Monday, March 15, 2010

how to make kombucha tea

Kombucha is a fermented drink brewed from a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). Homemade kombucha requires a bit of nurturing in the form of feeding and a clean, warm, sweet environment in order to thrive.

To get started you’ll need to ask a friend for a “kombucha daughter” – the “offspring” of a kombucha culture, which is called the “mother”. A kombucha culture, if sufficiently fed and nurtured, will cleave off a daughter once a month or so. The daughters can be given away, put in the compost, or – believe it or not - dried into a leather-like substance that can be used in the making of arts and crafts!

Get a good large (preferably glass) container with a wide opening and clean it well. The best containers are wide all around as opposed to narrow at the top. The old candy store style with the big glass lid, probably about 5 gallons, is perfect. My jars hold about a gallon.

Make the tea of your choice, add a cup or so of sugar per gallon of water while the tea’s still hot, then let it cool down (don’t worry about the high sugar content - the “mother” will digest it all!). We like to use fresh ginger tea that we make by chopping up a chunk of the root. Black or green tea works great too. Stir the sugar into the hot tea and let it simmer for a while so it gets dissolved completely. After your tea and sugar are well blended and cooled, gently slide the “mother” into the jar using non-metal implements if possible – the “mother” will float to the top soon if not immediately. Cover the opening of the container with a clean breathable cloth (a cotton dishtowel secured with a rubber band works great).

Store your kombucha in a cool dark place for about two weeks. Time ‘til your brew is complete will vary according to ambient room temp – in summer it goes much faster! Give it a taste after two weeks, and if it tastes pleasantly sweet-and-sour, it’s ready! If it’s too sweet, let it sit a bit longer. If you wait too long you’ll have vinegar - i've heard this type of vinegar is used traditionally in mexico...probably other places too! if you wait much longer past the vinegar stage, your "mother" will have no sugar left to digest, and will eventually perish.

To bottle: empty plastic water bottles or pint-sized jars work well. Fish the “mother” out of your jar – again using non-metal utensils - and put her temporarily on a clean glass pie plate (or, if you’d like to let her go dormant for awhile, store in a mason jar in the fridge until you’re ready to start again – a couple of inches of water and a few tablespoons of sugar will enable her to live in the fridge for about a month).

If you are using plastic bottles, pour in the tea, then squeeze the bottles a bit so they’re indented. Cap them with a dent – when the bottles un-dent, your kombucha will be delightfully fizzy and ready to drink! If you are using glass it’s a little harder to know for sure when they’ve reached perfect bubbliness – two or three days should probably do it, but they could be ready even faster in hot weather. Store the bottles at room temp ‘til they undent or after a couple of days, then put them in the fridge ‘til you’re ready to drink them.

If your kombucha produces foam or stringy things or brown spots that’s okay. Mold, however, is not good. If your batch has fuzz on it, smells “bad”, or is in any other way suspicious, throw it out and start again. If you’ve given a daughter to a couple of nearby friends, you’ll always have back-ups. Kombucha-making is definitely a community affair!

While the medicinal effects of kombucha are considered dubious by some, it would be hard to deny the wonderous feeling that comes from a creating a drink made from a living creature that provides you with a delicious substance in exchange for your enabling it to continue to thrive.

If you happen to be interested in a healing, nurturing, culturally symbiotic, political/philosophical movement inspired by kombucha, you may wish to peruse the kombucha party.


  1. When Mikey and Wendy had their last event, we discussed making leather out of Kombucha. Obviously you'd need to make a lot of it.

    I wonder if you could grow a Kombucha in a child's swimming pool, dry it out, and cut it like leather?

    1. Yes -- I just harvested a 4'x8' sheet and am about to harvest another.