Kombucha Making Instructions

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that is known for its tangy flavor, natural carbonation and health benefits.

Making kombucha is super easy and almost completely hands-off as the process is fully natural. It just takes time. In a nutshell, you make sweet tea, add the kombucha starter to create a starter liquid SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), then use that starter liquid to ferment some more tea, bottle it up for carbonation to develop and your effervescent refreshing kombucha is ready to enjoy!

The best part is that once you make your kombucha, you can pump out a new batch every few days (or as often you’d like) and even better — flavor it any way you desire.

Here’s a detailed guide to making kombucha.

1st Fermentation – Making the Kombucha SCOBY

Ingredients and Utensils

  • Bacillus Bulgaricus Kombucha starter
  • 1.6 liters (7 cups) of water and a pot to boil it in
  • 100gr (0.5 cups) of white sugar
  • 4 tea bags of black tea (or 1 Tbsp loose tea)
  • A glass jar large enough to fit the water
  • A cloth (or a coffee filter, or a napkin) to cover the jar and a rubber band to secure it.

Instructions

1. Prepare and inoculate the Sweet Tea

  • Bring the water to a boil
  • Transfer the boiling water to the fermentation jar
  • Add the tea bags and let them steep for several minutes. Keep them in until the tea is a nice rich color. Other recipes suggest 10-15 mins, even hours but that’s too long in my opinion, you risk your tea to become bitter if you steep the bags for too long. Steeping them for 3-4 minutes is usually sufficient.
  • Remove the tea bags and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Or you can add the sugar at the same time with the tea bags, it makes no difference.
  • Let the sweet tea cool down to room temperature (around 77°F or 25°C). This is VERY important – wait until the tea has cooled down to room temperature. This will likely take a few hours. Don’t risk killing the bacteria with hot water. Colder tea is ok, warmer – not ok.
  • Add the starter to the jar and stir well until it dissolves. The tea will become cloudy from the starter.
  • Cover the jar with the cloth, secure it with a rubber band and store the jar somewhere in a dark place at room temperature (around 70-77°F or 21-25°C). No problem if the place is a bit colder (kombucha will take more time to ferment) or a bit warmer (kombucha will ferment faster).
  • Let the jar sit undisturbed. There is nothing more to do at this stage but wait. It will take about 4 weeks for the starter to work its magic and ferment the sweet tea.

2. Wait and monitor fermentation

  • After the second week, check the kombucha every couple of days. All you need to do is taste it to determine the level of acidity and flavor development.
  • The fermentation time may vary depending on temperature and personal preference. The longer it ferments, the tangier it will become.
  • If this is your first time making kombucha and you are not sure when to move to the next step, my advice is to check its odor – it should smell slightly vinegary but still reminiscent of tea and its taste should be similar – slightly acidic and tangy but not too vinegary. If it’s too sweet and you can smell or feel the taste of the tea, it’s too early to move on. If it smells like vinegar and is acidic in taste, you’ve gone too far, best to move on quickly before it’s too late.
  • If you have pH strips or a pH meter you can use them to test the acidity of the sweet tea – the desired pH range is typically between 2.5 and 3.5. Just keep in mind that pH is not an indicator of doneness and it’s not going to tell you much about sweetness either. That’s why I always prefer to use the taste method instead.

Notes:

  • Use black tea. No decaf, no green, no herbal. You can play with other teas when you are brewing your kombucha later on. At the SCOBY making step, use black tea only. I’ve tried several – English breakfast, Asam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon, and it worked great with all.
  • Use white sugar. White sugar is refined which means it doesn’t have any impurities in it so it is the least likely to mess with the bacteria. Don’t use honey because it can contain bacteria and can mess with the ones in the starter. Don’t use agave, rice or other fruit syrups, as fructose tends to get bitter when it ferments and your kombucha will have unpleasant taste. This holds true for the consecutive steps when you brew the kombucha too – stay away from fructose based sweeteners unless you like bitter taste of course.
  • Keep the proportions 1.6 liters water, 4 bags of tea, 100 grams of sugar (or that’s 7 cups water, 4 bags tea, 1/2 cup sugar). You might notice that it’s the same proportion that we use in the next step too.
  • You won’t see much happening in the jar other than maybe a few bubbles at the top in the first couple of days. The cloudiness in the jar will eventually clear and will form a layer of sediment at the bottom of the jar. That’s just all the spent yeast and is perfectly normal.
  • Don’t confuse the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) with the pellicle (the thin or thick film that forms on top of the sweet tea during this step). At this step you are making the SCOBY, which is the starter liquid for your kombucha making, and the pellicle may or may not form during the process. Whether the pellicle forms or not has no influence on the ability of your starter liquid to produce kombucha. Many people seem to be really invested in maintaining healthy pellicles to use over and over but I think of pellicles in the same way I think about kefir grains – they might be nice to have but are not necessary and you are often better off without them because you have one less thing you need to keep alive 😊 So whether a pellicle forms on your sweet tea, or doesn’t, you will be good to go into full on kombucha brewing mode in no time.

Making the sweet tea – teabags and sugar.

Steep in boiling water for a few minutes.

Wait to cool down to room temp and add the starter.

In the beginning your sweet tea will be cloudy because of the mixed in starter.

In the first couple of days nothing much will happen, you might see some bubbles or foaming on the surface.

Eventually the tea will clear up and the spent yeast will fall down to the bottom of the jar as a sediment.

2nd Fermentation – Making the Kombucha

Ingredients and Utensils

  • All of your starter liquid (the fermented sweet tea) from the 1st fermentation
  • 3.2 liters (14 cups) of water and a pot to boil it in
  • 200gr (1 cups) of white sugar
  • 8 tea bags of black tea (or 2 Tbsp loose tea)
  • A glass jar large enough to fit all of this. It would be best if it had a built-in spigot tap because it makes pouring the kombucha much easier.
  • A cloth (or a coffee filter, or a napkin) to cover the jar and a rubber band to secure it.

Instructions

1. Prepare and inoculate the Sweet Tea exactly like in the previous step

  • Bring the water to a boil
  • Transfer the boiling water to the fermentation jar
  • Add the tea bags and let them steep for several minutes then remove them
  • Add the sugar and stir until dissolved
  • Let the sweet tea cool down to room temperature (around 77°F or 25°C). Again, it is VERY important to wait until the tea is cool and at a room temperature so you don’t kill the bacteria in the SCOBY.
  • Once the tea is cool enough, pour in all your SCOBY starter liquid from the 1st fermentation. Stir it in, it will readily dissolve. You only need the liquid, not the spent yeast at the bottom, so try to avoid pouring that in the new jar by either filtering it or pouring carefully so the sediment stays in the old jar. However, it is not a problem if some of it makes it to the new jar.
  • Cover with a cloth, secure it with a rubber band and store the large jar somewhere in a dark place, at room temperature (around 70-77°F or 21-25°C). Again, if the place is colder kombucha will take more time to ferment and if it is warmer, it will ferment faster.
  • Let the jar sit for about a week.

2. Wait and monitor fermentation

  • On the 4th day start checking the liquid in the jar, which is now slowly transforming to kombucha. As in the first step, you need to taste it to determine if it’s ready.
  • Take some kombucha out with a straw (dip the straw in, close the top with your finger so you can draw the kombucha out) and taste it – it should ne lightly sweet (much sweeter than that taste of the 1st fermentation but not sweet as you had just made the sweet tea) and taste and smell slightly vinegary with some sweet tea after taste. If you don’t trust your judgment, then simply keep it for a week, then bottle it and see how it goes, then adjust the time accordingly during the next batch.
  • When ready, move to the next step — the bottling.
  • Make sure to reserve about 750 ml – 1 L (3 – 4 cups) of this kombucha for your next brew.

Notes:

  • This is your kombucha brewing step. You can repeat it as often as you’d like. This is you churning out kombucha.
  • You will notice that with each iteration your kombucha will take less and less time to get ready for bottling. The very first time your brew it, this step might take 6-10 days but then eventually, it will settle down to about a week of time. When that happens, you can easily make your kombucha brewing schedule to fit your weekly activities schedule.
  • As you progress and start being familiar with the kombucha brewing process, you will notice that you won’t even need to taste the kombucha to tell when it’s ready. You will be able to tell that by the way it smells and even looks. For example, I would bottle mine every Tuesday, make a new batch of sweet tea for the next batch of kombucha and would know it’s going to be ready for bottling the next Tuesday.
  • While your kombucha might have a few bubbles in it at this step, the actual fizzy carbonation happens in the next step, the bottling. This is where the carbon dioxide released by the bacteria and yeasts during fermentation remains trapped in the bottle and makes the kombucha sparkling. So don’t expect to notice any exciting bubbles during this step.
  • If this is not the first iteration of this step, you can try other teas – green, oolong, flavored,  etc. My favorite is peach flavored black tea. Makes a great refreshing peach kombucha with zero extra effort! Simply swap your tea with other tea at the steeping step.
  • Your kombucha might develop a pellicle at any time. If it does, you decide what to do with it – keep it or discard it. Your kombucha will be fine with or without it.
  • Some people like to drink kombucha right after this step and that’s totally OK. I prefer to flavor and carbonate mine (which happens in the the next bottling step) but your kombucha is safe and healthy to drink even now.
  • Some people would refer to this step as the 1st fermentation and the bottling step as the 2nd fermentation. I’m perfectly fine with whatever nomenclature you decide to use as long as you know where in the process you are. However, you needed to ferment the sweet tea in order to make your scoby, so technically and actually this step is the 2nd fermentation 😊
  • If you are thinking about pausing your kombucha making for a week or two (or longer) and you do not want to start from the very begining with the 1st long fermentation, then simply reserve 750 ml – 1 L (3 – 4 cups) of your kombucha brew and keep it in the fridge. That will slow down the fermentation process so your kombucha won’t overferment while you are taking a break.

Kombucha at the beginning of the 2nd fermentation period.

Kombucha at the end of the 2nd fermentation period. You can see that it’s quite different from the sweet tea you started with – in taste, smell and appearance.

3rd Fermentation – Bottling the Kombucha (i.e. making the sparkling drink)

This is where things get interesting, delicious and likely messy 😊 In this step you bottle the kombucha you just brew in order to give it that great fizziness and sparkling body and deliciously refreshing taste. You can further enhance that taste by adding any flavorings that you’d like.

Ingredients and Utensils

  • Your kombucha from the previous step
  • Sweetener – sugar, honey, syrup, fruit (anything is ok at this step, but read the note above about using fructose based sweeteners)
  • Flavorings – fruits, spices, herbs (optional)
  • Several flip-top bottles, enough to fit your kombucha. Flip-top bottles are best for keeping contents airtight. Other bottles may give out if pressure in the bottles increases too much.
  • A funnel (optional but helpful).

Instructions

1. Fill the bottles with the Kombucha

  • Using a funnel, pour the fermented kombucha into the flip-top bottles.
  • Leave some space at the top for expansion, about 4-5cm or 1-2 inches, usually leaving the last part of the neck of the bottle empty is enough.

2. Add sugar or sweetener

  • Add just a little. For example you only need about half a teaspoon for 375ml bottles.
  • Sugar is the food for the bacteria and it is directly related to how much carbonation it will produce. So until you get the gist of the process, go easy on the sugar, otherwise you risk over-carbonation and a kombucha all over your face and not in your glass 😊

3. Add your flavorings

  • You can add any flavorings you’d like – some examples are blueberries, strawberries, ginger, lemon, lime, peach, etc.
  • I have tried equally well with pieces of fruit, mash and fruit juice so there is no limit to what and how you add to your kombucha
  • If you are adding pieces of fruit, you may skip adding the sweetener altogether as it has plenty of fructose that the bacteria can feed on.

4. Bottle the Kombucha 

  • Close the bottles and place them in a dark place at room-temperature area for 2-7 days.
  • Check the bottles daily to prevent over-carbonation. Some people suggest to burp the bottles by gently opening them to release excess gas but I prefer to just drink them.
  • Once the desired level of carbonation is reached, or at any time that you like actually, transfer them to the refrigerator to slow fermentation down.
  • Kombucha tastes best when cold so take one from the fridge and enjoy!

Notes:

  • In general, bottles will flavorings and bits or mash of fruit in them will carbonate more so be careful when opening those especially. Otherwise you risk kombucha all over your face and not in your glass!
  • You can actually see the carbonation process happening in the bottles and that can help you understand how ready they are. If there are just a few bubbles that go to the top of the bottle then it’s still flat and not ready,  if there are more bubbles floating up more rapidly, then it’s best to consider opening and drinking that bottle as soon as possible.
  • The process of carbonation slows down with temperature, so if you are not planning on drinking the kombucha in the next few days, keep the bottles in the fridge, otherwise they might erupt in the cupboard.
  • Always open the bottles carefully, kombucha is always very impatient to get out, and it will! Have a towel handy, have the bottle top facing away from you and ideally open them somewhere where you won’t worry about creating a mess. This process gets better as you progress and you get a hang of it. My first kombuchas ended up all over me but after 3-4 batches I never had issues opening the bottles safely.
  • An easy way to know how carbonation is going is to bottle some kombucha in a plastic bottle. It will act as a gauge for how carbonation is going in the bottles – then the plastic bottle becomes solid hard, your batch is done.
  • Kombucha keeps well in the fridge for about 2-3 weeks but keep in mind that for optimal flavor and carbonation it’s best to enjoy within a week or so.

Flip-top bottles ready to get filled with a selection of flavorings. I used lichis, ginger, strawberry jam, and orange in this batch.

Fill the bottles and leave about 4-5 cm empty at the top.

Make sure to reserve 750 ml – 1 L (3 – 4 cups) of your kombucha for your next brew.

You can see some carbonation in the bottle even in the first couple of days – bubbles coming up to the surface.

Look at those beautiful bubbles!

Here is a glass of perfectly effervescent kombucha! Turn on the sound for a better experience!

Another view point of a perfectly carbonated kombucha.

Enjoy!
Better with sound.

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