Making kombucha is a super fun and easy hobby that can save regular kombucha drinkers (like myself) from spending too much money on the expensive bottles at the store. There are plenty of recipes on the internet describing how to make kombucha, but very few go into much detail on the best ingredients and equipment to use like this one.
After reading this guide and following the 5 steps, you'll know everything you need to about the ingredients and equipment used to brew kombucha and will be able to easily make great tasting, super healthy kombucha in your own home. Let's get started!
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a probiotic drink made from fermented tea that has become quite popular in recent years due to its great taste and many health benefits such as improved digestion and gut health, detoxification, and immune system strengthening.
Health Benefits of Kombucha
Besides its great taste, a big reason many people drink kombucha is for its health benefits.
Many of the health benefits of kombucha come from the beneficial bacteria known as probiotics that it contains. Probiotics are found in a lot of other fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, and some cheeses.
Your body, especially your gut, is filled with good and bad bacteria. And it’s believed that the modern diet which is so full of sugar and processed foods harms the good bacteria in our gut. A lack of beneficial bacteria in the body can lead to digestive problems, diarrhea, and even infections such as candida.
Fermented foods with probiotics like kombucha replace and replenish these beneficial bacteria, and may
Why you Should Home Brew Kombucha
There are tons of reasons to choose to home brew kombucha over buying it at the store.
The reason why I initially got into home brewing is that it’s way cheaper to make kombucha than to buy it. Store bought booch will usually run you $4 a bottle, which means that if you're drinking it multiple times a week, it’s a very expensive habit. The great thing about home brewing is that the ingredients are really cheap so you can regularly make gallons of the stuff for very little cost.
Another advantage to home brewing is that it allows you to make the kombucha exactly how you want it. You get to choose the type and quality of ingredients and flavoring that are used. I personally think that the most fun part of brewing kombucha is experimenting with different flavor combos that you can’t find in stores.
Lastly, brewing kombucha is just plain fun. It’s an easy and cheap hobby to get into that can take up a little or a lot of your time depending on what you want. There's few things better than drinking something you made yourself and giving it to friends and family to enjoy.
An Overview of How Kombucha is Made
Before we get into exactly how to make kombucha, I think it's a good idea to give you a quick overview of the process.
All booch begins as sweet tea. What turns this sweet tea into sweet and sour probiotic kombucha is a living culture of bacteria. This culture of bacteria, known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), eats the sugar and caffeine from the sweet tea and produces acids, carbon dioxide, and alcohol.
Once it has eaten enough sugar to make the kombucha bitter tasting, the SCOBY is removed and the 1st fermentation is complete. At this point the kombucha can be drunk, but it's not carbonated or flavored yet.
The carbonation and flavor is added in a 2nd fermentation. During this stage, the kombucha is sealed in glass fermenting bottles that are filled with fruit, juice, or herbs for flavoring.
Over the course of a few days, the kombucha in the bottles develops carbonation and flavor. It’s then refrigerated and ready to be drunk!
Ingredients and Equipment You Need to Brew Kombucha
To home brew kombucha, you’ll need:
A Brewing Vessel
Some Type of Flavoring
If this seems like a long list, don't worry. I'm gonna walk you through each of these items one by one to make sure that you have the absolute best ingredients and equipment to make the greatest tasting and healthiest kombucha possible.
The Best Tea for Brewing Kombucha
All great tasting kombucha begins as tea. I'll talk about what color of tea to use in a second, but first it’s important to point out that whatever type of tea you use to brew your kombucha, it needs to be organic, pure, and caffeinated.
It turns out that the first time tea leaves are washed is when you brew them! This means that if the tea you use isn’t organic, pesticides and chemicals are likely going to end up in your kombucha.
Even if you’re not worried about consuming these chemicals yourself, you should be worried for your SCOBY. Because the SCOBY eats basically whatever you give it, if there are chemicals and pesticides in your tea, it’s going to eat these things.
And because of how sensitive the SCOBY is, (even touching it with unwashed hands could damage it) if you give it something it’s not supposed to eat such as pesticides or chemicals, it’s going to get either killed, or weakened to the point where it can’t fight off mold growth.
Inorganic tea can work to make kombucha, but ideally, the tea you use to brew kombucha is organic.
The reason to use pure tea leaves to brew kombucha is that they will give you the cleanest flavor and most nutrients possible out of the tea. These extra nutrients are not only good for you, but will also be great for keeping the SCOBY healthy.
Another reason to use pure tea is that the chemicals in scented or flavored teas can hurt the SCOBY, leading to your kombucha tasting funny, the SCOBY dying, or your brew becoming moldy.
While organic and pure tea leaves will make better kombucha, they are optional. What’s not optional is that the tea you use to brew kombucha NEEDS to be caffeinated. Caffeinated tea is necessary because caffeine is one of the most important nutrients for keeping the SCOBY healthy and active.
Tea Bags vs. Loose Leaf
I recommend you always use loose leaf tea when brewing kombucha, since it’s generally considered healthier and better tasting than tea bags.
The biggest difference between loose leaf and tea bags is that loose leaf tea has larger, higher quality leaves, while tea bags are packed with tiny, broken, lower quality leaves known as “dust” or “fannings.”
The reason larger and higher quality tea leaves are better is because their large surface area and the extra space around them allows them to absorb more water and expand as they infuse, which leads to more water flowing through the leaves and bringing out more nutrients, minerals, aromas, and flavors from the tea.
The small particles of tea in a tea bag are limited in their ability to infuse by their surface area, and also by the small size of the tea bag, providing a less flavorful and nutrient rich tea.
Tea bags can be good for making kombucha since they are easy to use and relatively cheap. I’ve used them before and my kombucha came out just fine. But if you’re looking to make the highest quality kombucha, with the best health benefits and taste possible, loose leaf is the way to go.
The Best Color of Tea for Brewing Kombucha
The 4 colors of tea that can be used to brew booch are black, green, white, and oolong.
Kombucha can be brewed with one of these colors, or a combination of a few. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, and your choice of what tea to use will depend a lot on what kind of kombucha you want to make.
I’ve actually already written an article on the best tea for brewing kombucha that describes in detail the 4 different colors of tea and their advantages/disadvantages for making kombucha. If you’d like to learn more about these things you can find that article here.
The tea that I personally use to brew kombucha is a half and half combination of black and green loose leaf tea.
Black tea is so great for the SCOBY because of the extra caffeine it has, and it gives the kombucha the strong flavor that I really like. But green tea has so many great health benefits, especially with its antioxidants, that I can't leave it out.
With just green tea my brew wouldn’t have enough flavor, but with just black tea I’d miss out on all the extra health benefits that green tea provides. It’s this type of customization and experimenting that makes kombucha so fun to brew!
My favorite black tea is Vahdam's 100% pure loose leaf Darjeeling black tea. This tea is grown in the Himalayas, makes strong kombucha with a lot of flavor, and will give your SCOBY all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
You can find large bags of Vahdams 100% pure loose leaf black tea for a bargain on Amazon here.
If you decide to go with green tea, I recommend Davidson’s 100% organic gunpowder Chinese green tea. This tea will add tons of antioxidants to your booch. And because it’s “gunpowder” there is more caffeine than most green teas, which means you don’t have to worry about mixing in black tea to get your SCOBY enough caffeine.
You can get a pound of Davidsons 100% organic gunpowder green tea for less than $10 on Amazon here.
What Kind of Sugar to Use for Brewing Kombucha
While there are lots of different options when choosing the tea, SCOBY, and flavoring for your kombucha, the list of potential sugars is a lot shorter. From that small list, organic white cane sugar comes out as the best type of sugar to use for brewing kombucha.
Sugar comes from 2 different plants: the sugar beet plant and sugar cane. The reason you want to use cane sugar in your kombucha over beet sugar is because cane sugar has a lot less GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). In fact, it's estimated that over 95% of the sugar beets in the United States are genetically modified.
Whether or not GMOs harm the body is still being heavily debated. Some people claim that they lead to allergic reactions, cancer, and antibacterial resistance, while others say they are a harmless way to keep our food preserved and healthy.
Even if GMOs aren't harmful to our bodies, they could still be harmful to the living bacteria culture in kombucha.
Having any kind of living organisms other than the SCOBY in kombucha can be dangerous because of how sensitive the SCOBY is. Even a small piece of cloth that falls into the brewing vessel can put the health of the SCOBY in danger. So to ensure the health of the culture, it’s best to avoid GMOs by using cane sugar over beet sugar.
If you don't have any at home, you can get a 3lb bag of Anthony's Premium Organic Cane Sugar for only $10.99 on Amazon here.
The Best SCOBY for Brewing Kombucha
If you're super unfamiliar with SCOBYs and want to learn more about them, good SCOBY care practices, and how to best prevent a SCOBY from becoming moldy, I recommend checking out my article “The Ultimate Guide to Kombucha SCOBYS” here. That article goes into much more detail than I can in the space I have for this section.
So what exactly is a SCOBY? The SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is a living culture of bacteria that is used to make kombucha. The bacteria and yeast of the SCOBY eat the sugar and nutrients in sweet tea and ferment it into alcohol, acids, and carbon dioxide to create sour and probiotic filled kombucha.
When most people speak of the SCOBY, they’re talking about the ¼ inch to 2 inch thick jelly-like disk of living bacteria that sits on top of brewing kombucha. This disk on the surface of the booch is actually called the pellicle.
The pellicle is a mat of cellulose, which is basically a bunch of sugar strung together by the bacteria. If you look at a pellicle through a microscope, you can actually watch the bacteria creating these strings of sugar. It’s pretty cool.
Technically, the pellicle is part of the SCOBY, but it’s not all of it. SCOBY refers to all the bacteria and yeast present throughout the kombucha, including that in the pellicle, but also that floating throughout the booch.
If all the bacteria and yeast were only in that jelly-like disk on the surface, when we pour out the liquid to drink it we wouldn’t get any of the probiotic benefits.
Where to Get A SCOBY
There are three ways you can get a SCOBY
1. Buy it Online
2. Get it From a friend Who Brews Kombucha
3. Make it yourself
Making a SCOBY takes over a month, so unless you have a close friend that brews their own booch the best way to get one is to order it online. This is what I did when I started brewing kombucha and now that SCOBY has grown into a large mother that makes gallons of kombucha every week.
Plus when you buy a SCOBY online, all it takes is a click of a button and it’ll be sitting on your doorstep in less than a week. The only work you really have to do is making sure you buy from a good seller, or else you’ll waste time and money trying to make kombucha with a dead, inactive, or slow SCOBY.
So if you do decide to get your SCOBY online, I recommend buying one from Fermentaholics. This is the SCOBY I used to begin home-brewing kombucha and is USDA certified organic, comes delivered alive in mature starter tea, with good size, and only costs $13. You can find Fermentaholic’s SCOBY on Amazon here.
Starter tea is another ingredient you'll need to properly home brew kombucha.
Starter tea is just leftover kombucha from our last brew that we use to kickstart the beginning of a new brew.
When you first start brewing kombucha, a SCOBY bought online will come packaged in starter tea. But once you are brewing regularly, you’ll need to set a few cups of kombucha aside after every brew to use as starter tea for the next.
The main purpose of starter tea is to prevent mold growth. Your kombucha is most vulnerable to mold in the beginning of it’s 1st fermentation because there is little fermentation that has occurred and therefore little acidity.
And since it’s the acidity in kombucha that fights mold, by adding starter tea to a new brew we are creating an acidic environment that will help prevent mold growth early on before any fermentation has occurred.
If you forget to save some starter tea from your last batch, you can use distilled white vinegar or a bottle of store bought, unflavored raw kombucha instead.
DO NOT however, use apple cider vinegar as starter tea as Apple cider vinegar is unpasteurized, meaning it has its own culture of bacteria that will negatively interact with SCOBY and ruin our kombucha.
The Best Brewing Vessel For Making Kombucha
Most kombucha home brewers, myself included, use glass jars to brew their kombucha.
Glass is a great material to use for making kombucha because it’s cheap and doesn’t have any chemicals in it that could negatively react with the SCOBY.
You can also use stainless steel, or food grade porcelain, ceramic or stoneware to brew your kombucha. But do not ever use a plastic or metal container. The SCOBY will consume the toxins and BPAs in these materials, and over time will weaken until it becomes inactive, moldy, and dies.
What Size Container Should I use to brew kombucha?
The size of the kombucha jar you use totally depends on how much kombucha you want to make and how quickly you're going to drink it. You really can use any size container as long as the ingredient ratios remain correct. But it’s rare for a home brewer to use a vessel smaller than 1 gallon.
Remember, 1 batch of kombucha takes about two weeks to brew. So whatever size you use, it should make enough kombucha to last you at least two weeks. This way, you always have booch to drink because when you’re close to running out a new brew is almost ready.
The Shape of the Jar Changes the Fermenting Time
The size of the jar you use affects how much kombucha you’ll make, but the shape of the jar you use affects how quickly it will be made. This is because the greater the surface area of liquid your kombucha jar provides, the faster the booch is going to ferment.
More surface area allows more oxygen to enter the kombucha and stimulate the bacteria and yeast. So a tall, narrow jar is going to ferment slower than a short and wide one.
If you want to keep finding a brewing vessel easy and simple, I recommend just using a 1 gallon glass jar. They're pretty cheap and easy to find and will make great kombucha.
You can even save a trip to the store by getting one on Amazon. You can find a pack of two 1 gallon glass jars (the ones I use) that will allow you to get started brewing kombucha quickly and for a great price on Amazon here.
The Best Brewing Bottles for Making Kombucha
Kombucha brewing bottles are special bottles that are made to seal air tight and handle an internal build up of pressure to make foods like beer, kefir, and kombucha. They are used during the part of the brewing process known as 2nd fermentation, when flavor and carbonation is added to the booch.
One of the best investments I made at the beginning of my kombucha home-brewing journey was buying a good set of brewing bottles.
Having a set that sealed air tight and was rated to handle up to 58 PSI saved me from spending tons of time struggling to get more carbonation in the kombucha, and from cleaning up a mess of kombucha and glass because a cheap pressurized bottle blew up.
Those brewing bottles that I use are a set of 6, 16oz high pressure bottles with swing top ceramic lids and stainless steel closures.
A fun and unique thing about this set is that it comes with a dry erase marker which you can use to write or draw whatever you want on the bottles and easily erase after. I use it every time I make kombucha to write the flavor and the starting date of my second fermentation.
These bottles have served me well over dozens of home brews and can serve you well too. If you’re interested you can check them out on Amazon here.
The last thing you’ll need to make kombucha is some type of flavoring. The flavoring can be things like fruit, juice, herbs or roots.
Some of the flavor combos I like to make are:
Fruity flavorings will generally create the best carbonation since they have a lot of sugar in them which the bacteria culture in the bottles will use as fuel to create carbonation. But root and herb flavorings will create carbonation as well, they just might take longer.
How to Make Kombucha in 5 Easy Steps
Now that you have and thoroughly understand all the ingredients and equipment needed to make kombucha, it’s finally time to get brewing!
Making kombucha is actually a really easy process that only takes about 2 weeks from start to finish, and almost all of that time is spent waiting, not actually doing anything. Let's get started.
Kombucha Recipe (1 Gallon)
1 Cup of Sugar 2 Cups of Starter Tea
SCOBY Flavoring of Choice
Step 1: Brew Sweet Tea
Bring a few cups of water to just under a boil. Then remove the water from the heat and mix in 1 cup of sugar. Next steep 2 tablespoons of loose leaf tea or 8 tea bags for 30 minutes.
Set aside the sweet tea to cool.
Grab 2 cup of starter tea from a previous kombucha brew. As I said earlier, starter tea is just unflavored kombucha from a previous brew that will help create an acidic environment in the tea early to prevent mold growth.
If you bought a SCOBY online it will come packaged in starter tea. If you've brewed before and didn't save any starter tea from a previous batch you can use a store bought bottle of unflavored kombucha or a splash of distilled white vinegar to give the brew its initial acidity.
If this is your first time making kombucha the starter tea will come in the package with the SCOBY.
If you’re making a gallon of kombucha, just use the instructions above.
If you want to make 2 gallons of kombucha, just multiply the amount of sugar, tea, and starter tea by two.
If you’re using an irregularly shaped container, or don’t want to brew your kombucha to the gallon, you can use the numbers below.
To make 1 cup of kombucha you need:
0.0625 Cups of Sugar
0.5 Tea Bags or 0.375 Teaspoons of Loose Leaf Tea
0.125 Cups of Starter Tea
Just multiply these numbers by the # of cups of kombucha you want to make and you'll have the right amount of each ingredient.
Although a cup of sugar per gallon of kombucha seems like a lot, remember that this sugar is food for our SCOBY. In the end, most of it will be eaten and converted into acids and gases, and the finished kombucha will only have 2-6g of sugar per 8 ounces.
Step 2: Add SCOBY and Starter Tea
Next we are going to add the sweet tea to our brewing vessel, and fill up whatever space remains with water. You can use cold water to help the tea cool down faster.
Once the sweet tea has cooled down to room temperature, add in the SCOBY and starter tea.
It’s important to wait until the sweet tea has cooled down to room temp to add the SCOBY because liquid that’s too hot or too cold can shock the bacteria culture.
Step 3: 1st Fermentation
After the sweet tea, SCOBY, starter tea, and water have all been combined in the brewing vessel, cover the top of the container with cloth or an old tea shirt and secure it with a rubber band. This will keep fruit flies and other bugs out.
Do not seal the jar with a lid or anything airtight, since we need oxygenated air to be able to flow in and out of the container to keep the SCOBY alive and functioning.
Wait 7-10 days for the SCOBY to ferment the sugar and nutrients in the tea into alcohol and healthy acids. Remember that the longer the brew ferments, the more sugar will be eaten and the more bitter it will taste. Taste test the brew every day with the goal of reaching that perfect spot between sweet and sour. Once it has reached a bitter enough taste for your liking, the first fermentation is complete.
Step 4: 2nd Fermentation
We technically now have kombucha, but it’s not yet carbonated or flavored. To change that you’re going to first partially fill the brewing bottles with whatever flavoring you want.
Figuring out how much flavoring to use depends on what you're using to flavor and will take some trial and error. To start you may want to fill the bottles up around a 1/6 of the way with your flavoring of choice, and then adjust from there in future brews.
With the 16 ounce bottles I use I usually fill them up an inch from the bottom with flavoring.
Once the bottles have their flavoring in them, transfer the kombucha, probably via funnel, from the large container into all the bottles.
Also save 2 cups of it for starter tea for your next brew.
The bottles with kombucha and flavoring will now sit at room temperature for 4-6 days. During this time you can make some more sweet tea and start a new brew of kombucha if you want. Then ideally, by the time you’re done drinking the brew your making right now, the next batch will be just finishing.
Step 5 Refrigerate and Drink Up
The length of time 2nd fermentation takes will depend on the flavoring used and quality of your brewing bottles.
After the 4-6 days have passed, refrigerate the unopened bottles of flavored kombucha. The cold air in the refrigerator will slow down the fermentation process and calm the carbonation, decreasing the likelihood of an explosion when you open them.
After the bottles have been chilled, it's time to drink up!
If when you open the bottles there isn't enough carbonation, you can place them back at room temperature for a few days and they’ll resume the fermentation process and develop more carbonation.
It will take you a few brews to adjust the length of 1st fermentation and amount of flavoring to the levels you like, but once you figure it out, you’ll be pumping out gallons of kombucha that taste exactly how you want!
How to Store Kombucha
I think it’s important to quickly talk about how to store your newly brewed kombucha.
Unless it has visible mold, kombucha never really expires. It does, however, continue to ferment and get more bitter and vinegary tasting the longer that it's stored.
To slow down the fermentation process and keep the flavor you worked so hard for, kombucha is recommended to be stored in a fridge, where the cold air slows down the activity of the bacteria. Most people want to preserve the sweetness of their booch as long as possible and so they keep it in the fridge to prevent it from becoming too bitter.
You can keep bottles in your fridge for months without them going bad if you want to, but I’ve found that the longer I wait to drink booch, especially after it’s been opened, the worse it tastes and less carbonation it has.
That's it, you now know how to make great tasting, healthy kombucha. The process may seem complicated at first, but it really is just brewing sweet tea, adding in the SCOBY, waiting, pouring the kombucha into seperate bottles, and waiting one more time.
After your first few brews, you'll be able to do it blindfolded.
Feel free to leave any questions you have below and be sure to check out the rest of my website for more tips on home brewing and everything kombucha!