How to Make Kombucha Tea

I love the health benefits and taste of fermented/cultured foods, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m a kombucha fan, too. I’ve been making this probiotic super tea at home for years, but only started playing around with flavoring it this past year. Shame. I know. This post is part one of a two-part post that will walk you through the health benefits of kombucha and how to brew your own. Part two is coming soon, and will show you how to flavor this magic.

While it’s easier to make at home than you realize, it’s very important that you inform yourself about Kombucha first. It’s a longer post, but I hope you’ll make the time to dive in here because Kombucha is so much more than the hottest new celebrity beverage or health fad.

So, what is kombucha really?
Kombucha is a sweetened tea that is fermented by a pancake-like bacterial colony called a “Mother,” also known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), a “mushroom” or even a “tea beast.” The sugar in the tea is food for the SCOBY, so as it eats, it ferments the beverage (while also reproducing itself) loading the tea with immunity boosting probiotics, polyphenol antioxidants (a.k.a. “lifespan essentials”), active enzymes and beneficial bacteria.

When Kombucha first enters the digestive system it coats the stomach with enzymes and probiotics. These healing organisms immediately begin breaking down undigested foods, toxicity, and wastes produced by pathogenic bacteria that often interfere with our normal digestive processes. Kombucha also contains lactic acid which supports the breeding of beneficial bacteria in the intestines which ultimately leads to stronger digestive and immune systems.

Balance: probiotics

Read all about why you want more probiotics/beneficial bacteria in your bod.

Where did Kombucha come from?
East Asia is where Kombucha is thought to have originated, but it has been popular in many countries like Germany and Russia where it’s known as “tea kvass.” Kombucha has become wildly popular in the United States since it came on over in the 1990’s—I’m sure you’ve seen it in health food stores.

What are the health benefits of Kombucha?
Like most unconventional, alternative healing remedies, Kombucha has its nay-sayers. Yes, Kombucha, the “Mother,” the whole process is unusual, I’ll give you that, but this ancient tonic has been around an awful lot longer (over 2,000 years) than sodas, “energy” drinks, “vitamin” waters and yes, even Western medicine.

No major medical studies are being conducted on Kombucha and you will often read that there is no scientific evidence to prove that it has healing properties. Could this be because particular industries wouldn’t be able to profit from researching a health-promoting beverage that folks could make at home for less than 50 cents a gallon? Hmm. I was able to find a few studies showing that Kombucha Tea repairs damage caused by environmental pollutants, that it lowers levels of toxins, that Kombucha Tea is a potent in preventing chemical-driven liver damage, that it prevents cancer and that its consumption limits the effect of radiation on chromosomes.

In his novel, Cancer Ward, Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn credited Kombucha with properties that cured his stomach cancer. And in 1987, Ronald Reagan used Kombucha to halt his own bout with cancer.

I am not sure if Kombucha is a Panacea, but unlike medication that targets a particular symptom (causing side effects), Kombucha naturally brings the body back into balance so that it can heal itself by addressing the cause of symptoms. Kombucha is a health tonic meant to prevent disease and assist the body’s natural processes. Collective wisdom can be just as important as scientific evidence, but it’s natural to be skeptical of something unusual. So, do your research, be accountable and see if it’s is a good fit for you.

Kombucha is traditionally and anecdotally known to promote health in the following ways:

(grab a chair, this is a hearty list!)

Protects against radiation: reduces the effect of free radicals thanks to antioxidants
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Reduces or eliminates the symptoms of fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety
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Reduces kidney stones
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Prevents and treats arthritis: Kombucha contains glucosamines which increase synovial hyaluronic acid production which lubricates joints, preserves cartilage and prevents pain
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Alkalizes the body by balancing internal pH:  much like lemons or apple cider vinegar which are acidic before consumption, kombucha alkalizes once consumed
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Improves eyesight

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Detoxifies the liver: glucuronic acid (a metabolite that’s produced by a healthy liver) and enzymes in Kombucha reduce the load on the pancreas, liver and kidneys helping the body rid itself of harmful wastes
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Increases metabolism: stimulates digestion and helps the body efficiently utilize nutrients
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Improve digestion: keeps your system moving with healthy bacteria/probiotics
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Rebuilds connective tissue: helps with arthritis, gout, asthma, rheumatism
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Cancer prevention: Kombucha is high in Glucaric acid, and recent studies have shown that Glucaric acid prevents cancer.
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Alleviates constipation: loaded with probiotics and beneficial flora needed for a “regular” system—aids the stomach in the breakdown and digestion of food
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Relieves headaches and migraines
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Boosts energy and helps with chronic fatigue: energy boosting minerals and vitamins give the body what they need to operate at their best
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Improves mood: contains the amino acid L-theanine (also in green and black tea) which crosses into the brain and stimulates positive, relaxed feelings
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Reduces blood pressure
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Prevents degenerative diseases: high in polyphenols
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Heals eczema and softens the skin: Clears complexion and firms skin—apply topically, too
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Anti-aging properties: helps fight wrinkles thanks to hyaluronic Acid
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Prevents artherosclerosis: vitamin B6 is believed to aid in the prevention
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Speeds healing of ulcers: kills Helicobacter pylori (h.pylori) on contact. h.pylori is a bacterium that causes a chronic low-level inflammation of the stomach lining and it’s strongly linked to the development of duodenal and gastric ulcers and stomach cancer
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Helps clear up candida & yeast infections: beneficial bacteria and yeasts present in Kombucha compete with and help remove or suppress harmful bacteria, yeast, and parasites
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Aids in healthy cell regeneration
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Reduces gray hair: also can make it noticeably thicker and shinier—use as a weekly rinse
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Lowers glucose levels: prevents spikes
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Boosts immunity: probiotics, antioxidants and other beneficial bacterial goodness
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Relieves symptoms of PMS: B vitamins break down estrogen and removes excess estrogen

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“Wow, that’s a long, impressive list. But that SCOBY looks weird. Tell me more about it.”

How to Make Kombucha Tea

Weird is just a matter of perspective, right?  This rubbery floating “jellyfish” is bacteria, yeast (the brown stringy bits) and other micro-organisms that spin cellulose in a fermentation process. Over time, these tiny cellulose threads form to create mat on top of the liquid surface. This mat—the SCOBY—will expand and split into smaller pancake-like patties called “babies,” which brewers often give to friends or sell online (you’ll see from my photos that I have about 4-5 babies right now).

The SCOBY can float on top of a kombucha brew, sink to the bottom or turn on its side—all are normal.

How does Kombucha taste?
Like apple cider vinegar, beer and sweet tea had a baby. If you flavor them (a “part 2” post coming soon), add that ingredient to the “parenting” list.

Can I get food poisoning from Kombucha?
Most folks are terrified that aging/culturing food outside of refrigeration will give them poisoning like botulism for example. Botulism is known to us thanks to canning. Our pal Sandor Katz says, “fermentation is the diametrical opposite of canning. Canning is usually a process of sterilizing foods so that no microorganisms can grow. Heat is used to kill bacteria, Botulism has the distinction of having the highest tolerance to heat, so in a canning situation it is possible to kill all bacteria except the bacteria that produces botulism.” He further explains that canning leaves this bacteria in the ideal anaerobic environment it requires to flourish and reproduce. Fermented foods encourage and cultivate large native populations of beneficial bacteria—this process produces acids, which is basically nature’s “brilliant strategy for food preservation and safety.” This environment is inhospitable to botulism and other food poisoning organisms.

Even when the SCOBY is attacked by mold—which is RARE—Kombucha is not a major health risk. Just think of it like you would other items that can get moldy—bread for example. Any mold could be fluffy, fuzzy, dry or dust-like. It only can grow in spots where the brew (acetic acid) cannot reach. Spooning some brewed tea on top of the mold will destroy the pathogen.

If the SCOBY is healthy, then the kombucha will be healthy
(see pic above—that’s healthy).

Folks have been brewing Kombucha for thousands of years—even in environments dirtier than our own—it’s unlikely that it will ever make you sick. But there are a few things you can keep in mind when brewing your own so you get the maximum health benefits.

Doesn’t fermentation mean alcohol?
Kombucha can produce minor amounts of alcohol in it’s fermentation process, but it’s typically only about 1%.

What teas can I use to brew Kombucha?
So far I have experimented with black tea and Rooibos, and I plan to do more experiments and update this post with my findings. But for now, here are some teas to try and what YU can expect.

Black tea: bold, rich taste and darker amber color than you may see in bottled Kombucha from the health food store
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Rooibos: earthy flavor, red-orange in color
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Oolong: I’ve read that it’s a nice balance of a fruity, grassy flavor and brews up amber in color.
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Green: light, grassy flavor and light color—I hear jasmine green tea makes a lovely Kombucha
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Pu-erh: mild and fragrant
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White Tea: mild Kombucha with a light color
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Yerba Mate: Slightly smokey flavor and blonde color—tastes like campfire a bit, in a good way
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Herbal Teas: best used in combination with black or green teas—make sure there is no oil, flavoring or chemicals
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Teas to avoid: herbal infusion blends (volatile oils in these blends can kill bacteria) and flavored teas (oils again)

How to brew your own kombucha:
To make Kombucha Tea you take the following simple steps—boil some water, add some sugar, add some tea, cool, add your “Mother” (haha), cover with a cheesecloth and wait 7 days. Once you get the hang of it, every 7-10 days, you’ll just spend about 20 minutes making a new batch.
 

Let’s dive in with more detail…

What YU need: 
• Get yourself a Kombucha “Mother.” You can buy them online from sources like Cultures for Health or Kombucha Brooklyn OR you can save the bits of “Mother” from store bought, unpasteurized plain “original” unflavored Kombucha and brew small batches until it grows into a larger Mother. I haven’t done this, but I know plenty of people who have with great success.

• 3 1/2 quarts of pure water

• 2 cups of starter tea from another batch or from unpasteurized plainstore-bought kombucha

• Glass fermentation jar like this one. You must use glass, not ceramic and not plastic as the beneficial bacteria can eat these other vessels, bringing unwanted chemicals into your brew.

• 1 cup organic sugar (I use vegan cane sugar)

• 8 organic tea bags

• Cheesecloth

• Large rubber band

• Stock pot*

• Recycled and sterilized store-bought Kombucha tea bottles or bail jars like these.

Important note: avoid prolonged contact between the Kombucha and metal both during and after brewing. This can affect the flavor of your Kombucha and weaken the SCOBY over time. Also make sure your hands are washed and clean. Make sure brewing area, jar, pot, hands and utensils are clean and free of soap residue. If you use antibacterial cleaners, make sure the items are well rinsed.

Step 1:
Bring water to a boil in stock pot. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved.

How to Make Kombucha Tea
SCOBY in the jar in the background, ready for fresh tea. Don’t brew your tea and hot water with the SCOBY—always brew tea separately, allow to cool, sweeten and then add to jar with SCOBY.

Step 2: 
Grab your tea bags and add to the stock pot of boiling water. Leave them in the tea to steep until water has cooled. This will take a few hours—speed it up by placing in an ice bath if you need to.

Step 3: 
Remove tea bags once liquid is room temperature. Stir in starter tea.

Step 4:
For your first brew, you will place the starter tea, fresh brewed tea mixture to the jar and add your SCOBY.

How to Make Kombucha Tea

Step 5:
Cover the mouth of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth or paper towels and secure with a rubber band. Place in a warmish spot in your kitchen, out of direct sunlight, and allow to ferment for 7 days.

How to Make Kombucha Tea

Step 6 / Day 7:
Taste your Kombucha by using a straw. Simply dip the straw carefully into the brew, past the new developing SCOBY and Mother. When you have about an inch or two of the straw in the liquid, put your finger over the top of the straw, and pull it out of the brew. Release the liquid into a glass by lifting your finger off the top of the straw. This way you can keep an eye on how the flavor is progressing and halt the process when you find the flavor most yum.

The longer the fermentation process is allowed to proceed, the less sweet and more acidic the brew be. I tend to brew my Kombucha for 7-10 days, but I know people who let it go for 14-28 days. You can stop the ferment at any time. If you ferment too long and your brew becomes Kombucha “vinegar,” use it in dressings or marinades. Kombucha is healthy and live from the time you inoculate it with the SCOBY until the time it turns to vinegar, so have at it at any time.

Step 7:
Prepare to bottle it! Boil water, steep the tea, add the sugar and get another batch of tea going like you started a week ago with Step 1. Once cool, with clean hands, carefully transfer your SCOBY (and the baby) to this fresh batch, then pour the fermented tea from the fermentation jar into bottles—don’t forget to save 2 cups of the fermented batch as starter for the new batch! You can enjoy your brew right away, store in the fridge for later or…

Step 8:
Give it some fizz and/or flavor with a second fermentation. Store Kombucha in your airtight bottles at room temp on the counter for 3-5 days. Place bottles in the fridge if you want halt the fermentation. It’s ok if your brew doesn’t get fizzy—it’s still super healthful. You can toss a few raisins (food for good bacteria) into the bottles to help get the bubbles going for those 3-5 days.

Step 9:
When you open a bottle, be sure to put a cloth over the cap and place bottle in the sink to release some gas—Kombucha is known to foam and expand out of the bottle on its first open. That’s aliveness at its best! Keep a glass handy to pour into.

Note: if there are active live cultures floating around in the bottle—jellyfish like blobs or brown stringy bits, don’t be alarmed—drink it down (or not)! Those are more of the good guys your body will thank YU for.

What about all that sugar?
The majority of the sugar will be enjoyed as food by the beneficial bacteria, and during the process remade into organic acids that blunt the blood sugar response so it is very low glycemic and non-inflammatory.

So there YU have it.
Get some brew going this weekend and stay tuned for part two where I walk you through making all sorts of Kombucha magic like ginger, raspberry and other flavors!

More fermented goodness to try (more info about benefits in each post, too):
Cultured Veggies a.k.a. Sauerkraut
Kimchi
Almond Chia Yogurt
Coconut Kefir Yogurt
Coconut Kefir Beverage

And for fun: Use SCOBY to grow your own clothes!

Or to make “Apple Pie” Sugar Mama Candy!

Sugar_Mama_Kombucha_Candy-15_637-1

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Now, I want to hear from YU.
Tell me what you think of this article with a comment below.
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts…

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References: How to Make Kombucha Tea via TheKitchn
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

Natural News
The New York Times
Cultures for Health
Food Renegade
Happy Herbalist

Read the comments or add yours.

Comment Rules

  1. Linda

    Thank you…you must be a mind reader, because I was just looking for my directions for making Kombucha because it has been a bit since I have made my own and I wanted to start again.

  2. Rosanna

    Thank you Heather for this post!.. You made it sound easier than I had expected. I have been doing a lot of research about the benefits of kombucha (while drinking the store bought ones!) and there are a lot just like you listed!.. Now it’s time to make my own.. BTW, I love the taste of kombucha!!

  3. Julie

    Thanks so much for this. Looking forward to part 2!

  4. Thanks for an outstanding introduction to kombucha preparation. It was so clear and detailed that I am ready to try it myself. I have made sauerkraut and rejuvenate, but not kombucha! It’s fun to try something new.

  5. Thank you so much for this thorough post on kombucha! I finally bucked up and started making my own about a month ago to save money, and I’m having a fight with myself about my kombuchas sugar content every time I make a new batch. I reluctantly add the cup of sugar because I know the scoby requires sugar to grow healthily, but my kombucha tastes so much sweeter than the store bought kombucha. I guess I just want confirmation that I’m not drinking a sugary drink and wonder if I can lessen the sugar without affecting its growth or nutritional value.

    Thank you!

    • Heather Crosby

      Andrea, great question. The longer you ferment, the more the SCOBY will eat the sugar, so use the straw tasting tip I mention in the post to taste the brew every day starting around Day 7. Let it ferment longer if it’s too sweet, tasting until it’s more on the sour/acidic side. You can always sweeten it up again, without sugar, by adding pureed fruit during the second fermentation, but more on that in the Part 2 post! 😉

      • Andrea

        Lovely:) thank you!

  6. Melanie

    Excellent post! I stumbled on your website when I did a search on how to flavor kombucha. I’ve been making kombucha at home for almost a year now (I’ve been whole-food plant based for 3+ years after a cancer diagnosis) but never bothered to flavor it because I think it’s much better than anything I’ve tasted in a bottle. Then a friend asked me if I flavor it and I thought “ah, I do need to try that…” I LOVE your article on flavoring kombucha (I’m totally on the strawberry + rose combo) and this one also answered some questions I’ve had floating around in the back of my mind too. THANK YOU! Great site, excellent clear writing style… I look forward to following you! 🙂

    • Heather Crosby

      Thanks so much for your kind comments and for sharing Melanie 😉 Lately, I’ve been grating turmeric root and ginger root and using that in my second fermentation (more surface area equals more flavor)—it adds an incredible spicy heat that I’m pretty bonkers for. I’m going to have to make some Strawberry & Rose with my next batch… I do enjoy those floral flavors. Jasmine, lavender…

      Be well and keep having fun with it, x H

  7. Cassi

    Hi!

    I just finished brewing my first batch of Kombucha. I noticed some harder white spots appeared on the top. They don’t look like mold, but i’m curious if i email you a picture if you would be able to identify it for me.

    I am actually teaching abroad in Korea, and Kombucha is very expensive here. I found someone online that was selling scobys, so I figured I would give it a shot. She wasnt sure if it was mold either. HELP! 🙂

  8. Claire Hart

    Than you so much for the Kombanca recipe. I was wondering boiling the water in the stock pot and my concern is for metal with the scoby.

    Thank you

    Smiles Claire

    • Heather Crosby

      Hi Claire,
      Great question. You can use the metal pot to boil the water, it will still work fine. If you boil in the metal pot, transfer the water to a large glass bowl to steep with the tea and cool. You just don’t want the SCOBY to have contact with metal for long periods of time, so no “brewing” kombucha in a metal vessel, and try to use non-metal spoons, etc. If you have a glass pot or a dutch oven with an enamel inside, try that for boiling water instead. Have fun!

  9. REBECCA

    Where is part 2? I lost it can u post link here? Ty

  10. Marie

    I just picked up some Raw organic Kombucha in a concentrated form, 4 tsp per day consumption but can be mixed with water, tea or drinks. Do you think I can grow a Scoby from it? mixed with tea and sugar?

    • I bet you can Marie. I know plenty of folks who have done this, even with store-bought bottles of kombucha… play and let us know how it goes.

  11. Eric

    I’m new to Kombucha-making. I appreciate all of the tips and the detail that you have provided.

  12. Jan Honeycutt

    This is really the best site I have come across. There are MANY tutorials and I love this one. Got my first batch fermenting. Will do add raisins.
    The cooling off the tea took so Long. Will try to cool it all night.
    Thank you Soo Much

    • Thanks so much, Jan 🙂 It does take time to cool the tea. I will oftentimes boil/brew in the morning, cover and go about my day. By early evening, I’m ready to feed the SCOBYs! Cooling while you sleep is also great—just brew before bed. Cover and tea is the right temp when you wake up. Have fun!

  13. Dori

    I made some kombucha for the first time. Due to lack of information (hadn’t discovered you yet! ) it has been sitting there in phase 2 for over a month. Is it bad now?? Should I Chuck it… is it a bomb! !??

    Part 2
    For future bathes
    ..
    I love juicing…. if I use fresh pears (as I did in batch one) does using freshly juiced organic fruit instead of store bought changes anything ? Shelf life for example?

    • Dori,
      It all depends on how warm your kitchen is (kicks up fermentation activity) and how much fermentable sugar is in the flavoring… if you open those bottles PLEASE be careful. You can try placing the bottle(s) in the sink and cover the lid with a few towels (you don’t mind staining) and then slowly twist open or release the lids to free gases. If you are able to do this without losing the tea from “pressure volcano” than it is fine to drink. Please be careful—tea will be fine.

      For future batches: Organic fresh juice is always best for flavoring kombucha—no pesticides and the fruit hasn’t been radiated for shipping via air (radiation kills the yeasts and enzymes in the fruit which add to bubble action). The more fresh and alive the fruit, the more happy the kombucha, so you’ll likely have to monitor gas build up often. And use Sandor’s idea for the water bottle monitor. Good luck!

  14. Greg Knop

    Just started my first batch using distilled water, can I use tap water if I boil the water a little longer?

    • You should be able to do this Greg—just boil that water for 15–20 minutes to clean it up.

  15. Shelly Ellis

    If you have never made Kombucha do you need the two cups from another batch?

    • Hi Shelly,
      If you’re using a starter culture (like from Cultures for Health), you won’t need booch from another batch. If you are using a SCOBY that someone has shared with you try to get 1–2 cups from the batch it came from. If you have a SCOBY but no access to another batch of brewed tea, you can try to brew a batch of your won according to the instructions without tea from another batch—it may take longer to brew/get going (a few batches), but you could also try adding 1–2 cups to your first batch from unpasteurized store-bought kombucha. Hope that helps! Happy brewing.

  16. Katie

    So happy to find you here, Heather!

    I was just given my first SCOBY by a friend a couple of weeks ago, and made my first batch of Kombucha (strawberry-thyme) this week. It’s going to take some time to get the flavoring ratios right, but it was so much (easy) fun!

    Can you clarify that for a second fermentation, that is done SCOBYless? I removed the SCOBY, added a couple of raisins along with my fruit and thyme, and refrigerated right away. No fizz resulted. Could that have been due to refrigerating too soon instead of leaving it out at room temp longer; or from removing the SCOBY? Or just beginner’s bad luck?

    • Yes, yes, Katie, Second fermentation is SCOBY-free 😉 And your instincts are correct. You want to let the second fermentation go for a few days on the counter or top of the fridge. Then test the fizz-factor—the warmer, the more fizz because the bacteria are more cozy and having a feast. The fridge is cooler and slows activity. It’s best to move booch to the fridge once the fizz-factor is where you want it. I bet you could even bring the ferment that you put immediately in the fridge out on the counter for a few days and it will liven up… no bad luck, just learning! Have fun. x H

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