Simple steps to make this health tonic
Learn how to make and flavour your own kombucha, and bring its many health benefits into your daily life.
Kombucha is a delicious and energizing fermented tea with a tangy, sweet flavour and a touch of effervescence. This ancient drink is made with a starter culture called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), giving us a tonic loaded with health benefits.
I first started making kombucha and other ferments, such as sauerkraut, for their wide-ranging health benefits. Full of live beneficial bacteria, yeasts, and active enzymes, kombucha brings the body into balance. With its alkalizing properties, B vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols, and other fermentation byproducts, kombucha supports liver detoxification, improves digestion, increases energy, fights candida, and may even speed metabolism. If you haven’t experienced kombucha before, try one of the many flavours from your health food store.
Choose a caffeinated tea from the Camellia sinensis family, including white, green, oolong, and black tea. Rooibos is a decaffeinated alternative but can slow long-term SCOBY growth. Never use herbal teas or teas that contain volatile oils such as peppermint, camomile, or ginger.
A SCOBY is a culture of bacteria and yeast that looks like a leathery disc. It’s added to sweet tea to initiate the fermentation process that creates tangy, delicious kombucha. Get a SCOBY from someone who already makes kombucha, buy one in a health food store or online, or grow your own. To do this, pour a bottle of unflavoured kombucha into a glass jar, cover with a tightly woven cloth, and leave for seven to 10 days. I’ve noticed that local kombucha brands work best.
The sugar used to ferment kombucha is intended for the SCOBY—not for you. Fermentation can’t happen without sugar, so to ferment safely, always use the correct ratio of water to sugar to tea. While most of the sugar is used in the fermentation process, some will remain at the end. The longer your kombucha ferments, the less sugar will remain.
Look for unpasturized, raw, refrigerated options with simple ingredients such as water, kombucha culture, tea, and cane sugar. In flavoured varieties, look for whole foods such as fruit juice, lemon rind, or hibiscus flowers. Avoid versions with additional, unnecessary sweeteners.
Many people start with a small SCOBY, so this recipe is designed for a 1 qt (0.95 L) jar. Once your SCOBY grows and matures, it will be able to ferment larger volumes. As you start using larger containers, be sure to maintain the recipe proportions. You’ll also need a small amount of kombucha to get your first batch started. This you can find in the refrigerated section of your local natural health food store.
Bring water to a boil, add sugar, and stir to make sure sugar dissolves. Add tea and steep for a minimum of 20 minutes. Strain tea or remove tea bags, and allow to cool. Pour kombucha into 1.5 qt (1.5 L) glass jar. Add cooled tea, leaving enough space for your SCOBY. With clean hands, gently add SCOBY to jar, cover with cloth, and secure with elastic band. Store on counter, away from direct sunlight. Kombucha does best between 72 F (22 C) and 84 F (29 C) and will ferment in 10 to 14 days. To test readiness, slide a straw down side of jar, past SCOBY, and sip up a little bit of test liquid below. Place your thumb over the top of straw to take a sample. For safety, use pH strips to test acidity. After ensuring acidity is between 2.5 to 3.5, taste kombucha. If it’s too sweet for your palate, leave kombucha to ferment longer.
Reuse your SCOBY to make your next batch of kombucha. And don’t forget to save some kombucha to use as the starter! With each batch, the SCOBY will grow, mature, and duplicate itself. To maintain the health of your kombucha, thin out your growing SCOBY occasionally.
For your safety, discard the kombucha and SCOBY if you find mold. To avoid mold, don’t allow contaminants, such as tea leaves, into your jar. Always wash your hands and jars with natural soap. Cover each jar securely with a tightly woven cloth to keep out insects while still allowing airflow. Spray surface of cloth with a vinegar/water solution to deter fruit flies, if necessary.
To create different flavours, mix different teas, change the steeping time, and add a second fermentation period. To do this, remove the SCOBY from your finished kombucha and add fresh fruit, fruit juice, herbs, or spices. Use a tight lid, and leave kombucha at room temperature for three days. The second fermentation will make it fizzier, so be cautious when opening the bottle.