How To Make Kombucha: The Comprehensive Post
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What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a lightly effervescent drink that’s prepared via the fermentation of freshly brewed and sweetened tea. This results in a slightly alcoholic sweet brew with a hint of tartness due to its acidic nature.
Kombucha’s popularity has been known for over 2000 years in Asia, where the brew is believed to have originated. With its low-calorie count and billions of active probiotic culture, the drink has gained quite a following among health-conscious home-brewers.
How Is Kombucha Obtained?
Kombucha starts as freshly brewed tea, which is sweetened, the culture feeds on the sugar during fermentation. The process requires aerobic respiration to provide oxygen to the culture.
When yeast culture breakdown the dissolved sugar, it produces alcohol as a byproduct. The alcohol gets broken down further by the alcohol fixing bacteria culture, thus releasing acetic acid, which gives kombucha its acidic nature.
Another byproduct of the process is carbon dioxide, which is released by the culture. Since it's produced in small quantities, the majority of the gas dissolves in the brew, making it effervescent. Meanwhile, the excess carbon dioxide is allowed to escape freely as the fermentation jar isn’t sealed airtight.
Considerations Before Making Kombucha
Kombucha requires sugar to ferment properly. This raises the concern in terms of just how much of the sugar remains after fermentation. It's important to note that the culture feeds on most of the dissolved sugar during the first fermentation leaving behind less than 1/10 of the initial sugar content.
Extending the brew time will also further reduce the amount of sugar in the drink as the culture will feed on it over time. This can, however, result in a sour brew, which might be too strong to drink without diluting.
Check out our article Kombucha and Sugar for more information.
Kombucha relies on tea leaves to not only flavor it but also provide the nutrients that the culture feeds on other than the sugar. Most teas, however, have caffeine. On the one hand, it significantly improves concentration and energy levels, but on the other hand, it's quite addictive, and overconsumption of caffeine can lead to insomnia.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, you can consider using low and caffeine-free alternatives such as decaf and rooibos tea. The resulting drink will still have a great flavor but without the caffeine content.
Check out our article on How Much Caffeine Is In Kombucha?
Just like other fermented drinks, kombucha is a rich source of live bacteria and yeast probiotics. These ‘good’ bacteria help in restoring the balance within the gut bio and also help in protecting the body against harmful bacteria.
Because probiotics are essentially live bacteria cells, the consumption of such a drink is prohibited when it comes to weakened immune systems. People with weakened immune systems include pregnant women, chemotherapy patients, AIDS patients, and anyone who might be on immunosuppressants.
Why Homebrew Kombucha?
A cheap source of probiotics
Home-brewed kombucha provides a probiotics rich brew at a low cost. All you need to purchase to get the brew started is sugar, tea, water, and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) and starter tea from a previous batch.
Homebrewing is much more affordable, unlike buying bottled kombucha. This is because all required raw materials are locally available and can be bought in bulk, making it even more economical to home brew.
Ability to add your specific flavors
With a continuous supply of kombucha from a homebrew setup, you can experiment with various flavors in order to find the right blend of taste and aroma that best fits your needs. This is done during the second ferment.
Kombucha on demand
Avid kombucha homebrewers will tell you that a continuous brewing setup is one of the best investments you can make. The setup ensures you have a continuous supply of kombucha with the capability of harvesting up to 25% of the overall capacity every 72 hours.
No additional preservatives
Home-brewed kombucha contains no added preservatives as it’s naturally long-lasting. After harvesting your raw kombucha, you can keep it bottled in the fridge for up to 3 months while still retaining its probiotic benefits. However, the flavor might take a beating, making it quite vinegary.
Raw kombucha has a natural probiotics balance
Raw kombucha contains a naturally balanced and symbiotic collection of yeast and bacteria culture. This natural balance is essential as, without it, one species can easily overgrow, leading to eventual rot and mold growth. Homemade kombucha is also much healthier compared to pasteurized kombucha, which has a custom added culture after the heat treatment phase.
Kombucha Starter Kit
A simple kit with all of the ingredients included is ideal for the beginner. This Kombucha Starter Kit includes all of the ingredients, equipment and recipes, with a great price point to start at too.
Origins and History of Kombucha
Kombucha is said to have been first brewed in Manchuria, a region best described as modern-day northeast Asia. The drink then spread to traditional Russia and Eastern Europe during the silk road trade age.
Archeological evidence points to both preservation fermentation and alcoholic fermentation as far back as 221BCE during the Qin Dynasty in modern-day China. However, since kombucha is, in fact, more of a Japanese name, then there’s no telling exactly where the brew started, but its origins can be traced back to ancient Asia.
Types Of Kombucha
Over the years, brewers have identified common recipes that can be used to transform raw kombucha from just an ordinary effervescent drink into a golden elixir. These rely on either a second fermentation set up or by tweaking the original recipe and the fermentation conditions to achieve the desired flavor.
Raw kombucha is required to make a fruity kombucha. Once the brew is fully fermented, it's transferred into bottles, and the crushed fruits of choice are added. The bottle is then sealed airtight to force the culture to ferment the kombucha in the absence of oxygen anaerobically. The carbon dioxide produced gets dissolved in the brew, making it fizzier.
Some of the best fruits to flavor kombucha include blueberries, ginger, strawberries, cherries, apples, lemons, and pineapple. The fruits are often blended with a spice to give the final drink a complex taste profile; these include cinnamon, basil, and almond extract. The second ferment is quite short, normally taking up to 3 days, after which the bottles should be stored in the fridge. Here the low temperatures will slow down the carbon dioxide production, thus easing down on the pressure, which can often result in bottles exploding.
To reduce the amount of sugar left in the kombucha after fermentation, it's recommended to stick to 1/4 cup (50g) of sugar for every 4.2 cups (1 liter) of freshly brewed tea. This ensures that only about 1% sugar concentration remains in the final drink.
It's important to note that flavored kombucha often contains added sugar, making it less healthy compared to raw.
Non-alcoholic kombucha contains 0% alcohol. While the initial brew does contain natural amounts of alcohol (around 0.5-1%), the alcohol can be evaporated by pasteurizing the drink. This leaves the drink alcohol free but also probiotics free. Pasteurized kombucha, therefore, doesn’t contain any health benefits.
Is it possible to obtain raw and alcohol free kombucha?
It’s impossible to have raw kombucha that's completely alcohol free as the yeast culture is constantly producing ethanol as it breaks down the dissolved sugar in the brew.
When left to ferment with a yeast culture as the majority instead of a symbiotic balance between bacteria and yeast cells, kombucha will often have an alcohol content of up to 6% ABV. As a result, hard kombucha is often categorized as an alcoholic beverage.
Jun kombucha is fundamentally different in that it relies on raw honey as a source of sugar and green tea for the culture to feed on. Jun tea is more distinctive due to its green color, while kombucha is brown-black, depending on the tea leaves used to brew. Jun kombucha requires specially adapted Jun SCOBY, which can interact with raw honey, which also contains its own bacteria culture without any adverse effects. Instead, the culture will ferment the drink just like it usually would. It’s important to note that raw honey contains a natural bacteria culture that can harm the kombucha SCOBY culture; hence it cannot be used.
Check out our full article on Jun Kombucha here.
Kombucha wine is a much stronger form of your ordinary kombucha thanks to the increased alcohol content (6%) and requires wine yeast to especially breakdown the sugar into ethanol. Just like raw kombucha, kombucha wine requires an aerobic first ferment. After this, the drink undergoes a second ferment whereby a fruity flavor gets infused into the fresh brew.
The second ferment takes place under anaerobic conditions whereby the lack of oxygen supply prevents the bacteria culture from breaking down the ethanol released by the yeast into acetic acid. This ensures that the drink contains above than average alcohol content, and it also lacks the vinegary flavor commonly associated with long fermentation stages.
Types Of Brewing Setups
A continuous brewing setup makes it possible to harvest raw kombucha regularly without having to dismantle the entire set up after one batch. Since all you need to do is refill the brew with a similar volume of freshly brewed and sweet tea.
The setup consists of a considerably large fermentation vessel, usually up to 5 gallons. The setup is first filled with freshly brewed and sweet tea, which has been mixed with the starter tea, and then a SCOBY is added. The initial fermentation may take much longer up to 14 to 21 days as the culture has to work on the entire volume.
After the first brew is ready, you can harvest up to 25% of the volume and top off the setup with a similar amount of freshly brewed sweetened tea. During its optimal production, a continuous brewing setup can ferment kombucha quickly, allowing for harvesting every three days. This provides freshly fermented kombucha on tap. We recommend this method if you are a regular drinker.
We have a full article on Continuous Brewing, if you're interested in learning more.
Our Recommended - Kombucha Crock
This high quality porcelain dispenser with steel spigot is perfect for continuous brewing.
Single batch brewing
Single batch brewing setup refers to a one batch at a time kombucha fermentation. Unlike continuous brewing, a single batch brewing set up will require you to take it apart after every batch for cleanup and setting up a new batch. Single batch brewing is normally done in glass jars typically 1 gallon or less.
A single batch brewing setup only requires a vessel, cloth cover, or filter paper and a rubber band to hold it in place. As for the ingredients, you will require freshly brewed and sweet tea, starter tea, and a SCOBY. The set up takes typically around 7 to 14 days to ferment.
Commercial brewing relies on high production fermentation setups, which can be used to brew vast amounts of kombucha for a commercial entity. Unlike home brewing, which doesn’t have to follow any production guidelines, the commercial brewery is subject to the law. It has to undergo strict fermentation timelines and to maintain high standards of hygiene and quality as their products have to meet the requirements set by the FDA.
Alcohol and Kombucha
The alcohol content in kombucha is as a result of the aerobic breakdown of the dissolved sugar by yeast cells to form ethanol. Under normal circumstances, most of the ethanol gets broken down by the bacteria culture into acetic acid, under the presence of oxygen.
What is the alcohol content in kombucha?
Raw homemade kombucha contains around 0.5 to 1.5% alcoholic content. Hard kombucha, on the other hand, contains up to 6% alcoholic content.
What affects the alcohol content?
Yeast and bacteria culture
The amount of alcohol in the final kombucha brew will be heavily influenced by the bacteria and yeast culture in the drink. If the brew contains a majority yeast culture, there will be more alcohol content in the brew as more sugar will be broken down into ethanol.
On the other hand, if the brew contains a majority of bacteria culture, then the alcohol content will be lower. This is because the bacteria culture feeds on the ethanol and oxidizes the ethanol to form acetic acid.
The higher the amount of sugar dissolved in the brew, the higher the amount of ethanol produced during the fermentation stage. If you end up with low alcohol content, you can add sugar during the second ferment. The bottle is then sealed to keep off oxygen, thus forcing the yeast the metabolize the sugar anaerobically. This leads to increased alcohol content as the bacteria culture cannot oxidize the ethanol in the absence of oxygen.
Temperature influences the enzymes responsible for controlling the metabolism of yeast cells. Thus, maintaining a constant optimal room temperature will result in increased alcohol production. Lowering the temperature will result in reduced alcohol production while increasing the temperature will denature the yeast culture leading to reduced alcohol production.
The amount of oxygen available during the second ferment will heavily influence the amount of alcohol in the final brew. This is because the bacteria culture will require oxygen to oxidize the alcohol into acetic acid. Thus, having an airtight seal in your second ferment setup not only keeps in the carbon dioxide for added fizziness but also keeps out oxygen, thus reducing the amount of acetic acid produced while retaining high alcohol content.
How to lower or increase alcohol content in kombucha
Increase the amount of bacteria culture
Increasing the amount of bacteria culture in the brew results in increased alcohol breakdown. This leads to reduced alcohol content in the final brew.
Increase oxygen supply
Increased oxygen supply makes it much easier for the bacteria culture to breakdown alcohol into acetic acid and carbon dioxide. This can be done by leaving the fermenting jar unsealed during the last days before the end of the fermentation period.
Use less sugar
Using less sugar during the second ferment results in reduced alcohol content. Alternatively, you can adjust the recipe used to brew the fresh tea and use the minimum amount of sugar required to further drive down the amount of alcohol in the final brew.
Reduce the bacteria culture
Reducing the bacteria culture in the brew results in reduced ethanol breakdown. This can be achieved by using a culture with a majority of yeast cells or simply adding more yeast cells. The increased yeast population also results in increased sugar breakdown into ethanol which leads in increased alcoholic content.
Reduce the supply of oxygen
In order for the bacteria cells to metabolize ethanol they require oxygen. Thus reducing the oxygen supply by sealing the fermentation jar results in reduced ethanol breakdown.
Increase sugar content in the brew
Adding more sugar to the ferment results in increased ethanol production. As the yeast culture breaks down the extra sugar.
For further questions about the alcoholic content of kombucha, check out our articles Do You Have To Be 21 To Buy Kombucha?
How Much Time Does It Take To Brew Kombucha?
Generally, homemade kombucha takes anywhere from 7 to 14 days to ferment fully. After this, the drink can be put through a second ferment, albeit much shorter as it takes only 3 to 5 days to infuse the flavors in the second ferment fully.
Effect Of Time On Kombucha
The effect of time on kombucha mainly encompasses the changes in flavors as time goes on and other chemical changes that take place over time. These include:
Increase in alcohol content
As kombucha ferments, for an extended time, the culture feeds on most of the sugar dissolved in the brew and converts it to ethanol.
As kombucha ages with each additional day, it gains a more acidic flavor, which blends perfectly with the sweetness of the remaining dissolved sugar for the ultimate rich flavor.
Decreased sugar level
The yeast culture will feed on the dissolved sugar in the kombucha and will steadily reduce the amount of sugar in the brew over time.
Increase in acetic acid
If not sealed airtight, the ethanol produced by the yeast culture gets broken down by the bacteria culture into acetic acid and carbon dioxide. This process requires oxygen and can, therefore, be slowed by sealing the bottle.
As the culture feeds on the dissolved sugar, it also feeds on some of the caffeine and polyphenols originally from the tea leaves. As this continues, the brew will lose its caffeine content over time.
Where To Store Kombucha While Fermenting
To fully ferment, kombucha should be kept under consistent and optimal conditions like in the pantry.
Considerations With Where To Store Kombucha While Fermenting
Optimal temperature range
When brewing, the temperature will influence just how fast the entire brew will take to ferment. Keeping the brew within room temperature ensures that the yeast and bacteria culture operate within optimal temperature ranges allowing them to feed on the dissolved sugar at a much faster rate.
Absence of direct sunlight
Sunlight contains UV rays, which are quite harmful to the yeast and bacteria. To avoid denaturing your culture, you should consider storing the fermenting brew away from direct sunlight or any other lights which might emit UV rays.
Kombucha brewing is a rather delicate process and can easily be contaminated by germs and bacteria from nearby sources. These include drainages and other fermenting cultures which rely on a different culture for fermentation. This can be avoided by storing the fermenting kombucha away from ambient sources of bacteria and away from other fermenting projects.
Ideal Temperature Ranges For Various Ferments
80 degrees F (26.6 degrees C)
65 to 85 degrees F (18.3 to 29.4 degrees C)
72 degrees F (22.2 degrees C)
65 to 80 degrees F (18.3 to 26.6 degrees C)
70 degrees F (21.1 degrees C)
60 to 85 degrees F (15.5 to 29.4 degrees C)
72 degrees F (22.2 degrees C)
65 to 74 degrees F (18.3 to 23.3 degrees C)
75 degrees F (23.8 degrees C)
68 to 78 degrees F (20 to 25.5 degrees C)
75 degrees F (23.8 degrees C)
70 to 80 degrees F (21.1 to 26.6 degrees C)
What is a SCOBY?
A SCOBY refers to a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast that’s symbiotically balanced to depend on each other. A SCOBY appears as a thin gelatinous film that grows in size with each successive fermentation. Along the way, the SCOBY takes the shape of the fermenting jar. A SCOBY has a mushroom-like surface and a whitish-creamy color.
The SCOBY is used as the source of bacteria and yeast culture to ferment the freshly brewed and sweet tea into kombucha.
Where can you get SCOBYs from?
Growing one from starter tea
You can grow a baby SCOBY by fermenting freshly brewed and sweetened tea with raw kombucha (also known as starter tea) from a previous batch or the store. The kombucha acts as a starter tea as it already contains the required probiotics to get the brew going. It is also slightly acidic, thus providing the right environment for the culture while keeping off harmful bacteria.
After a while, a thin film should start forming near the top surface of the liquid. This is the baby SCOBY, and it can now be used to set up other brews or transferred to a SCOBY hotel where it can continue to grow unobstructed.
Buy online or in local health stores
Some firms exist for the sole purpose of growing and selling kombucha SCOBYs. There are two varieties typically sold; dehydrated, and those that are packed with starter tea. The dehydrated SCOBY will have to be activated before it can be used to ferment any kombucha. The ones that ship containing tea are not only ready to use after buying, but the tea can also be used as a starter for your next brew.
From a friend
As kombucha gains popularity, so does the number of homebrewers increase. As a result, it’s much easier to get a SCOBY from a fellow brewer. Alternatively, you can join brewing forums and groups on social media. There’s a high likelihood that you will get in touch with someone who can supply you with a SCOBY on such platforms.
SCOBYs Role For Kombucha
The primary function of the SCOBY is to introduce the required yeast and bacteria culture to get the fermentation going. A SCOBY can be replaced with concentrated starter tea if it’s not available. The SCOBY also helps in maintaining the pH balance as the culture within it produces a considerable amount of acetic acid through the breakdown of ethanol.
If you want to learn more about SCOBYs. Check out these articles:
Our Recommended - SCOBY
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Guaranteed to brew 1 gallon every time.
What is tea?
Camellia sinensis is a bushy evergreen shrub whose leaves and buds are used to produce tea. The leaves are cured and dried before packaging. Tea is available either as ready to use tea bags or loose tea leaves. Both of these options can be used while brewing the tea that’s fermented to form kombucha.
Teas Role In Kombucha
Without tea, kombucha would just be fermented water. Tea leaves add necessary polyphenols to the brew, which the culture feeds on. Caffeine and antioxidants generally associated with tea are also infused to the brew during the steeping process. This gives kombucha most of its health-related benefits.
Teas You Can Use:
White tea leaves are picked early and baked before getting dried to minimize the oxidation rate. This creates a delicate, flowery flavor.
Black tea is prepared by fully oxidizing mature tea leaves. As a result, it produces a bold fruity taste which is passed on to the final kombucha brew. Black tea is the classic tea blend used to brew raw kombucha for over 2000 years.
Green tea is prepared using withered tea leaves, which are then steamed to minimize oxidation. The leaves have a distinctly lighter, soft taste with hints of fruity flavor. Green tea is also used to brew jun tea, a more nutritionally-rich ferment compared to kombucha.
Oolong tea undergoes partial oxidation followed by a short ferment period to give it a mild somewhat grassy and fruity flavor. Oolong tea is ideally suited for activating dehydrated SCOBYs.
Rooibos tea undergoes baking before it's dried to minimize oxidation and still retain its flowery and delicate flavor notes. Rooibos is also caffeine-free, unlike other tea varieties.
Overall Best Tea For Kombucha
Black tea makes for the best tea variety to make kombucha due to its flavor and color balance without any sacrifices in terms of quality and nutrient count.
Our Recommended - Black Tea
The Ying Yang Blend is the perfect choice for brewing kombucha tea. It contains both white and black tea for getting the best tasting blend.
White sugar contains fewer impurities making it the preferred option when it comes to fermenting kombucha. White sugar also has a more consistent taste making it the perfect source of sugar for the brew without any negative impact on the flavor.
Sugars Role In Kombucha
Sugar is added to freshly brewed tea to provide food for the yeast and bacteria culture during fermentation. After the process starts, the yeast culture feeds on the sugar, breaking it down into ethanol. The bacteria culture then oxidizes the ethanol into acetic acid and carbon dioxide. This, in turn, gives the drink the slight hints of vinegary flavor, and the fizziness is a result of the dissolved carbon dioxide.
Sugar You Can Use:
This is purified white sugar that’s free of mineral. It generally produces an effervescent kombucha brew that’s also tasty.
Organic Cane Juice Crystals
Organic cane juice crystals refer to unbleached white sugar obtained from the crystallization of cane juice. This sugar variety has shallow mineral content.
Brown or whole sugar refers to sugar that has not been fully refined and still contains a considerable amount of molasses.
Honey is a natural source of sugar from bees. Unfortunately, raw honey contains its own bacteria culture, which can interact with kombucha culture and should therefore not be used. Instead, use pasteurized honey when preparing kombucha. Raw honey can be used to prepare jun tea instead, whereby, the jun SCOBY is specially adapted to interact and coexist with the raw honey bacteria culture.
Our Recommended - Sugar
Kombucha is often drank for its health benefits so choosing the highest quality ingredients is paramount.
Raw, USDA Organic, Non-GMO Cane Sugar, is the recommend sugar of choice for your ferment.
Kirkland's Organic Cane Sugar is what we would recommend.
Water’s Role In Brewing Kombucha
Water is used to brew the tea, which is then steeped. As a result, the caffeine, polyphenols, vitamins, and antioxidants from the tea leaves get dissolved in the water.
Water To Use:
This the best type to use in kombucha brewing as it contains a natural balance of minerals in it. Mineral water does not contain added chemicals such as chlorine that would otherwise slow down the fermentation process.
These are specially made glassware that is thick enough to withstand the pressure build-up that occurs during the fermentation process due to the production of carbon dioxide.
Fermentation jars can be bought in local stores, ordered online, or simply use recycled glass jars used to pack other products such as pickles.
Role In Brewing Kombucha
The glass jars act as a brewing vessel that’s not only strong enough but also free of any contaminants that might react with kombucha.
Considerations When Looking For A Fermentation Jar
Should be made of pure glass
Glass doesn’t react with the acetic acid found in kombucha, making it the safest option for storing the slightly acidic fluid. Avoid plastics, and metallic jars as these will react with the acetic acid, thus contaminating the brew.
Should have a wide mouth
The fermentation jars should be wide-mouthed to increase the surface area of the fluid surface that’s in contact with the air. This is important during the first ferment as the yeast cells require oxygen to respire aerobically and breakdown the sugar.
We have a full Kombucha Jars and Vessels guide available with more information.
Our Recommended - 1 Gallon Jar
Buying 2 jars is essential for brewing, allowing for greater versatility, a SCOBY Hotel, 2 brews or more experimenting!
We would recommend only buying USA Glass Jar. By buying USA made you can ensure better quality.
This set comes complete with 2 muslin cloths and elastic bands to secure your brew.
Having a cover will keep out contaminants such as dust and fruit flies from getting into contact with the fermenting brew. This cover can be improvised by using coffee filters or a tightly woven fabric that’s thick enough to keep off dust but lose enough for free airflow.
Considerations When Looking For A Cover
Consider using tightly woven cotton fabrics as a cover. Alternatively, you can use coffee filters. This ensures that fruit flies and other contaminants are kept off the fermenting brew.
Remember to get a sizeable fabric that can completely cover the fermentation jar.
Something to hold it in place
Having an elastic band to keep the coffee filters in place will go a long way into ensuring that your brew remains uncontaminated.
Kombucha Jar Covers
Are you thinking about making your own kombucha or Jun? Looking for the best cover that will protect and block all the wrong things from getting into the jar?
All aerobic ferments require oxygen, especially at the beginning of the fermentation process, and that is why a breathable cloth cover is the best.
pH strips are useful when you need to measure the alkalinity or acidity of a fluid. In this case, kombucha is best fermented with a pH range of 2.5 to 3.0, with 2.7 being the best balance of acidity.
Role In Brewing Kombucha
pH strips are used to measure the acidity of kombucha to identify if the required acidity has been achieved. It can also be used to test if a batch has gone bad whereby if the score falls above 3.5, then the brew is considered to be spoilt.
Considerations When Buying pH Strips
Buy in bulk to save on costs
pH strips might be relatively cheap, but you will save much more if you buy them in bulk. You also avoid the hassle of having to rush out to get a new one every time you need to test the pH of your brew.
Our Recommended - pH Testing Strips
Kombucha Chemistry have designed a testing kit specifically for kombucha. The pH reading is between 0-6 only and color indicators vivid too.
Keeping your batch within the critical pH range is not only necessary to achieve a great tasting brew but also to be safe for human consumption.
To maintain constant temperatures, especially during winter, you should consider getting a heating pad.
Role In Brewing Kombucha
In case you are storing your fermentation jars in the basement or they are currently exposed to cold temperatures, you can use a heating mat to maintain optimal temperatures allowing the culture to ferment the drink on time fully.
Considerations When Buying a Heating Mat
A heating mat should be a long-term investment; therefore, consider getting a large-sized one to accommodate multiple fermentation jars at the same time.
For further information about equipment, check out our Kombucha Kit article.
Our Recommend - Heating Mat
We would recommend The Kombucha Shop's Heating Mat. Easy to secure and coming with a heat controller too.
Living in a cold climate or during winter it can be frustrating to brew kombucha. A heating mat is the perfect solution to keep your mat within that critical brewing range.
pH and Kombucha
pH is a scale that’s used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a water-based solution. In kombucha, the acidity is a result of the production of acetic acid by the alcohol breaking bacteria.
pH’s Effect On The Brew
The acidity of the brew will determine if fermentation will occur or not. As a result, the more acidic a brew is, the higher the likelihood that fermentation will take place. This is because harmful bacteria can not survive in an acidic environment, and the absence of such pH readings is an indication that the SCOBY culture is no longer in control of the brew.
How To Change The pH Of Kombucha
Adjust the brewing time
Fermenting kombucha for a more extended period will ensure that the culture feeds on most of the sugar and that more acetic acid is produced. This gives the kombucha brew a much lower pH compared to shorter ferments.
Use a second ferment
Incase your kombucha has become too acidic, you can adjust the pH level of the brew by taking it through a second ferment. This involves introducing a flavoring ingredient such as fruits or spices and anaerobically fermenting the drink for up to 5 days.
Adding more starter tea
If you notice the pH of your new brew setup is above 3.0, you will need to increase the acidity by adding more starter tea. The low pH of the starter will lower the overall pH of the entire brew allowing fermentation to take place.
Interested in learning more? Check out our article Kombucha and pH
How To Make A SCOBY
Method 1: Store-Bought Kombucha
This method relies on store-bought raw unflavored kombucha. If you have made kombucha before, you can use a previous batch of kombucha. The results will be all the same, but the growth time may vary depending on the specific store-bought brew you decide to use. However, do not use pasteurized kombucha as this process usually denatures the culture required to grow the new SCOBY.
2-quart mason glass jar
Large pan or pot
Tightly woven cloth or paper towels
6 cups water
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 cups raw kombucha
4 tea bags or 4 tsp loose-leaf black tea
1. Boil the water in a pan and add the tea leaves, steep for 15 minutes.
2. Add the sugar to the tea and stir until its completely dissolved.
3. Strain out the tea and set aside to cool down.
4. Pour the starter tea into the jar and add the now cooled sweet tea and use a long-handled spoon to mix it thoroughly.
5. Use the tightly woven cloth or paper towels to cover the jar’s mouth to keep out contaminants, use the elastic band to hold it in place firmly.
6. Transfer the jar to the storage area. Ideally, a pantry as long as the temperatures don’t exceed or fluctuate too much from the average of 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) and away from direct sunlight.
7. Keep track of the progress for the next 2 to 4 weeks. If the pH of the fluid drops below 2.7, then it’s time to add more freshly brewed and sweet tea to provide more nutrients for the growing SCOBY.
Method 2: Growing From Another SCOBY
Unlike the previous process, which relies on a starter tea as the only source of culture, this method will also include an older SCOBY as another source of the culture.
1. Bring the water to boil in a pan and add the tea, steep for 15 minutes.
2. Add the sugar to the tea while stirring until its wholly dissolved.
3. Strain out the tea and set aside to cool down.
4. Pour the starter tea into the mason jar and add the now cooled sweet tea and use a long-handled spoon to mix it thoroughly.
5. Gently place the older SCOBY into the jar and allow it to settle on its own; it can either float or sink to the bottom or anywhere between the two.
6. Use the tightly woven cloth or paper towels to cover the jar’s mouth to keep out contaminants, use the elastic band to hold it in place firmly.
7. Transfer the jar to the storage area. Ideally, a pantry will do just fine as long as the temperatures don’t exceed or fluctuate too much from the average of 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) and away from direct sunlight.
8. As the younger SCOBY begins to grow it might still be attached to the older SCOBY don’t worry about this you can simply separate them later on.
Kombucha SCOBY Growth Stages
This stage takes place after the first few days when the amount of carbon dioxide generated by the culture begins to bubble upwards.
Film growth stage
As the tiny bubbles collect on the surface, a thin transparent film will start growing near the surface of the tea just below the numerous bubbles. This transparent jelly-like film is the baby SCOBY beginning to grow.
Film thickening stage
This stage takes place from around the 10th day and may go up to 3 weeks. During this stage, the thin jelly-like film thickens into a solid opaque layer.
Finished SCOBY stage
During this stage, the SCOBY will have grown to more than 1/4 inch thick, and it’s considered to be fully grown and can even be used to produce another SCOBY.
How To Brew Kombucha
How To Brew Safety Tips:
Sanitation is key
When it comes to kombucha brewing, avoiding all forms of contamination is necessary as with any other fermented drink. For this reason, you should only brew kombucha in sanitized conditions, use distilled vinegar to clean up the fermentation kit as well as other tools that you will use during the process.
Let the boiling tea cool down to room temperature
To avoid scalding yourself with hot tea, allow it to cool down before transferring it to the fermentation jar. This also ensures that the culture doesn’t get exposed to heat, which would otherwise denature the yeast and bacteria cells.
1-gallon glass jar
Breathable covers such as muslin, coffee filters, or a tightly woven cloth
2 cups starter tea from a previous batch
1 cup granulated white sugar
8 black tea bags or 2 tbsp loose leaf black tea
1 gallon unchlorinated water
1. Boil the water in a pan and add the tea, steep for 15 minutes.
2. Add the sugar to the tea while stirring until its wholly dissolved.
3. Strain out the tea and set aside to cool down to room temperature.
4. Pour the starter tea into the mason jar and add the now cooled sweet tea and use a long-handled wooden spoon to mix it thoroughly.
5. Gently place the SCOBY into the mason jar and allow it to settle on its own.
6. Use the tightly woven cloth or paper towels to cover the jar’s mouth to keep out contaminants, use the elastic band to hold it in place firmly.
7. Transfer the mason jar to the storage area. Ideally, the pantry will do just fine as long as the temperatures don’t exceed or fluctuate too much from the average of 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) and away from direct sunlight.
8. Let the brew ferment for 7 to 14 days, use pH strips to check the pH of the brew regularly.
Troubleshooting Your Brew
Common issues when brewing and how to fix them:
This can either be as a result of using too much sugar or inadequate brewing time. As a result, the yeast culture doesn’t get to feed on most of the sugar molecules, thus leaving the drink too sugary.
Solution: Ferment the brew for an extended period until the sugar flavor balances with the tartness of the increased acetic acid content.
If left to ferment for too long, kombucha becomes vinegary, and the taste can become too sour to consume directly. This is due to the accumulation of acetic acid in the brew.
Solution: Sour kombucha can be taken through a second ferment whereby a secondary flavor is infused to make the drink much sweeter.
Mold On Your Brew
Sight: Mold is quite noticeable due to its characteristic hairy spores that grow on the surface, which grow in clumps.
Smell: Mold has an unpleasant earthy smell resembling wet socks.
pH Change: Its growth leads to an increase in pH to over 3.0, signifying the death of the acidic culture.
What causes mold?
Mold is probably the most common fear among homebrewers. This is because SCOBYs are delicate, and any exposure to harmful conditions will result in the growth of mold, an indication that the culture is no longer healthy.
If you notice mold growing on a SCOBY, it’s recommended to throw it out to avoid contaminating future brews.
Remember to clean the vessel thoroughly and use concentrated vinegar to rinse it before setting up another ferment.
Second Ferment Guide
A second ferment is used to infuse additional flavors or restore the taste of raw kombucha. This is done by anaerobically fermenting the kombucha and the flavoring ingredient for 3 to 5 days.
How To Carry Out A Second Ferment
1. Measure out the flavor accordingly
Various types of flavors require a different mixing ratio to bring out the best of each. It's imperative to get the right mixing ratio to avoid ending up with an undrinkable brew. However, the rates given can be adjusted accordingly if the blend is either too light or too concentrated.
Type Of Flavor
Amount To Use
2 1/2 cups of kombucha for every 1 cup
4 cups of kombucha for every 1 cup
1 cup of kombucha for 1/4 teaspoon
1 cup of kombucha per 1/4 teaspoon
2. Mix the flavor and brewed kombucha
This step can be performed either in a glass jar or the bottles you intend to use for the short ferment. Gently combine the ingredients and ensure that they are thoroughly mixed in. This makes it possible for the yeast culture in the kombucha to feed on the additional sugar content to produce carbon dioxide.
3. Seal the bottles
Wipe any liquids that may have landed on the mouth of the jars before screwing on the lids. Ensure that you leave a 1 to 3 inch headspace in each container to accommodate the excess carbon dioxide produced during the fermentation cycle. The purpose of sealing the bottles airtight is to prevent carbon dioxide from escaping and also cutting off the oxygen supply, which would lead to an increased culture population.
4. Store at room temperature for up to 5 days
For the yeast culture to completely breakdown the sugar in the added flavoring, the bottle needs to be stored at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. After this, the containers should be moved to the fridge where the cold temperatures will make the culture dormant, thus slowing down the carbon dioxide production, which could otherwise lead to too much pressure within the bottle, making it explode.
Filtering out any solid pieces of fruits from the kombucha is a matter of personal preference, so you can either opt to or not. However, if you intend to keep the kombucha in the fridge for long, then it’s much better to filter out the solid pieces with a sieve cloth. Remember to do it gently so that the kombucha can retain its fizzy nature.
Second Ferment Recipes
Check out our other articles for recipes here:
After the initial fermentation, kombucha can be bottled for long term storage for up to 4 months. The bottling process does not require any additional processing as the kombucha contains the needed carbon dioxide and acetic acid necessary for preservation.
Bottle Explosions Explained
As the yeast and bacteria culture feeds on the sugar, more carbon dioxide is produced. This leads to pressure accumulation within the bottle as the airtight seal cannot allow carbon dioxide to escape. This eventually leads to bottle explosions, especially if you are using thin-walled glass bottles.
Bottle explosions can be prevented by burping them daily. This releases the accumulated carbon dioxide reducing the pressure in the brew. Storing the bottles in the fridge also reduces carbon dioxide production due to the low temperatures, thus overall reducing the pressure in the bottle.
Get bottles equipped with airtight lids
Bottling kombucha requires that the drink remains sealed airtight. Consider looking for bottles with well-fitting caps.
Get thick-walled glass bottles
Glass is the most recommended material when dealing with kombucha, as it doesn’t react with acetic acid. Consider getting thick-walled glass bottles that can withstand the internal pressure generated by the carbon dioxide.
Learn more about choosing bottles in our article Kombucha Bottles.
A hinge bottle is the absolute best option for home brewers. They're air tight, easy to secure and can put them in your bag and drink during the day.
After bottling, kombucha should be stored under cold temperatures to reduce pressure accumulation. This is because when exposed to freezing temperatures, the culture will stop producing carbon dioxide.
Best Practices For Storing Kombucha
Store in glass bottles only
Kombucha should be stored in glassware only to avoid reacting with metals or plastic containers, which would otherwise contaminate the brew. Kombucha can also corrode metals leading to metal poisoning.
Store in airtight containers
To avoid contamination from fruit flies and dust particles, kombucha should be stored in sealed bottles. This also prevents the carbon dioxide from escaping ensuring that the drink remains fizzy.
Where To Store Bottled Kombucha
This is the most recommended kombucha storage option as the reduced temperatures effectively prevent further fermentation. This ensures that the drink retains its original taste long after it has been stored. The cold temperatures also reduce carbon dioxide production, thus preventing bottle explosions.
The pantry offers the perfect brewing space for kombucha. This is because the temperature in a pantry normally at room temperature doesn't fluctuate, and it also offers protection from sunlight.
For large scale home brewers, having a cold room will come in handy for storing large amounts of kombucha. The increased surface area also makes it possible to have multiple fermentation projects without having to pack them in tight spaces, which leads to cross-contamination.
How To Make Kombucha Fizzy
1. Filter the raw kombucha into the bottles and add the flavoring ingredient.
2. Add 2 tsp of sugar per 8 oz bottle and replace the seal.
3. Shake well to ensure that all the ingredients are well mixed in.
4. Allow fermentation to take place for 3 to 5 days, during which the extra sugar will be broken down to form carbon dioxide, which makes the drink fizzy.
Long Term SCOBY Storage
What is a SCOBY hotel?
A SCOBY hotel refers to a storage container that is used to house SCOBY. It can be used to house SCOBY between brews or for extra SCOBYs. As you brew each additional batch of kombucha, the SCOBY will have reproduced, providing a new younger 'baby' SCOBY.
A SCOBY hotel provides the right environment for the continued growth of bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY.
Conditions necessary for SCOBY to grow in a SCOBY hotel
Supply of ample nutrients
While the amount of liquid to add into your SCOBY hotel will depend on its volume, you can rely on the 3:1 ratio to prepare the liquid. Use 1 cup of fresh kombucha for every 3 cups of fresh sweet tea.
A clean supply of air
As we shall see later on, a SCOBY hotel has to be covered with a thin cotton cloth to filter out the air flowing into the jar. This also allows the carbon dioxide produced to escape freely. The cotton cloth also stops dust and other contaminants entering, which might otherwise result in the growth of mold.
SCOBY grows well at 75-85 degrees F (23-29 degrees C). Do not store the hotel in the fridge as it will cause the yeast to go dormant. When the temperature exceeds the maximum limit, the yeast and bacteria will get denatured, thus killing off the SCOBY.
For more ideas, check out our article What To Do With An Extra SCOBY and Can You Eat A SCOBY?
How to Make A SCOBY Hotel
1 cup prepared kombucha
3 cups sweetened tea
2L (or 1/2 gallon) clean glass container
Coffee filters or tightly woven cloth
1. To make the SCOBY hotel, we will be relying on a 2L (around 1/2 gallon) glass container, preferably one with a wide mouth. This makes it much easier when it comes to handling the SCOBY.
2. Thoroughly clean the container with water and soap, followed by rinsing. Set it aside to dry. Avoid using antibacterial soap as trace amounts left behind can harm the SCOBY.
3. Boil about 2 L (1/2 gallon) of water in a jug and add 2 tbsp or 20g of loose-leaf tea. Allow the tea to boil for 3 minutes, after which you can remove the pot from the heat.
4. Add 200g (1 cup) of cane sugar and stir well until its completely dissolved. Filter out the tea leaves and let the freshly prepared sweetened tea to cool down.
5. Place all SCOBYs in it and try to lay them on top of each other. This makes it easier to extract them in the future without having to slice them.
6. Add 3 cups of the sweetened tea into the container and top up with 1 cup of brewed kombucha. Use this 3:1 ratio to fill up the hotel until all SCOBYs are fully submerged.
7. If you don't have homebrewed kombucha, you can use store-bought kombucha too. The sweet tea helps to feed the SCOBYs while they are in the hotel, and the brewed kombucha introduces an acidic environment that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.
8. Use a clean, tightly woven fabric placed on top of the container to prevent contamination of the SCOBY by dust and harmful spores. The fabric should be held in place by a lid or elastic band. You can also use coffee filters instead of tightly-woven fabric.
9. Store the SCOBY hotel in a warm, dry, and dark place. SCOBY prefers temperatures of 75-85 degrees F (23-29 degrees C) and out of direct sunlight. This makes the pantry and kitchen cupboards an ideal location to keep the SCOBY hotel. The SCOBY should not be disturbed too often to avoid contamination.
10. The liquid will need to be replaced every two weeks. The sweetened tea will ferment quicker due to the multiple SCOBYs and should be replaced often. This ensures that the SCOBY always has a constant supply of nutrients. The kombucha extracted from the SCOBY hotel is slightly sour and should be used as a starter when making additional batches.
How To Maintain A SCOBY Hotel
Maintain a regular liquid replacement schedule - To prevent rot and mold growth, you should change the liquid in the SCOBY hotel every two weeks.
Keep the SCOBY hotel away from other ferments - SCOBY hotels should be kept away from the other fermenting projects you might have going on. This is to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination, which is caused by microbial organisms such as fungi.
Clean the containers every time you change the liquid - To avoid contamination, the SCOBY hotel should be kept clean; this can be done while changing the fluid. This ensures that containers equipped with spigots remain unblocked.
Keep the SCOBY hotel covered and secured at all times - To avoid insects, specifically, fruit flies from damaging the hotel, keep it hidden.
We have a full guide on SCOBY Hotels available for more information.
Common Kombucha Terms Explained
Continuous brewing is a setup specially designed to ferment kombucha continually. A continuous brewing setup makes it possible to harvest raw kombucha regularly without having to take down the entire set up after one batch. All you need to do is refill the setup with a similar volume of freshly brewed and sweetened tea.
Jun is an effervescent fermented drink just like kombucha, with the only difference being that Jun uses raw honey and green tea, instead of white sugar and black tea. Jun SCOBY is specially adapted to breakdown honey without any harm from the natural bacteria culture found in raw honey.
A symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) is a biofilm formed by the yeast and bacteria culture. It is used to introduce the culture to a fresh brew allowing fermentation to take place.
This is the initial fermentation stage in which freshly brewed and sweetened tea gets mixed with starter tea, and a SCOBY is added to ferment. It takes 7 to 14 days for the first ferment.
A second ferment is used to infuse a secondary flavor to the raw kombucha. A second ferment also makes it possible to increase the fizziness of the drink due to the carbon dioxide which is produced.
This is raw kombucha from a previous batch that has not been pasteurized. This makes it a perfect source of culture required to start another fermentation as well as the acidic nature required to keep off harmful bacteria from infesting the brew.
Kombucha vinegar is essentially fully matured kombucha, which has been left to ferment for an extended period, thus leading to the breakdown of the alcohol content into acetic acid by the alcohol fixing bacteria culture.
This is a tap of sorts that are equipped on a large fermenting jar, such as a SCOBY hotel or a continuous brewing system. It allows for easy harvesting.
This is a young SCOBY that grows from a mother SCOBY.
A mature sized SCOBY which is capable of growing baby SCOBYs or it can be trimmed to get additional SCOBYs.
37 Common Kombucha Questions
How do you make kombucha from scratch?
You will require sugar, tea, starter tea, water, and a SCOBY to ferment kombucha from scratch. The freshly brewed and sweetened tea is then aerobically fermented for 7 to 14 days in a glass container.
How do you make a SCOBY?
You can grow a baby SCOBY from raw kombucha by continuously feeding the culture until a thin film grows near the top part of the fermentation jar.
Can you make kombucha at home?
Yes, you can ferment kombucha at home using locally available materials and a SCOBY.
Is kombucha that good for you?
Yes, kombucha contains probiotics as well as benefits accrued to tea leaves such as caffeine, and antioxidants.
How much kombucha should I drink daily?
FDA recommends that kombucha consumption be limited to 4 oz per serving and limiting the number of servings to 3 per day.
Does kombucha make you poop?
Yes, kombucha contains probiotics that help improve the gut bio, which can improve bowel movements.
Is it OK to drink kombucha every day?
Yes, it’s perfectly healthy to drink kombucha daily.
Can kombucha kill you?
There have been cases of kombucha contamination with life-threatening bacteria, which can lead to death.
Why is kombucha bad for you?
Kombucha should be avoided by pregnant and breast-feeding women, those with low immune systems, as well as caffeine-sensitive and alcohol-sensitive people.
Low immunity - This is because a reduction in the immune system makes one more vulnerable to bacterial infection.
Pregnancy - Alcohol and some raw products should also be avoided for those who are pregnant.
Caffeine and Alcohol Sensitivities - Due to the amounts of caffeine and alcohol in kombucha it can trigger negative effects for those who are sensitive to it.
We have a detailed article on Kombucha, Pregnancy, and Breastfeeding available.
Can kombucha get you drunk?
Yes, raw kombucha contains alcohol, so it has the capability of getting you drunk. Hard kombucha also has much higher alcohol content, usually up to 6% ABV. Many people enjoy hard kombucha as an alternative to alcoholic beverages.
What does kombucha do to your body?
It improves the body’s immune system due to the antioxidants and probiotics.
Does kombucha have any side effects?
Yes, kombucha can have adverse effects, especially to those with a low immune system or who are sensitive to caffeine.
Do you drink the bottom of kombucha?
We don’t recommend it, as it is not the most pleasant. It contains accumulated yeast threads. However, the mixture is perfectly safe to consume, albeit not as pleasant as pure kombucha.
Can kids drink kombucha?
No, it’s not advisable to give kids kombucha as it contains alcohol.
How long does it take for kombucha to work?
Kombucha’s effects are cumulative, and therefore you have to give it time and maintain a regular drinking schedule
How to know the kombucha is ready?
Use a pH strip to check the pH; if it's between 2.5 and 2.7, then it’s ready.
How much kombucha is safe to drink?
FDA recommends keeping your kombucha consumption to 4 oz of kombucha per serving for 3 servings per day without any adverse effects.
Can I use plastic or metal containers for making kombucha?
No, these will easily corrode so stick to glassware and food glade stainless steel where applicable.
What is the best tea for making kombucha?
Black tea produces the best results compared to other tea varieties.
Can I use decaf tea for brewing kombucha?
Yes, you can use decaffeinated tea for kombucha. You can also use rooibos tea, which offers the same great taste without any caffeine as the plant is naturally caffeine free.
What is the ideal temperature for brewing kombucha?
The ideal temperature for brewing is 65 to 85 degrees F (18 to 29 degrees C).
What is that thin white film on top of my SCOBY?
It’s a baby SCOBY growing on the upper layer of the brew.
What do I do with SCOBY babies? They keep reproducing.
Keep them in a SCOBY hotel, use them to start another brew or gift to friends.
Can I cut the SCOBY?
Yes, you can trim the SCOBY if it’s getting too large.
Can I eat the SCOBY?
Yes, a SCOBY is perfectly edible and can be eaten.
What should be the shape and size of my SCOBY?
A SCOBY doesn’t have any definite shape, and the size can vary widely, often getting as thick as 3 inches.
Should I wash SCOBY and the jug?
No that might contaminate the SCOBY.
Should I brew kombucha in a dark place?
Yes, it's recommended to keep kombucha away from direct sunlight so a dark place will do just fine.
How can I increase carbonation without the second fermentation?
Adding extra sugar to the first ferment will increase carbonation without having to set up a second ferment.
How long does kombucha last?
Kombucha can remain fresh for up to 4 months in the fridge and up to a month in the pantry.
Can I take a break from brewing kombucha?
Yes, to do so simply store the SCOBY in a SCOBY hotel.
Kombucha Recipe Troubleshooting
The pH of kombucha is the surest way to check. If it’s too alkaline, then something has gone wrong, and if it's acidic, then its an indication that the SCOBY culture is still dominant in the brew.
How do I know my kombucha is brewing?
Test the pH of the brew to check if it is turning acidic as well as checking for effervescence.
What to do if I see mold in my batch of kombucha?
Throw away the contaminated batch as well as the SCOBY that was in it and use distilled vinegar to rinse the jar before using it on another fermentation project.
Once I poured freshly brewed tea, my SCOBY sunk to the bottom or is hanging sideways. Is that OK?
Yes, the SCOBY will overtime float upwards, and this does not affect the fermentation process.
Why drink kombucha?
Kombucha contains caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins, and billions of healthy probiotics which serve to improve your overall health.
What supplies do you need to make homemade kombucha?
Sugar, tea leaves, water, a SCOBY, and starter tea. You will also need a fermentation vessel, which should be glassware, a pot to brew the tea, and a sieve for the leaves after steeping.
What is a SCOBY?
A symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast is a collection of yeast and bacteria cultures growing inside a gelatin film that's formed by the culture.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented brew prepared by aerobically fermenting freshly brewed and sweetened tea in the presence of starter tea from a previous batch and a SCOBY.
Where can I buy kombucha?
Bottled kombucha is readily available in most vegan grocery shops as well as major online retail sites such as Amazon.
How can I make my kombucha?
You will need to steep tea leaves and add sugar to the tea before letting it cool down. When the tea cools down, transfer it to the fermentation vessel and add the starter tea and SCOBY. Allow to ferment for 7 to 14 days while maintaining constant room temperature and away from sunlight.
If you're looking to get started with brewing kombucha check our all of our reviewed and recommended products here: Kombucha Recommended Products.