If you’re partial to the odd bottle of kombucha, but don’t fancy paying a pretty penny with each pop, it’s time you brewed your own. It might seem a strange process at first, when you set your eyes on the oddity that is your SCOBY, but you’ll soon be guzzling this delicious fermented beverage by the litre. For those who haven’t sampled ‘booch yet, it’s a semi-carbonated drink with a tangy taste (almost like a very mild vinegar) that is created when a SCOBY (a symbiotic conlany of bacterial and yeast that looks like a slimy disc) ferments sugar and tea. Kombucha is touted for having many health benefits, but we mostly imbibe it as a refreshing bevvy on warm days.
Notes: the full process will take around ten days – but making your batch will take less than half an hour. It’s a good idea to sterilise your jars the first time you make your batch, but generally a normal wash with hot water and detergent will suffice. In hot sub-tropical climates (hello, Brisbane!) you may only need one week to brew, but in cooler places you may need up to two weeks – you’ll learn to taste when it’s ready. If it’s still sweet, the SCOBY hasn’t finished eating up the sugar; if it’s pure vinegar, you’ve gone too far. Try a store-bought batch before you make it at home, so you have an idea of how it should taste!
- 12 cups of water – most recipes will tell you to use special filtered water, but tap water will do just fine.
- Tea – approximately 6 bags. We use green tea, but black, white or herbal will be absolutely fine too.
- 1 cup of sugar – we’ve only ever used plain old white sugar, but brown would work.
- 1 healthy, slimy SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) – get one from a friend who makes kombucha (they make a second SCOBY each time a new brew happens) or buy one from a healthfood store or co-op. (You can also get them online – just make sure your darling isn’t sitting in a warehouse or post box for too long.)
- 300ml of mother tea, or less, if you don’t have enough to begin with – that’s the liquid your SCOBY lives in.
- One very large jar – enough to hold at least a litre or two.
- A large jar to house SCOBYS (they’ll start multipling after your first batch!)
- Bottles with air-tight lids (the ones with the rubber lids are best) to house your finished product in the fridge.
- A funnel and a strainer can be a big help (optional).
- Some cloth and rubber bands – a cut-up tea towel will do, something with a little bit of breathability but not so loosely woven that anything can get in to your brew! We used a plain old dishcloth.
- Plastic tongs to hold the SCOBY (or gloves) – you don’t want to use your hands or metal tongs in case you hurt the little fella.
How to brew
- Put 6 cups of water in to your large jar (the one you’ll be brewing in)
- Put the remaining 6 cups in a saucepan on the stovetop, on a low heat, and dissolve your cup of sugar.
- After the sugar is stirred in, drop your tea bags into the saucepan, and allow them to steep for ten minutes (the heat can be turned off now)
- After ten minutes, remove the tea bags and pour your tea-sugar-water in to the big jar with the other water.
- Once this water has cooled down to room temperature (you don’t want to burn your poor baby SCOBY!), drop SCOBY McGuire and the mother tea in to the jar. Then, put a piece of cloth and a rubber band over the top.
- Now, just pop the jar in an out-of-the-way spot and let it brew, baby! Some people say it’s best to keep out of direct sunlight, but don’t freak about this too much. In really hot weather, it may only take around a week, but ten days is often the optimal brewing time. During that time, SCOBY will probably move around a bit, grow some icky looking scum, and usually multiply.
You might think you haven’t got a new SCOBY until you see it’s sealed the top of your liquid off. Don’t worry if it doesn’t multiply the first time. If you think it’s looking ready, stick a spoon in and see! If it’s still sugary, then SCOBY hasn’t finished its job, but if it’s getting a nice acidic taste then it’s probably good to go! Once it’s done, store your SCOBY’s together and keep enough of your kombucha to store around the little critters and to use in your next brew (this will be your mother tea).
It’s best to strain before you drink it, to remove the little yeasty particles, and it’s nicer to drink from the fridge. It’ll last months in there, if you’re not drinking much of it (but that’ll never happen).
Optional second fermentation – experimenting with flavours
We usuuaalllly like to drink it plain, but at this stage you can experiment with fruits (frozen or fresh, both are fine), ginger or herbs to make new flavours. (We’ve also tried lavender, which was pretty amazing). Combos like mint and berries work well, and peach is great too. Sky’s the limit!
Your fruit/flavour fermentation will take another four days or so. All you need to do is pour some of the tea (without a SCOBY this time, but those gross floaty bits can stay in if they’re still around), and a small handful or so of your flavourings – again just leave your brew on a bench or wherever (not in the fridge yet).
It’s super important to note that if you’re doing a particularly fizzy fruit, like a strawberry, make sure you only fill your jar/bottle up about 3/4 of the way – as they can really fizz up, and even explode. After the four days, just strain the liquid through a sieve again and you’re good to go! Keep these ones in the fridge when they’re ready to devour.