Potions in Action: Kombucha (Part 2: How to Brew It)

SCOBYs in Jars!

Now that we all know what kombucha is and how I find it is influencing my well-being and spirituality, you might want to know how to brew up a batch for yourself.  Well, grasshopper, let me show you the way.  Please note that while this list might look intimidating, most of it can already be found in a well-stocked kitchen.

You will need:

  • A SCOBY. Growing one is the subject of a future post.
  • Prepared unflavored kombucha or vinegar.  The brew needs to be a little acidic when starting out to minimize contamination from undesirable microbes.  I hold back some kombucha from a previous batch.  If starting out, it’s perfectly acceptable to use store-bought plain kombucha (I like GT’s Original).
  • Unflavored, caffeinated tea. The SCOBY uses the caffeine protein for food.  While it can grow and survive in some herbal teas, save experimentation for later.  Teabags are fine, but bulk loose tea is far more cost effective in the long run.  You don’t need high grade tea here, so don’t go buying anything too fancy.  You can use any mix of black, green, white, or oolong teas.  Each one will yield a subtly different finished product.  You can also use yerba mate (green or roasted).  Although yerba mate is not proper tea, it has plenty of caffeine and can safely brew a tasty kombucha.  If using yerba mate, you will most likely need to quadruple the amount of tea you would regularly use.
  • White refined sugar.  You need something with proper glucose and fructose for the yeast and bacteria to eat.  No artificial sweeteners or stevia need apply.  Other natural sweeteners can support a SCOBY, but the extra nutrients they bring to the party can retard SCOBY growth or make the culture more palatable to mold and undesirable bacteria.  Regular old white sugar is the safest thing to use.
  • Filtered water Or not, depending on the quality of your water and how your municipality treats it.  I often use tap because my area has amazing water, and the city doesn’t chlorinate it.  If you do have chlorinated water, you absolutely MUST dechlorinate it before proceeding.  Chlorine kills SCOBYs.
  • Large clear glass jars with wide mouth openings.  Do not use crockery, plastic, or metal.  Kombucha is acidic enough that potentially poisonous substances could leech out of crockery or plastic.  And, for whatever reason, SCOBYs hate metal.  I highly recommend using Anchor Hocking’s “Heritage Hill” line of canisters, but without the lid.  All Anchor Hocking glass is made in America, is lead-free, and is recyclable.  The company also is proactive about becoming even greener.  You may want more than one if you’d like to start a ‘SCOBY hotel’ for storing extra SCOBYS.  An important note:  if the jar is taller than it is wide, you cannot fill the jar up to its full capacity.  Its maximum capacity for kombucha brewing is the point where it is as deep as it is wide.
  • A 10-inch glass pie plate (or a larger deep glass dish if the brewing vessel diameter is over 10 inches)You want to avoid folding or bending your SCOBYs as they’ll tend to hold even the slightest fold and won’t lie flat in your culturing ‘booch.  A 10-inch glass pie plate does wonderfully for temporarily holding a SCOBY and some starter (don’t let it sit dry!) while you’re setting up a new cycle of tea to brew.  A mixing bowl might allow the SCOBY to fold or curve.  You can also often find glass lids to cover the pie plate while it’s sitting out, which will minimize any possible contamination, though a clean tea towel will work, too.  Speaking of…
  • A clean, white, cotton cloth for covering the jar opening.  Choose cotton for its breathability.  Choose white because it will be easier to see any dirt or contamination that might end up growing on the cloth.  Also, the acidic kombucha has a small potential to leech chemicals out of dyes if the cloth comes into contact with the brew.  Of course, it’s kind of hard to accidentally drop the cloth into the brew, so don’t stress if you can’t find white cloth.  I prefer white flour sack dish towels, but anything will do.  Even old T-shirts.
  • Large rubber bands for securing cloth to the jar opening.  I’ve found that cover rubber band head bands from the dollar store are great for this.  For a dollar, you get like 8 or so.  They fit the Anchor Hocking jars well, last forever, and look more attractive than an office supply rubber band.  Of course, twine or string can also work, but it is trickier to tie it in place tight enough.  If you need to use twine, practice your technique before you’ve got a full batch in a jar in order to minimize losing your towel in your kombucha.
  • A cooking pot.  The volume capacity will depend on how much tea you want to brew.  For my 6 quart batches, I typically use my 4 quart saucepan.  A 3 quart one could work, but I’d dramatically increase mess from boil over, splashes from stirring, and spills when pouring.
  • A fine mesh strainer.  This will come in handy to strain out loose leaf tea, but I also find it pretty essential in transferring brewed kombucha to individual bottles.  No need to transfer ‘booch strings and sediment to what you drink!
  • A reliable probe thermometer.  This is obviously optional unless you are like me and have a tendency to think that “touch temperature” is fine when it’s really a good 20°F off.  You don’t want to kill your SCOBY and culture by adding it to tea that is either too hot or too cold.  Optimum kombucha brewing temperature is between 74°F and 84°F.  As a rule of thumb, I don’t add my culture to ‘warm’ tea until the temperature is 80°F or below.  Ideally, you should not allow the brewing kombucha to fall below 70°F as colder temperatures can allow the growth of undesirable strains of yeasts and bacteria.  f it is the winter months and ambient room temperature is in the 60s, you may want to consider creating a system to warm your ‘booch a few degrees.  If you’re really paranoid about wanting to know the temperature of your brew without constantly disturbing the SCOBY, I would suggest adhering an aquarium or strip thermometer to the outside of your brew rig.
  • Wooden spoons. You’ll need to stir your brew before you culture it!  Wooden spoons are safer when it comes to ensuring that the SCOBY won’t touch metal.
  • Reusable plastic or glass straws.  Straws are used to obtain a small amount of brewing kombucha from under the SCOBY so that you can taste the brew and assess its progress without disturbing the SCOBY.  Simply slide the straw between the SCOBY and the glass jar, push it a few inches under the SCOBY, place your finger on top of the straw, then withdraw it and pop the bottom of the straw in your mouth and move your finger aside.  If you desire a second taste, use a different straw.  Save the environment and choose something reusable (and preferably glass in this case).
  • Dish soap without bleach or antibacterial ingredients.  You want everything to be clean, clean, clean before brewing, but you don’t want to kill the SCOBY and culture.  Make sure to wash and thoroughly rinse everything–you cannot have any soap residue–and always make sure your hands are clean before handling the SCOBY.
  • A number of 16-oz glass bottles with caps.  If you want fizzy or flavored kombucha, you’ll need to do a second small fermentation in individual, capped bottles.  I am currently using old GT’s kombucha bottles and caps as I really like their wider mouth and lack of a neck.  They are exceptionally easy to clean and fill.  Many other brewers swear by “EZ Cap Beer Bottles”.  With this style of bottle, you can also order extra swing tops and gaskets in case those break or wear out.  No matter what type of bottle is chosen, I would recommend clear glass over colored as it is easier to see dirt, contamination, and spoiled ‘booch in them.  I would also recommend the purchase of a bottle brush and a filling funnel to help with cleaning and filling.
  • Flavorings.  Use your imagination!  Just about any fruit juice will work, as will stronger, sweetened herbal infusions.  With the exception of using candied ginger, I vastly prefer to use liquid flavorings as I dislike ‘chunks’ in my beverages.  You can either make your own juices or you can purchase natural juices from the grocery.  As far as amount goes, I think it’s best to stick close to the GT’s 5% juice, 95% kombucha ratio.  Five percent of 16 ounces comes out to 0.8 oz, which is hard to measure out so I round up and add a solid ounce (2 tablespoons) of juice to 15 oz of kombucha.  The sugars from the juices help to create the carbonation, so if you’re using a low-sugar juice, you may want to add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of white sugar to the bottle, too.

Once you’ve assembled your materials, the first step is to whip out a pen and paper and figure out just how much kombucha you want to brew.  For example, if you want to cultivate a habit where you consume 16 oz a day and you estimate your brewing cycle to be 9 days, you will need a minimum yield of 144 ounces.  You’ll likely need to add at least another 48 ounces to take into account the amount you’ll need to reserve for the next batch, the amount needed to safely hold a SCOBY in transfer, as well as the ‘dregs’ amount at the bottom of the jar that you’ll not want to drink.  The grand total you’ll need then is 192 ounces, or six quarts.

Once you’ve determined the amount of brew you’ll need, multiply your conversion factor across the following ratio equation:

3 quarts (96 oz) finished kombucha = 3 quarts (96 oz) filtered water (half hot, half cold) : 1 cup white sugar: 12 grams tea leaf (about 4 teaspoons of a ‘tight packing’ leaf or about 4 tea bags) : 2/3 cup  (5.3 oz) unflavored kombucha

Since we want 6 quarts of finished kombucha, we simply double the ratio values.  If we wanted 1.5 quarts, we would multiply everything by 0.5 (or 1.5/3).  If we wanted 8 quarts, we would multiply everything by 2.6 (8/3).

To make my 6 quarts of kombucha, then, I take the following steps:

  1. Bring 3 quarts of filtered water to a boil in a 4 quart saucepan.
  2. Add all the sugar, stir, and let the mixture boil for another five minutes.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat, add the tea, stir, and let the tea brew for 10 minutes.
  4. Set a fine mesh strainer over a 2-gallon glass jar and pour the tea concentrate through the strainer, which will catch any loose tea leaves.
  5. Add enough cold filtered water to the jar to bring the total volume to 6 quarts of liquid and stir.  At this point, the temperature of the brew will often be about 100°F.
  6. When the temperature of the brew drops to below 80°F, stir in the reserved kombucha starter and carefully lay the SCOBY on top of the liquid.  (Even though it usually floats, the SCOBY may sink, hang sideways, or do a number of things.  It’s fine.  Sometimes they just do that.)
  7. Cap the jar with the dishtowel and rubber band and set it in a warm, tranquil room with good air flow for 7-12 days, occasionally taste-testing the brew to gauge when it is finished.
  8. When the brew is about as sour as it is sweet, remove the SCOBY and set it aside in a covered pie dish with enough brewed kombucha to keep it covered or afloat.
  9. Set aside enough brewed kombucha to culture the next batch.
  10. Strain the kombucha through a fine mesh strainer into a second glass container big enough to hold  all the liquid.  Discard the sludge in last couple inches of liquid, and discard any material that has collected in the strainer.
  11. Pour 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of flavoring juice into 16-ounce bottles if you desire flavored kombucha.  Add about 1/4 teaspoon white sugar to bottles you desire to be unflavored.
  12. Fill bottles to capacity limit with the kombucha.
  13. Cap bottles and allow them to sit at room temperature for 24-36 hours, then transfer to a refrigerator.
  14. Open bottles carefully lest they have over-carbonated, and enjoy!

Bottled homebrew kombucha just waiting to be consumed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s