UPDATE – July 22, 2014, shown in blue
I’ve been homebrewing kombucha now for around a month and thought I would give a run down on how it’s going and what I’ve learned as the Brewmaster. I put the summary here at the top in order to not scare people away from brewing…because this post is LONG!
SUMMARY! Time wise it will take you about 20 minutes every 6 days or so once you get going. A little longer if you batch brew, a little less if you Continuous Brew. Get/make scoby. Brew and cool sweetened tea. Dump equal amounts tea and water into large glass vessel with scoby. Come back 6 days later and start tasting. Put tea in bottles when it tastes good to you. Put fruit in bottles if desired. Refrigerate immediately if plain, counter ferment sealed & covered with towel if using fruit. About 30 hours, burp daily. Refrigerate. Start again.
BATCH OR CONTINUOUS? I started out doing the kombucha as “batch brew” because I wasn’t sure how it would go, if we would like it and how much time, mess and effort it would take. I did two batches that way and then switched over to Continuous Brew and am now on Batch #4. There isn’t a huge amount of difference between Continuous Brew and Batch Brew, the main difference is that for Continuous, you need a large vessel with a spigot so that when you bottle, you draw off from the bottom and leave the scoby floating on the top liquid. The other main difference is that with Batch you bottle 90% of it and then start completely over. With Continuous, and because the jar is much larger, you bottle only what you would use in a week and then add the same volume of new sweet tea as what you just drew off. Continuous, over time, will brew faster because you’re leaving a larger amount of more mature liquid in the vessel rather than starting from square one. And…with Continuous Brew, you hit more of the ferment markers at 14-21 days than you do with Batch Brew where you stop and start every 7-10 days, never moving beyond that one small cycle.
So…..as far as I’m concerned, providing that your household can consume between 12-16 oz/day and you use a 2.2 gallon (7L) brew jar, Continuous Brewing knocks the socks off of Batch Brew in every way; less work, less mess, easier & quicker bottling and quicker brewing. One final note on Continuous Brew is both positive and negative. Positive is that you rarely ever touch the scoby in a Continuous Brew situation (in Batch Brew you handle it into a new jar every batch), thereby greatly reducing the chance it could become infected or contaminated. Negative is that the scoby can get rather large and has to be pared down from time to time as it will take up valuable liquid brewing space.
So….getting a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria And Yeast. If you can’t get a scoby and some starter tea from someone you know (if you’re local, hit me up!), you can grow your own. The downside to growing your own is that you have to wait quite awhile for it to mature so that you can use it. The upside to growing your own is that you can grow a couple at a time so that you always have a backup in case one meets an unfortunate end. To grow your own scoby, buy a bottle of plain kombucha, pour it into a glass jar (a canning jar works great), put a coffee filter and a rubber band over the top (you do NOT want fruit flies getting in there!) , wrap a towel around it for darkness and put it somewhere ambient and dark. Don’t bug it. Once you can’t stand the suspense anymore (around 10-14 days after starting), you can check on it. There should be a layer forming on the top and once it’s about ¼” thick, you’re ready to go. (when I did mine, my first scoby sank to the bottom around Day 7 and a new one started to grow on the top. Between the two I figured I had enough ready and I used it successfully.) I did not feed mine, but after researching it, I would feed it next time (1 cup of strong black tea sweetened with 1/8 cup sugar and cooled, added to the plain kombucha) so that it grew quicker and healthier.
BREWING! Now that your little monster is ready to go, you can brew up your tea mixture. 8 cups of water brought to neeeaaarrly a boil & then removed from heat (not a rolling boil as that boils off needed oxygen), 8 black, green or white (or combo) of tea bags steeped for 20 minutes and 1 cup of sugar stirred in to dissolve. Then let it cool to room temperature! Pour your cooled sweet tea and 8 more cups of room temp water into your brewing vessel, dump your scoby and nursery liquid in, cover the top with a coffee filter and elastic, wrap the vessel with a towel or t-shirt and place in your ambient location. Depending on how warm your house is and the size of your jar, start checking on it around Day 6. You’ll want to start tasting it (insert a straw just below the scoby bring some out. Do NOT suck on the straw…the backwash will contain bacteria that can hurt your scoby. Taste test it until it reaches yoru desired sweet/tart level.
BOTTLE! If you are going to fruit flavour in secondary fermentation, bottle your liquid and insert or pour in your flavourings (more on that below). Around ¼ cup fruit/puree for 32oz brew is a good start. Seal the bottles, leave on the counter under a towel. BURP the bottles every 12 hours or so, letting off just a bit of pressure so you don’t have an explosion on your hands. You can’t open the bottles in secondary enough to taste the product without losing all the fermentation so how long you leave them on the counter is your own experiment. I usually refrigerate after 30 hours. Refrigerating stops any further fermentation. When you use fruit flavoured, you can strain if you prefer…or just go with it as is…and if you used whole fruit, eat the fruit chunks, they are delightfully fizzy! If you’re just going to bottle plain you can seal and refrigerate immediately.
FLAVOURINGS! So far we’ve done the following flavours:
- Strawberry ginger (used whole fruit)
- Very lovely color, good strawberry flavour, remaining strawberries were very fizzy
- Watermelon Mint (used whole fruit)
- Extremely light in color, almost a clearish pinky green, refreshing flavour…but couldn’t tell what it was exactly
- Fairly fizzy, the remaining watermelon was CRAZY fizzy
- Tri-Berry Banana (used puree – frozen blackberry, blueberry, raspberry & frozen banana blended together)
- Nice bold color, reasonably fizzy, on the tart side which was surprising because I thought the banana would make it quite sweet
- Couldn’t really determine the flavour profile…just generally fruity, I guess
- Blueberry Nectarine (used puree – fresh bluebs and nectarine blended together)
- Good color, extremely fizzy!!! Delicate blueberry flavour. Tart but refreshing.
- Cherry Vanilla (used puree – fresh pitted cherries & vanilla extract blended together)
- Hands down favourite so far! This one I did for 60 hours in secondary fermentation because I didn’t feel that it was fizzy enough. I burped twice a day until I was happy with the pressure. It was delicious!
- Blueberry Lemon (used puree – two cups fresh blueberries with about 3 tbsp. lemon juice (bottled)
- used about 1/2 cup fruit mixture…which the secondary ferment consumed almost all of it. VERY fizzy in the bottles, didn’t leave any air space at all. Have not tasted it yet. 60 Hour secondary ferment on this one too.
I have plans for the next few flavours:
- Peach (I’ll brew in first ferment with mainly white tea which is much more delicate and might compliment the peaches)
- Date Vanilla (I’ve read that this tastes like cream soda!)
- Apple Ginger (with a mainly white or green tea base)
- Apple Cinnamon
- Strawberry Lemon
- Lemon Rosemary (like a rosemary lemonade, I hope)
- Strawberry Rhubarb
- When I secondary ferment with fruit, I leave it in first fermentation until it’s quite tart as the fruit will sweeten it slightly during the second fermentation and we prefer ours more on the tart side.
- If I’m going to draw off and use it plain, I’ll take it when there’s just a teensy bit of sweetness left
- Wash jars, vessels, tools & then rinse with white vinegar between brews. Soap reside can kill your scoby
- Do not use metal tools, the acidic nature of your brew can leach the metal. Wooden or glass tools only
- Flip top “grolsch” style bottles are the BEST. You can use old screwtop Kombucha bottles but the pressure of the fermentation inside can make it impossible to get the lid off and burping can be really tricky. IKEA has flip top bottles for a great price.
- I keep a Brew Diary and log what I used for tea, how long I fermented for and what I used for flavourings (and if they were tasty, fizzy, attractive in appearance, etc)
- Favourite tea so far is Stash Earl Grey Double Bergamot because it makes a gently citrusy brew…although I just heard that the oils in a Bergamot can hurt your scoby. Mine seems healthy but I will switch over to an unflavoured black tea in the next batch.
- Use any combo of white, black or green…but to keep your scoby healthiest, try to always include a couple bags of black as your little monster enjoys consuming the tannins in black tea
- You can freeze any leftover puree in ice cube trays, 2 cubes = around ¼ cup. Just let them thaw out and then pour into your bottles
- When bottling for secondary fermentation, put the tea in first and then the fruit/puree or you end up with a lot of foam and suds as you fill with the tea…..and then it’s hard to get the bottles full
- For maximum fizz, fill the bottles all the way to the tippy top. Don’t forget to burp regularly.
That’s it. For equipment, I have the large beverage dispenser and the flip top bottles below. I started out with 6 of the flip tops but I have them all in production right now so I’m going to pick up a few more just in case of a quick batch turnaround.
Thanks for writing this! I’ve been wanting to try but not wanting to research 😉 AND HERE IT ALL IS!
Too bad you’re not closer, I have a hunk of scoby with your name on it! 🙂
I’m so into growing one from scratch! I have two HUGE ones in a red wine vinegar I’m making… But I don’t know if that’s the same…
You totally can use the same one…however your vinegar scoby is feeding on alcohol and a kombucha scoby is going to want to eat sugar. It is, from what I can tell, a very slow and gentle process to convert your vinegar scoby over to a kombucha scoby without killing it. (like….months long process fraught with issues)
I think I would just as soon grab a bottle of plain KT and start a scoby in that so you don’t have to try and convert it. If you are having luck with the red wine vinegar then you must have good scoby-growing conditions, I’d just make a new one for your KT.
Let me know how the red wine vinegar turns out! Do you guys use a lot of it?