Although home brewing kombucha is a simple process, the first few times you do it can feel overwhelming and complicated. Especially when you're unsure about what ingredients you need.
The ingredients needed to home brew kombucha are
3. A SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast)
4. Starter Tea
5. Some Type of Flavoring
In this article I’ll walk you through each of these one by one to make sure that you have the absolute best quality and kind of ingredients needed to make the greatest tasting and healthiest kombucha possible.
But before we get into the nitty gritty details of it, here's a quick table that you can save as a reference of the 5 ingredients and a few tips to remember for each one
Kombucha Ingredients Quick Guide
If you don't understand some of the table, don't worry because I'll walk through all of it in detail in this article. We've got a lot to cover so lets get started!
1. What Kind of Tea Should I Use to Brew Kombucha?
All great tasting kombucha begins as tea. I'll talk about what color of tea to use in a minute, 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 them.
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 die, or get weakened to the point where it can’t fight off mold growth.
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 and healthier 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.
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.
If you're unfamiliar with the difference between tea bags and loose leaf tea (I was before I did some research) The biggest difference 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 the larger and higher quality tea leaves of loose leaf tea 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. This extra water flowing through the leaves brings out more nutrients, minerals, aromas, and flavors from the tea.
In contrast, 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.
So while tea bags can be great since they are easy to use and relatively cheap (I’ve used them before and my kombucha came out just fine), 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 4 colors of tea that can be used to brew booch are black, green, white, and oolong. Kombucha is sometimes even brewed with a combination of a few of them. Each color has its own advantages and disadvantages, so 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 booch. If you’d like to learn more about these things you can find that article here.
The tea that I 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 it's high amount of caffeine, and it gives the kombucha the strong flavor that I really like. But green tea has so many great health benefits, especially with its high concentration of antioxidants, that I have to include it in my booch.
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 Vahdams 100% pure loose leaf Darjeeling black tea from the Himalayas. This tea 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.
The green tea I use is Davidsons 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 Davidons 100% organic gunpowder green tea for less than $10 on Amazon here.
2. What Kind of Sugar to Use for Brewing Kombucha
While there are lots of different options when choosing the tea 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 rather than 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 GMOs 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 are not harmful to our bodies, they could still be harmful to the living bacteria culture used to make 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 it in danger. So to ensure the health of the SCOBY, 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.
3. 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 this ingredients article.
So what exactly is a SCOBY? The SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is a living culture of bacteria and yeast 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.
Where to Get A Kombucha 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.
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.
4. What is Starter Tea?
Starter tea is another ingredient you'll need to properly home brew kombucha.
What is starter tea? It's basically just leftover kombucha from your last brew that you 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 purpose of starter tea is to prevent mold during the early stages of fermentation when little acidity has been created and the kombucha is most vulnerable to mold growth.
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. Apple cider vinegar is unpasteurized, meaning it has its own culture of bacteria that will negatively interact with SCOBY and ruin our kombucha.
5. What Kind of Flavoring to Use For Brewing Kombucha
The last thing you’ll need to make kombucha is some type of flavoring. The flavoring can be things like fruit, juice, herbs, roots, etc.
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 a little longer.
Now you know the best kind of tea, sugar SCOBY, starter tea, and flavoring to use to make kombucha.
Brewing kombucha is more of an art than a science, so don't stress out and feel like you have to follow this guide exactly when choosing your ingredients. If you want to use lower quality ingredients, or even different ones than those given here you can still make great tasting kombucha.
This guide is more of an ideal way of making kombucha that you can follow if you’d like to make the best booch possible, but it’s definitely not the only way of doing things.
Either way I hope this kombucha ingredients guide could help you understand more about what kombucha is made of and give you some piece of information to make your kombucha home brews at least a little bit better.
If you want to learn more about kombucha, how it relates to your health, and even how to brew it yourself, be sure to check out the rest of my website! See ya later!