Have you been wondering about those bottles in the refrigerated section of the grocery store or tasted a sample at Costco recently? Kombucha tea is a new (actually very old) health trend that is a great choice in the summer because it is flavorful, refreshing, and good for you. No need to purchase cases of 16 ounce bottles though—it is very easy to make yourself! Read below to learn the health benefits as well as how to make it yourself, flavoring it however you like, and saving a bunch of money while you’re at it.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented yeast tea made from a mushroom that is speculated to have originated in Asia over two thousand years ago. Back then it was referred to as The Tea of Immortality. Over the centuries, the fermented tea has turned up in Japan, Germany and Russia. It became quite popular in Europe until WWII when there were shortages of tea and sugar. In Russia there is a tea made from a possibly related birch tree mushroom that is thought to cure cancer.
Known by many names, this fermented tea has been thought to have miraculous health benefits and has been known by names such as Miracle Fungus, Magical Fungus, Elixir of Life, and Gout Tea.
The mushroom itself also has various local names but in The States we call it a SCOBY. This is actually an acronym and stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.
I gotta say, being with the scoby is probably the hardest part of making kombucha. If you can get past the slimy and kind of funky looking mushroom floating on the top of your jar and trust the process, you can make your own kombucha.
Why Drink It?
Over the centuries, kombucha tea has been known to be very health promoting. It is high in various helpful enzymes and acids, probiotics and B vitamins. Some of the health benefits include:
- helps digestion
- detoxifies the body
- fights cancer
- boosts energy
- strengthens the immune system
- helps with weight loss
For anyone being treated for or recovering from cancer, these are very helpful benefits indeed. Chemotherapy damages the digestive and immune systems and anything we can do to help the liver detoxify those chemicals out of our bodies is of primary importance. But the health benefits of kombucha are obviously great for everyone!
The flavor of the plain tea is a bit yeasty and a bit vinegary so it may be an acquired taste. But with so many varieties of added flavors available commercially now, if you’ve never tried it I suggest tasting a few and see if there’s one flavor combination you like. And then try to make it yourself!
Supplies You Need Before You Start Making It Yourself
The supplies and directions below will make about 3 quarts of kombucha.
- You need a scoby. You can purchase them online or get one from a friend who makes kombucha because we makers grow a new one with each batch! If you live near me, I’d be happy to give you one. You should also receive 2 cups of starter tea with your scoby.
- You need black tea, preferably organic. I buy bulk loose leaf organic English Breakfast because I like the flavor but you can use whatever you like as long as there are not oils added as in Earl Grey, for example.
- You need a gallon sized glass jar.
- You need organic sugar and either a round coffee filter or a dish towel and a big rubber band to cover the jar.
- You need purified water. Not distilled. Purified, filtered, no chlorine, no fluoride water.
- You need bottles to put the kombucha into with your flavoring. You can reuse commercial 16 oz. kombucha bottles or purchase larger clamp top bottles like mine in the picture above.
Wait, What About The Sugar?
I know, this is one of the only times I advocate drinking a drink with added sugar! But actually the yeast in the fermentation process eats up most of the sugar so it doesn’t end up being a very sweet drink. And if you’re looking for a carbonated beverage, this is a heck of a lot better for you than a soda.
Directions to Make Your Own Kombucha
- Sterilize the glass jar with boiling water.
- With clean hands, put scoby and 2 cups starter tea in the glass jar.
- Brew 8 teaspoons (or 8 tea bags) in a cup or so of boiling water.
- After 3-5 minutes, strain loose leaf tea or remove tea bags and pour into a larger (like a 4 cup) glass pitcher and add 1 cup of organic sugar, stir to dissolve sugar.
- Add room temp purified water (or let it sit until it is room temperature) to cool it down.
- When room temp, pour carefully into the gallon jar with the scoby, trying not to disturb the scoby too much (tipping the jar helps). I like to try to keep the scoby floating on top.
- Carefully add more purified water to fill the jar to about 2″ from the rim.
- Cover with a circular coffee filter or a dish towel secured with a rubber band. The scoby needs to breathe and you want to keep the fruit flies out. Don’t use the jar lid—it won’t let in any air.
- Store in a warm-ish closet or cupboard out of direct sunlight but with decent ventilation.
- Let sit 7-10 days, sometimes 2 weeks until it is the right balance between sweet and tart (pour off a little and taste). The variation in brew time is based on where you live and how warm your climate is. It will go faster in warmer climates. A new scoby will grow on the top.
- When the tea is ready, fill your bottles with desired juices or fruit. You can add pieces of washed organic fruit, or add a bit if unsweetened fruit juice. I add about an inch of juice to a commercial kombucha bottle.
- Fill up the rest of the bottle with the tea, leaving some space (1/2″-1″) for pressure to grow to get fizzy. Repeat bottling, being sure to save 2 cups of tea for your next batch.
- Secure lids tightly and store in a pantry or cupboard.
- After 2 days, check fizziness. Be careful! Open over the sink, releasing pressure slowly. Some people “burp” the pressure after a day to avoid explosions. Let sit longer if not fizzy yet.
- When it is fizzy, put the bottles in the fridge to cool; this will stop the process.
- You might want to strain the kombucha into other containers if you have bits of ginger or other fruits floating in the drink.
- When you bottle the kombucha, make more sweet tea following the steps in Phase 1 above, and add it to the scoby and reserved 2 cups of tea to start fermenting all over again.
My Favorite Flavors
My all time favorite flavor combination comes from my brother Mark: finely mince about a half tablespoon per bottle of fresh ginger and then add 1/2″ each of organic unsweetened cranberry juice and organic unsweetened pomegranate juice to a 16 oz commercial kombucha bottle (a little more if using bigger clamp top bottles).
Other delicious flavors I’ve made include blood orange and various berry combinations. Try these or experiment by trying to recreate a commercial flavor you’ve liked. The end result is a fizzy and flavorful, refreshing and health promoting drink, perfect for summer.