Kombucha tea is quite possibly the healthiest fizzy drink on the market. Although it has recently had a resurge in popularity, its origins go back to Northeast China around 220 B.C, where it was known as the ‘magic tea’ due to its incredible healing properties.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a sweetened tea, fermented using the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). In other words, the SCOBY is the flat mushroom-pancake-looking-thing that floats on the top of the tea and is responsible for the fermentation and protection of the brew from foreign materials and adverse bacteria.
What are the health benefits?
Kombucha is full of antioxidants and probiotics, which means it’s a powerhouse when it comes to gut health and your overall digestive system. Some suggest it can also lower the risk of many diseases and serious illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
About the SCOBY
If you are going to make your own SCOBY, you will need a bottle of your favourite kombucha (make sure it’s a plain flavour), to pour into the bottom of the jar that you will be using. Cover with a clean cloth and rubber band and leave this in a cool dark place for 2-3 weeks. You will notice a layer forming on top that kind of looks like a pancake – this is your new SCOBY!
When you’re ready to go with your first ferment, you can add your fresh tea directly into this jar. The old kombucha functions as your starter tea so always keep 1-2 cups of that on hand. In this case, just add the new tea straight into the jar; you don’t need to remove the SCOBY for this first ferment.
Kombucha requires a double fermentation process. The first ferment uses the SCOBY and needs to be left in a cool dark place for 8-14 days. For the second ferment the liquid is decanted into smaller air-tight bottles without the SCOBY; this is when the liquid releases CO2 and self carbonates. This takes 5-10 days depending on your brew, from here you can refrigerate all the bottles and then it’s ready to drink.
Once you have perfected the brewing process, making your own kombucha is an easy and affordable process that will leave you wondering why you didn’t start making your own sooner! Plus, creating your own homebrew ensures your kombucha is filled with the essential digestion-supporting enzymes, and won’t contain any nasties like some store-bought brands contain.
What you will need
- SCOBY (FYI they don’t like touching metal)
- Starter tea – this is 1-2 cups of tea from your previous brew or SCOBY-making. This tea helps to kick start the fermentation process.
- A pot to brew your tea (do not do this in your glass jar for risk of shattering)
- Glass jar for first ferment
- Airtight bottles for second ferment (old water bottles work well
- Tea towel to cover your jar
- Elastic band or twine to tie it and prevent bugs getting in (especially fruit flies)
- 2 tea bags per litre – green or black are the gold standard (do not use herbal teas)
- Raw brown sugar – 1/4 to 1/2 cup per litre of tea
- Additional flavours you can add include fresh ginger (about a thumb size per litre), pear and rosemary (fresh and whole into your bottles)
- If you prefer your tea sweeter you have 2 options – add more sugar or reduce the time of your ferment
How to make a SCOBY
- You will need a bottle of your favourite kombucha – make sure it’s a plain flavour.
- Pour this bottle of kombucha into the bottom of the jar that you will be using. Cover with a clean cloth and rubber band and leave this in a cool dark place for 2-3 weeks.
- You will notice a layer forming on top that looks like a pancake – this is your new SCOBY.
- When you’re ready to go with your first ferment, you can add your fresh tea directly into this jar. The old kombucha functions as your starter tea so always keep 1-2 cups of that. In this case just add the new tea straight into the jar – you don’t need to remove the SCOBY for this first ferment.
How to make kombucha
- In a pot bring your desired amount of water to the boil, add tea bags and sugar, let tea steep until it has cooled completely to room temp (this will take varying times depending on the size of your brew).
- Once cool, remove your tea bags or strain out the leaves. Add the starter tea to this new batch.
- Transfer this liquid to your jar and slide in the SCOBY with clean hands. Cover the jar tightly with a tea towel or cloth (you want it to be enough to keep out fruit flies).
- Ferment in a cool, dark place for 8-14 days. The SCOBY may not stay at the top the whole time, it’s not unusual for them to be at the bottom or even sideways. With each new brew, you will get a new SCOBY on the top (you can keep all of them but don’t have to – be a pal and give them to your mates!) sometimes they attach but you can separate them. You might also get some brown stringy bits, some sediment at the bottom of the jar and bubbles underneath or to the side of the SCOBY – these are all healthy signs of a good ferment. You can strain out the brown bit if you want but they are also safe to consume.
- After 8 days you can taste a little of the kombucha and see how sweet or tart it is and bottle it to your taste.
- When you’re ready to bottle, remove your SCOBY (with clean hands) and put it on a plate until your new ferment tea is ready – ideally you have the tea ready straight away when you bottle.
- Keep 1-2 cups of this ferment as your starter tea for the next batch. Bottle your remaining fermented tea into airtight bottles – if you want to add some flavouring items add them now. Leave about an inch of air at the top to allow for carbonation. With your ferment jar – give it a good rinse (try not to use any harsh chemicals)
- Allow your bottles to ferment for 4-7 days at room temperature before transferring them to the fridge. Plastic bottles are really handy for this process as you can feel how hard the bottles are – this tells you when they are carbonated. Once your tea is cool, they are ready to enjoy. Keep in the fridge to stop them fermenting more.
- Cheese cloth is not ideal to cover your jar – fruit flies can get through this.
- Batch size – if you increase your jar size, still use your small SCOBY – increase amount of starter tea and you will get a new SCOBY growing to the width of the new jar.
- Pausing your brew – if you go away and come back to a vinegary kombucha that you don’t want to drink- your SCOBY will still be fine and can still be used as starter tea. Discard the batch and start a new brew. You can also place your jar into the fridge as low temperatures slow the fermentation process. When you’re ready take it out onto the bench again.
- Change your cloth with each new ferment.
- Scoby won’t always float – if it sinks or goes sideways it’s fine. Holes or an uneven SCOBY are also fine – Kombucha does smell vinegary; the longer the ferment the more vinegary the smell. If it starts to smell cheesy or rotten then something has gone wrong and you need to discard everything and start again with a new SCOBY.
- A SCOBY will last a long time, but it’s not indestructible; brown spots are fine, mould is not! If the SCOBY develops mould patches or turns black, you need to discard everything and start again.
- If in doubt about your SCOBY, continue to brew but throw away the tea- if there’s something wrong with your SCOBY it will become very apparent with time; natural aspects (brown patches, strings) of the SCOBY will stay the same and then it’s fine to drink your brew.