JIT/iStock/GettyImages

Kombucha might have peaked as the "it" drink to be seen sipping a few years ago, but this fermented drink that is often heralded for its health benefits is still commonplace. With kombucha brands lining the shelves of grocery stores, homemade kombucha varieties sold at farmers' markets and kombucha drinks on tap at some health restaurants, the sweet and tangy tea remains a popular choice for many health-forward consumers.

As a boutique health product, kombucha can be expensive if it is being purchased often. There is, however, the opportunity to make kombucha at home with customized drink preferences like the type of tea that is used and the combination of other added flavors. Learn how to successfully make kombucha at home with this must-have kombucha recipe.

What Is Kombucha?

Kombucha brewing is believed to have stemmed from China roughly 2,000 years ago. Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that is traditionally made with green or black tea. Sugar and yeast are added to the tea to feed the bacteria that allow the drink to ferment and develop its distinctly sweet and tangy taste. The bacteria that are added to the tea, sugar and yeast mixture are widely known as SCOBY, which actually stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.

Yeast is a living single-celled organism that requires some form of sugar to feed on and grow. As the yeast and bacteria grow, the drink develops a gas that must be "burped" every few days to prevent too much pressure from accumulating inside the jar where the kombucha brewing is taking place.

After fermenting for several weeks, the SCOBY will separate from the kombucha tea, forming a round, jelly-like disk at the top of the drink. The SCOBY is removed from the drink and can actually be used to make other edible products like fruit leather. Once the SCOBY is removed, the kombucha tea can be bottled and stored in the refrigerator.

Health Benefits of Kombucha

Kombucha tea became one of the most popular health drinks because of the health claims that accompanied the drink. While kombucha is certainly not bad for you, assuming that the amount of sugar in the drink is not at an exorbitant level, nutritionists have not been able to ascertain the exact health benefits. The studies that have been conducted were inconclusive because the parameters were not clear enough to determine if the effects were solely from drinking kombucha tea. Despite the lack of evidence, there are still wide claims on the health benefits of kombucha.

One of the top reasons people drink kombucha is for its probiotics. Probiotics are living microorganisms that live in the gut and help regulate digestion at certain levels. Foods that are rich in probiotics are often fermented products like yogurt or kifer, a fermented milk drink similar to a thin, drinkable yogurt. Kombucha tea is also known for being high in vitamin B and antioxidants.

While these are positive byproducts of consuming kombucha tea, it is important to remember that store-bought bottles usually contain between 3 and 8 grams of sugar per 8 ounces of drink, which can add up quickly. Though checking labels and brands when buying kombucha is one way to avoid taking in too much sugar, making kombucha at home is the best way to control exactly what goes into your drink.

How to Make Homemade Kombucha

The shortest path to homemade kombucha still requires several weeks with a pre-made SCOBY. Those who wish to make kombucha completely from scratch will need months for their SCOBY to form and grow. Because the SCOBY is a living byproduct of fermentation, it constantly renews itself by forming a new layer each time kombucha is made.

To build up to a SCOBY that is large enough to make a gallon of good kombucha, the home brewer must mix together the tea, yeast and sugar and add a bit of pre-made kombucha. This can be kombucha from a friend who makes his own or the unflavored and raw variety bought from the store. For this recipe, it is assumed that you have an existing SCOBY. If you choose to make your own SCOBY, follow the same recipe but know that the kombucha will not be of a high enough quality to drink until the SCOBY is fully formed into a jelly round that is at least one-third to a quarter-inch thick.

Total Time: 12-15 days | Prep Time: 5 hours | Serves: 1 gallon

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 cup regular, white granulated sugar
  • 8 bags green tea, black tea or a combination of the two; alternatively, use 2 tablespoons loose tea leaves
  • 2 cups starter kombucha tea from a previous batch or unpasteurized, unflavored, raw, store-bought kombucha drink
  • 1 SCOBY per fermentation jar, homemade or pre-made
  • Optional: 1-2 cups fruit, chopped
  • Optional: 1-3 cups fruit juice
  • Optional: 1-4 tablespoons flavored tea of choice such as peach, hibiscus, Earl Grey or jasmine
  • Optional: 1/4 cup local honey, raw
  • Optional: 1-4 tablespoons fresh herbs or spices of choice

Directions:

  1. Using a pot on the stove top, bring 3 1/2 quarts of water to a boil to make the kombucha tea base.

  2. Once boiling, remove from heat and stir in the cup of granulated sugar until completely dissolved.

  3. Add the 8 tea bags to the water and sugar mixture and allow to completely cool. To speed up the process, feel free to place the pot inside an ice bath in a larger bowl.

  4. Once completely cool so as not to kill the living bacteria and yeast, remove the tea bags and strain any loose tea leaves from the mixture.

  5. Add 2 cups of starter kombucha tea and stir together to combine.

  6. Using a small funnel, pour the mixture into a glass gallon fermentation jar.

  7. With clean hands, gently add the SCOBY by placing it on top of the liquid inside the jar.

  8. With several layers of cheesecloth secured with rubber bands, cover the lid of the jar. This will prevent any insects like fruit flies from getting into the kombucha as well as eliminate the need for "burping" or releasing gas from the jar. If using a jar with a swing top or lid, it will be necessary to open the jar every day or two to alleviate the building pressure of the gas that occurs during fermentation.

  9. Allow the liquid and SCOBY to ferment for seven to 10 days at room temperature. Keep the jar out of direct sunlight, checking the progress of the fermentation daily. Look for a new layer on the SCOBY (which will be light colored), sediment floating in the kombucha and the SCOBY floating anywhere within the jar

    top, bottom or middle.

    10. Once seven days have passed, start taste testing your kombucha by pouring a small amount into a cup. Do this daily until the balance of sweet to tangy that you like best is achieved. Once you like the flavor of the kombucha, it is ready to bottle.

    11. Before bottling this batch of kombucha, repeat the steps for making the tea base.

    12. Measure out 2 cups of kombucha starter from this batch to hold for the next batch.

    13. With clean hands, gently handle the SCOBY and transfer it from the current batch of kombucha to the new tea base and kombucha starter mixture for a new batch.

    14. If the SCOBY is very thick at this point (more than half an inch), scrape the bottom to remove a few layers.

    15. Using a funnel, pour the kombucha into 6 (16-ounce) swing-top glass bottles or glass bottles with plastic lids. Metal that comes in contact with the kombucha or SCOBY will alter the flavor and damage the SCOBY.

    16. Add any desired flavoring agents like the optional chopped fruit, fruit juice, other teas, honey or herbs. For a cleaner drink, this can be done for a few days in another jar and then strained before bottling to avoid any floating sediments.

    17. Once the kombucha tea is bottled, place it in the refrigerator for up to three days to allow the drink to carbonate. For those who like significantly carbonated kombucha, bottle it in plastic bottles so it is easier to tell how carbonated the drink is. The harder the plastic, the more carbonated the kombucha drink.

Tips for Success

While kombucha brewing is fairly straightforward, there are some points of which to be aware to avoid hiccups during the process of making your homemade kombucha. There is certainly a science behind kombucha thanks to the fermentation process, so knowing the critical points at which things can go wrong will help you to avoid stumbling.

An early point in the brewing process for failure is choosing the type of tea that will be brewed and used for the batch. Black tea is best, though green tea works as well. A combination that leans more heavily on black tea will also work well. This is because the tea must have a high enough caffeine content to activate the bacteria in the SCOBY. The SCOBY also works best with plain white sugar rather than natural alternatives like honey or maple syrup.

Finally, the fermentation period requires a full seven to 10 days. If the kombucha brews for less than that amount of time or for significantly longer, the batch will not taste right and will lose its quality. Working with clean hands and tools is also vital to avoid contamination of the SCOBY by introducing bad bacteria.

How Much Kombucha to Drink

While kombucha tea is delicious and good for you, it is always possible to have too much of a good thing, as our bodies need balance and moderation. To take advantage of the benefits of kombucha, stick to drinking two 8-ounce servings per day or one 16-ounce bottle.

Drinking too much kombucha can result in excess calorie consumption due to the amount of sugar in the drink. While this can be tinkered with to some degree if you are making homemade kombucha, some sugar will always be necessary in order to feed the yeast and spur on the fermentation process.

Cautions to Consider

The carbonation and probiotics in kombucha can also cause digestive distress if too much is consumed. During digestive distress, bloating and gas occur because of the extra carbon dioxide that has entered the digestive system. Those with irritable bowel syndrome should be careful to avoid drinking too much kombucha tea.

Those who are sensitive to caffeine and alcohol should avoid drinking too much kombucha tea since those are naturally occurring byproducts of the drink. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid drinking kombucha altogether even though the amount of alcohol and caffeine in one serving of kombucha hovers around 1 percent.

Video of the Day

About the Author

Molly Harris

Molly is a freelance journalist and social media consultant. In addition to Leaf.tv, Molly has written for Teen Vogue and Paste magazine. She is the former assistant editor of the Design and Style section of Paste magazine. View her work at www.mmollyharris.com.