It’s hard to believe, but I have been making homemade kombucha for over a year now. It’s actually pretty easy to make your own, and it only takes a few minutes of active time each week. It also only costs less than a dollar to make a whole gallon of it, even when I use organic sugar and high quality teas. That is a considerable savings over commercial kombucha which usually costs over $3 a bottle around here. Homemade kombucha tastes a lot better than the commercial stuff too, plus you have the advantage of making the flavors you really like.
Kombucha is a surprisingly easy to make home fermented drink. If you can make tea, you can make kombucha! The kombucha culture is called a scoby, which is short for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’. Over a period of 1-2 weeks, the scoby converts a sugar/tea solution into kombucha. Flavoring is usually added after this first ferment (1F), during a secondary ferment (2F) in the bottle. Creating your own flavor combinations is one of the benefits of making your own, and I have a lot of fun coming up with new flavors. My Spicy Thai Basil kombucha features a sprig of fresh Thai Basil, one Thai Bird hot pepper, and a slice of lemon. Those go in the bottle first, then I add the finished kombucha and let the bottle sit for a few days before putting in the refrigerator and then drinking.
My wife’s favorite flavor is ginger. I usually use a combination of fresh sliced ginger and crystallized ginger for the flavoring. Turmeric and ginger go well together too, using either fresh turmeric root or turmeric powder. I think the turmeric has a much stronger flavor than the ginger, so a little of it goes a long way for me. And ginger and lemon work well together too, using fresh lemon juice or the dried lemon slices I find at Trader Joe’s.
I got my original starter from a class I attended in Berea, Kentucky last year on making artisanal sodas. I came home with a piece of scoby so small it fit in a baby food jar. You generally use one scoby each time you make a batch of kombucha, and a new scoby is formed in the process. A year later, I have so many scobys I store extras in my scoby ‘hotel’, where there is currently a No Vacancy sign outside. I keep the scobys there sitting in sweet tea, and replace the liquid about once a month. The liquid in the hotel makes a super strong starter for a batch of kombucha. If you leave it long enough you will have kombucha vinegar.
My wife started drinking it several months ago, and I have had to up my production to keep up with demand. So I added a second one gallon fermentation vessel with a spigot. The spigot isn’t absolutely necessary, but it does make it easy to fill the bottles. I make about a gallon of kombucha each week, which keeps the two of us supplied. I generally let the kombucha ferment for two weeks for the 1F. We like our kombucha tart, and the longer you let it sit the more tart it becomes. We each drink about a cup of ‘booch a day. Kombucha is always made with a base of sweet tea, traditionally using black tea. But that tea can also green or white, or some combination of the three. Even some herbal teas can be used to make kombucha, including rooibos, yerba mate and hibiscus flowers.
In the above photo you can see my gallon brewing vessels on the right, plus two more smaller ones on the left. The half gallon one is my experiment using rooibos tea for a base. Rooibos is an herb that’s native to South Africa, and the leaves from them are reddish brown when dried. There are a lot of nutritional and health benefits claimed for rooibos tea, but the main attraction for me is that it’s naturally caffeine free. I try and limit my caffeine intake, and generally drink decaf coffee and tea. This is my second batch of rooibos kombucha, and the jury is still out on how I feel about it. The tea has a distinctive flavor, and some of that flavor is present in the finished kombucha. It’s not bad, but it is different from the kombucha I usually make from black and green teas. So more experimenting is in order! I’ve also been drinking iced rooibos tea to try and develop a taste for it.
My other experiment is using butterfly pea flowers in kombucha, both for the 1F and as an additive to 2F. I had never heard of this caffeine free herbal tea until I read about it on one of the kombucha Facebook groups I belong to. It’s all the rage there, mainly because of the shocking purple/pink color it gives to kombucha. When it’s infused in hot water, it makes a blue colored tea. That tea turns purple when an acidic liquid like lemon juice or kombucha is added. The flavor of the tea is often described as ‘earthy’, but I don’t think it really has a strong flavor at all.
So far I have added the butterfly pea flower tea to some finished kombucha made the conventional way with black tea. I also added dried lavender flowers and blueberries, to go with the purple theme. The result is a wildly colored purple drink with a great taste. I can’t say I can really taste the butterfly pea flowers, but the color is hard to miss. And look at those bubbles in the below photo! It was down the hatch shortly after I got the pic. I may have just upped my kombucha consumption today with the tasting. Oh well, anything for the team is what I always say.
I also started a quart batch of kombucha using only sweetened butterfly pea flower tea for a base. That one won’t be ready to drink for another week or so, but it is already making a new scoby, which is always a good sign. I used starter tea from a finished black tea kombucha, and the liquid turned from blue to purple as soon as the acidic starter went in.
My next experiment will be with using hibiscus flower tea. It’s another caffeine free herbal tea that has a citrusy flavor and a bright red color. I’ve already tasted it both hot and iced, and I like the flavor. I think I already have enough kombucha brewing at the moment, so I plan to wait a bit before I try it for the primary fermentation. If the citrus flavor persists after fermentation, it should go well with lemon, and ginger, and who knows what else. More experimentation and kombucha tasting will be needed for sure!
I hope you have enjoyed this update on my adventures with homemade kombucha. If any of my readers make their own, I would love to hear about your adventures too! I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres.
Do you know certain times of the year (I forget when) the oriental groceries have a big box of loose dried hibiscus flowers you buy by the ounce. I bought them years ago just to make iced tea. I’ve got to gather up supplies then one day I’ll ring you up for some scoby starts. Your’s all look so pretty and refreshing!
Carla, I have seen the hibiscus flowers there! I didn’t know what to do with it then, but I do now. I will be on the lookout. Let us know when you’re ready for a scoby or two.
My husband has recently become obsessed with drinking kombucha, so I’m going to direct him to your blog for some inspiration. Thanks for such a thorough post on the craft!
Are these drinks probiotic?
There’s a lot of debate about that. Some of the commercial kombucha has probiotics added when it is bottled. But there aren’t a lot of truly probiotic bacteria present in kombucha naturally. It may have other beneficial properties though, and it has many of the qualities of natural apple cider vinegar – except it tastes a lot better! The experts generally agree that other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir are better sources of probiotics.
That’s what I thought. What are the other beneficial properties?
It is a pretty good source of vitamins and antioxidants, depending on what tea is used to make it. There is also anecdotal evidence that even though it doesn’t have a lot of probiotics, the ones that are present are delivered to your gut and not destroyed by stomach acid. But it’s hard to find documented facts since not many controlled studies have been done on humans.
Thanks for the info! I’ve been debating making kombucha but was wondering about the health benefits of it. So is kombucha healthier than just drinking regular tea?
I don’t know, so I drink both just in case!
Where did you get your original scobi to start?
I got it from the instructor at a class I attended on Making Artisanal Sodas
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