Home-brew Kombucha

Kombucha: this crazy drink that comes in a glass bottle, and is really expensive. Right? Not really. I know a lot of people at UT and in the Austin area drink Kombucha, which is awesome. We have local brewing companies and even kombucha on campus now! The downfall, though, is that buying kombucha is really expensive. At $3.00 + a bottle, it is hardly reasonable.

I wanted to share with you one of my favorite sustainable practices, mainly because it is so simple, cheap, sustainable, and mainly delicious! I have been brewing my own Kombucha for about a year now. The whole process has been an enriching experience. It is creative, hands on, and rewarding! As a little preface, let’s discuss what kombucha is, and why it is so good for you.

What is Kombucha? 

Kombucha is a living health drink created from caffeinated tea, and kombucha cultures/scoby. It is lightly bubbly, sometimes flavored, and can taste, to some, like cider, or even champagne.

What is SCOBY? 

Scoby is technically an acronym that stands for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts”. A.K.A “the mother” because of its ability to produce. Sounds pretty gnarly, I know. But the thing is incredible! It is a group of living organisms! The texture is a bit weird. It looks like a pancake, and feels like one of those dots you sat on in gym class in the 3rd grade.

What are the benefits?

  1. Detoxification – One of kombucha’s greatest health benefits is its ability to detox! It is filled with enzymes and bacterial acids that your body produces and/or uses to detox your system. This reduces your pancreatic load and eases the burden on your liver
  2. Joint care – Kombucha contains glucosamines, which is a powerful preventive and treatment for arthritis
  3. Digestion – Because it’s naturally fermented, Kombucha is a probiotic product, like yogurt or kefir
  4. Immune boost: Kombucha is extraordinarily anti-oxidant rich. Anti-oxidants boost your immune system and energy levels. I like to drink a bottle of kombucha every day in the morning to jump start my morning. Goodbye coffee, hello kombucha!

Let this be your Guide to Homebrewing

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Home-brew is really simple! If home-brew is something you are interested in trying, start collecting these items:

  1. 6+ 16oz glass bottles (I suggest buying 6+ bottles of kombucha from the store and saving the bottles)
  2. 1 gallon glass jar with a wide, open rim (Wal-mart/Target sells them pretty cheaply)
  3. A medium-sized funnel. Bottling can get pretty messy without it!
  4. Lots of black tea (you can start experimenting with other teas down the road, but they must have caffeine. It feeds the scoby!
  5. Scoby! – You can buy kits online for Kombucha starters, but scoby isn’t hard to find. Anyone that brews home-brew produces a new scoby with every batch, which means a whole bunch of scoby. I would suggest getting scoby from a brewer on Craigslist, or from a friend.

Once you have these items, you are ready to get brewing. Here’s what to do:

  1. Brew 14 cups of tea in glass gallon jar (8 tea bags is a pretty good number). Let this brew/sit until room temperature.
  2. Remove tea bags, and add 1 cup of sugar to tea
  3. Add scoby and 1 cup of kombucha reserved from last brew. SIDE NOTE: don’t let you scoby touch anything metal! Metals have been known to kill scoby. Only use glass and plastics when dealing with your scoby!
  4. Cover with rag/towel. Make sure your jar opening is completely covered! You don’t want anything but air and maybe water vapor to enter/exit the jar. I suggest using string/rubber band to hold the rag over the lip of the jar.
  5. Let sit for 7-10 days

At this point, you have made kombucha! Look at you, you successful home-brewer!

From here you have two options:

Option 1: Bottle and drink – taste your brew, if you like it, bottle it and enjoy! Make sure you save your scoby and 1-2 cups of kombucha for the next brew.

Option 2: Second Fermentation – Kombucha that you are used to getting from the store almost always has a second fermentation. This is what makes it flavored and bubbly. To achieve this follow along:

  1. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar to each bottle
  2. Add flavorings – this is where you get to be creative! Some of my go-to’s are lemon and ginger, strawberry basil, and tart cherry. For lemon and ginger, I like to squeeze 1-2 lemons into each bottle, and i cut up several medium cubes of ginger. There is no right/wrong measurement, play around with it! For tart cherry, I like to buy tart cherry juice with little sugar. I add about 10% juice into each bottle (about 1/3 cup). For strawberry basil, get your hands on some fresh strawberries and basil. Rinse and cup. Make them into small enough pieces to fit in/out of the bottles. I would say a good measurement is 2-3 strawberries, and about 2-3 basil leaves. Again, play around, see what you like!
  3. Add kombucha – funnel in about 2+ cups of kombucha. Right to the neck of the bottle. Again, make sure you save about 1-2 cups of this brew to use for the next brew
  4. Cap and let sit for 3-4 days. Make sure you screw the cap on super tightly! Trapping the air in the bottle for the second fermentation is what makes the kombucha effervescent.
  5. Refrigerate and enjoy. Refrigerating slows down the fermentation process, and makes it more refreshing!
  6. Rinse and repeat!

So, what do you do with all that Scoby?

As you will find out, every brew of kombucha produces another layer of scoby. There are some options for dealing with this quantity of scoby.

Option 1: Make a scoby hotel! Scoby is a living thing. It is always good to have an extra scoby on hand in case your scoby gets moldy, or whatever. In order to make a scoby hotel, get your hands on another smedium-sized jar. This time, get one that is airtight! Place your scoby, and a bit of brew in the jar. Seal, and let sit. This keeps the scoby in an inactive phase. It can be activated at any point with caffeine and sugar. Check on your scoby hotel every once in a while. It may need some more brew/sugar to keep it happy!

SIDE NOTE: don’t let you scoby touch anything metal! Metals have been known to kill scoby. Only use glass and plastics when dealing with your scoby!

Option 2: Do something with your scoby. Scoby is a nutrient rich collection of organisms. I like to give my scoby away to prospective home brewers to keep the magic of kombucha going. If you get too much scoby, you can also dry them out, and put them in your garden. Your plants will go nuts. Additionally, (I haven’t tried this), but I have read about making Scoby Jerky out of dried scoby…. Did someone say Vegan Beef Jerky? I am still looking to try this!

Kombucha is wonderful and so easy to make. Start your own home-brew and enjoy the process! You may get strangely attached to your scoby!

Happy Brewing!

Gabrielle Stedman

Campus Environmental Center Co-Director

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