Adventures in Kombucha Making

The first hurdle was finding a brewing container. After much research, we decided to use the continuous brew method. Continuous brew results in a more consistent flavor and contains more of the complex compounds such as B-vitamins, antioxidants, and glucaric acids to which many health benefits are attributed. For continuous brew, you need a moderate-sized container with largemouth and a spigot. Available containers were plastic (bad), ugly (very bad), or were manufactured in China with glazes of questionable chemical content (really, really bad) and with metal (really, very bad – stainless steel is okay though).

We finally were able to purchase two Italian made heavy glass containers with spigots that worked perfectly. The mouth of the container is covered with layered cheesecloth and held on with a large rubber band. This allows oxygen to exchange but keeps out anything which might contaminate the brew. The whole jar is then covered with the box the jar came in to protect the contents from sunlight which can potentially damage the SCOBY.

The second hurdle was obtaining a SCOBY. SCOBY is an acronym standing for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. This is a communal yeast and bacterial organism that takes tea and sugar and transforms it into a mildly fermented probiotic drink which promotes health and happiness. SCOBYs are sometimes incorrectly referred to as a Kombucha mushroom, but the SCOBY is not actually a fungus. SCOBYs can be purchased online by searching for Kombucha SCOBY or Kombucha mushroom. If you are lucky enough to know someone who already brews Kombucha, then you can ask if they will split it and give you half. Never known to take the easy path, we decided to create our own from scratch with nothing more than unflavored commercially available raw organic Kombucha.

The third hurdle was that we live in Denver, Colorado and it was the middle of winter. We live in a poorly insulated house we heat around 70 degrees when we are home and awake, and around 60 degrees when asleep or not home. Getting a new batch going works best at higher temperatures than 70 degrees. After the brew is going and you have a strong SCOBY, the low temperatures actually work to our advantage because slower fermentation produces better tasting kombucha. But to get things going we purchased a heat mat used for starting seedlings and a controlling digital thermostat with a food-safe temperature probe.

Having acquired the handcrafted Italian containers, the bottle of unflavored raw organic kombucha, the heat mat, and thermostat with probe, we set out to brew Kombucha and save our bank accounts from implosion.

Creating our own SCOBY was a simple matter of combining 2 cups unflavored raw organic kombucha with 1 cup sweetened tea. We filled a quart jar 2/3 full with the mixture and covered the opening with cheesecloth. We placed the jar on the heat mat, set the heat mat at 73 degrees. Then we covered the jar with an upside-down cardboard box just slightly larger than the jar so that air could circulate. The box keeps the heat in and light out.

Because we would not stop checking hourly (and by “we” I mean Natalie), SCOBY formation was slow at first. It also did not float initially but hung about halfway down. This is fine and we have been assured that a sinker SCOBY will make fine kombucha. Also, about this time the SCOBY temporarily took on a darkened colour. Panic checking against online photographs helped us determine that everything was fine. We waited two weeks and had a small but happy SCOBY about a 1/4 inch thick.

We then upsized our operations by moving the contents of the quart jar to its permanent home in the 1.6-gallon container. The larger container was placed on the heat mat, protected with cheesecloth, and covered with its box. We added more tea equal to the current mixture and waited a week. We began tasting the mixture every few days and adding more tea till we reached the 3/4 level. The SCOBY was by now nice and thick and a creamy white disc that covered the surface completely. We were also starting to get carbonation at this point. We removed the heat mat to slow down brewing.

Tasting continued until we had a brew we liked about a week later. At that point, we decided to try secondary fermentation similar to what you buy in the store. We were able to draw off 12 ounces of kombucha every third or fourth day into a glass bottle. To the 12 ounces of Kombucha tea, we added 2-4 ounces of 100 percent organic fruit juice. The goal is to perfectly fill a 16-ounce bottle with no airspace. The bottle is then placed on the counter protected from light for 5-7 days. This is the secondary fermentation stage. If you get lucky you will get more carbonation in this step, but even without carbonation, it is hard to beat an ice-cold homemade Kombucha.

Once we were able to produce a consistently tasty final product, we split our SCOBY and started a second 1.6-gallon container. About this time (two months from our start) the Kombucha lost its cloudy appearance which is a result of suspended yeast. After both containers equalized, we were able to draw 36 to 48 ounces of raw Kombucha every third or fourth day. If we were brewing at higher temperatures we would probably be able to do it every other day. Success with brewing Kombucha is more tinkering to adjust to your specific local conditions and tastes than following a recipe.

  • The sweetened tea I have used to feed the SCOBY is 1/3 black tea to 2/3 green tea. The black tea gives the final product a better taste; the green tea feeds the SCOBY. Sugar is 1/4 cup to a quart of tea. Use filtered water and white cane sugar only. If you heat the water to make tea, do not let it boil. Boiling drives out oxygen that the SCOBY needs. Let the tea reach room temperature before adding to the Kombucha.
  • The white cane sugar is for the SCOBY, not for you. Very little will make it through into the final drink. Do not use other types of sugar or honey which are bad for the SCOBY. I have white cane sugar in the house for only two purposes, feeding the SCOBY and making sugar water for the bees if they need supplemental feeding. Do not use unfiltered tap water; the chlorine can kill the SCOBY.
  • Try to always leave at least as much Kombucha with the SCOBY as you are adding sweetened tea. This keeps the PH balance correct for the SCOBY. If you need to add more sweetened tea, add tea over multiple days with at least one full day in-between each addition.

I have added a link to Food Renegade in Resources. They have a nice post regarding research on health benefits.

The beekeeper mentioned in the previous post as the inspiration for our adventures in Kombucha making is Dennis Murrell from Bee Natural, which I have also added as a link in Resources.

10 Comments on “Adventures in Kombucha Making

  1. Hi I just found your blog and am really enjoying it. I too am a kombucha addict and am aiming to make my own to facilitate my habit 🙂 I'm growing my own SCOBY, but my first try got contaminated, so I need to start over. I really like the idea of continuous brew; do you think you could post a picture of your jars/set-up? Your explanation is really good and I think I know the kind you are talking about, but seeing it would be super helpful.

    Also, thanks for the information on spraying the bees with kombucha, we are just getting into beekeeping and I really like that idea as an alternative to smoking them. It makes intuitive sense to me that that would not only calm them but also support the health of the hive. (We just need to figure out where we can put a hive, current regulations in our city effectively prevent us from keeping them on our property.)

  2. Hi Lily,
    I am glad you are enjoying the site. Kombucha photographs are already on the way. We are looking into importing the Italian jars so you might be able to get them through us soon.

    We had our first hive here in Denver for about a year before the legislation caught up with us and made us legal. The Denver legislation really is an excellent model for other urban areas to follow.

    Having a hive is really dependent on good relationships with all neighbors (giving them honey can't hurt either). We invited each one over and sat in the back yard with them and talked about the hive with them. Education and honey makes new bee friends. One of our neighbors wants her own hive now.

    Regards,
    Kevin and Natlaie

  3. I live in Denver (in the Highlands) and I have 2 backyard beehives. Do you have an extra scoby? I could trade a zucchini or an home-grown eggplant.

    thanks,

    Rene

    • Oh, Rene!

      I’m so excited for your bees in the Highlands. We have friends who live there and we wish they would get a hive, but I think they’re a little nervous with the space available. And sadly, we would love to do a trade, but we moved to Charlotte, NC about 2 months ago. It’s such a shame because for moving sake, we pared down our SCOBYs to a small size and but the rest in the compost pile. And unfortunately we don’t really know anyone else in Denver running kombucha. We are going to update some new posts about the process since we’ve been building the SCOBYs back up.

      Are you able to find GT Dave’s Raw Kombucha in the stores yet?

  4. How can I find the same brewing system? It seems plastic is bad but I cannot find a glass brewer with a stainless steel spigot anywhere!

    Jessie

    • Hi Jessie – In the long run, finding a good container has been the biggest challenge. We’re on our third brew container which we got from Crate and Barrel, what they call a “cold beverage jar”. It appears they are working on the next generation because there is only the stand available on their website right now. I’m sure they’ll come out with one for the summer months – it is a very popular item – so don’t despair if you want to wait a little bit. When it does come out, there are a couple key things to look at, all involving the spigot. Make sure the spigot is stainless steel. You should be able to tell the difference between stainless steel and some kind of imitation. Imitation never looks as good. The lever to start and stop the flow can be something else, but the spigot itself has to be stainless steel. Unfortunately, you won’t have an option about the spigot, but the nozzle on our second container had a very delicate looking handle and it was complete rubbish. Aside from being ridiculously slow, there was a rubber gasket on the inside which was located on top of the threading, so as you opened or closed the valve, it was chewing up that gasket on the inside. If you’re like us, and are drinking from it regularly, it will wear out and at some point give out completely thus spewing kombucha everywhere (yeah, lots of fun). The good thing is, Crate and Barrel were completely cool about it, and replaced it for free. The version we have now is the best spigot design so far, and we’re really happy with it. Hopefully the new version will be the same. Good luck! If you find something else, let us know… we’re always interested in comparison shopping!

  5. I have my 10L glass container & stainless steel spigot – Q: Silicon ring seal @ spigot – Do you think this will be okay at the extreme acidity of kombucha? #leeching #degradation. ty xo

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