinegar. People do use apple cider vinegar but since the cultures are different that can lead to the kombucha cultures losing dominance. The purpose of the vinegar here is to lower the pH (increase the acidity) so the kombucha cultures can flourish.
– You can also add to the starter liquid with unflavoured kombucha (but you must select a strong, undiluted real kombucha). Starter liquid is normally primary fermentation (we’ll get to that soon) kombucha. You can use our original kombucha, which you can order here.
To brew carbonated, flavoured or otherwise bottled kombucha, fermentation is broken down into 2 steps- Primary and Secondary Fermentation.
This is the first step in kombucha fermentation. In this stage you facilitate the aerobic (using oxygen) fermentation of kombucha- this is where many of the organic acids and probiotics are produced.
To start off with, you’re going to need:
1. 1 part starter liquid to 2 parts sugared tea. Remember when deciding how much you want, you’re only going to take out two thirds of your whole ferment when it’s done, the remaining third will be starter liquid for your next batch.
2. ¼ cup of sugar to 1 litre of tea
3. Approximately 2-4 tea bags per litre of tea depending on how strong you want your kombucha- Note: from most bitter to least bitter, the best teas for kombucha fermentation include: black, green, oolong.
After you have all your equipment and ingredients in ratios, this part is simple!
1. Start boiling water (twice as much as you have starter liquid!)
2. Once boiled, dissolve the sugar in the hot water.
3. Add tea
4. Cover your pot/bowl if possible (keep bugs out)
5. Sit and let cool (sometimes I put whatever container in the fridge, freezer or sink with some cold water to speed this up).
6. Once the tea is roughly body temperature or lower, you can add it to the jar you plan on fermenting the brew in, along with your starter liquid and SCOBY/starter culture.
Now, you wait.
After the 7-day mark, start tasting your kombucha. The longer you wait, the less sugar there will be and the sourer the kombucha.
Once you’re satisfied, you can move onto the secondary fermentation if you’d like.
It will eventually plateau, and it will ferment faster the warmer it is and the more pellicles there are. If it’s fermenting slowly it’s often the temperature in these winter months.
This is the stage where you can add flavours and carbonation, and increase the anaerobic (without oxygen) fermentations of the kombucha.
This step is shorter than the previous step, which can take 7 days to several weeks. It is also a flexible stage.
If you don’t want to add a new flavour to the kombucha but do want to increase carbonation: bottle your kombucha with extra sugar, seal the bottle and let the kombucha sit for a few days at room temperature. Add 2-4 teaspoons of sugar per litre, and let sit for 2-3 days depending on how warm it is.
Note: This anaerobic fermentation also ferments alcohol, the longer the brew sits and the more sugar, the more alcohol (still not much after 2-3 days but be warned). Also if it sits for longer you can risk damaging the bottles since pressure will keep building.
To add new flavours, you have many options. The simplest options are:
1. Add cut up fruit, spices, herbs etc.
2. Add blended fruits
3. Add non-reconstituted, preferably cold pressed juices, nectars etc.- make sure there are no preservatives that might kill your probiotics.
If you want more advanced or detailed ways of flavouring, we’ll soon be coming out with guides on how to DIY cold press juices, use nectars and pulps.
We suggest using around 10-30% fruit for the final mixture; you can use less than that for many herbs and spices. Play around and see what you like!
If you use an ingredient that doesn’t add sugar (e.g. cinnamon doesn’t have and therefore won’t add sugar but apple juice does have sugar that will be added) and you want to build carbonation or sweetness- just add sugar as explained earlier, with the ingredient.
After flavouring- let the kombucha sit for 2-3 days to build carbonation.
Kombucha will carbonate somewhat without extra sugar depending on how long the primary fermentation was (longer Primary Fermentation= less sugar to anaerobically ferment= less carbonation in secondary fermentation).
After 2-3 days, refrigerate your kombucha- this will keep the alcohol, carbonation and probiotic/organic acid levels stable.
ABOUT AUTHOR: Jack Lewis is a keen researcher, writer and health enthusiast. Jack aims to communicate evidence based, accessible strategies to optimise health for everyday people. In his spare time, Jack likes to home brew kombucha and is a competitive martial artist.