Intro: How to Brew Kombucha Tea
Kombucha is a fermented and carbonated tea. Many people drink it for health benefits, but I like it because it's delicious! It's very easy to brew and can make as much as you want.
Step 1: 1: Supplies
1) Large glass jar (not plastic!)
2) Mother culture, or scoby
3) Sugar (I use turbinated, but basic white sugar should work too)
4) Distilled cider vinegar
5) Unflavored black tea (green will work too, but avoid teas with flavorings or essential oils which will react badly with the culture)
6) (not shown) Clean piece of breathable fabric to cover the jar of the mouth
7) (not shown) Rubber bands to secure the fabric to the jar
The jar should have a wide mouth for putting in and taking out mother and daughter cultures, and should be large enough to contain the amount of liquid you want to end up with. The best way to get a kombucha mother is to find someone who's already brewing some! Each batch of kombucha produces a new daughter culture, so people who brew regularly tend to have scobies to spare. You can also find them available online.
Step 2: 2: Preparation
Make sure to wash your hands before dealing with the kombucha culture, to remove any oils that might kill the culture. Avoid antibacterial soap, because residue from this might also damage the kombucha. The culture will feel and look a bit like a small, slimy pancake.
Step 3: 3: Brewing Tea
To begin, boil the amount of filtered water that you want to have as kombucha in the end. I generally use about 2.5 liters (5 pints) of water. When the water has boiled, steep some tea - I use 4 teabags per 2.5 liters, but more or fewer will just produce a different strength of tea. Stir in your sugar - about 1 cup per every 3 liters (or quarts) that you're brewing. Here, I used about 3/4 cup. The sugar is food for the mother culture - the tea doesn't come out sugary, so reducing the sugar isn't necessary or advisable. Let the tea cool completely (give it a couple hours) so that it's the same temperature as the culture when they meet.
Step 4: 4: Feeding the Mother
Place your culture in the bottom of your jar. If one side seems darker or has little globs hanging off, that side should face down. Fill the bottom of the jar with enough cider vinegar to cover the culture; this will provide a healthy acidic environment for the culture to grow in.
Step 5: 5: Adding Tea
When the tea is cool, pour or ladle it gently into your jar. The culture will float to the top - if it doesn't float immediately, give it a day or so and it should rise up.
Step 6: 6: Covering and Waiting
Cover your kombucha with the clean fabric (I used a clean old cotton shirt) and secure it at the top. Find a cozy home for your brewing jar to rest in for a couple weeks. Ideally, this home should be dark and warm. I live in a cold climate so I wrap my jar in a dark blanket and put it near a radiator. Avoid drafty places or spots where the jar will be jostled a lot.
Step 7: 7: Tasting
After about a week, it's time to start tasting the kombucha. The tea will become more acidic and carbonated with time, so if you're too early it might still taste more like black tea than mature kombucha. I've found the best flavor comes around 2.5 weeks of brewing, but that varies widely with brewing conditions (temperature, light, etc) so it's best to check every couple of days. To test, just dip a bent spoon into the kombucha and take a sip!
If you have a healthy culture, you'll notice it growing significantly over the brewing time. Kombucha cultures tend to grow to fit the jar they're in, which makes a nice seal to improve carbonation. You might notice that your first batch isn't as carbonated as later batches because it takes the culture some time to get up to sealing size.
Step 8: 8: Harvesting Daughter Cultures
When your kombucha is ready, you can remove any new daughter cultures that have formed on the bottom of your mother culture while brewing. Generally, each batch of kombucha produces one daughter culture. After washing your hands, you can gently pull this off - it should separate pretty easily. You can start a new jar with this culture, or put it in a glass or heavy plastic container and refrigerate it until someone you know wants to jump on the brewing bandwagon!
Step 9: 9: Bottling
It's best to bottle your kombucha in sanitized glass bottles, ideally ones which have a plastic lid or minimal contact with a metal lid. I've used old tea bottles, kombucha bottes, even peanut butter and soy sauce bottles! If you have a funnel, that's probably helpful - I just use a ladle and sometimes make a funnel out of waxed paper. When you like the taste of your kombucha, just pour it into the bottles of your choice - it's fine if you get some little floating bits of culture in your bottles during the pouring/ladling process. Make sure you leave enough kombucha in the brewing jar to keep your mother covered if you're planning on starting a new batch.
Step 10: 10: Storing and Continuing
Leave your tightly sealed, bottled kombucha at room temperature for about 24 hours before putting it in the refrigerator - this will allow some more carbonation to build up, which is one of the best parts of kombucha! Past that, keep it in the refrigerator. You can drink your kombucha plain or mix it with other juices when you're ready to drink it. You may find the first batch that you make is really acidic and vinegary - this is because it was started with vinegar and not kombucha. Quality of kombucha definitely increases with each batch, so don't give up, keep brewing!
I generally start a new batch at the same time that I bottle the old one. Start new batches the same way you started the first one, minus the added vinegar - the leftover kombucha in the bottom of the jar serves the same purpose. Just peel off the new daughter cultures every time and make adjustments as you wish to suit your tastes!