How to make Kombucha (first ferment)
You might have heard of kombucha, the lightly fermented tea that has achieved considerable popularity among the healthy-eating crowd. Traditionally associated with Asia, Russia, and Germany, kombucha became a popular drink globally by the late 1990s.
Advocates claim it enhances cognition, stimulates immune function, supports weight loss, can be applied as a therapy for almost any ailment, and even promotes longevity.
Kombucha consists of just 4 ingredients: tea, sugar, clean water, and a SCOBY.
SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts.” The sugar feeds the yeast and bacteria, which form the nonedible SCOBY layer—the very identifiable, thick, mushroomy “raft” that rests on the top of the kombucha. This SCOBY adds the flavor and acidity, and it promotes the fermentation that creates the health benefits. It also contains a small amount of alcohol (only 0.5 to 0.3 percent, depending on fermentation); gluconic, acetic, and lactic acids; and some substances that discourage bacteria. Many people describe the fizzy taste of kombucha as slightly sour and acidic, almost like soda with a mild vinegar taste.
Although health food stores and many supermarkets now carry kombucha, making it at home ensures the freshest ingredients with the greatest amount of active nutrients. Studies have shown that commercially produced kombucha loses much of its antioxidants when stored in warehouses and on store shelves. An active fermen- tation process in storage can also cause films to form, which substantially degrades the quality.
When making your own, be sure to keep the fungus and bacteria culture “clean.” Any common mold, which appears black, green, or blue, will contaminate the product. If this appears on the culture, dispose of it, clean and sterilize all containers and tools used to make the kombucha, and start over.
Where to get a Kombucha SCOBY:
A Kombucha SCOBY is a necessary component for making kombucha tea. Anyone who is making kombucha tea usually has a SCOBY to share. Ask on your friends on social media, inquire at your local food co-op, or check for fermenting groups in your area.
You can also purchase a SCOBY online, I recommend purchasing THIS Kombucha tea starter kit.
After completing the First Ferment (which I teach you how below) you can use your kombucha in a wide variety of ways. (CLICK HERE to Learn More)
- 14 cup Water, filtered divided
- 2 family size organic black tea bags*
- 1 cup Sugar
- 1 Kombucha Scoby
- 1 cup Plain kombucha (it will come with your scoby or reserved from a previous batch)
- In a small pot, bring 4 cups (946 ml) of the water to a boil, remove from the heat, and steep the tea bags (or loose tea in a reusable cot- ton tea bag) for 5 to 6 minutes.
- Remove the tea bag(s) and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.
- Add the remaining 10 cups (2.4 L) water to the glass jar, and then add the hot tea.
- Your tea should be roughly room temperature—no higher than 88°F (31°C), or you may kill your kombucha SCOBY; use a thermometer to be sure of the temperature.
- Gently add the kombucha SCOBY and kombucha, and stir. Cover the jar with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band or string.
- Allow the kombucha to ferment undisturbed at room temperature (ideally 76°F, or 24°C) for 1 week.
- After 7 days, you should see a new, cream-colored layer growing on the surface of your kombucha, which is a new baby SCOBY. While trying not to disturb it too much, dip a straw a few inches into your kombucha, cover the top of the straw with your finger, and pull out a sip to taste.
- Taste your brewing kombucha once a day until your ideal kombu- cha flavor is reached. If it’s still sweet, allow it to ferment longer. Most often my kombucha is done between 10 and 14 days, depending on the ambient room temperature.
- When your kombucha is finished, with clean hands, remove your SCOBY, along with 1 cup of basic kombucha. Keep them together in a clean glass jar; this will be the starter for your next batch. It can be kept in the refrigerator, in an airtight jar or container, for several months until you are ready to brew again. After several batches, you will be able to separate the thickened baby SCOBY to share with a friend, along with 1 cup of basic kombucha so your friend can brew a batch too!
How do I know for sure that my Kombucha is done brewing? Testing strips for pH can be used to verify that your kombu- cha is finished, which is when it’s within the ideal range of 2.5 to 3.5. Although pH testing isn’t strictly necessary, it can offer peace of mind to new brewers.
How do I clean Kombucha Bottles? When cleaning your kombucha jar and bottles, do not use antibacterial soaps, as any residue will prevent fermentation. Regular soap and hot water are sufficient.
Isn’t using sugar unhealthy? Keep in mind that the sugar isn’t for you; it’s food for the bacteria. It needs sugar to grow and create beneficial probiotics, acids, vita- mins, and antioxidants. With an average 10- to 14-day brewing time, the culture processes most of the sugar, leaving you with a healthy, delicious, and low-sugar beverage.
What if I can’t do a Second Ferment right away? If you do not wish to do a second ferment (see page #), simply place your finished kombucha in a sealed jug or jar in the refrigerator. Or, keep at room temperature and pour into a glass over ice when you are in the mood for a drink. It may not be as fizzy as bottled kom- bucha, but it will have all the same great nutrition and flavor.
Is something wrong with my Kombucha? Kombucha cultures are very resilient and rarely turn bad. Here are some ways to tell whether your SCOBY is in good condition.
- Brown, stringy, or bloblike debris throughout your brewing kombucha.
- Bumpy or smooth texture, or bubbles in your SCOBY.
- Top, bottom, middle, or even sideways, SCOBYs will move around during brewing.
- Fuzzy blue, green, or white mold.
If your culture develops anything that looks like mold, throw away your kombucha and SCOBY and start over with a new SCOBY.
I didn’t think about diameter when I used a large (2 gallon) jar for first fermentation and now my baby scobe is like 8” in diameter. Can I fold in into a smaller jar with reserved liquid?
What does Kombucha taste like?
Does anyone use Kombucha for weight loss and a healthy gut?
Kombucha is fizzy with a sweet/tart flavor. It’s full of healthy probiotics so it is good for your gut as well as can aid in weight loss as a part of a healthy diet.
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Great post. Can I use only boiling water to clean the bottles, without regular soap?
Can I use green tea?
No green tea can’t be used.
I used green tea and it is absolutely delicious nice and fizzy!!
My second batch of Kumbucha produced a second scoby not attached to the first. ¿Which do I use for the next batch? The old one a friend gave me or the new one?
Either or both! The older is normally larger/stronger
I live near the ocean in Northern California and the temp in our house is anywhere from 63-68 F in the day w/o the heat on and even cooler at night. My deal is, I have my first fermentation jar in the closet and it’s now at 6 days. I looked at it today and there’s not the common white growth happening at the top and after troubleshooting, I’m thinking it’s likely b/c of the temp in the house. My SCOBY is healthy and I brewed it as directed. Wondering if you think it would be ok to wrap the jug in a towel to warm it as we rarely have the heat on all the time in the house, especially now that it’s getting a bit warmer. Im crossing fingers that it’s not a huge deal and that I simply have to make a couple of adjustments and have more patience to allow it to do its thing! Let me know what you think or if you have other thoughts or suggestions.. Thanks!
temps under 70 can retard the fermentation.
what did you just call me?
Molly, This is very confusing, I went through our conversation and at no point did I ‘call you’ anything.
Retard means to slow down. People have turned that word into a negative connotation, but it simply means to slow down.
My kombucha still tasted quite sweet after 10 days. So I let it ferment 6 more days and it still tastes pretty sweet but I went ahead and bottled it anyway for second “fizz” fermentation. I used the SCOBY and some of that left over liquid and rolled over into a new batch following your same directions. How long is too long for a first fermentation? How do I achieve a kombucha that is not sweet? Should I try a first fermentation with less sugar?
Please do not ever modify the recipe. It’s tried and true. What’s the temp where you are fermenting? That plays a huge role. Are you getting baby scobys on top of the mother?
Hi! Thanks for this resource! I just finished my first ferment, but need to travel for two weeks so I’d like to put my kombucha on hold until I return. Can I refrigerate my kombucha, and flavor with a second fermentation when I return? Should I separate the scoby mum and babe from this batch, or leave all together in the fridge while I’m away? Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!
Yes! Remove the scoby(s) and put them in a separate container with 1-2 cups of 1st ferment kombucha to make a batch later and put both in the fridge. I do it all the time. Just proceed with 2nd ferment when you get back.
Hi there, I just started and would like to know what I can add to give different flavours. Now I used black tea but could I also use other teas to make it? And how do I know when it’s ready without PH test sticks? Thank you very much!
The flavoring comes in the 2nd ferment. I only suggest black tea and I’ve never used ph test strips to determine doneness. I explain the process in this post.
Hi. Just finished first batch ever. It looks great. My baby is pretty thin. I made it in a gallon jar. Do I use this for my second batch or the mom? What do I do with the mom if I’m using the baby next? Thank you 🙂
If your scoby is thin (baby or momma) I’d leave them together for a few batches to let them grow. I only divide mine when they are about an inch thick or someone is begging for me to share a starter with them.
I have left over starter tea from growing my scoby, can i use that for anything or do i just dump it? Thank you!
that’s what you’ll use.
Made scoby but don’t have starter kombucha for 1st ferment. Can I just use some of the tea that cultured my scoby? (I live 90 miles from nearest place to get .kombucha). I’ve read where Vinegar can be used so wonder why not just use the tea that made my scoby??
Appreciate feedback 🙂
Hey Diane, I’m a little confused by your question. The “stater” kombucha would be the same liquid that grew your scoby, ie kombucha. I’m not going to recommend vinegar since it is a different strain of bacteria.