Kombucha is a tart and refreshing fermented beverage with a taste reminiscent of apple cider. It is loaded with beneficial yeast and bacteria that will help re-establish your healthy gut bacteria. In fact the weird, gel-like kombucha culture that resembles a jellyfish, is called a SCOBY. That's an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.
Kombucha is an ancient, home-made folk remedy. It was very popular in Russia and Eastern Asia. It was reportedly used by the Chinese 2,000 years ago. In the early 1950s Russian scientists did quite a bit of research into the beneficial properties of kombucha with respect to treating cancer after finding that there was an extremely low incidence of cancer among the people of certain regions, even though pollution and environmental toxins in those regions were so bad the trees and fish were dying. The scientists were doing a really thorough study of the food that was consumed and other reasonable habits these people had that may have been contributing to their exceptionally good health, given their conditions. They were baffled because they weren't really finding anything different that these people were doing. One day one of the scientists stopped by a house to interview the occupants and everyone was out, except for an old woman. She offered him a glass of kombucha, and he loved the refreshing taste of it. Having never encountered anything like it before he started asking questions, which led the scientists to discover that nearly every home was fermenting and drinking kombucha. It was the missing piece of the puzzle they were looking for. The people, of course, knew that this drink contributed to their good health.
The list of ailments that users report it helps with and the benefits is on par with apple cider vinegar. In other words, just about everything. Of course most of that is anecdotal evidence, and hasn't been evaluated by the FDA. So if you trust the FDA and have faith in their methods, just keep that in mind 😉
Kombucha Tea Recipe (makes 1 litre)
2 teas tea (black tea, green tea, or combination), or approximately 2 tea bags.
4 tablespoons whole organic cane sugar
1 L boiling water
1/2 cup Kombucha tea from previous batch
Kombucha SCOBY (culture, sometimes called the ‘mother' or the ‘mushroom' even though it's not a mushroom at all).
Note: if you are just starting out, you'll need to get a Kombucha Starter Kit. After that you'll be able to brew over an over, if you take good care of it, it will last indefinitely.
Put tea in a glass container (a heat safe container like Pyrex), add boiling water and let steep for at least 15 minutes.
Strain the tea into your brewing container. A glass container, something with a wide mouth is best. The SCOBY will do best when it gets plenty of oxygen, so the best environment for the SCOBY to develop is one where the container is wider than it is high. This is just a guideline for optimal brewing, many people successfully brew in a mason jar, and if that’s what you have available you’ll still produce a fine batch of KT (Kombucha tea).
Add sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Allow tea to cool to body temperature. Once cooled add the Kombucha tea reserved from previous batch (1/2 to 1 cup) then place the kombucha SCOBY (sometimes called a mother) in the liquid.
Cover with a clean tea towel or muslin with a tight enough weave to keep out fruit flies and other creepy crawlies. Make sure the cloth isn’t touching the SCOBY. Store in a warm place, away from direct sunlight for 7-10 days. The brewing time will vary depending on the temperature – the warmer it is the shorter the brewing time, the cooler it is the longer you will have to leave it to brew; and how tart (or not) you like it.
If you are interested in weight loss, studies showed that the best results were gained from kombucha tea that was brewed for 14 days.
The finished Kombucha tea should have a pleasant, tangy, slightly effervescent taste reminiscent of apple cider.
If the tea is still quite sweet, you have not let it ferment for long enough. During fermentation the yeast and bacteria feed on the sugar and the caffeine in the tea. As a result the finished product does not contain much sugar or caffeine.
Do some taste tests and experimentation to find out how you prefer your kombucha tea, then brew it to your taste.
If your tea is very tart and vinegary, you’ve let if ferment for too long. But you don’t need to throw it out if that’s the case. Some people like their kombucha tea like this. The apple taste seems to increase the longer you let it brew. I find the kombucha tea vinegar tastes nicer than apple cider vinegar does. Even if you find it a bit to tart to drink, try using some in a salad dressing, to replace the vinegar. It adds a really nice flavor that I prefer to all other types of vinegar, and you’ll still get the health benefits.
If you want to try some Kombucha vinegar, let your brew go to about 14-17 days.
Here’s a recipe for Rainbow Cole Slaw I made with Kombucha vinegar… it was delicious!
For subsequent batches:
To start a new batch, use 1/2 cup kombucha from your matured batch. Separate the original SCOBY from its new child and use either to brew the new batch.
Since you now have 2 SCOBYs you can give one away to a friend, sell it, or start 2 batches. It's also a good way to experiment with different types of tea. Just in case you accidentally kill the SCOBY, you now have a backup. I've successfully made delicious kombucha tea from both Rooibos (a.k.a. Red Bush Tea) and Honeybush tea. If you end up with more SCOBYs than you know what to do with, you can put them on the compost or dehydrate them at 105 degrees and use them as dog chews. Or you can blend one up using a blender or food processor, adding a little kombucha tea as needed, and use it a facial mask. As with everything you put on your skin it's advisable to test a bit on a small patch of skin on the inside of your elbow.
This SCOBY can easily brew 2 litres, just double the recipe. The size of the original SCOBY doesn’t matter, the new SCOBY will grow to perfectly fit the container you are brewing it in. If you have a small SCOBY to start with you may just need to leave it to brew for a day or two longer.
CAUTION (…or what NOT to do):
- Never store the SCOBY in the fridge. But the mature tea you pour off can be kept in the fridge.
- Avoid contact with metal utensils or containers during and after fermentation. This applies to both the SCOBY and the fermented tea.
- Never store the SCOBY in the fridge. Refrigeration will alter the balance of yeast and bacteria, and while the result may not be harmful, it may reduce the overall beneficial ingredients in the tea.
- Never store the SCOBY for a long period of time in a closed container. To maintain the correct balance of yeast and bacteria, air has to reach the SCOBY. There are times when you do need to store the SCOBY in an enclosed container, such as when you ship it to someone. A few days should be fine, but try to keep this time to a minimum.
- Kombucha tea has a diuretic effect, so be careful with drinking it too close to bedtime.
- Never add fruit juice, herbs, spices or other ingredients to your KT while it is still brewing. Doing so could disrupt the fermentation process. It’s fine to add those things later though, once you’ve poured off the KT and removed the SCOBY.
- Never use Earl Grey tea, or any tea that has essential oils or herbs added. The volatile oils in the essential oils can kill some of the beneficial bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY.
- If your SCOBY develops mold on it, (usually appears as black, blue, or white furry specks) throw it out immediately as well as the entire batch of tea. Wash and sterilize the container thoroughly before brewing another batch. In my experience it is quite uncommon, but occasionally people have reported mold developing. The only time I have experienced it was when I totally neglected a batch for several months. Your SCOBY may however develop what appears to be dark patches, if you look underneath it and find that dark particles are accumulating this could be just the natural colors in the tea, staining the organisms of the SCOBY as they are developing.
What's that weird brown stuff floating in my kombucha?
You may find that there is weird, stringy brown stuff floating in your kombucha. Or the SCOBY start to have dark spots on it. While the SCOBYs can grow a black mold, it's quite rare. If you do genuinely have a black, furry mold growing on the top of your SCOBY you want to throw out both SCOBY and tea and start again. One time I tried to get the black mold to grow so I could take a photo. I abused those poor SCOBYs, in the name of education. In the end, I wasn't successful. So I don't have a photo of black mold to show you. Sorry.
What I do have a photo of though, is something much more common, a weird-looking dark mass that new brewers often mistake for the black mold. But it's not. It's perfectly safe and harmless. In this photo to the left you can see it. It's not attractive, but it won't hurt you.
What happens is that when you brew the tea there are wee bits of fiber, bits of tea leaf and tea leaf dust, that remain suspended in the tea. The yeast and bacteria that make up the SCOBY have a very strong instinct to find each other and form a collective – that's what creates and holds the SCOBY together basically. Some of them seem to congregate around these bits of tea leaf, or attract the bits of tea leaf. I'm not sure which, but the result looks like that brown blob in the lower center of the photo.
While it won't hurt you, it does have a texture that will make you shiver and cringe should you accidentally suck it up and end up with it in your mouth while enjoying a glass of kombucha. You can prevent this experience by straining the kombucha into your drinking glass through a fine mesh tea strainer. It usually sinks to the bottom of the container, so most of the time I just carefully pour off the tea on the top. When I get down to the last bit, and my chances for avoiding ‘the blob' are not looking so good, I get out the tea strainer.
Where to buy Kombucha Starter Kits
So to get started brewing your own kombucha, you'll need to get yourself a SCOBY and some starter tea. Often this is referred to as a Kombucha Starter Kit. I recommend buying a kombucha starter kit from KombuchaKamp because they sell healthy, live SCOBYs. You can also find lots of excellent information and recipes for flavored kombucha, plus things to help your brewing efforts like warming mats, continuous brewing crocks (a real time and mess saver!) and other cool stuff.
Hey great post Donna. So much good info here. Just a note, stay away from dehydrated Kombucha cultures as they lead to mold and an inferior brew. Make sure the culture you order has plenty of real starter tea with it so you get a healthy brew from the beginning. It’s critical! 🙂 http://www.kombuchakamp.com/kombucha-cultures P&L, Hannah
Hi Hannah, thank you! And thanks for adding that about the dehydrated Kombucha cultures. I had tried dehydrating them, at first I did just because I had so many and I read that you can make dog chews by dehydrating them. The dogs loved them! They didn’t last long though 🙂 But I also tried reconstituting them after reading that someone had found a way to do it and so could sell and ship them internationally. I never got it to work. The SCOBYs stayed really thin and just never really reproduced themselves. So yeah, I totally agree with you on that one.
Do you have any imfo regarding benefits or dangers for gout sufferers, if they consume Kombucha
I am refering to the yeast content and possible increase in purine conversion
Hi kg, just off the top of my head I don’t. The best book on the subject is this one: Kombucha: Healthy Beverage and Natural Remedy from the Far East, Its Correct Preparation and Use. If any book has that info it would be this one.
One thing I do know is that kombucha can be quite detoxifying for many people. I personally didn’t notice it even when I was drinking large quantities daily, and I know at one point my partner (at the time) was drinking a litre a day, every day. Neither of us noticed any detox symptoms or side effects (other than having to pee a lot more, it’s a diuretic). But if you suffer from gout you may want to do a good detox (like a juice fast) to reset your body before you start up on anything like kombucha.
Hi. Without thinking I brewed a small batch of KT with the lid on the jar. I noticed quite a difference in the taste – it did not have that tangy vinegar kick and I am now wondering if the batch is not good. I am hesitant to drink it even though it does taste good. The jar was only half full when this brewed but would that lack of fresh air have altered the tea so much that it did not form the correct acids? Should I dump this (it is only about a litre of tea so not a huge batch)?
Dianne – our motto is Trust YOUR Gut. Do you have any pH strips? As long as it tastes delicious, there is no obvious mold and is in the correct pH range (3.2-2.5) then you are good to go! Happy Brewin!
Great post! Very clearly written and now that I’ve brewed some kombucha, I understand most of what you are talking about. Thanks!
Both my jars have the dark mass in the picture you posted. My question is should I remove it while its still on day 3? Or remove it after my brew is done. It looks like my poor little Scoby got sick and three up in the brew. My first time at brewing and I got ugly looking brews. Any ideas?
Hi Vicki, no don’t remove it! That is the yeast cultures doing their thing and growing. They are dark because they get stained by the tea. If you remove them you will mess up the balance of the bacteria and yeast and stunt or prevent it from growing properly. Over time doing that may even kill your SCOBY, it will certainly weaken it. You can strain it out of the Kombucha later after it’s brewed and when you are pouring it off to drink it. But for now it’s fine and a normal part of what happens. Often those strands get encapsulated in the rubbery material that forms later when the SCOBY is really healthy and growing well.
Thank you for all the great information. So you have been successful to brew Kombucha with Rooibos tea? Did you have to use a combination of another tea or the Rooibos was ok just by it self?
Hi BB. Yes, I brewed it with straight Rooibos, and the SCOBY was strong and healthy. It was not quite as vigorous as the one I had brewing in regular tea, but it was at least as strong as one brewed in straight green tea. I’d really like to try it with honeybush tea too.
Hello. I am brewing kombucha in a continuous system. It looks like when I added my last batch of tea that some loose tea leaves got into my batch. Now my SCOBY has tea particles in and on it. Is it still okay to drink? Should I try to clean of SCOBY?
Hi Mama, in my experience it’s not a problem to have some tea leaves stuck to your SCOBY. It’s easier to do more damage to it by cleaning it. Periodically you’ll want to separate the SCOBY and get rid of some of it (by giving it away or otherwise using it), so at that time you can get rid of the part with the tea leaves. But it’s not something you need to worry about in the meantime.
Hi. I am so grateful for this post. I am growing my own SCOBYfrom sweet tea and half a bottle of organic store bought kombucha. Its only 2 days along and has a brown bubbly mass on the surface. I gave it a poke with a very clean wooden spoon (with the idea of scooping it out) only to find that it is attached to a very thin surface layer (I assume that’s the SCOBY starting to form). I knew it wasn’t mold – it doesn’t look the same as a fuzzy round moldy growth. Is it worth cutting off the brown part when my mushroom gets bigger and I’m ready to start my first batch or is it fine to leave?
Thank you Amanda! It sure sounds like that’s the SCOBY forming. It’s fine to leave the brown part, and especially since your SCOBY is just getting started I’d encourage you leave it. In fact even if you cut it off it will produce more. I hope it turns out well. Isn’t it great that the kombucha culture is so robust that it will grow even from a bottle of kombucha? What life-force!
Thank you for your post and the photo of the “weird looking dark mass.” I found you looking for reassurance that my second batch ever of jun and its SCOBY need not be tossed. May you have a Happy New Year!
I often do a second fermenting time in smaller serving size jars in which I add a very small amount of fruit juice for flavor. Our favorite so far has been maybe about 2 ounces of an organic unfiltered apple juice to about 14 ounces of kombucha-then I give it 4 or five days in a sealed bottle in which it get quite fizzy. It is SO delicious! (I HAVE noticed that the unfiltered apple juice makes it grow some dark strands I need to filter out before drinking.) My goal is to ferment 14 days in the first container with my scoby and another 14 days to second ferm
ent-but I can NEVER wait that long!
That sounds delicious Cathy! I’ve wanted to try a secondary ferment for ages now but haven’t gotten around to it. I also don’t have the drink bottles with the flip caps that clamp down which is what I have always seen used. What kind of bottles do you use for your secondary ferment?
Well, I bought one of the bottles with caps like you mentioned, but it is the large size and the kombucha fizz goes pretty flat after I open it. I will be getting a couple of the smaller (maybe 16 0z) bottles. BUT I have 4 old kombucha bottles that I reuse-or did until I warped the lids by boiling them too long, Ooops!
I always do a second ferment by just adding some frozen fruit into the KT and leaving it for about 2 days. It is surprising how much flavour you get after only 2 days.
I have to comment on the resilience of the kombucha scobies. I had a number of extra scobies and decided to grind them up and add them to my garden – put the ground up goop into a plastic container and forgot about them. When I remembered to grab the container for the garden I was surprised to see a new scoby had formed. There was not any tea in the mixture but there must have been enough sugar and tannins clinging to the original scoby to survive. The mixture under the newly formed scoby was still a goopy mess though! I decided to experiment and left the container sitting for a couple of weeks. Every time I checked on it the scoby still looked very healthy and there was not a trace of mould forming. I eventually put it in the garden but was very surprised that the scoby could survive that long without the sugar and tea.
Oh that gives me ideas Dianne, I can get organic frozen berries here. I’ll try them for a secondary ferment. Now to find some bottles. I used to have a bottle capper that I used for ginger beer. Then you just buy caps, they aren’t very expensive. It’s really easy to cap them with the tool, and kinda fun. You have to be careful though, if you add too much sugar the bottles can explode as the fermentation builds up too much pressure. That happened to me! Or when you go to open them they explode out the top like a geyser, no kidding! But it was the best ginger beer I ever had, I actually didn’t like it before I tried homemade. Ginger beer is not beer, but the real Ginger Ale. Just thinking about it I feel like some more. I need to get my little fermentation factory going again! 😉
The SCOBYs are very resilient and persistent. But it sounds like you also have a very strong healthy culture going there. Keep doing what you’re doing! You might want to try using one of the child SCOBYs to brew other kinds of tea, like Rooibos (Red Bush), it’s a different flavor really nice. It’s actually one of my favorites. I’d like to try using Honeybush tea too.
I have used flavoured teas on some of my ferments and it does make a great tasting kombucha – too good tasting…. I had one batch that I just could not stay out of and pretty much drank it one day. It caused a major die off and I was pretty sick…won’t do that again, lol!! One of my favourites is a ginger peach tea. I have to try that again and do a second ferment on it and add some fresh ginger…maybe some frozen peaches? mmmmm!!
I have been trying to ferment and make my own ginger beer but have not been successful with that…not sure what I am doing wrong. I tried about 3 different ways – have to try it one more time as I do love ginger beer.
Hi Dianne, peach ginger kombucha sounds great! I hope I can find my recipe for ginger beer, it was so good I want to use it again. If I can find it I’ll definitely post it here on my website too.
I live in Ohio – lots of cold temps – been brewing my kombucha in agallon jar wrapped in a heated lapthrow in a cardboard box- open lid on jar but nearly closed box – and the temp 105 and it is not growing, slight skin on top – can I lower heat, improve ventilation and grow?
I received a starter from a friend in a sealed mason jar. I put it in the fridge and have not done anything with it for over a year. Is it still good to use? Can you point to a place where I can get detailed information for the starting process. I have been doing the cider vinegar tonic and thought what an opportunity I am missing not to try and make my own kombucha from this starter.
Hi Stanley, although it’s not been kept in ideal conditions and the profile of yeast to bacteria may have changed there is a good chance that it’s still healthy and viable. The kombucha SCOBYs are tough to kill. I’d give it a try and see what happens. When they have been refrigerated they can take a couple days longer to come up to speed with fermenting the brew. But it I’ve heard many stories like this where the SCOBY is just fine and starts brewing away as soon as you give it the chance. Detailed instructions for how to get started are in this article, so please have a look above at the recipe and instructions.
Thank you! Great write up without any unfounded claims and old-wives-tales!
For the first time ever, I noticed the brown blobs in my kombucha (or the Tea Fungus, as we call it in Russia). Sure enough I’d used a tea that had a vero small amount of fine dust mixed in with the leaves ( I just couldn’t remove all of it, it was so fine). Different tea and more muslin to strain the brew nex time!
Very reassuring to read that it’s nothing drammatic!