Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that is slightly effervescent. It is produced by fermenting tea using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, which is also referred to as a mother, or a mushroom, but it is certainly NOT a mushroom. I’ve gotta say, the first time I read about kombucha on Wikipedia it really scared the crap out of me with all its warnings of serious side effects or death. But kombucha has been around for over 2000 years and the health claims that are associated with it are good enough for me – heck, people eat hotdogs and McDonalds every day knowing that they are pretty much ingesting poison, I think my body can handle a little fermented tea! Even if in the end all I am getting is a placebo effect, I’m still ahead!
Supplies to make 1 gallon Kombucha
2 cups of left over kombucha, that the mother was stored in
1 ½ litres boiling water, it’s best to use bottled water but I rarely do
6 tea bags (green or black – plain tea, no earl grey) organic is best
3/4 – 1 cup sugar, I use organic cane sugar but regular works well too
1 very large glass jar that you can fit your hand into
A ubber band
Piece of cloth, dish cloth, cheese cloth, paper towel, coffee filter
To start, make sure everything is clean! Your hands, the jar, all of it! I use a 1 gallon pickle jar to brew mine in, but I’ve done it in a wide mouth mason too, though it doesn’t produce very much. Also note that you shouldn’t be using any aluminum during the making of the kombucha. Try to stay with glass or plastic.
1 liter = 4.226 cups
1 gallon = 16 cups
1 gallon = 3.785 liters
Important note – do not use honey or maple syrup as a sugar substitute. They don’t work and can harm your mother.
Important Note – the kombucha needs air! So, while you’re brewing it, make sure the only lid you use is a breathable cloth lid that can let air in and keep bugs out. Fruit flies love the smell of kombucha.
Important Note – Picking the jar you ferment in is important, make sure that you’re using a food-grade glass, if you use any old glass jar, like a vase, you don’t know what’s in it and could leach into the tea. Make sure that you never use crystal since it has lead in it and will leach into the kombucha.
Ready to start?
Boil the water and make a batch of very strong tea. I use a French press that holds about 6-8 cups of water and use 5-6 tea bags. Then wait for the temperature to drop, it should still be pretty warm but not really hot.
While you’re doing this remove your mother from the fridge and let it warm up a little on the counter with the lid off, so it can breathe. You don’t want to shock the mother from very cold to fairly warm.
Once the tea has cooled down, but is still warm, remove the tea bags pour into your brewing vessel. Then add the sugar (3/4 – 1 cup) and stir until dissolved. If the water is warm the sugar will dissolve better. At this point you’re going to need the temperature of the liquid to be almost room temperature, you need to be able to put your hand into it, it can’t be too hot since the mother needs to go in there and you don’t want to scald it. Sometimes I add some cool water at this point to bring the temperature down, but if you do this don’t forget you need to leave enough room in the jar to add the 2 cups of liquid and mother, plus a little room at the top.
Once it’s about at room temperature, or just warm, put the mother and all of the liquid from the last batch, that it was stored in (about 2 cups), into the tea mixture. Top up the jar with water, purified is best but I’ve used tap, leaving some room at the top. I usually leave an inch and a half to two inches.
Cover with a cloth and secure with an elastic band or some string. Keep in a warm place, I usually use my laundry/furnace room, but on top of the fridge can work well too.
Check it after 7 days. When your kombucha is done is really up to you. Some people brew for 7 days and some people brew for a month or longer. The longer it brews the less sweet it becomes. As the mother eats the sugars and grows, the tea becomes more vinegary and better for you but also less tasty. The trick is to find the level of sweet vs sour you can handle. I like to ferment mine for a month or so, since I like to go through a second fermentation, which makes very fermented tea taste better.
To check your kombucha take a clean straw, insert down the inside of the jar, pushing the mother carefully out of the way until the straw has filled up about half to three quarters of the way with liquid. Then hold your finger over the end of the straw and remove from the container carefully, with the liquid trapped inside. Taste and determine if you want to wait longer or not.
To store the kombucha, pour it into clean bottles or jars, plastic works well since it allows expansion, but I use glass swing top bottles since they let the gas out. Fill nearly to the top and secure with a lid. Keep in the fridge. When bottling try to leave the sediment, if any, in the bottom of the jar and use for your next batch, it’s not very appealing to drink.
Make sure to save about 2 cups of liquid for the mother to be stored in, and to use for your next batch. See below for how to store your mother.
If you want to add flavours or try a second fermentation, in order to get a fizzier drink, see here.
How to store your mother
When you are not brewing you can keep your mother in the fridge. To do this you need to:
Remove the mother from the freshly brewed kombucha tea and put it in a clean glass jar, I use a wide mouth mason.
Pour about 2 cups of the freshly brewed kombucha over top. The mother needs this liquid to stay alive, and you’ll also need it to brew your next batch!
Cover with a lid, a regular one that doesn’t breathe, I just use a mason jar lid.
Keep in the fridge for up to a month. You should take it out and brew a batch every month or so, even if you don’t want to drink it.
This is what your scoby will look like when it’s forming. At first it will look like the top of the tea is hazy, and then you’ll be able to see something forming, then eventually it’ll turn into a whitish disk that will continue to get thicker and whiter.