How to Make Kombucha the Easy Way 

Annual Soft Drink Production

For several years I've made presentations to our County commissioners regarding ways to improve our quality of life and the quality of health in our County. One of the interesting things I discovered was that the quality of our food supply is substantially compromised. This loss of nutritional quality is responsible for a lot of suffering. It not only affects our physical health, but our mental and emotional health as well.

There are two main factors: 1) processed foods (and junk foods) and 2) the poor quality of our agricultural soils and products grown on them. Processed foods are substantially devitalized. In this post I just want to address one simple thing that we can do in every neighborhood to reduce one of the most serious and egregious processed food. It’s one “food” that’s responsible for a substantial portion of our collective food budget — soft drinks. Even back in 2004, we produced over 500 cans of soda per person, per year. More than a can a day. Most of these drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, a well-known health disaster. Some experts say it’s the primary cause of diabetes. (see red column chart)

Soft Drink Expenditures

As a nation, we have become accustomed to fizzy soft drinks. Look at how much we spend. It's the number one expenditure in our food budget. (See the blue column chart)

This is true regardless of income. Our food choices are disastrous because we've been conditioned to believe that we can eat or drink just about anything and not suffer the consequences. Look at the Summary Chart below showing that sugary high glycemic processed foods are what we spend the most money on. We spend the least  money on the four foods we need most – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and vegetable protein (bottom 4 bars on each summary chart). 

Summary Chart

But that's for another article. Let's first address the soft drink issue.

Rather than try to change habits, maybe we can substitute a healthy fizzy drink for the unhealthy sodas that we now purchase. Plus, we could save a fortune that's wasted on this one single junk food. Of course, water is the best thirst quencher, but a healthy, probiotic nutritional soft drink is another excellent choice. I'm talking about kombucha.

What is Kombucha?

The kombucha drink was first recorded in China over 2200 years ago. Once considered as a drink for immortality, it's known today as one of the healthiest non-alcoholic drinks available. It has many health benefits, one of which is that it often drastically improves digestion. It's made from natural ingredients. The unique processing material is called a SCOBY, a Symbiotic Combination of Bacteria and Yeast (the good kind). It floats on top of a sugary sweet tea and processes the sugar and tea into a healthy probiotic drink. The final product is no longer sugary and is essentially caffeine free.

If you want to learn more, just do some Internet searches and you'll find tons of discussions and recipes. What follows is our method of making a gallon of kombucha per week. I think this would be a great project for any neighborhood, especially neighborhoods in food deserts. Rather than buying soft drinks at the dollar stores, make healthy kombucha in every household. Improve the health of the neighborhood.

How We Make Kombucha

We first began by sampling kombucha from several manufacturers and saving the bottles (that we reuse). By reading the ingredients, we learned what we liked so that we could make more. We especially like fresh ginger, so that goes into every bottle.

SCOBY with Air Space

Purchasing kombucha at $2 to $3 per bottle could get expensive long-term, but even using organic ingredients for flavoring, we can make it for under 50¢ per 16 oz bottle, which is often less than the cost of soda or even bottled spring water. 

To sample flavors, kombucha can be purchased at almost any supermarket, but natural food stores have more varieties. GT’s brand was one of the brands we liked most. https://gtslivingfoods.com

Kombucha is made in two phases, an aerobic phase and an anaerobic phase. In the aerobic phase, the SCOBY floats on top of the sweet tea. In the anaerobic phase, the fermented tea is siphoned into bottles and capped so that it makes a fizzy drink. In this phase, flavorings are added to make the kombucha delicious. The whole process takes about 40 minutes to make a gallon, eight 16 ounce bottles. The time it takes for the fermentation varies from 4 to 10 days, depending upon temperature and the size of the SCOBY.

Here’s our process. It sounds complicated, but once you’ve done it, it really is fast and easy. We start by boiling water for the next batch of tea while we bottle the current batch. By the time we’ve made the flavorings and filled and capped the 8 bottles, the next batch of tea is is cool and ready to be added to the SCOBY to make more kombucha.

Kombucha – First Ferment
• Pure Water 15 cups (16 cups is a gallon)SCOBY Symbiotic Combination of Bacteria and Yeast We use about a half gallon of water to brew the tea, and then cool it with a half gallon of our well water. Always use non-toxic water, all city water, at least in large cities, has fluoride and chlorine, which are both poisonous. If you live in the city, you’ll need to filter out the poisons in the water. We have a well, so we use our well water. If you can avoid it, never drink or bathe in unfiltered city water. (Do research on fluoride and chlorine to learn why.)
• Green &/or Black Tea, 4-6 tsp (1 tea bag = 1 tsp) We use 3 bags of each.
• Steep & Cool completely, or add cool water to make one gallon total.
• Sugar 1 cup, we use freeze-dried natural sugar. Demerara or Sucanat.
• Kombucha liquid, one cup (from previous batch).
• SCOBY (Symbiotic Combination of Bacteria and Yeast). 

Get a SCOBY from anyone making kombucha or you can use a bottle of plain kombucha to start the process. GT’S Original Flavor is a good choice to make one. We got a SCOBY from a friend who got it from a local kombucha manufacturer. The kombucha will take longer if you don’t have a large SCOBY, but you can grow your own with a bottle of GT’S Original. It will get larger with every batch, and soon you will have SCOBYs to give away.

ProcessMaking TeaElectric Tea Pot
• Boil a half gallon of water, steep the tea for 15-20 minutes, or longer. We boil the water in an electric tea kettle, then pour it into a large stainless pot to steep the tea.
• Remove tea bags (or strain the tea, if you use loose tea).
• Dissolve 1 cup of sugar into the water.
• Add the cool water to cool the tea to room temperature. Pour into large glass or ceramic container.
• Add the SCOBY and 1-2 cups of kombucha from a previous batch.
• Cover with cloth or paper towel. Don’t seal it, it needs oxygen for the first ferment
• Ferment 4-10 days.
• Taste periodically with a straw, then bottle when it’s ready (Not sweet, tangy taste, fizzes as you pour. The SCOBY floats on top.)
• It won't be very fizzy because the CO2 escapes when not capped. 

Some recipes put flavors in with the first ferment. We don't do that.
We only use organic sugar without flavors for the first ferment to avoid altering or damaging the SCOBY. 

Second Ferment
This is what makes the kombucha fizzier and tastier.

Prepare the FlavoringsFlavoring Preparation
We have an inexpensive blender called a Magic Bullet. We use this high-speed blender to make salad dressings, fruit toppings, powdered herbs, and for many other blending jobs. It comes with several blender containers, so we can make a variety of kombucha flavors at the same time. Any blender will work to make the flavorings.

Our Simple Procedure for the Second Ferment
We use 4 Magic Bullet containers to make the 2nd ferment flavorings. Each container is added to 2 bottles, making a total of eight 16 oz bottles at a time, total one gallon.
To each Magic Bullet container we add:

· 5 fl oz of juice, (1/4 cup +1/8 cup)  (We use organic fruit juices, like grape, apple, etc.)
· Small chunk of fresh ginger (about the size of a nickel, 1/8” thick).
· Small handful of frozen fruit
· 1 tsp organic sugar

We blend each container separately and then evenly add the contents of each container into two 16 oz bottles using a funnel. Now we have 8 bottles with flavoring. Then we fill the 8 bottles with kombucha from the first ferment. We simply syphon using a short latex rubber tubing (Home Depot, Lowes, etc). We cap the bottles and let them sit out at room temperature for 3-4 days. The ferment continues anaerobically, the carbonation is created, and the flavors are blended. Then we store the bottles in the fridge until we drink them. That’s it. We make 8 bottles every week. Sometimes every 4 days.

After filling the bottles, we pour the gallon of room temperature sweet tea that we made at the beginning into the large crockpot that contains our SCOBY. The whole process starts all over. Every few batches we clean the crockpot and we might reduce the size or thickness of the SCOBY to store or give away. You’ll learn as you go. (Read about SCOBY hotels on the net to learn about storing SCOBYs.)

Flavors to Try:Second Ferment
Fruit Juices: Fresh or frozen fruit juices. We mostly use organic grape, white grape, or apple juice.
Fruits: (A small handful) Blueberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Lemon, Orange, Pineapple, Mango – frozen fruits work well.
Herbs: Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Peppermint
Spices: Cinnamon, Clove, Chinese Five Spice
Other Flavors: Ginger (our favorite), fruit syrups.

Ideas from the Internet
• Fresh grated ginger, cranberry juice, fresh mint leaves
• Frozen strawberries, canned pineapple in syrup, fresh basil leaves
• Dark chocolate, frozen cherries, vanilla extract, honey
• Tangerine juice, canned peaches in syrup, lemon zest, maple syrup
• Whole cinnamon stick, whole cloves, apple juice, vanilla extract, brown sugar 

Keep a Few Things in Mind
Is there enough sugar? (For the second ferment, the yeast needs sugar to continue working, so you’ll want to add something like fruit juice or extra sweetener to give it the nutrients it needs. Some juices have added sugar in them already, like cranberry juice. Other juices, like apple and grape, are usually sweet enough to use alone. In our recipe, we use juices, chunks of fruit, and usually add 1/2 tsp of organic sugar per bottle for a little extra fizz. 

How Much Flavoring to Use?
The amount of extra flavoring depends on what you’re using for the flavoring. This will be different depending on whether you’re using fresh fruit or dried fruit, whole spices or ground spices, sweetened syrup or unsweetened fruit juice. Here are a few guidelines gathered from the internet: 

For every gallon of kombucha tea, use at least one of the following:Next Batch
1 – 2  cups of fresh or frozen fruit
1/2 – 1 cup of fruit puree
1/2 – 1 cup of dried fruit
1 – 2 cups of fruit juice
1/2 – 1 cup of additional sweetener
1/2 – 1 cup fresh herbs or spices
2 – 3 bags of herbal tea
2 – 3 teaspoons ground dried spices
1 – 3 tablespoons whole dried spices

A good way to start is by using the smaller amounts and checking to see if you like the flavor. Some flavors will come through very strongly, like peppermint and ginger, while other ingredients (like maple syrup) will give you a more subtle flavor. Raspberries and Blackberries will leave a few seeds behind, but we don’t mind. The seeds mostly stay in the bottom of the bottle as we drink.

Sometimes our 1st ferment takes only 4 days instead of the usual 7-10 days because we have a large container (and large SCOBY). You’ll have fun making all kinds of wonderful drinks. We do the whole process in 30-40 minutes, once a week now.

After a few batches the SCOBY will get very large. You can then cut it into pieces and put them in a SCOBY hotel (that's what they're called). You then have a backup or extras to share with friends. Here’s some sites to look at, or you can search for more.


Photo above (at right) shows the next batch of basic kombucha fermenting in the crock. The latex hose on top is used to siphon the kombucha into the flavored bottles. Sometimes foam rises to the top. We allow it to settle down and then add more kombucha to fill the bottle up to the neck. You don't want to fill all the way to the top. Too much pressure could be created.

As with anything new, start slowly. Some people do better with moderation, 4-8 oz. per day. Others can enjoy up to 16 oz. per day. Probiotic foods are considered the safest foods, but there have been a few cases of contamination. If it doesn't taste right or smell right, then start another batch with a fresh SCOBY. Fermented foods have been used for thousands of years precisely because they were the safest foods and the probiotic bacteria protected people from harm. The good bacteria overwhelmed the bad and made the food safe. We see that with saurkraut and many other probiotic foods.

Still people have different biology. Pregnant women should always be more cautious of everything they eat. Also, if any food disagrees with you, then that is your body telling you to do something else for now. Learn to listen to your own system and follow your body's guidance.