Thought to have originated in northeast China around 2,000 years ago, kombucha is a fermented drink typically consisting of black tea and sugar – although the drink can also be made with green tea and with the addition of honey or various fruits.
Known as the “immortal health elixir” in China, kombucha has multiple health benefits, containing a colony of bacteria and yeast, each responsible for initiating the drink’s fermentation process when combined with sugar. During the 1960s, kombucha became a big hit in California, touted as a New Age panacea for arthritis and psoriasis. Far more recently, the drink has become exponentially popular in the UK, renowned for its multiple health benefits. Due to the fermentation process involved in production, kombucha contains a wealth of healthy bacteria (probiotics) which line the digestive tract and support the immune system; absorbing nutrients and fighting infection.
Kombucha has also become popular amongst people who avoid alcohol, quickly becoming a viable alternative to wine and beer. Although kombucha does contain a trace amount of alcohol, strictly speaking, as yeast consumes and ferments sugar to produce CO2 and ethanol. The drink is self-limiting, though, unlike beer or wine – both intentionally brewed to harbour a higher alcohol content. Kombucha typically contains lower than 0.5 per cent alcohol, which is similar to that of a banana or even a slice of marmite on toast.
While countless brands of kombucha are now readily available, making your own brings a real sense of achievement, and with a bit of kit and following a few simple rules, it’s very easy to make at home. Moreover, you can keep it natural or flavour your kombucha, adapting it to your personal taste.
In addition to a large fermentation-grade (to prevent explosions) jar for brewing, you’ll also need a relatively large saucepan and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The SCOBY does all of the work and can be re-used. They’re readily available online, and in some health shops, but they can also be made at home, with a little patience, by following the below recipe. You’ll also need some kombucha from a previous batch. If you buy a SCOBY, it’ll often come with some starter liquid, otherwise look for the raw, unpasteurised stuff for best results.
It’s also crucially important that everything is clean when brewing kombucha, in order to create the best environment for the bacteria while fermenting. This will prevent the liquid from going bad and help you to make perfect kombucha at home, every time.
- Large fermentation-grade jar (I use a jar with a tap, but they’re not completely necessary)
- Clean, lint-free tea towel
- Large elastic band/string
- Fermentation-grade bottles
- 3 litres water
- 210 g white sugar
- 21 g loose leaf tea I like a blend of green tea and Earl Grey, but you can experiment based on preferences
- 200 ml kombucha ‘mother’/starter liquid from a previous batch
- 1 SCOBY see recipe below
- Before preparing your kombucha, make sure that all equipment is clean and ideally sterilised, including the jar, saucepan, and a large mixing spoon or spatula.
- For this recipe, I use a formula of 1 litre water : 210 grams sugar : 21g tea. You can make as much or as little kombucha as you like, but sticking to these ratios will provide the best results.
- Boil three litres of water in a large saucepan. Once the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Add the sugar and mix until completely dissolved. Add the tea and mix once more. Leave to cool down to room temperature. This can take up to 2-3 hours. Don’t move onto the next step until cooled down.
- Strain the cooled tea into the jar and add the SCOBY and ‘mother’ kombucha. Leave 5cm space at the top of the jar. Mix gently to combine, then cover the lid with a clean tea towel, then hold it in place with an elastic band or piece of string.
- Leave to ferment for 6-10 days. The fermentation time will depend on conditions. I’d suggest storing in a relatively cool, dry place without too much light. Ideally keep away from radiators, the oven, and direct sunlight. Also avoid cupboards, as air circulation is important. After 4 days taste a teaspoon of the liquid. It should be slightly sweet and mildly vinegary.
- Once ready (after 6-10 days, dependent on taste – the longer you leave it, the more acidic it will taste) carefully transfer the kombucha to sterilised bottles for the second fermentation, leaving around an inch of space at the top of the bottle. This step carbonates the kombucha. Store in the same place as the first fermentation.
- Save your SCOBY and 200ml of the liquid for your next batch. This will last for a while in the fridge, providing it’s in a glass jar and covered.
- OPTIONAL: you can flavour the kombucha at this point. Add approximately 2tbsp (taste dependent) of your desired flavouring to the bottom of the bottle. I like apple juice and a sliver of ginger; mango pulp; or stewed rhubarb and ginger.
- After 3-5 days, the kombucha will be carbonated and ready to drink. Store in the fridge to stop/slow the fermentation process.
- TIP: The initial fermentation process takes at least 6 days. In this case, I’d suggest starting again as soon as the first batch is bottled.
- Large fermentation-grade jar (approx. 3 litres)
- Clean, lint-free tea towel
- Large elastic band/string
- 2 litres water
- 200 g white sugar
- 16 g loose leaf tea
- 500 ml kombucha ‘starter’ unflavoured and unpasteurised
- Before preparing your SCOBY, make sure that all equipment is clean and ideally sterilised, including the jar, saucepan, and a large mixing spoon or spatula.
- Boil the water in a large saucepan. Once the water comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Add the sugar and mix until completely dissolved. Add the tea and mix once more. Leave to cool down to room temperature. This can take up to 2-3 hours. Don’t move onto the next step until cooled down.
- Strain the cooled tea into the jar and add the ‘mother’/starter kombucha. Fill the rest of the jar with cool water, up to where the mouth begins to narrow. Cover the jar with a clean, lint-free tea towel and secure with string or an elastic band.
- Move the jar to a dry place, out of direct sunlight, and leave for 2-4 weeks. If the liquid becomes unclear, you can lift the towel to see what’s happening, but avoid slowing the liquid. Once the SCOBY reaches the surface and is roughly 5-7mm thick it’s ready to use.