How To Make Kombucha: A Guide For Urban Homesteaders

Learning how to make kombucha is a fun, affordable, and empowering way to easily begin homesteading. You can receive the low-sugar probiotic benefits of this beverage for a fraction of a cost – and I do mean a fraction! I pay about 10 cents for each bottle of homemade kombucha that I drink. 

Read on to learn more about how you can begin this brewing journey at home with the best ingredients and methods possible. 

Quick Navigation

a jar of kombucha with a SCOBY in it

Kombucha 101

Kombucha tea is made by fermenting sweetened black tea with a flat, pancake-­like culture of yeasts and bacteria called the Kombucha SCOBY. “SCOBY” stands for a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. ­This important living organism converts your tea into a tangy, carbonated, probiotic beverage. If you’re wondering what does kombucha taste like, it may be helpful to try some commercial bottles to get a good idea of the range of flavors available.

Most store-bought kombucha is pasteurized which means that most of the probiotic cultures in the drink have been killed. This significantly lowers the nutritional value of the drink. Making your own kombucha avoids this process entirely.  

The main benefit of making kombucha at home is that it is immensely cheaper than purchasing it. The cost of a bottle of kombucha can reach up to $8 for artisanal brands and costs about $4 on average. After buying your kombucha starter kit one time, your continued cost will be approximately $1 per gallon. That means that with each batch you make, you’ll be getting about 8 bottles of kombucha for about 12 cents each! 

Getting a SCOBY

When you are preparing for your kombucha-making, your first step will be to get a SCOBY. There are three ways to get a SCOBY:

Buy one

You can buy a SCOBY individually or get a kit that will include everything you need to brew. You may be able to find a fresh SCOBY at a local co-op or even a Whole Foods. You can order one from major online retailers or from artisans on Etsy or eBay. It is better to buy a hydrated SCOBY versus a dried one. It will be stronger and more resilient overall. 

Ask For One

Every SCOBY produces a “baby” in each batch and most Kombucha brewers end up with more SCOBYs than they know how to manage. Because of this, it can be quite easy to ask another brewer for one. If you don’t know anyone who makes Kombucha, you can ask a local online community, in a Facebook group, or even on craigslist. 

Grow One From a Glass of Kombucha

It may be challenging to grow your own SCOBY from a bottle of kombucha. You will want to find an unflavored and unpasteurized Kombucha for this process, which can be hard to locate. Here in Austin, if we want to buy unpasteurized kombucha, we need to show an ID to verify we are over 21. This is because there is a trace amount of alcohol in raw probiotic beverages. 

  1. Purchase a bottle of unflavored raw kombucha
  2. Make 1 cup of black (or green) tea and add 2 tablespoons of what sugar to it. Mix the sugar into the liquid and let it cool down to room temperature. 
  3. Combine your sugary tea and bottle of kombucha into a jar. 
  4. Cover the jar with a towel or coffee filter and secure it with string or a rubber band.
  5. Place the mixture in a warm area out of direct sunlight. 
  6. Check each week to see if your SCOBY is growing. If you don’t see any development after 3 weeks, discard the batch. If you do see your SCOBY growing, you’ll know it’s ready when it reaches a thickness of approximately ¼ of an inch. 
  7. When the SCOBY is ready, use it and the liquid to begin a new larger batch of kombucha. 

Choosing your supplies

kombucha supplies

Here are the materials you need when brewing Kombucha:

  • A big pot – Make sure you have a pot that can hold at least a gallon of liquid. You will make your sugary tea in this container. 
  • A large vase or jar – The standard size for this container is 1 gallon and most recipes are based on this amount. Make sure to adjust your amounts of tea water and sugar if you choose to make a larger or smaller container. You can buy a jar for this if you’d like. To save money, I purchased a gallon-sized flower vase from a thrift store and sterilized it. 
  • Cloth, rag, or paper towels – I find that microfiber cloths, paper towels, and coffee filters work best for this. When using a reusable cloth, I make sure to wash it before I use it for the next batch to prevent any unnecessary contamination. 
  • Large rubber band, string, or tape – Make sure you find something that can securely tie your cloth to your jar. If there are any gaps, fruit flies will surely find their way into your batch. I like to use cloth headbands that can be found in the women’s hair accessories section of your nearby store for this part.
  • 1 cup of sugar – Your standard granulated white sugar is a great choice for kombucha. I use white organic cane sugar when I can. Brown sugars are more challenging for the probiotics to break down. Never use artificial sweeteners and beware with honey, which may bring its own biome into your batch. 
  • 6 bags of tea (green, black, or both) – I like to use green tea in my kombucha because I want to incorporate the benefits of this tea into my diet. Have fun experimenting with green, black, or a mix of both teas. Just be careful to avoid adding teas with additional flavors in them. If you want to experiment with something that isn’t a plain tea, do it in a separate experimental batch to make sure your SCOBY can handle it. 
  • 1 SCOBY mother – As mentioned above, there are several ways to get a good SCOBY for your brewing. I personally think it is worth it to get one from a friend (or to make a new friend) because kombucha making is about connecting with the people who create it! 
  • A little starter kombucha – When you get your new SCOBY, make sure it is immersed in some kombucha, which will give a “kick-start” to your first batch of Kombucha. 

These are the basic ingredients for a raw unflavored kombucha, which is surprisingly delicious. However, many people enjoy putting their kombucha through a second fermentation. This is the stage in which you will flavor and carbonate your kombucha. For this process, I recommend additional kombucha bottles, a strainer, and a funnel. 

Super Simple Kombucha Recipe

bottle of kombucha

Ingredients: 

  • 1 Gallon of filtered or purified water (tap may be fine if it is low chlorine and fluoride).
  • 5-6 bags of black or green tea (or a combination of both)
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1 Kombucha Mother SCOBY
  • 1-2 cups of kombucha starter liquid (should come with your SCOBY)

Equipment:

  • A large vase or jar
  • Cloth, rag, or paper towels
  • Large rubber band, string, or tape
  • Large spoon
  • Large pot or kettle  (that can make a gallon of tea)

Instructions:

  1.  Bring your gallon of water to a boil. 
  2. Turn off the heat and add your tea bags to the water and let them steep for 7 – 10 minutes. 
  3. Remove tea bags. Add your cup of sugar to the mixture and stir well until sugar is fully dissolved. 
  4. Let your tea mixture cool down. Sometimes I like to place it in the fridge or freezer if I am in a hurry.
  5. Pour your stater liquid and gently place your SCOBY into your large vase or jar.
  6. When your tea mixture is at room temperature, add it to your jar. 
  7. Cover with a cloth cover and secure with a rubber band or string. 
  8. Place your jar in a warm area that is out of direct sunlight. Let it sit for 7 to 21 days. I find that my batches are ready about every two weeks. You can test your kombucha using a spoon or straw to take out a small amount of liquid to taste. This is the best way to determine if your batch is ready – if it tastes good to you! 
  9. When ready, you can either store your kombucha in bottles and refrigerate them, or move on to the second fermentation process. At this point, you can make another batch of sugary tea for the next cycle of brewing. 

The Continuous Brew Method

This brewing method allows you to have a consistent supply of kombucha that you extract from a large vessel with a spigot. This method is best for those with a strong SCOBY who want to be able to have consistent yields with less maintenance. 

Benefits

This brewing method can help save time for the long-term kombucha brewer by saving a couple of steps. There are several benefits to this process. It can reduce the change of mold or pests from entering your batch since the kombucha stays in its jar and is less exposed. It also helps your kombucha to mature faster and allows you to have several glasses of it throughout the week rather than waiting 2 or more weeks for each harvest. 

How To Set Up Your Continuous Brewing System

  1. Gather your supplies. You will use the same equipment as mentioned in the super simple kombucha recipe. However, you will replace the standard jar with one that has a spigot on it. Don’t use a spigot that has any metal on the inside of the container, as it may react with the kombucha liquid. 
  2. Make a sugary tea. Prepare the tea as mentioned in the kombucha recipe. Add the tea, starter kombucha, and SCOBY to your spigot jar. Tightly cover the jar with a cloth or towel.
  3. Ferment your tea. Let the kombucha ferment for 7 to 21 days. Since there may be a larger amount in your jar than the traditional brewing method, this initial fermentation process may take longer than usual.  
  4. Drink your tea. You can extract a large amount of tea at once, or take it out glass by glass as needed. Make sure that you always leave at least 20% of the original kombucha in the jar to ensure that there are enough probiotics to keep it safe.
  5. Add new tea. Make new tea using the same methods as in step 2. Allow the tea to cool to room temperature and then slowly add it to your continuous brewing jar. 

Ingredient Ratio Chart

kombucha ingredient ratio chart

Second Fermentation

filtering kombucha

The second fermentation is the process of adding flavoring to your kombucha, putting it in a sealed container, and waiting 2-7 days for the drink to carbonate. This is an optional step in the kombucha brewing process.

It allows you to customize the flavoring of your drink, control how sugary or “dry” the batch is, and give it the fizzy consistency we are used to in store-bought kombucha. 

The sky is the limit when it comes to flavoring your kombucha! You can add juice, sugar water, fruits, herbs, and much more. This is a great area to experiment in because the unique flavors are what makes home-brewed Kombucha so special. 

Step-By-Step Second Fermentation Process:

  1. Add your juice, fruit, or herbs to your bottle. I like to add 1 part flavoring to 9 parts of kombucha. 
  2. Remove your Scoby and 2 cups of liquid from your first fermentation, and set them aside for your next batch. 
  3. Stir the remaining kombucha to make sure all of its yeast and bacteria are evenly distributed through the liquid.  This helps make sure the second fermentation happens evenly. 
  4. Using a funnel, pour the kombucha into your bottles, and make sure to leave ½ to 1 inch of space at the top of the bottle. 
  5. Seal the bottles tightly. 
  6. Let them sit, preferably in a dark cupboard, for 2-3 days at room temperature. 
  7. After the first few days put the bottles in the fridge. Once they have cooled down, you can test them by unscrewing them and tasting them. Chilling them before opening helps to avoid a strong carbonated foam from shooting out. If they are properly carbonated, go ahead and leave them in the fridge, they are ready! If they are too flat, return them to a room temperature area for a few more days. 

Storing your Kombucha

Bottles are such an important part of the kombucha brewing process so it is essential to use the right ones if you want good results from your batch. There are four times when your Kombucha will be in a container: The first fermentation, the second fermentation, when they are bottled after fermenting, and when you will store or “rest” your kombucha SCOBY when you need a break. 

Here is what to look for when selecting a good kombucha bottle:

Glass

Glass is by far the preferred material for kombucha bottling. It doesn’t contain toxic compounds such as BPA, lead, or other heavy metals. It is also scratch-resistant and does not interfere with the flavors of your kombucha. Since th3re is a lot of carbonation in the kombucha brewing process, it’s important to get a thick food grade glass that can handle high pressure. 

It’s also better to use round bottles when storing or fermenting your kombucha. Although this seems like a small visual difference, round bottles are much more stable and strong, and are less likely to break or explode under pressure as square bottles would. 

Caps

In addition to strong class, a strong and air-tight cap will help make sure your kombucha can carbonate properly without leaking out CO2 gas. Flip-top bottles are best for this because they have a rubber seal that creates a perfect tightness on the bottle. These caps can be a little more difficult to open than a twist-off cap, but this is how you know it is really on there and doing it’s job well! 

Size

The size of the bottles that you’ll use will depend on how much kombucha you’re producing, how many flavors you want to add to your batch, and which sizes are most convenient for you. If you are doing a second fermentation and want to try a different flavor for each, you may want 6 16-oz bottles so you can use a variety of fruits and juices for your flavoring. If you’re only interested in making one flavor of kombucha, using a liter-sized bottle may be a more simple path. 

Having Kombucha bottles in a serving size is a nice way to have your kombucha ready to go. This way you can just grab a bottle from the fridge and take it with you, without having to portion it out. 

How to Store your SCOBY & Use Extras

Your SCOBY naturally stores itself in each batch of kombucha you make. Each time you produce a new batch, your SCOBY will make a new “baby”. You can leave as many of these babies as you want in your fermenting jar. However, they will eventually take up precious space you will need in your jar. You can regularly remove or cut down the SCOBYs in your batch to make sure they aren’t getting out of control. 

How To Use Extra SCOBYs

If you would like to use your SCOBY instead of throwing it away, you may want to give them to friends, blend them into your smoothies, dehydrate them into SCOBY jerky, add them into pet food, add them to your garden’s compost pile, or even make a face mask from the materials. 

How To Put Your SCOBY To Sleep

To pause your brewing and rest your kombucha Scoby, all you need to do is put it in a jar and seal it, and let it sit in the fridge. The cold temperature will significantly slow down the rate of production and is an excellent solution for taking a month or two off.

How To Store Extra SCOBYs

It’s a good idea to have a backup of SCOBYs in case something unfortunate happens to a batch while brewing. This is done using a SCOBY hotel, which is essentially a container full of SCOBYs and kombucha liquid. You can add as many SCOBYs in a jar as you would like, as long as there is enough liquid to cover them. 

You can use a lid (non-metallic) or towel to cover the lid of your jar. Every 4 weeks, make sure to check on them and add a little fresh kombucha to the container. This will keep them slowly growing as they wait patiently for future use.

Starting a collection of SCOBYs is a great idea if you would like to experiment with different types of brewing methods. There is nothing wrong with breaking the rules and trying variations as long as you have one healthy kombucha mother sitting in unflavored black or green tea.  

FAQs

strained kombucha

How much kombucha should I be drinking?

When starting out, limit your intake to 8oz a day and make sure to drink a lot of water. You can increase this over time as you monitor how your body and appetite feels. 

Can I use less (or substitute) the sugar?

No you may not! The sugar, like the tea, is a necessary food for the kombucha culture. The longer you let the kombucha sit, the more of the sugars will be eaten and converted, producing a very dry kombucha. If you would like to limit your intake of sugar, just let your batches ferment for longer. Make sure to check it periodically, because it will eventually turn into vinegar.  

How do I clean my kombucha Bottles?

It’s best to use simple soaps and hot water when cleaning your kombucha materials. We would rather sanitize our bottles with heat than use anti-microbial materials that may interfere with the probiotics in our drink. Using a bit of dish soap is okay as long as you rinse your bottles thoroughly afterwards. Another great way to clean your bottles is by washing them in the dishwasher (on a hot setting) without adding any soap. This will use water pressure and heat to perfectly clean your bottles. 

Why isn’t my kombucha getting fizzy?

As mentioned above, if your kombucha isn’t carbonated after the first 2-3 days of the process, go ahead and leave it at room temperature so it can continue to develop more CO2. When you’re ready to test them again, place them in the fridge before you open them so they don’t foam everywhere when you open them.

Another consideration may be that your kombucha needs more sugar. The carbonation occurs when your kombucha eats sugar and releases gas, making it a very important ingredient for the second fermentation. Feel free to add a small amount of juice, sugar, or simple syrup to increase the pace of carbonation.

Do I need to burp my bottles?

It isn’t necessary to burp your bottles when making kombucha. If you make sure to use a bottle that can handle the pressure of the kombucha there is virtually no chance an explosion will happen. 

Additional References

A more detailed look into the continuous brew method

How to dehydrate a SCOBY

A complete glossary of kombucha brewing terms

My favorite online SCOBY provider 

A great kombucha recipe from Sarah at Why Food Works

A gift guide for fermentation and eco-friendly gifts

Summary

Making your own kombucha begins as a science and evolves into an art. With a proper balance of learning about the science behind your SCOBY and experimenting with it, you will soon become an expert brewer. 

The tradition of kombucha making is best honored when you hand down your fermentation wisdom alongside a SCOBY. Make sure to share all that you’ve learned along the way with new eager fermentors to create an empowered homesteading community. 

Rachel pouring kombucha

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *