Nothing is better than homemade, the saying goes, and that may be particularly true with kombucha tea. A popular beverage full of digestive-friendly probiotics and other nutrients, the tea has been linked with several health benefits, but when purchased commercially, may also contain added sugars, flavorings, dyes, preservatives, and other unwanted ingredients.
To make sure your kombucha has nothing in it but the good stuff, make it at home. You do need to take precautions, however, as when dealing with bacteria—which is needed to begin the fermenting process—things can go wrong if you’re not careful.
What Tools Do You Need to Make Kombucha?
To get started making kombucha tea, you need to make sure you have the right ingredients and tools.
First, choose a brewing container. This is the jar or jug in which you will ferment the tea, and you’re likely to use it over and over again, so it’s an important piece of equipment.
In general, glass is the best option. It will not react to the acidity of the brew, doesn’t contain toxic chemicals, and is easy and inexpensive. A gallon size works well.
Make sure the container does not have any metal on it, as metal can damage the kombucha SCOBY (the bacteria and yeast combination). It’s also best to avoid plastic, as it’s easily damaged and can contain undesirable chemicals that may harm the SCOBY.
As the tea is fermenting, you’ll need to cover it to protect it. Options include:
- Coffee filter
- Tight-weave dish towel
- Butter muslin
- Canning jar ring
Do not use a tight lid, as the tea needs sufficient airflow to ferment properly.
Other Optional Supplies
Though the container and cover are the most important tools, you may also choose one or more of the following optional supplies:
- Mesh tea ball: These can be handy when using loose tea to brew your kombucha.
- Re-usable tea bags: These may also be used for steeping loose-leaf tea.
- Plastic strainer: Use it to strain the SCOBY from the finished kombucha.
- Bottles: These work well for storing the tea or for making flavored kombucha.
- Funnel: These can help when pouring the tea from the container into bottles.
- Stick-on thermometer: Temperature is important when brewing kombucha. These thermometers make it easy to be sure your kombucha doesn’t get too hot or cold.
How to Be Sure Your Kombucha Won’t Make You Sick
However you make your kombucha tea, one thing is critical: Be sure to keep everything clean and sanitized. You’ll be using “good” bacteria to ferment the tea, but if bad bacteria slip in somehow, it can not only ruin your tea but also make you very sick.
This means you need to take extra care to be sure all your containers and tools are sterilized before use. Immerse your jars and bottles in boiling water for a few minutes to eliminate any harmful microorganisms. Wash your hands well and keep your jar in a place where it won’t be disturbed or contaminated.
What Ingredients Do I Need to Make Kombucha?
For a basic kombucha tea, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- The SCOBY: We’ll talk about this below.
- Caffeinated Tea: You can use a variety of teas to change the flavor as you like, but the most commonly used are black and green. Other options include oolong and white tea. Herbal teas don’t ferment as well and can potentially lead to mold growth on the SCOBY.
- Sugar: You can use any cane or beet sugar—including regular table sugar, sugar-in-the-raw, or brown sugar. Alternative sugars, like agave and coconut, are harder to work with and can cause problems with fermentation, so it’s best to stick with regular sugar until you become a pro. Artificial sweeteners will not work, so don’t use them.
- Water: Though you can use tap water, many people believe that their kombucha tea tastes better when using filtered or spring water.
- Starter tea: Use either store-bought kombucha or a few cups saved from your last batch of homemade.
Where Do I Get the SCOBY?
All kombucha tea requires a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). This is a leathery, pancake-shaped blob—sometimes referred to as a “mushroom” because of its appearance—that is the mother culture needed to make the tea. It floats on the surface of the kombucha and constantly renews itself every time you brew a new batch. Once you have one, you can use it again and again to make more kombucha.
You can get your SCOBY from a friend, purchase it from a health store, or grow it yourself. To make your own, follow these instructions:
- Bring 8 cups of water to boil in a large saucepan. Add one cup of sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Turn off the heat. Add 8 bags of black or green tea and allow to come to room temperature.
- Pour two cups of starter tea (prepared kombucha) into a one-gallon jar. Add the room-temperature tea. Make sure it has cooled as hot tea will kill the good bacteria.
- Add cool water to fill the jar to the top. Cover with your container cover. You can use two coffee filters or a double layer of paper towels and secure them with a rubber band.
- Put the jar in a safe place at room temperature. Keep it out of the direct sunlight, but it doesn’t have to be in the dark.
- Wait 2-4 weeks. Try not to slosh the liquid. After a few days, you’ll notice bubbles forming on the surface. Later, a thin, clear jellyfish-looking blob will form on the surface.
- Once the blob covers the entire surface and is about ¼-inch thick, the SCOBY is ready.
How Do You Make Kombucha for Beginners?
Once you have your SCOBY, follow these instructions to make your kombucha tea:
- 3 cups water
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 tea bags or 1 ½ teaspoon loose tea
- ½ cup starter tea or distilled white vinegar
- Kombucha SCOBY
- Combine the hot water and sugar in a glass jar. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Place the tea or tea bags into the sugar water and steep. You can use a metal tea ball to contain loose leaf tea, but make sure you remove it before adding the SCOBY.
- Cool the mixture to 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the tea when you’re ready (for taste). Strain loose tea leaves from the liquid if needed.
- Add the starter tea or distilled white vinegar.
- Add an active kombucha SCOBY.
- Cover the jar with a tight-weave towel or coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band.
- Allow to sit undisturbed and out of direct sunlight for 7-30 days, or to taste. The longer it ferments, the less sweet and more vinegary it will taste. Make sure the temperature stays between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pour the kombucha off the top of the jar for consumption.
- Retain the SCOBY and enough liquid at the bottom of the jar for future batches of tea.
- Flavor and bottle the finished kombucha, or enjoy it plain.
Making your own kombucha tea isn’t difficult, but it does take some time and you do want to follow the instructions carefully to ensure the safety of your beverage so you can reap the many benefits of kombucha.