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I didn’t know what kombucha was until I moved in with my now husband back in college. In fact, I’d never even heard of it. Emerson had a roommate that was brewing kombucha tea and I’ll admit that I was super grossed out the first time I saw it! I could not believe they were going to drink that stuff. Why? Because it looks like this:
For someone who has never even heard of kombucha, looking at something that has a floating mushroom-like substance in it is pretty disturbing. Also, I don’t like mushrooms to begin with so it was a double whammy. I eventually came around when I learned how healthy it was and what the floating, mushroom looking thing was. (And when I found out how expensive it is at the store!) If you drink kombucha, have a little (and I mean a little) extra time, and want to save some money then you should definitely be making your own!
WHAT IS FERMENTATION?
Lactic-acid fermentation, or lacto-fermentation, is the most common type of fermentation and the easiest to practice at home. When you practice lacto-fermentation the lactic acid bacteria convert your sugars into lactic acid which then act as a preservative. Pretty awesome, right?
WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?
Fermented foods are all the hype right now. It’s almost like fermentation is becoming a fad in a lot of ways but the truth is that people have been fermenting foods for an extremely long time – like 6000 B.C. long time. For those of you who don’t know, kombucha is a fermented tea made by using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast thought to have multiple health benefits. That’s where “The Mother” comes in. Happy belated Mother’s Day?
WHAT IS “THE MOTHER”?
Aren’t I the mother of the kombucha, you may ask? Well yes but also no, not really. “The Mother” is the only name I knew for a long time and it’s a nickname for the culture or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The mother is the mushroom-like substance I mentioned early that forms at the top of the tea. It’s chock full of microorganisms that take in the sugar and tea and leave you with a delicious, healthy fermented tea.
FUN FACT: The Mother also acts as a seal in your container to aid in “first fermentation”, and we’ll go over what the heck that is right now.
WHAT IS FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD FERMENTATION?
When you’re brewing kombucha tea there are generally 2-3 cycle: first fermentation, second fermentation (optional), and third fermentation. I haven’t read too deeply into commercial kombucha outside of knowing it’s wildly expensive compared to homebrews, but I’m assuming they practice a three fermentation process. You don’t HAVE to do that.
First Fermentation is the most important fermentation because it’s when you’re kombucha tea is brewing and fermenting and turning into a health bomb of a tea – yum. The Mother acts as a seal of sorts in your glass container and you’ll have a light fizz when first fermentation is done.
Second fermentation (optional) is practiced when people want to flavor their kombucha with fruit juices, fruit chunks, ginger, etc. To practice second fermentation, you divide your “first batch” into your containers, add your flavorings, seal it, and let it sit for a few days. If you’re using a high sugar add-in, such as mango, you’ll want to “burp” your ‘buch so it doesn’t explode. That means you’ll just open the lid and close it back. Easy, peasy.
Third Fermentation is usually my second fermentation. When I’ve flavored my ‘buch in the past I would just skip second fermentation, put my add-ons right in the bottle, and seal it up for second fermentation. After this 3rd fermentation (or 2nd F, depending on how involved you want to be) your kombucha should have that nice, light fizz that commercial teas have and be ready to enjoy.
HOW TO MAKE KOMBUCHA!
Kombucha can seem very complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m going to tell you how I keep my kombucha brewing process. Here we go!
What you need:
A glass receptacle – I use this one and save the lid; you won’t need it.
A breathable shirt or cheesecloth. (The cheesecloth hasn’t worked for me in the past)
A large rubber band. I use these.
Large metal spoon.
Tea. I use a mixture of black and green.
2 C. Organic Cane Sugar.
A SCOBY. I use this one.
- First, you need to get your hands on a mother. Not your actual mother, or anyone else’s actual mother for that matter. If you have a friend that brews the ‘buch you can ask them for one of their babies. Baby SCOBYs, y’all! They form on the top of The Mother when your ‘buch is a-brewin‘; it’s pretty cool, really. If you’re phoning a friend make sure you also get 2 C. of their kombucha tea to use as “starter liquid”. You can also do what I did and buy your mother off of Amazon. Be careful when finding your mother. You want to start your first ever batch with a happy, healthy SCOBY or your kombucha will have a greater opportunity of molding and/or spoiling. I bought my SCOBY here and it’s been good to me over the years. Are you my mother?
- Second: Disinfect our receptacle. You don’t ever want to use soap with your kombucha accessories. I and most other ‘buch brewers use white vinegar and boiling water. I heat my tea kettle up to boiling and gently pour it into my large, glass jar. Put some gloves or oven mitts on when you pick your jar up to swirl around that hot water/vinegar mixture. Dump it out and we’re ready to start!
- Make your tea. I put my kettle on again, bring the water to a roaring boil, and place 12 black tea bags and 12 green tea bags in a 4 cup glass measuring cup. I thought they were family sized when I bought them from Sam’s Club but I was wrong, oops. Once your water is boiling, pour it over your tea bags and let them steep. Fish your tea bags out with a metal spoon, strain the tea bags so you don’t waste any liquid, and add 2 cups of organic sugar to your tea while it’s hot; stir and let the sugar dissolve. Transfer your sweet tea to your receptacle and add cool water, leaving 2-3 inches of space. I use my tap water because I’m on a well but if you use city water that might have chlorine or additives it’ll kill your healthy bacteria; I would opt for buying jugs of filtered/distilled water or adding a sink filter.
- Add the SCOBY! Once your tea is sweet and cool, but not cold (shoot for 74 F to 76 F degrees) you’re ready to mix it up and add your SCOBY and your start tea to your big, glass jug! Woohoo! Rock ‘n’ roll, friends! Add your breathable shirt or cheesecloth (I cut up one of my husband’s cotton tank tops), fasten it down with one of your big rubber bands and put it in a dark spot (under your counter, in your closet, etc.). Then we wait.
FUN FACT: You can do all kinds of fun things with your baby SCOBYs like make them into jerky, start new kombucha batches, and even feed to your chickens and add them to your compost!
WHEN IS YOUR KOMBUCHA DONE?
This answer depends on what you want your kombucha to taste like. The ideal PH range for kombucha is 2.5 – 3.5 and we get to that point in about 14 days. We like our kombucha to be slightly sweet with a nice bite when it’s done with first fermentation and then we prepare for the second fermentation. Typically, the longer kombucha sits the more vinegar tasting it will become.
I prepare for second fermentation on the 14th day by:
- Making more sweet tea
- Transferring my SCOBY to a holding container or another disinfected receptacle
- Disinfecting the bottles I’ve saved up (beer bottles, in my case)
- Adding a tbsp of sugar to each bottle.
- Transferring the kombucha tea to the bottles
- And finally capping the bottles.
I use these cool American flag bottle caps and this bottle capper to seal the bottles. You can buy fancy accessories to help transfer your kombucha tea to your bottles but I just use a funnel and a ladle. My batches produce about 18 bottles each. Now that you have your kombucha bottled and capped, but them in a closet and wait two weeks! After two weeks take them out of the closet and put them in the fridge to stop fermentation; Enjoy!
NOTE: Second fermentation is not required. If you want to just drink your kombucha after first fermentation then you’re totally allowed to do that! I personally like second fermentation because it’s fun to cap and bottle and it adds a little more fizz.
WANT TO EMBARK ON MORE KOMBUCHA ADVENTURES?
One of my favorite kombucha resources is the Facebook page Kombucha Home Brewing. It’s a closed group but all you have to do join is ask! There are so many great questions and answers in this group. It’s also a great place to debunk your kombucha and SCOBY mysteries and get new ideas for flavorings.
Kombucha can be so fun when you consider all of the different flavorings you can add. Brewing also requires minimal time; it’s nice that you can just prepare the tea and forget about it for two weeks! If you ever need to take a break from brewing you can check out “How to Make and Maintain the Perfect SCOBY Hotel“.
*You can find this post among other wonderful blogs over at the Homestead Blog Hop!*