I confess. I had an addiction to Dr. Pepper.
It seemed innocent enough at first. I was a college student in desperate need of caffeine. My husband — then boyfriend — had a case of Dr. Pepper made with real cane sugar (no HFCS!) in his closet. He offered me one. I accepted. I was hooked.
Over the next ten years, I periodically tried to wean myself from the soda. I gave it up for Lent more than once. I told myself how evil it was, how bad for me, how disappointing it was to drink. I couldn’t knock the habit.
What finally cured me?
Kombucha — the fizzy, mildy sweet and tart, health drink that works wonders detoxing our bodies.
It satisfied my cravings for a fizzy energy boost without the sugar crashes that accompanied my Dr. Pepper drinking. A 16 oz. bottle of organic raw kombucha costs around $3.50. Multiply that times several family members and a couple of glasses per day, and it adds up quickly.
If you could brew your own flavored kombucha for as little as $1.50/gallon and about ten minutes of your time, why wouldn’t you?
Here’s how I do it. This makes 2 gallons.
- 2 gallons of sweetened tea
- 2 kombucha mothers (AKA “scobies,” or “mushrooms”) (where to buy a kombucha starter culture)
- 2 large 1 gallon glass jars
- 1 thin kitchen towel
- 15 oz of fruit juice
- 6 quart sized jars with lids (any size bottle or jar will do, so long as you\’ve got enough to hold 75%-80% of your brewed kombucha)
Some Important Notes Before Beginning:
First — assuming you didn’t grow your own scoby, you’ve got a week to ten days to start this process from the day you receive the kombucha starter or “mother” to ensure the freshest and most healthful product. If you let the mother sit too long in your refrigerator it will make the kombucha stale. (For reputable, online sources of kombucha starter cultures, be sure to check out the listings on my Resources Page.)
Second — each mother comes with at least a half a cup of liquid with it. That is important stuff so do not pour it off. You’ll actually use that in your first batch of tea. I recommend buying a bottle of Kombucha from the health food store to help your first batch, but this isn’t needful. If you choose to do it, you’ll want to buy Organic Raw Kombucha without any fruit sweeteners added.
Finally — the starter is a bit strange and takes some getting used to. Handling it and placing it on top of the tea just takes a little practice and a sense of adventure … it is pretty disarming initially.
One final note — EVERYONE will tell you something different. Brewing kombucha is just like making any other dish. There are hundreds of variations and recipes out there, each one somebody’s favorite. Everyone will swear doing this or that particular thing will make the beverage more healthful for you — and often the advice is contradictory. My point? Relax. Just do it. Enjoy it. Experiment and see what works for you.
Day 1 / Part One : Make Sweetened Tea (boil water and steep tea with sugar)
Boil about 2 gallons of fresh, filtered water on the stove top. (Where to buy water filters). Once water is at a full boil, remove from heat and add tea bags or family-sized tea bag and steep for 5 minutes. You can use cheap, plain Lipton tea for this, or experiment with other black or green teas as you desire.
Remove tea bags and add 2 cups of sugar stirring vigorously until it is dissolved. (This is the only thing in my house we use refined sugar for. We tried brewing kombucha with natural sweeteners like sucanat, honey, or agave nectar, but they all made the final brew take longer and taste sour. There’s no need to fear this refined sugar because it’s basically just food for the yeast.) Let the sweetened tea sit on the stove top until it has cooled to room temperature. This usually takes about 2 hours.
Day 1 / Part Two : Add the Mother to the Sweetened Tea
Once tea is cooled down transfer to glass jar or jars with a wide mouth. (The kombucha doesn’t brew as well in metal or plastic containers. You can use a large glass bowl, glass pitchers, or a large glass sun tea jar – anything glass that will hold your tea.) Pour the half cup of liquid that comes with the mother into the sweetened tea.
Carefully place the mother on top of the tea mixture.
Cover your glass containers with a clean kitchen towel and place away from direct sunlight. I secure the towel with large rubber bands. The kombucha needs oxygen to ferment, so you’re using a towel rather than a lid to allow air to circulate. The rubber band secures the towel to keep out flies, insects, or other contaminants.
Days 1-5: Ferment Tea (allow starter / mother to “eat” the sugar and produce acids & enzymes …) You will allow the tea mixture to set out in the dark corner of your kitchen for 5 days. You can forget about it or you can peek. Either way on the morning of day 5, remove the mother and set it aside on a plate, pouring about a half cup of the fermented tea mixture over the mother to keep it moist. Put it in the refrigerator. Every other batch or so, you’ll be able to separate the old mother from its “baby” which will have grown on top of the old mother. (It may separate on its own, or you may just pull them apart.) When that happens, the baby will become the mother for your next batch of kombucha tea. The “old” mother can be passed on as a gift or discarded.
Day 5 / Part One: Ferment With Fruit Juice (allow kombucha to ferment with juice for a tasty finish)
Pour clear fruit juice (no pulp, it causes much stringy nastiness!) into the smaller glass jars or bottles you’re using to bottle your kombucha. I use about 2.5 oz. of fruit juice per quart-sized jar. You can use any size bottle or jar, just be sure to adjust the fruit juice accordingly. You’re looking at a cranberry apple juice blend.
Pour kombucha tea on top of the fruit juice, allowing about an ounce of breathing room at the top of the bottle, close bottle tightly. Be sure to save at least 10% of your brewed kombucha to use with your saved mother in your next batch. To ensure a consistent brew, I save about 25% of mine.
Place bottles back in your “fermenting place” for 48 hours and cover with a kitchen towel so they avoid exposure to direct sunlight.
Day 5 / Part Three: Begin Your Next Batch
Repeat the process for Day 1, Parts One and Two, and use the mother you set aside earlier as the mother for this batch of kombucha tea.
Day 7 : Finish
Put bottles in the refrigerator and chill completely before opening. Do not shake. When you open, remove the thin film of new “mother” that accumulated on top during the fruit juice fermentation phase. Contents will be bubbly. Enjoy the fruits of your five or ten minutes of labor.
Some Final Notes:
Periodically, you may notice your kombucha changing flavor in a way you don’t like. When that happens, I usually add a bottle of Organic Raw Kombucha into my fermenting sweetened tea to restore the balance to the yeast and bacteria. If you don’t want to do that, this website has a helpful index for “fixing” problems with your kombucha culture.
Also, your kombucha mother may turn brown, or bubbly, or do all sorts of strange things. None of these are problems. The only thing you want to really look out for is mold, and if it molds it will look like the mold on bread – fuzz and all.
These instructions are assuming that the room temperature where you’re brewing your kombucha is around 75 degrees. (I’m in Texas, what can I say?) If the temperature is considerably warmer than this, it will take less time to ferment. If it is considerably cooler than this, it will take more time to ferment. As such, people find that during the winter in cooler climates they may let their kombucha ferment for up to a week longer than they do during the height of summer. How can you tell when your kombucha’s ready to be bottled with fruit juice? When it’s mildy sweet and mostly tart.
Got a question?
Check out this post on Kombucha Questions & Answers and see if it can help. Also, be sure to read through all the comments at the bottom of this post. A lot of interesting questions & answers have been posted here over the years.