Homemade Kombucha

Kombucha is a bit of an enigma in the health world. It seems every health-minded group appreciates the benefits of this fermented, effervescent, and probiotic drink – from Vegans to Paleos alike. One unfortunate side effect of being a kombucha drinker is that if enjoyed regularly, you could basically end up completely broke; bottles range from $3 to $5 each at most grocery stores. Luckily, making it at home is fun, economical, and takes only a little foresight.

Kombucha is a fermented black tea drink, originating somewhere in Northern China or Central Asia at least 2,000 years ago. It reached Russia sometime in the 19th century, and quickly gained popularity as a health drink; at one point, most Soviet-era homes were growing their own kombucha culture. It spread to Europe and beyond through Russia. The Russians have several names for the drink, the most popular being чайный гриб (“tea mushroom”) and медуза (“medusa”, their word for jellyfish). The drink is made by fermenting a batch of sweet tea with a culture known as SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which eats the caffeine and sugar, leaving you with a sour, slightly vinegary drink that’s not unlike apple cider vinegar.

The drink has some notable links to health, especially in regards to cancer. Author Alexander Soltzhenitsyn claims it cured his stomach cancer while imprisoned in a Soviet gulag. Ronald Reagan purportedly treated his colon cancer by drinking kombucha daily in the 1980s. While proven results have varied, it goes without saying that the fermented, probiotic profile of the drink carries benefits. In this age of antibiotics and antibacterial products, it’s good to see helpful bugs making a bit of a comeback.

With every batch of kombucha, a new SCOBY forms; I tend to leave three SCOBYs in the jar at once, and give the extras away.

There is no one way to make kombucha, but I’ve been making mine using the same method for about three years now, and it works well with our family’s drinking schedule. I brew (and bottle) three gallons every 3-4 weeks, and takes me about an hour every time I brew a new batch. Not a bad time investment in order to have constant kombucha. This recipe can be scaled up and down depending on how much you drink.

Many homebrewers prefer “continuous brew” setups, where you pour out kombucha as you drink it and periodically add new sweet tea to your fermentation pot. This method hasn’t been very helpful for me, because it forces me to either a) brew sweet tea often, which can become a chore, or b) brew a concentrated sweet tea and keep it in my fridge, which takes up precious space. So in the end I prefer my brew-every-3-weeks schedule.

Homemade Kombucha

  • Servings: varies
  • Time: 1 hour brew, 3-4 week fermentation
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

1 SCOBY (starter culture)
2 gallons water
2 cups organic cane sugar
8 black tea bags (or 8 tsp loose tea) (see note below)
1-2 cups kombucha (starter liquid)

for second fermentation:
fruit juice (cherry, apple, strawberry, or grapefruit preferred)
or dried fruit (strawberries, mango preferred)
or fresh fruit (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries preferred)
fresh ginger (optional)

1. Your first order of business is to get a starter culture (SCOBY). You have several options: you can buy one online (Kombucha Kamp is an excellent source for cultures, equipment, and tutorials), get one from a friend, or grow your own. To grow your own, add 1-2 cups of store-bought, unflavored kombucha to a large jar of about 1/2 gallon sweet tea (brewed with 1/2 cup sugar and 4 tea bags) and let it sit for about 3-5 weeks (cover it with a cloth or coffee filter). A culture will form at the top, which you can use indefinitely for future kombucha batches. Here is a more in-depth tutorial on how to make a SCOBY from scratch.

2. Once you have a SCOBY, it’s time to brew. Boil 2 gallons of water (some people prefer purified water, I just use filtered tap water) and stir in the 2 cups of sugar and add the tea bags. Remove from heat and allow to steep and cool until the tea is at room temperature, which will take an hour or two. Alternatively, you can boil 1/2 gallon of water and add the sugar/tea to it to steep for about 20 minutes, then add the remaining 1 1/2 gallons cold water to it to cool it down to room temperature.

3. Add the sweet tea, SCOBY, and starter liquid to a large glass or porcelain jar. I use a large iced tea jar that has a spigot at the bottom; the spigot is made of metal, which can be affected by the acidic drink, so I clean it thoroughly every few months. If buying a jar with a spigot, look for one with a plastic spigot (but it’s not a deal breaker). Something like a large glass cookie jar will work as well.

4. Cover the jar with a thin cloth (like cheesecloth) and secure it with a rubber band. This will prevent insects or debris from getting in. Store it away from direct sunlight and somewhere moderately warm (70F-80F is ideal). Allow to ferment for 2-4 weeks depending on how sour/strong you like your kombucha – I recommend smelling or tasting it every few days after the two-week point. I generally brew mine for 3 weeks, but that can vary based on season and how warm it is in our house.

5. Once it has fermented, I distribute all but 2-3 cups of the kombucha into smaller bottles and flavor it. This step is called second fermentation, which gives the drink its effervescence (fizziness). Pour the kombucha into jars with tight-fitting lids (growlers or old store-bought kombucha bottles work fine, lately I’ve been using leftover Gerolsteiner bottles which are very easy to store). Fill the bottles only 3/4 of the way with kombucha. Fill the rest of the bottle up with fruit juice or chopped dried/fresh fruit. Throw in some fresh peeled ginger if you’re up for it (about 1/2″ per liter). If using a juice that isn’t very sweet (like cherry or cranberry), add in a little honey or sugar, about 1 tsp per liter. Fill up the jar until it’s nearly full – the less air you leave inside the bottle, the more fizzy it will get.

6. Seal the bottles and leave them out to ferment for 1-5 days, depending on how fizzy you like it. There is some danger of the bottles exploding but that’s never happened to me. I would start with a 2-day second fermentation for your first batch and lengthen the second fermentation the next time around. Once the second fermentation is complete, put the bottles in the fridge and enjoy at your leisure. I would recommend not opening the bottles until they have been in the fridge for a few hours, to minimize any fizzy explosions.

7. Finally, brew your next batch of kombucha. Go back to step #2 and use your remaining 2-3 cups of kombucha to do it all over again!

** Different teas provide for different flavors. When using tea bags, I would usually use 2 plain black tea bags, 1 green tea bag, and 2 Sadaf tea bags. For the past year I’ve been using the loose leaf tea blend from Kombucha Kamp. Be sure to avoid caffeine-free herbal teas (the SCOBY needs caffeine to grow) and flavored teas that contain essential oils.

** I’m all for natural sweeteners like honey instead of sugar, but in the case of kombucha, you’re going to want to brew it with sugar – honey just doesn’t cut it. Luckily, the SCOBY eats almost all of the sugar during fermentation so the final product is very low sugar.

** I prefer using juice over fresh or dried fruit. No matter how small you cut the fruit up, it will grow a bunch during the second fermentation and can be a pain to pour out. Blending the fruit will result in a bunch of pulp, which isn’t bad.

** If your kombucha ends up too strong-tasting for your liking, cutting it with water or a little juice can really help. If it isn’t fizzy enough for your tastes, consider adding a little sparkling mineral water. Adding more sugar or juice to the bottles during second fermentation will help add fizziness – it’s something that will likely take several batches to get just right.

** My favorite flavor, by far, is grapefruit. Kombucha mixes well with gin.

49 thoughts on “Homemade Kombucha

  1. I’ve always been fascinated with kombucha and scoby ever since seeing it the first time many years ago in my parents’ pantry. I’ve been wanting to try making it but have been somewhat worried because it does look a little scary (one of my weird fears is jelly fish – long story), but your info and instructions might make me make that leap. Thanks! :)

  2. This was really interesting I have never heard of this nor seen it before. I like ‘natural’ disease preventions alsoo and I found this fascinating as well as the link the the other page. Both of you expllain it well.

  3. Russ, the link to the tea you use contains earl grey. I always read where it’s recommended not to use earl grey. Do you ever have any problems with it? Also, have you ever tried the sadaf w cardamom? Sounds so good! I have my first batch of komboucha brewing now. Thanks for this post. What brand of flavorings do you use, or is it straight up fresh juice?

    1. Linda, ah, good point! I had removed my Sadaf tea bags from the box years ago and never realized it contained Earl Grey. Good catch! My only guess is that since only 2/5 of my tea bags were the Sadaf bags, and it only “contains” Earl Grey (and not sure the amount), it turned out okay. It appears that many people brew kombucha with Earl Grey without incident. But you should probably look for a different tea to work with – Rooibos, Yerba Mate, Darjeeling would all be great additions to straight black tea. The cardamom tea sounds great, but the flavor can take on a different profile after brewing, so it might not taste much like cardamom after the fermentation – but it’s worth a shot!

      I usually just buy whatever 100% juice I find at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, typically in small amounts since it doesn’t take much juice for the second fermentation. Pressing your own juice (grapefruit in particular) would be awesome.

  4. I’ve wanted to make my own for years but as you wrote..there are many different methods/recipes and I could never figure out which was best. I think I’ll try your was (all the recipes I’ve tried from your book have worked out really well). Question: do those 2-3 cups of reserved liquid (with SCOBY I assume) just stay out at room temp in the big jar or do you have a separate “holding area” for that? thanks

    1. Yep, just keep the extra liquid in the jar you would typically ferment everything in, at room temperature. Also, speaking of holding areas, some people will make a “SCOBY hotel” for their extra SCOBYs or for when they go on vacation, that’s worth googling too. I’m usually never away from home more than 3 weeks at a time so it’s usually not an issue for me.

      1. I now remember when the so-called “kocha kinoko”, literally “black tea mushroom” but which was a liquid, became very popular in Japan when I was in elementary school. So this is it.

  5. Great post – I grew my own SCOBY and brewed my own kombucha around 4 mos ago now…without first trying it or even knowing if I would like it. I now have 4 gallons brewing at all times and my 9 year old daughter has jumped in and started her own small batch. The best part is playing with the flavors during the 2nd ferment – and I love to add chia seeds to mine. We are totally hooked. Thank you for the great post.

  6. I love the idea of brewing a larger batch for 3 weeks instead of 1 like how I’m doing it in my house. We use lemon zest for our second brew, perfect lemon flavor without the sourness that would otherwise need to be checked with more sugar (we grate zest as we use up lemons in the freezer until the ‘buch is ready for round 2) Definitely going to give your method a go in the future. Great detailed post once again, Russ!

  7. I have no idea how I found this link, but really pleased I have. I’ve been a water kefir girl for yonks but dumped it a few months ago because my 5yr old kept drinking it before it was ready. The scoby I’ve magicked out of a store brand looked way too scary for that. I’ve been looking for a comprehensive guide and this looks like it. Thanks for posting, and thanks for the questions covered. Would never, ever ever have known the scoby needed caffeine to grow. So does the final product contain caffeine then? I’d suspect not.. ?

    1. Hi Cate, thanks for stopping by! There will be a little residual caffeine in the kombucha, but not much. I’m very sensitive to caffeine and I’ve never had any problems with it.

  8. This is something I keep intending to getting around too. Thanks for spelling it out and giving me some motivation :) I’ve heard really good things about Kombucha. I’d love to have a steady supply like you do.

  9. I have 2 large continuous brew containers going right now, but I tend to let them go too long…Maybe I should switch over to doing it your way instead! I love using juices in the 2nd ferment too because it’s so much easier, and when it comes to kombucha, I don’t need any extra barriers :)

  10. I just happened upon your blog. This is great. My fourteen year old son is in the midst of making this. I have scoby’s growing in my pantry right now.

  11. Have made 3 batches of kombucha and can’t seem to get fizziness. We’ve used fresh strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and raspberries. None of them fizzy. :( We leave about an inch of “air” in the bottle. Do you think this is too much?

    1. Lora, the lack of fizz is usually due to a lack of sugar during the second fermentation, so it strikes me as odd that it isn’t fizzy when you’re using something like strawberries, which can be one of the fizziest. How long is your second fermentation? 1″ of air should be fine.

  12. Awesome post! Recently started my first batch, and this gives me ideas for my second/bottle ferment. If what you say is true about the scoby feeding off the caffeine, do you think it would be possible to make a coffee kombucha?

  13. I definitely would not use cheesecloth. The fruit flies have all day to figure out how to get in, and they will. I use a paper towel with a rubber band around it then put another paper towel with a rubber band around it.

    1. Hi Anna, I’ve seen similar arguments, but at the same time there are several studies that show a reduction in caffeine during fermentation. Here is a study that measured how each property of the drink is affected by fermentation (Figure 2 shows a significant reduction in caffeine): http://www.researchgate.net/publication/23247500_Preservation_of_kombucha_tea-effect_of_temperature_on_tea_components_and_free_radical_scavenging_properties/file/d912f507e3b003a388.pdf. Also, average testing of kombucha shows a very low caffeine content, usually 14mg or less per 8oz, which is is much less than what most initial tea brews contain (again implying a reduction of caffeine). GT’s has also stated that caffeine is reduced as a part of their kombucha fermentation.

      I appreciate Eileen’s (from Pheonix Helix) post, there is a lot of good stuff in there. Unfortunately I consider the source she cites to be a little sketchy (promising new, undiscovered facts about kombucha, provided you pay $25 for the eBook that contains the facts).

  14. Any idea if they sell real Kombucha (or a SCOBY) in Austria, Switzerland or Germany? I’m working in Bregenz Austria (close to the Swiss and German borders, tri-country area) for the summer and my husband found something that said “Kombucha” on the bottle, but was not refrigerated, and was VERY sweet- it made him ill after drinking it, so we threw it out! We would love to make our own Kombucha, as we go through it like a couch potato goes through soda pop when we are in the states- but we travel for my job about 90% of the year and a lot of the time it’s in Europe! Paleo resources over here are a bit hard to come by we’ve found…. Any suggestions would be helpful! Thanks! (PS, Made your lamb tagine recipe (from the cookbook) for my dad’s birthday a couple weeks ago and it was a MAJOR HIT! DELISH!)

    1. Kathryn, great question, but unfortunately I have no idea! Are you able to buy a SCOBY online from Amazon or Kombucha Kamp? Not sure about international restrictions, but I imagine they won’t want you taking it through customs. Maybe a Russian grocery store would sell some?

  15. Hi, I have just recently started making my own kombucha. I am enjoying it. When I do my second ferment I have what looks like a small scoby form in my smaller jars. Is it a scoby or something else?

  16. Thanks Russ! Can one drink to much kombucha? I have also had a bitter aftertaste in my mouth the last few days. I was thinking it is something I’m eating but was also wondering if it might have to do with my Kombucha?

    1. Jen, you can definitely drink too much of kombucha (just like you can drink too much of anything!), it’ll vary depending on how strong the kombucha is. I haven’t heard of a bitter aftertaste before, though.

    1. Kelly, you can find SCOBYs online via kombuchakamp.com or Amazon if you don’t know anyone who is already brewing. Green tea can be used to make kombucha, but I’ve heard of some people having mixed results – it may be better to use a combination of green and black teas.

      1. Awesome, thanks Russ! I’ll check it out! I don’t know anyone brewing Kombucha but I’m sure going to try my hand at it. We’ve brewed beer and mead in the past so I have a fair idea on brewing in general. :)

      2. Hi Russ,

        I tried to grow my own SCOBY from store-bought raw/unpasteurized kombucha and sweetened green tea mix and it appears to be working! :D Although, it’s still growing and I can’t compare it to other SCOBYs. It’s looking good and growing at a remarkable speed. I’ve written a post about it. Hope this helps. :)

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