I’d just like to premise this as I’m definitely not an expert on kombucha (yet?) but here’s what I’ve learned from lots of reading and learning from fellow fermenters via a couple Facebook groups. In short, kombucha is fermented black tea formed by feeding sweet tea to a SCOBY.
One of kombucha’s main health benefits is that is helps with digestion. Being a fermented food, it also supports good bacteria in stomach and intestines. Drinking kombucha regularly can also support natural detoxing, improve energy, and boost your mood. Kombucha contains vitamins and minerals without nearly as much sugar as fruit juice, making it a great addition to all the water you should be drinking during the day. I’ve even heard that it can help boost a mother’s milk supply (probably due to the vitamin content.)
What’s a SCOBY?
People see SCOBY and they think Scooby dooby doo! Haha. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. It is basically the “starter culture” to convert tea into kombucha. All fermented foods and beverages have a starter culture whether store-bought or wild. The bacteria and yeast are what feed on the sugar in the sweet tea, fermenting it into the beverage we know as kombucha. Our bodies are full of bacteria and yeasts that only when grow out of proportion, do we get sick. Yes, we are supposed to have some yeast, but when it grows out of control (due to feeding on a ton of sugar in our diet), we get yeast infections.
How Do I Get a SCOBY?
I first bought a dehydrated SCOBY online and it never really grew and multiplied like all the other fermenters I would see sharing their photos. Life happened and I stopped feeding it and it just didn’t look right, so recently, I decided to start fresh. (Always a good tip - if something doesn’t look or smell right, don’t consume it, trust your intuition!) I got into contact with a woman who had been brewing kombucha for a long time and didn’t live too far from me, so she graciously shared some of her starter tea with me (which had like a dozen SCOBYs thriving in it) and I brought it home, fed it a batch of sweet tea and waited. Sure enough, about 5 days later, a new SCOBY began to form and is already making more SCOBYs. So long story short, get an actual SCOBY with some starter tea from a reputable source. I’ve heard of people buying plain kombucha at the store and using it to start a SCOBY if you are more adventurous.
How to Make Sweet Tea
If you aren’t from the South, then you may not be familiar with sweet tea. Well, it is heavily sugared black tea. How much sugar? One cup of sugar per gallon of tea. (1/4 cup sugar for one quart of tea.) Wow! But don’t worry, you aren’t drinking it; most of that sugar is to feed your SCOBY to keep it thriving and in balance. Use cane sugar to avoid GMO sugar beets. Also, you can use green tea or herbal teas, but you should always have some black tea to feed the right minerals to your SCOBY. (If you’re want more about my thoughts on sugar, check out this past post.)
Batch Brew vs. Continuous Brew
When I began to make my own kombucha at home, I did a batch brew and painstakingly waited 7 to 10 days for the brew to taste right (earthy instead of like sugary sweet tea) before we drank it and started a new batch. As I continued to learn more, I heard of continuous brewing which is what I do now and how much easier it is. Just pour what you want to drink and replace it on top with some fresh sweet tea. After further reading, this is also more sanitary and you get more benefits as certain acids aren’t formed until 2-3 weeks into the fermenting process. The SCOBY also turns that sweet tea into kombucha much faster; 2-3 days instead of 7-10 so you can drink more, or have more to share with friends and family. I had a glass dispenser given as a gift that I hardly ever used, so I set this up for my continuous brew system. It had a cheap, plastic spigot, so I replaced it with stainless steel. I cover with a tight-weave towel and a rubber band.
For the Visually Inclined
Flavoring & 2nd Ferment
There are many ways to flavor your kombucha to add some variety to your life (or extra health benefits from herbs, for example.) You can always drink plain kombucha from the tap or add some fruit juice to it and drink, but I enjoy creating 2nd ferments. This can help add more carbonation and give time for the bacteria and yeasts to eat the sugar from the fruits or juice. If you want the added carbonation, you need to have air-tight bottles. I bought mine at a brewer’s supply store in town, but you can also buy some Grolsch beer and reuse those bottles, or buy online. (Note: be sure to buy a bottle brush for cleaning when you buy the bottles as they aren't usually available in regular grocery stores.) I’ve used homemade syrups (like my elderberry syrup), frozen fruits, fresh fruits and herbs. Here are a few of my favorites.
For each recipe, add flavoring to 16 oz bottle, then fill to 1 inch from the top (need to leave headspace for carbonation buildup) with your plain kombucha, cap tightly and let stand at room temperature for 1-3 days before opening and drinking. I do typically refrigerate after 1-3 days to enjoy cold, but this is not required.
- Lemon and Ginger: add 3/4 tsp chopped fresh ginger and 1 tsp lemon juice
- Blueberry: Add a dozen or so frozen blueberries (about 2 TBS)
- Prickly Pear: Add 1-2 oz prickly pear fruit juice (1-2 frozen juice cubes)
- Hibiscus: Add 1 tsp dried hibiscus flowers
Like all fermented foods and beverages, keep at room temperature. If you house gets warmer in the summer, your kombucha will ferment faster. If you aren’t drinking it faster and therefore feeding it faster, it will taste like vinegar in a hurry. You can use this in recipes that call for vinegar, like for salad dressing, or just pour some out and rebalance to your tastebuds with sweet tea.
When your SCOBY starts multiplying, start a SCOBY hotel. This way, you have backups in case your main SCOBY grows mold. You’ll know mold when it has something fuzzy on top. If this happens, everything should be thrown out and thoroughly cleaned and then you can start over with one of your backup SCOBYs.
Do you drink kombucha? What are your favorite flavors? Let me know in the comments!
With love, hugs and smiles,
kombuchakamp.com is a huge wealth of information and a reputable source for SCOBYs and starter tea.