Fizzy, tangy kombucha. Mmmm.
Only a year ago I was way too intimidated to attempt making my own kombucha; but you guys—it is sooo easy. Seriously. Easy. I am going to tell you how to set up a continuous brew system, which I think rocks.
Before we get started, I want to say even though this post seems super long set up and maintenance will be a breeze. Promise.
Oh, one more thing, I’m not going to go into all the details about why kombucha is good for you and why you should drink it. I am assuming if you’re here you’ve already figured it out, although I’m happy to answer questions. But if you’re interested here and here are two good places to begin your research.
Why Continuous Brew
If you are new to kombucha and don’t care, you can skip this part. If you’d like me to write up how to brew using the batch method, let me know and I will. That said, there are a few reasons that this method works better for me.
- If you drink kombucha regularly, you will always have a supply on hand.
- It’s less messy. If you’ve never made kombucha using the batch method before this may not make sense, and I’m not going to explain it. 😉 Suffice to say, batches (to me) are a little annoying, kind of messy and didn’t yield enough kombucha to keep us going. We were always anxious for the next batch.
- Once you have your continuous brew set up you can bottle as frequently as you want or dispense straight from your vessel into your glass. Or if you aren’t drinking as much let it sit and “store” your SCOBY until you’re ready to add tea for a fresh batch.
- I can add fresh tea and bottle in less than 10 minutes. What? I’m lazy. This method could also be called the Lazy Kombucha Method (aka LKM. I just made that up. I like it.)
- Kombucha is ready to drink much faster (after the initial set-up phase). As in immediately or at most a day or two. In other words, it requires no patience. So if you’re like me—score!
- Health benefits. Continous Brew is the most traditional method of brewing kombucha and also provides the most health benefits because you are getting a mix of old tea with some newer tea. This way you are getting the best of both worlds. (Did you like my very basic, non-technical description? Why, thank you!)
- You never have to mess with your SCOBY. I love my beautiful SCOBY but always moving it from jar to jar freaks me out. I’m afraid I’m going to drop it or something.
What you need and why you need it
- Kombucha starter tea and SCOBY– What is a SCOBY you ask? It is an abbreviation for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. What does that mean? In short, your SCOBY is the organism that turns your sugar tea into kombucha. If you know someone who makes kombucha they’ll more than likely be happy to gift you a SCOBY as the “mother” makes new ones.
- 2.5 Gallon (or larger) ceramic dispenser– This will be referred to as your brewing vessel. The method I describe here is for maintaining a 2.5 gallon vessel, if you use something different you’ll have to adjust the measurements. I recommend making sure your dispenser is lead-free and don’t use plastic (except for the dispenser part).
- A towel, cheesecloth or something that will keep your jar covered-no lids! Your SCOBY is a living organism and needs to breathe! However, fruit flies love kombucha so keep it secure. Nothing is sadder than tossing your beautiful SCOBY because it’s infested. Trust me. I had to do it once. Don’t remind me, I don’t wanna talk about it.
- A rubber band to secure your cheesecloth/towel.
- Sugar-your SCOBY eats this!
- Tea-kombucha is short for kombucha tea so of course we need tea! Your tea needs to be caffeinated as your SCOBY eats the caffeine, too. You can use many different kinds, but stay away from decaf or herbal. Mixing teas is fun and yummy, but to get started any black tea will do (I would use organic). I prefer experimenting with my flavors at the bottling side so I tend to use this tea and enjoy the flavor and my SCOBY seems to thrive on it and then I get all crazy with flavoring during bottling.
- If you use loose leaf tea, a sieve.
- A place to keep your system, preferably warmish and out of direct sunlight. On the kitchen counter is fine. In a cupboard is fine, although you want airflow. I brew mine usually on top of the fridge. It’s warmish, not bright, out of the reach of little hands. Then when I want to dispense I just pull it over the edge a little, put my bottle under, and dispense. Yes. I am that lazy. Errr. Efficient, yeah efficient.
Making the First Batch
The first time might take a little longer until you get your system down, but after that keeping your system up is something you can do when you have just a few extra minutes.
- 1 cup (minimum) of kombucha starter tea. If you can get your hands on more, great!
- 8-10 teaspoons of loose leaf tea of choice or 8-10 teabags
- 2 cups of organic sugar
- 32 cups (that’s two gallons!) of water
Begin by boiling 16 cups of water. You’ll use the other 16 later, trust me I’m saving you time here. As your water begins to boil add your tea or teabags and stir in your 2 cups of sugar. Remove from heat and let steep about 5-10 minutes. Be sure your sugar has dissolved well so stir again, if needed.
Once your tea is steeped, remove tea bags. If you’ve used loose tea, place the sieve over the brewing vessel and then and only then pour your tea in. Seriously you don’t want tea leaves floating around. 😉
Remove the sieve and now pour in your other 16 cups of water, which should be cool. You’ve now cooled off your tea so you don’t have to wait around all day.
Next, add in your starter tea to the vessel. Go ahead, dump it in. Once you’ve added that in you can place your SCOBY on top.
You’ve just made 2 gallons of fresh tea, added your starter tea and placed your SCOBY on top. You’re basically done now. Yes, really.
Cover the vessel with your towel or cheesecloth and secure it with the rubber band. Remember, no airtight lids. Your SCOBY needs to breathe! Say a prayer, a good thought, meditation etc. This is optional, but recommended by me. 😉
Place the vessel in the your designated brewing corner. The warmer the faster your kombucha will brew. I’ve used my pantry but now keep it on top of the fridge, as mentioned earlier.
This initial brewing phase is going to take between 7-14 days, depending on conditions. If it’s warmer you’ll probably have kombucha sooner, but this also varies on how tangy you want your brew. I suggest checking your brew after 7 days. You can buy pH strips to test, if you want to be all science-y, but I have never done this. I use the see/taste/smell method.
How to know it’s ready
- What’s it look like? Your tea should now look lighter in color and you may even see some teeny bubbles starting to form. These aren’t going to be like bubbles in a soda. Kombucha gets fizzy but they are smaller and more…delicate. Yeah. That’s right. That’s how I’m describing them.
- How’s it smell? If you know what kombucha smells like this will be easy—but it should be a tangy, slightly vinegary smell.
- Taste it already! Use a spoon or a straw and get underneath your SCOBY and taste it! It should taste a bit tart and tangy, maybe slightly fizzy and not too sweet. If it still tastes like sweet tea, it’s not done! Put it back for another day or two and try again. This part is largely up to you and your preferences, although if you’re just drinking sweet tea you’re not really getting the benefits of kombucha.
If you are happy with your brew. It’s time to….
Drink and/or Bottle
At this point you have two options. You can dispense your kombucha by the glass (add a splash of juice to your glass if you like) and drink. Or you can bottle for a second fermentation.
I almost always bottle mine for a second fermentation. I do this for two reasons: I like flavored kombucha and the 2nd fermentation generally gives you more of a bubbly kombucha. I like the bubbly!
If you choose to bottle I suggest using something like these although any glass jar with a lid will do.
Bottling is simple. Add your flavor (organic pure juice, fresh fruit, etc.) and dispense your kombucha into the bottle. I also usually add a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sugar to the bottle with whatever flavor I use. This helps the fermentation, but is optional. Close the bottle. Bam! Done! That’s it!
You can drink these immediately or set out on the counter for a day or two to let the flavors really settle in and to get that second fermentation. The longer they sit out the more bubbles will be produced. I usually give mine a 2-3 day fermentation. When you’re done, you can put them in the fridge to halt fermentation.
A word of caution: If you leave these bottles out they can produce enough gas that they will explode. So be careful! If you are doing a 2nd fermentation I suggest you open the bottles at least once a week (if yours sit out that long, mine rarely make it that long) or every couple of days. All you need to do is open the bottle for a second and then close it again.
How much to bottle at a time?
NEVER bottle all your kombucha in the continuous brew. I try to leave a gallon of “old” kombucha tea in the vessel at all times.
My method is: bottle a gallon, add a gallon of new tea. This doesn’t mean I bottle an entire gallon at a time, although often I do since I like the 2nd fermentation period (more bubbles the better in my opinion). Some weeks I bottle once a day as I decide on a whim what I want to flavor. But when my vessel is down to about a gallon, I add fresh tea.
Your Continuous Brew Cycle
So, you’ve bottled or drank your first batch, you have about a gallon left in your brewing vessel. Time to add more tea. Depending on consumption, the frequency will vary. My system is that I add a gallon of fresh tea about twice a week. (Yes, that means we drink about two gallons a week). Since this whole process takes me about 10 minutes it’s easy to do while I’m cooking dinner or cleaning the kitchen.
If you drink less tea then this, you could also bottle, let your vessel get down to about a gallon of tea, and then wait to add fresh until you are ready for fresh kombucha. You do not have to add fresh tea every time you bottle. And you don’t have to do it every week.
Find a schedule that works for you. Kombucha making does not have to be hard or time-consuming!
Recipe for adding fresh tea
- 16 cups of water
- 4-6 teaspoons of tea or 4-6 teabags
- 1 cup of sugar
Boil 8 cups of water (make sure you use a pot that will hold a total of 16 cups or one gallon), and then add your tea and stir in sugar. Let steep. Make sure your sugar is dissolved well. Add 8 cups of your cool water into the sugar tea mix. Feel it to make sure it is now just warmish or cool. If you used loose tea, put the sieve over your brewing container and pour the cooled tea mix in. If you used teabags remove them before pouring.
You can pour your fresh tea right on top your SCOBY, as long as this is no longer hot you aren’t going to hurt it.
You’ve now replaced your tea with a gallon of fresh tea, cover, put back in your brewing corner. You’re done! Repeat as needed and most importantly enjoy your kombucha and have fun!
Check back soon, Tarrin will be posting more details and recipes for flavoring your brew!