By now I’m sure you’ve seen the wonderful bottled kombucha beverages lined up in the refrigerators at your local health foods store. The most popular and reputable brand (in my opinion) is G.T.’s SYNERGY. They have all kinds of flavors: strawberry, blueberry, cranberry, mango, citrus, ginger, etc. You can also get them with chia seeds or with green juice; you name it, they probably make it. They’re great. I love them!
The catch is that they cost almost $4 a pop, and for a good long while I was drinking about 3 bottles a week. When I realized how much money I was spending on the stuff I knew I had to find a more affordable way to feed my habit.
Don’t get me wrong, kombucha is not an indulgence; it’s a health food. It’s a REAL health food, not a “health food.” It’s not the type of “health food” that makes nutritional claims on the front of the package and loads in hidden sugars and commercial oils behind your back. It’s extremely beneficial with tons to offer you in the way of digestive and immune function.
Over the years I’ve known a few folks who make their own kombucha, but it always seemed like too much work. When I realized the $$ I was spending and that two good friends had starters I could get for free, I decided I might as well try it. Turns out that it’s a breeze to make, and I’m excited to share the recipe for my kombucha concoctions with you today!
First Things First: What IS Kombucha?
Kombucha is simply a fermented tea. With the help of a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), strongly brewed tea and sugar are transformed into this healing, nourishing beverage over the course of a 7 to 12 day fermentation process. The customized flavoring comes in a second short (2-3 day) ferment, where you can add in fruits, juices, herbs, and spices to make the drink your own, but we’ll get into that in a minute.
Kombucha originated in Asia and spread to Russia and Germany in the early 1900’s and is touted as a cure-all in many folk medicine traditions. While I’m not going to claim that it’s a “cure-all,” I will say that it has a rich variety of probiotics and enzymes that aid in digestion and help strengthen the immune system. As you know from my post on the importance of gut health, I believe that healing your gut is the answer to a wide range of health problems, so you can draw your own conclusions about what kombucha might do for your body and mind.
OK, it’s Good for Me. What Else?
It’s DELICIOUS! Some people are grossed out by their first encounter with kombucha because it has a slightly vinegary aroma when you open the bottle. I was hesitant at first too, but now I’m totally addicted! Once you get past your preconception that kombucha is a hippy-dippy weirdo vinegar drink, you’ll realize that this sweet, fizzy beverage is an absolutely perfect replacement for all those sugary drinks!
Why Kombucha > Soda
- It has between 2 and 10 grams of sugar per serving (10g on the high side with some SYNERGY flavors like mango, and I think it’s because they actually add some non-fermented juice into at the end) instead of the 40 to 50g in a can of soda or the toxic fake sugar in a diet one. Even fruit juice can’t compete
- It is naturally sweet and fizzy for those of us who need some carbonation in our lives and hate mineral water
- It is actively nourishing and healing rather than actively destructive to our health
- It contributes to gut health rather than gut dysbiosis.
- It comes in all kinds of delicious fruit flavors, and if you make your own, the possibilities are endless!
Alright, I’m Convinced. Let’s See that Kombucha Recipe
- 1 SCOBY
- 1 tea pot or regular pot for boiling water
- 1 large glass storage jar (size can vary based on how much you want to make — I use a large cookie jar I found at TJ Maxx), large rubber bands (like 2 or 3)
- paper towels
- plain black tea (preferably organic)
- unbleached cane sugar (preferably organic)
1. Finding a SCOBY (kombucha starter)
Finding a starter might be the most challenging part of the process. You can get one from a friend or order one from a reputable source online, but if you’re willing to TRULY start from scratch, you can also grown your own from the little blob you sometimes find at the bottom of a store-bought kombucha beverage. Here’s a great resource for instructions on how to mature that little blob into your very own adult “mother” SCOBY.
2. Brew the tea
Start out using plain, unflavored black or green tea (I mostly use black). You can either use loose or tea bags, but I think the bags are simpler and easier to clean up. Brew a strong, full pot with 6 to 8 tea bags and let it steep for 10 minutes or so. Transfer into the clean glass storage jar. Depending how big you want your batch to be, consider brewing another pot with the same tea bags and add that to the jar as well.
3. Add the sugar
While the tea is still hot, stir in 2 cups of sugar (yes, it’s a lot, but don’t worry— your SCOBY will eat it) and let it completely dissolve into the tea.
4. Add the SCOBY and cover
Once your sweetened tea has reached room temperature, add in the SCOBY. Using 3 or 4 paper towels, cover the mouth of the jar and secure them in place with the rubber bands. This step is important. You don’t want to seal off the jar, because the SCOBY needs to breathe, but you want a pretty tight barrier to prevent any intruders. I’ve heard horror stories of folks who’ve used cheese cloth, allowing tiny flies to come lay eggs on their SCOBY. When it was time to ferment, they found maggots. GROSS!
5. Store and wait
Find a nice dark place for your tea that doesn’t get too cold. I use a kitchen cabinet. The warmer the room, the more quickly the SCOBY will eat the sugar, which is why I gave that range of 7-12 days. Make sure you make note of the day you start your ferment and when you should check it. That way you don’t forget about it and get a nice bucket of vinegar. I was lucky enough to find a jar with a tiny chalk board right on it. Love it! Feel free to check it at 7 days if you like your house particularly warm. If you’ve ever tasted kombucha, you’ll know when it’s ready. If you let it go too long, you’ve made yourself some kombucha vinegar. When it’s time to bottle your ‘buch, leave about 2 cups in with your SCOBY so it doesn’t go hungry between batches. At that point, you can either start your next one or wait up to a couple of weeks to start the next one, still storing it in the cabinet.
And how about those flavors?
To flavor your kombucha, you want to do a much shorter second ferment (2-3 days). I’ll tell you the way I do it with the amount I make (just shy of a gallon), which requires jars AND bottles, but you can do it however it makes sense to you. I find this way the easiest and the easiest to clean up.
- 6 clean jars with air tight lids (I use these exact jars – affiliate link)
- 6 clean bottles (I use empty SYNERGY bottles, which are 16 oz (480 mL)
- Your favorite flavoring ingredients: fruit, ginger, herbs, honey
- Small mesh strainer of some kind
- Something with which to label the bottles (I use yellow tape and a Sharpie)
1. Start with your flavors — THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART! (besides drinking it)
Line up your jars and add in whatever flavor strikes your fancy. This is fun, because you can make as many flavors as you have jars and ingredients. Here are my favorites (assume about 1/2 cup for the fruit — fresh or frozen both work great — and about 1/2 a lemon’s worth of juice; one sprig of an herb is enough for the flavor)
- strawberry lime (tastes like a margarita!)
- strawberry mint lime
- strawberry basil
- any combination of the above berries
- pineapple sage
- nectarine/peach basil
- ginger, lemon, and 1 tbs honey
- rosemary lemon and 1 tbs honey
- green apple honey basil
2. Add in the secret fizz
I don’t know why this works, but if you throw 2 or 3 raisins into your second ferment, it helps the drinks get fizzier. This step is entirely optional.
3. Pour, seal, store
Fill each jar with your fermented tea leaving about 1 inch of space at the top for gas. Seal the jars tightly and store them back in that dark place for 2 to 3 more days.
4. Bottle it
Transfer the flavored drinks into your clean bottles using a mesh strainer to keep all the solids out. Compost your solids and seal the bottles. Now it’s time to put them in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
**Special Note: After doing this a few times, you’ll notice that your SCOBY is growing. It’s actually reproducing, and you’ll be able to see the various layers right there in your jar. You can either share those with friends interested in brewing their own ‘buch or you can add them to your compost for gardening. I have cut mine up and put them straight into the dirt in addition to blending them up and mixing them in.