There’s something multiplying on my bench this time of year, as the cooler weather creeps in.
Bubbling, fermenting jars of kombucha, driven by yeast and bacteria powerhouses, are growing in number!
Now before you say ‘Look Trish I think you need to clean your bench’…
I consider these yeast and bacteria to be ‘friendlies,’ to my family’s gut-health! I’m happy to have my ‘brews’ take up more space.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from sweetened tea, fermented by a culture known as a scoby. It has reported health benefits I encourage you to research. You might like to start with this article here on the benefits and risks.
Possible risks tend to relate to the way kombucha is prepared and stored. I’ve never had a problem in nearly three years of kombucha brewing. I think good routines and keeping the process fresh is key to success.
Scoby stands for ‘Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts.’
My way to brew kombucha, below, is ‘one way’ … it allows for a constant, ready to drink, fresh supply.
A ‘constant, ready to drink, fresh supply’ can be harder to achieve than you’d think when you’re at the mercy of a biological process.
That’s why I said my bubbling jars were growing in number.
You see as the weather cools, the fermentation process slows. That means I need four of my fermenting jars on the bench now, because the brewing process takes four to five days. Here in summer, first fermentation is often just 2 days per batch. So in summer, I only need two brews on the bench.
Some methods rely on brewing a huge amount of kombucha (all ready at once) which gets wasted. Families often can’t drink it in time – so it may continue to ferment past the ‘best taste date’ and into an unhealthy mess depending on how it’s treated from there.
Respect the brewing process and do what’s needed and I’m sure it will go well.
Back to …if kombucha goes past the best taste date…short answer…it tastes like vinegar. It’s not the beautiful taste and slight natural fizz of well-brewed kombucha and won’t be, ever.
So my way is one way to produce a steady supply for my family, that usually ‘nails’ the taste test and avoids waste. Why? Because it’s fresh, chilled and ready in ‘just enough’ one litre quantities, and no batch ferments further, past that.
OK, rewind. Most batches nail the taste. When I was learning to brew, it took a little time to work out how long fermentation would take in my climate (warm to hot for most of the year.) When I get busy and don’t bottle and refrigerate the daily brew on time, it can go past the best taste for our family, but is never left as long as the vinegar stage. It has a sharper edge which we don’t prefer, so I learnt to rarely let that happen.
I brew my kombucha in 1 litre glass jars I recycled, de-labelled and sterilised, from bulk olives we used to buy.
Why jars? The first brew will see your scoby grow to fit the shape of the top of your container. No container with a narrow neck is useful. Wide neck only. You’ll understand when you try to remove the brew and scoby, later.
I made my own ‘breathable’ covers from clean new materials I already had. I secure them with simple elastic bands around the neck of the jar.
Whatever you use to cover the ferment at room temperature, please know that fermentation produces carbon dioxide gas from the yeast in the scoby. Any cover you use needs to be close-weave enough to prevent anything from getting into the ferment, but breathable enough, so that the carbon dioxide can escape. Popping or explosions can happen–which when mixed with glass is a dangerous and at the very least, messy, combination if there is no ‘breathe’.
There is a lot of information around about kombucha brewing. My best advice is to just always, always, always, ‘keep things fresh.’
You wouldn’t drink stagnant water, so never drink anything other than freshly brewed kombucha and keep your processes hygienic (no fingers/hands).
On the other hand–hygienic should never mean bleach or antibacterial dishwashing residue on jars and implements. Kind of defeats the purpose if residues mean you’re killing the organisms you want to be responsible, for the fermentation process. Boiling water with the relevant precautions is the best in my experience.
The first unavoidable step is to purchase your kombucha scoby. Make sure the source of your scoby is reputable. A few ideas–read customer reviews if you’re thinking of an online purchase, do your own research, ask your local health food or organics store for recommendations.
I purchased my scoby on-line. I only make black tea kombucha. My scoby purchase was fine for either black or green tea kombucha.
Protect Your Scoby
Remember the scoby is alive. If you put it in boiling water you will kill most if not all of the organisms, even if you realise what you’ve done and quickly get it out.
Only put your scoby in room temperature tea solutions.
Step 1: Make your Tea Base
For the one litre jars I use, I need to use the following quantities:
Sterilise your jar using boiling water-fresh (boiled from a jug is fine).
Add 4 tablespoons high quality black loose leaf tea, or 4 teabags.
Then add 1/2 cup of raw sugar.
(Yes sugar is needed for the scoby to use for fermentation food–most sugar will be gone by the end of fermentation, but if you don’t sugar-feed your scoby, it will die)
Three-quarters fill the litre jar to the top with boiling water from the jug.
Stir using a long stirrer (I use a long wooden handled, vintage metal spatula).
Set aside tea solution to brew and cool to room temperature.
Only when tea solution is room temperature–strain the tea solution into a clean sterilised one litre jar.
Using tongs, put your scoby into the strained, room temperature tea solution.
Cover with your breathable cover. Let the fermentation process begin!
You can put it on a bench out of light or in a cupboard.
The fermentation process shows it’s happening, with bubbles!
Leave your brew for 4–6 days. It may take longer or shorter where you live.
Step 2: Halt Fermentation
This is simple to do. Just remove the tea solution from the scoby.
The hard bit is knowing when to do this. Too early or too late will affect taste.
If I’m unsure, I take a clean teaspoon and taste-test some of the brew. Don’t dip the spoon back in! Your germs are not welcome.
My method is to use a strainer and funnel to mostly strain the litre jar brew contents into two brown glass bottles (see photo for equipment).
I leave the scoby and bottom inch of kombucha brew (often clouded with the yeast particles, don’t worry, it settles) in the glass jar.
This will be the basis of the next brew.
Into the fridge: Since I don’t do a second ferment for adding flavours, I put the bottles into the refrigerator at this stage and that is it. Some like to add ginger, juices or fruit flavours at this stage, so they would allow those flavours to ‘ferment in’ over a short time, then strain and bottle for refrigeration.
When the kombucha in the brown bottles is chilled, we drink it! Usually within two days. Then we are on to the next batch, which by that stage is chilled!
Step 3: Start your next brew
Using the left over inch of the previous kombucha brew, and the scoby, repeat Steps 1 through 3.
Freshening, Multiplying and storing your Scoby
There are differing opinions on this topic. Some people allow their scoby to get exceptionally thick. But I like my scoby thin, young and effective! A fresh, recently born scoby, is what I want fermenting my kombucha.
You will see your scoby increase in thickness. Once the older, bottom scoby layer can be separated off (using tongs, not hands–yes its fiddly) then if you use my method above, just separate it off by pulling the two apart. You can discard the old bottom section of scoby into your compost bin or worm farm–they love it. If the older part is still young and fresh looking, you could use it as the starter scoby in another brew jar.
I have four brew jars going at present because brewing is taking at least four days. To have enough kombucha to drink in the fridge each day, I must bottle and renew the next brew in line, each day. I freshen each scoby as needed, for each brew, when I do this.
But I’ve only ever bought one scoby at the start, three years ago.
If you want to keep a young, fresh scoby alive, but don’t want to use it yet–put it in a ‘scoby hotel.’ A scoby hotel is just one of your brewing jars with a couple of inches of kombucha brew in the bottom and the scoby placed in it. Put a breathable cover on it and put the whole thing in the fridge. This will stop or drastically reduce it fermenting until you’re ready to use it. Make sure it’s fresh, and brought to room temperature before using it in a brew.
I hope this information has been helpful. Your needs may be completely different to my family’s needs, so I encourage you to do your own research. There is so much information out there, and your scoby (from a reputable source) should come with plenty of information, or a website to consult. Learning to brew kombucha is something you get better at, the more you do it. Don’t give up if your first efforts aren’t great. Learn the tastes and flavours you prefer in your kombucha, and adjust your routine and system to suit.
I think that once you have found the routine, tastes and flavours that suit you, brewing kombucha will be a joy, not a nerve-wracking job. Happy kombucha brewing!
PS I’m going to do some separate blog posts about kefir and apple cider vinegar ferments.
Disclaimer… Please do your own research for your own needs and context. The author assumes no responsibility for any outcomes of anyone using this well researched and documented blog post. Enjoy making and drinking your kombucha.