A boot-leggers’ Kombucha guide

scobyIf you’re a member of “Dude, Where’s my Kombucha” then you already know. Kombucha, the ancient Chinese remedy known by the Qing Dynasty as “the tea of immortality and the elixir of life,” has been yanked from store shelves around the country. As we speak, Kombucha is being poked and prodded by the government to see if the fermented drink’s alcohol content is just a bit higher than advertised. If so, new labeling and taxation (and a valid ID at purchase?) might soon be in order, and it looks like it could be some time before the stuff’s back on the shelves. So, does this mean panic-time for you jittery devotees desperate for a fix? Maybe, or you could just brew up the booch (hooch?) yourselves.

While pasteurized Kombucha products are still available in stores, the raw (unpasteurized) stuff’s the problem. The more popular raw product starts with minimal alcohol, but, over time, the drink’s yeast continues to convert sugars to alcohol, nudging the content over the 0.5 percent allowed in non-alcoholic beverages.

Pasteurized Kombucha often looks like this
Pasteurized Kombucha often looks like this

One brand was even found to hit 2.4 percent (not far off from a very, very weak can of beer), according to a study cited in Good Magazine’s initial report on the Kombucha shortage.

Luckily, even less-than-sterile home kitchens (that means you, former Bushwick roommate) can serve as a brewing lab for DIY Kombucha. Unlike home-brewed beer—where the tiniest microbe of bacteria can send you on a defeated march to the store for PBR—DIY Kombucha’s some pretty hearty stuff. If you can brew tea, you can probably brew this too. Here’s how:


What you’ll need:

  • 4-6 tea bags—orange, black, green or white tea in whatever combination (though one bag of black tea is recommended with green and white).
  • Between 1 and 3 cups of white, cane or turbinado sugar depending on taste preference.
  • 4 liters of distilled water (don’t use tap or spring water).
  • The “mother” or SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). This is what makes it all happen; it should be stored in already made Kombucha tea to keep it moist. If the SCOBY didn’t come stored in already made Kombucha and you don’t have any on hand, use 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar.
  • 5-liter glass jar
  • Clean piece of cloth to cover the jar during fermentation (old t-shirt fabric works. Don’t use a cheese cloth).
  • Rubber band to fit over the top of the jar
  • Stainless-steel pot
  • Wooden spoon
  • Funnel for bottling
  • Recycled glass bottles with caps

Where do I get my SCOBY (mother) in Brooklyn?

A Kombucha Brooklyn starter kit

Email [email protected] who generously offered a free SCOBY to anyone near downtown Brooklyn in her recent blog post How to Make Kombucha.

You can also take a crack at starting your own SCOBY (this is a helpful video).

Ask a Kombucha-brewing friend or community member: Each batch of Kombucha results in the forming of an additional SCOBY, so frequent Kombucha makers probably have excess on their hands.

You can buy a Kombucha Brooklyn starter kit locally for $25 at one of vendors listed here.

How to brew

1) Bring roughly half of the water to a boil (storing the remaining water in the refrigerator to keep cold). Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water. Turn the heat off and add the tea bags to steep for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the tea bags.

Heed this advice. Photo courtesy of Instructables.com
Heed this advice. Photo courtesy of Instructables.com

2) Pour the cold water into the glass jar, then add the tea. Add the SCOBY, rough side down, once the water is no more than lukewarm to the touch (also pour in about 6oz. of the Kombucha tea, the stuff the SCOBY is soaking in to keep moist during storage or the apple cider vinegar as mentioned above).

3) Place the cotton cloth over the jar and secure with rubber band. Store in a safe place at room temperature (cabinets work well – though it may stink up your pantry). Brew for at least 7-10 days, but you can go longer according to preference of strength and sweetness. The less time brewed, the sweeter it gets; Leaving it for beyond the two week mark leads to a dry and strongly acidic taste.

4) Remove the SCOBYs (You should have the mother and the newly formed baby).  If you’re storing the SCOBY for future use, keep it in a similar large glass jar, and pour in enough of your freshly made Kombucha to cover it.

5) Using the funnel, fill the glass bottles with your freshly brewed Kombucha tea.  Place a plastic liner (recycled produce bags work well) across the top of the glass bottle, then cap to keep the metal bottle top from coming in contact with the still active Kombucha.  Let rest for at least two days to get the bubbly effect. Hopefully, after pouring, your brew is bubbly with a small head of foam on top.

6) Optional: Add fruit (fresh or dried) or other ingredients, such as ginger, for extra flavor. If you like a sweeter Kombucha, you can add additional sugar to-taste during the bottling phase. Both the fruit and the sugar will feed the active cultures and add to the fizzy effect of the beverage during the resting period. If you have weak Kombucha after the brewing period, let rest longer during the bottling period.

Some Kombucha fine print

Kombucha has been widely praised for its health benefits, though scientific evidence surrounding the drink is still lacking. The CDC lays out some advice and warnings about consumption here.

For more advanced brewing methods, you can settle in for the 14-part Expert Village video series on Kombucha.


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