Clink, clink, clink. Here at Thrive HQ, every head perks up from their computer screens when they hear that tell-tale sound of glass bottles getting stacked into the fridge. Everyone knows—there’s a fresh stock of kombucha in the kitchen. A (polite) stampede ensues, and within minutes, every last bottle gets commandeered.
But what is kombucha? And why are people so crazy for it?
Basically, this suddenly-trendy beverage is vinegary soda fermented with a SCOBY—or a symbiotic colony of bacteria. Okay, yes, it sounds pretty gross, but it actually tastes refreshingly tart and fizzy, and it's benefits go well beyond flavor.
Think about that Greek yogurt you’ve come to love for its live active cultures that help keep your gut healthy—kombucha does the same. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, this probiotic beverage has myriad health benefits, from improving digestion and immune function, to detoxification, to liver support, and even weight loss. And as you may already know, fermented foods like kombucha can actually help curb your anxiety.
Intrigued? You’re just a bottle away from getting hooked on the stuff. But what's even more addictive is the super sustainable way you can make your own kombucha. All you really need is time. And once you obtain a SCOBY, you can use it over and over again, making endless batches. You’ll never have to splurge on a $3 bottle again—making your own can yield up to a gallon of the stuff—for under $1.
Here’s how to brew your first batch of kombucha and keep it going on and on. And it all starts with a Kombucha Tea Starter Culture from Cultures for Health.
1. Rehydrating the SCOBY
Dissolve a ¼ cup organic unbleached white sugar with a little hot water in a quart-sized glass jar. Make sure to use one with an opening of at least 3 inches in diameter. Even if you typically avoid white sugar, don't be afraid to use some here—it's the sweetener that will maintain the most consistent pH level, which is instrumental in brewing kombucha. Do not attempt to use honey or maple sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, fill the jar about ¾ of the way full with more hot water.
Next, add in distilled white vinegar to fill the jar. This keeps the pH on the acidic side, and stops bacteria and mold from forming in the liquid.
Then, add two green, oolong, or black tea bags to steep. Do not use earl grey, or any other tea that contains oils. If you'd like to use herbal tea, mix it with green, oolong, or black tea to keep a good pH level. Steep for 10 minutes, or until the liquid has cooled to room temperature.
Once cool, add the dehydrated SCOBY and cover the jar with a coffee filter, securing it with a rubber band to keep bugs out of this sugary tea.
Store the jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight—about 75 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. The top of your fridge often makes a perfect hiding place.
Let the concoction sit for about 14 days, then check it (try not to disturb it before then). A new culture may start to form, first appearing as a white haze, then forming into a white disc. As long as it doesn’t turn green, black, or orange, there’s no need to worry about mold.
After 21 to 28 days, the culture should be perfectly rehydrated. Using clean fingers, remove it from the jar. Now, you're finally ready to use the culture to brew your first batch of Kombucha. Save about a cup of the sugar, tea, and vinegar mixture to use as your starter tea, which can replace the distilled white vinegar you used in the rehydration process for the subsequent brewing process.
2. Brewing Kombucha
If a new culture did not form, no problem—it can take a few tries before that happens. You can just use the rehydrated culture, known as the mother (the new culture would be the baby). You can typically reuse all cultures for several months. When you're ready to dispose of them, they can be composted.
To brew your first batch of Kombucha, follow the same steps as above using your mother (and baby) culture, and starter tea in place of vinegar. Follow the same process—mixing sugar with hot water, adding a little of your starter tea, throwing in fresh tea bags, and adding the culture. This time, letting the mixture sit for 5 to 7 days at 70 degrees Fahrenheit will be fine. A longer brew time—up to 30 days—will create a more robust Kombucha with a higher nutritional content, though it probably won't be as palatable for newbies. The shorter the brewing time, the sweeter the Kombucha. Strain it and enjoy! To flavor it, you can even add 10-20 percent juice to 80-90 percent Kombucha—try apple and cinnamon or pineapple and coconut.
Since each batch of this fermented tea will produce a brand new culture, you'll have more of them than you'll know what to do with, so pass them on—along with your newfound Kombucha-making skills—to all your friends. It's a gift that keeps on giving.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont