how to make kombucha
how to make kombucha

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Kombucha. It’s the not-so-new-new thing, an expensive, fermented tea that includes healthy bacteria to keep your microbiome in tip-top shape. It’s trendy now, but many of us old-school veg-heads and crunched out types have been making our own ‘booch (as we call it) for years. I guess that makes me a boochie mama?

Because of the fermentation, kombucha is lightly fizzy, like champagne. I like to think of kombucha as a good-for-you soda. After a long or hard run, I love nothing more than a glass of it, over ice. It’s not very high in sugars, or therefore, calories.

Storebought kombucha is tasty. But at between $3-5 a bottle, it is pricey. You can make your own for far less. After the initial investment and after getting your SCOBY going (read on), you can make 4 8-oz bottles of kombucha for under $1– that’s pennies a bottle. Can you say cha-ching?

It’s very easy, once you get the hang of it. You won’t even need to follow a recipe. In this post, I am going to show you how to save a bundle make your own kombucha. I’m also going to be reviewing Hello (by Story of My Tea) cold-brew iced teas. They sent me 5 different flavors to try, all of which were delicious. And to top it off, they have offered to give away 2 free teas to 2 lucky readers! Scroll down for the review and to enter the contest (US only). I made 3 jugs of cold-brew ice tea with their products and they were lovely and delicious. As I drank the tea, I thought the flavored black teas would make great kombucha bases. So I made kombucha with Black Mango and White Peach flavors.

I based my kombucha method off the book, Kombucha Revolution, but ended up modifying it to suit my own preferences – just as you will.

What you need to make kombucha

  • A SCOBY or a bottle of plain kombucha that is housing a baby scoby (Explanation below)
  • Mason jar
  • Sugar
  • Black tea (Black tea is a no-brainer and is the least fussy tea for kombucha. You can use green tea  in small proportions with some black tea or even herbal teas. But for your first few batches I recommend using black tea. I like English or Irish Breakfast Tea. PG Tips is a strong, inexpensive black tea that makes a very respectable booch.)
  • A very large glass container You can find these inexpensively at HomeGoods, Marshall’s or TJMaxx.
  • Fresh fruit, ginger, herbs Optional
  • Cheesecloth
  • Tongs
  • Rubber bands
  • A funnel
  • Glass flip-top bottles You can find these inexpensively at IKEA, HomeGoods, Marshall’s or TJMaxx.

What is a SCOBY and how do I get one?

See the baby SCOBY in this storebough bottle of Kombucha?

See the baby SCOBY in this storebough bottle of Kombucha?

Making kombucha is a analogous to making sourdough bread. For sourdough bread, you need a starter, and you also need a starter for ‘booch. Booch starter is called a SCOBY. And then you have to “feed” the SCOBY sugar, just as you need to feed yeast sugar when making bread.

SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Yum, yum, right? I know. It sounds sounds gross, and frankly, it looks even worse. But the SCOBY infuses your kombucha with friendly gut bacteria, so don’t judge.

To create a starter SCOBY, either ask a booch-making friend for one, or buy a bottle of plain kombucha that has a visible baby SCOBY floating in the bottle of the bottle.  (This is how I do it.) It looks like a wee jellyfish floating in an ocean of kombucha. Find the bottle with the biggest, most intact SCOBY you can spot.

You have to make sure your SCOBY is large enough to infuse your booch with goodness, so if you choose the DIY from-the-bottle method, you will need to help the SCOBY to grow. To do this, pour about half the booch in a clean mason jar with the baby SCOBY (drink the rest). Meanwhile, bring a cup of water to boil. Once boiling, turn off heat and add black tea bag and 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Let the tea come to room temperature. This is VERY IMPORTANT. If it is too hot, it will kill the SCOBY, similar to the way that too-hot liquid can kill yeast when making bread dough. So err on the side of patience and let it cool down. Once cool, gently add it to the SCOBY and kombucha in your mason jar. Cover with cheesecloth.

Extreme close-up of a happy, healthy SCOBY Extreme close-up of a happy, healthy SCOBY

Place your booch incubator in a warm, dry place, and keep it covered with cheesecloth. Check it every day. Bubbles and a vinegar smell are normal. So are tiny jellyfish-like “strings” growing from the bottom of the SCOBY. Mold is not normal. If you see or smell mold, toss it and start over. Depending on heat, jar size, etc getting your SCOBY to a useable size will probably take about a week. (I admit, it’s like having a pet.) Once your SCOBY covers the entire length of the jar, as in the picture above, you are ready to make kombucha.

Making kombucha – first fermentation

Preparing for the first fermentation Preparing for the first fermentation First fermentation with HELLO Mango Iced Tea. I find it helpful to write the date on the vessel. First fermentation with HELLO Mango Iced Tea. I find it helpful to write the date on the vessel. Ahhhh.....homemade kombucha. Ahhhh…..homemade kombucha.

In a large stockpot, bring 6 cups of water to boil. Once boiling, toss in 12-14 black tea bags. Cover and let steep for 4 minutes, then stir in 1 cup of sugar. Cover and let the sugar completely dissolve, then add 8 more cups of water. Let this mixture come completely to room temperature. Again, this is very important.

Pour this mixture into your large glass vessel. Then using clean tongs, remove your SCOBY to a clean plate, and pour the booch starter into the vessel. Then using the tongs, gingerly place your SCOBY on top, as shown in the photo above. Cover with clean cheesecloth and a rubber band and stow in a dry place.

You will want to check this mixture once a day to watch for any sign of mold. It should smell pleasantly vinegary. Again, if you see mold, toss your experiment. The first fermentation usually takes one week. At day six or seven, use a clean spoon or straw (using your finger to create suction) to taste your booch. If the flavor pleases you, it’s time to start the second fermentation. If it’s still too sweet, let it sit another day so the SCOBY can eat up more of the sugar.

Second fermentation

Pretty bottle of kombucha, doing their second fermentation. See the bubbles?

Pretty bottle of kombucha, doing their second fermentation. See the bubbles?

Now comes the fun part- flavoring your kombucha. This is entirely optional. You can simply move forward with plain kombucha, But it’s fun to personalize your booch by adding ginger, herbs, spices and fresh fruit to make unique blends. I always add ginger to the kombucha. A little goes a long way but it infuses the booch with pleasant heat and sassiness akin to ginger ale. Many people prefer to puree fruit etc before adding it to the kombucha. I am not one of those people. I like the way the fruit chunks look, plus they seem to impart a stronger flavor than puree.

Chop up some fruit and add it to your komucha Chop up some fruit and add it to your komucha

Mince the fruit, herbs, ginger and carefully add them to your clean, preferably sterilized pop-top bottles. Remove your SCOYBY from the large jar using clean tongs and place it on a clean plate. Place a funnel into a bottle then carefully pour your booch into the bottle. Because of the natural carbonation, It will fizz, so pour slowly to avoid overflow. Repeat until you have about 1 cup of liquid left.

Ready to funnel the booch into bottles. Ready to funnel the booch into bottles.

Close the bottles and let them sit on the counter overnight. Return the rest of the liquid and your SCOBY to a clean mason jar. Add a tablespoon or 2 of sugar and cover with cheesecloth. You may want to add more black tea in the coming days. You can use this SCOBY to start another batch. It will keep growing bigger. You can peel off layers and share it with friends. Or you can compost it.

The next day, open the bottles to “burp” them. You should hear a little “pop” as the gasses escape. I’ve heard horror stories about exploding kombucha, so please do burp the bottles!

Pour a tiny bit of booch into a shot glass to taste. If it’s good, chill and enjoy. If not, put it back on the counter, checking and burping every 12 or so hours until the taste agrees with you. I usually leave my kombucha out for 2 days for the second fermentation.

Some flavor combinations I have made

  • Strawberry Basil
  • Blueberry-Apple
  • Mango Rosemary Ginger
  • Peach-Raspberry
  • Peach Mango (with Story of My Tea Black Mango)

If you are in Philadelphia, check out Inpsired Brews, a booch factory where you can sample from a range of their freshly made, small-batch kombucha. I’ve also heard rave reviews about their classes.

Hello Iced Tea Review and Giveaway

How gorgeous is this Hello Iced Tea sachet? How gorgeous is this Hello Iced Tea sachet?

I tried five different flavors: White Peach and Black Mango, which I used to make Kombucha, plus Mint Licorice, Green Tea Mango and Hibiscus Chamomile. Making iced tea could not be simpler and it was so refreshing. and flavorful that I didn’t need to add any sugar, You simply place the gorgeous sachet in a quart of water, place in the fridge and let steep for 4 to 6 hours. The teas are actually hand-picked to taste great when cold brewed, and you don’t need any fancy equipment – just the tea bag, water and a pitcher.

Even though it sounds like an odd combination, my favorite flavor was the Mint Licorice. Super minty with a slight clove aftertaste – almost like a mint chai. I also really adored the Green Tea Mango– delicate and balanced.

To make kombucha with Hello Iced Tea, you will need to follow the above processes but use either with several packets of Hello Tea or mix and match with another tea you like so you can achieve the liquid proportions I listed. I added some black tea to mine, and added both fresh peach and mango to my second fermentations to accent the flavors.

Enter below to win 2 free teas. And just because they are awesome people, Hello is still offering 2 free iced teas to everyone who enters – you would only need to pay $4.99 for the shipping. Mention Mastering Running when you order to get the discount. Story of My Tea, maker of Hello Tea, is based in Houston, where the devastating floods just happened. So I encourage you to check out their excellent teas and give their business a little boost during this difficult time. (Tea lovers: they have a monthly subscription box!)

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