Kombucha is the fermented, tea-based beverage currently taking the world by storm. Flavorful and mildly sweet, this carbonated beverage makes an amazing low-sugar alternative to soda, with the added benefits of healthy probiotics and enzymes. While bottled versions at the store can cost upwards of $3-$4 each, this unique beverage is easy to make at home with your favorite tea. If you’ve never tried kombucha before, get ready for a refreshing revelation, just in time for summer!
Kombucha is fermented by a culture of bacteria and yeast called a ‘SCOBY’, which consumes sugar and nutrients in the tea to create carbonation and a distinctively tart flavor. While most kombucha recipes call for refined cane sugar, we prefer to use raw honey, which contains enzymes that help break down sugars during digestion, as well as having antimicrobial and antifungal properties that have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times.
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For the best honey flavor, we us a special type of SCOBY called a Jun culture, which is predisposed to process honey rather than refined sugar. If you’ve been brewing kombucha with sugar, you can ‘train’ your existing SCOBY by gradually substituting honey over the course of 3-4 batches. If you’re just getting started, you can order the same culture we started with.
Here’s what you’ll need to start your first batch of kombucha tea with honey:
- 4L boiling water
- 5-10 tablespoons of tea
- 1 cup raw honey
- Jun (or honey-trained) SCOBY & starter tea
- Large pot or bowl
- Beverage dispenser or jar
- Paper towels
- Large spoon
- Rubber bands (to seal beverage dispenser)
- Airtight bottles or jars for storage
Make sure all your equipment is clean and free of soap residue before brewing to ensure healthy fermentation.
Once you’ve assembled your supplies, follow these simple steps to brew your own kombucha:
1. Brew a strong tea
We packed about 10 tablespoons of our Bai Mu Dan white tea into disposable tea bags, added them to 4 liters of boiled water, and let them brew until the pot was cool enough to touch comfortably before removing them with a slotted spoon. This brew should be quite strong - the scoby will feed off the tannins and nutrients in the tea during the fermentation process.
2. Let cool; add 1 cup raw honey
It’s important to cool the tea before adding raw honey, as boiling water can kill off the beneficial enzymes in the honey. Rest assured that most of this added sweetness will be consumed by the scoby during fermentation, and the final product will be mostly sugar-free.
3. Pour into beverage dispenser
Transfer the sweetened tea into a clean beverage dispenser or large glass jar, where the fermentation will take place. We split our 4L batch of tea into two beverage dispensers, making sure to leave plenty of room at the top to avoid overflowing in the next step.
4. Add SCOBY and starter tea culture
You’ll need one SCOBY for each container of tea to be fermented. If you’re using a new, store-bought starter SCOBY, go ahead and pour in the gelatinous culture as well as the starter liquid it’s stored in. If you’re using a home-grown SCOBY, rinse it under running water to remove any brown spots. These indicate yeast growth and will make the flavor of your finished kombucha more sour.
5. Cover with a paper towel, seal with a rubber band, and store somewhere warm (70-75°F) for fermentation.
During fermentation, you’ll want to cover your beverage dispenser with a paper towel to allow for airflow but prevent contamination. You can also use coffee filters or densely woven fabric, but avoid cheesecloth, as the holes are large enough to permit small insects like fruit flies to pass through. Store at a moderately warm temperature to ensure the health of your culture.
6. Taste after 3-4 days to test flavor. Ferment longer for less sweetness.
Jun cultures generally ferment faster than those used for standard kombucha, so the time required for this step may vary. We like to taste a small amount each day after the third day of fermentation to assess the flavor progression and adjust accordingly. Longer fermentation times will increase the sour quality in the flavor.
7. Reserve 1-2 cups of the fresh kombucha to store your SCOBY for the next batch.
Rinse your SCOBY again to remove yeast, and store in a sealed jar, fully submerged in a bit of reserved kombucha. Over time, the SCOBY will consume the remaining nutrients in the tea, turning it into an acidic liquid much like vinegar. Use this to start your next batch of kombucha tea within 3-4 weeks to keep your culture well-fed and healthy.
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8. Dispense kombucha into smaller, airtight containers. Store in the fridge for 3-5 days to increase carbonation.
Use the nozzle of the beverage dispenser to pour your fermented tea into airtight bottles or jars. At this point, you may wish to add flavorings like flowers, herbs, or fruit. We’ve had good results with 1-2 tablespoons of lavender in each bottle, but we usually prefer a plain brew. Store in the fridge for slow carbonation buildup to avoid exploding bottles.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What kind of tea should I use?
While any pure tea should be sufficient, we especially enjoy the natural flavor of an everyday white tea like our Shou Mei. While many recipes using standard kombucha cultures suggest black tea will work best, we find Jun cultures to be especially well suited to lighter varieties like green or white teas. Be sure to avoid using flavored teas, which often contain oils that can compromise your culture.
What is the film that forms on top of the tea during fermentation?
The shiny, gooey film that sometimes forms on top of the fermenting tea is a new baby SCOBY, which can be separated from the original and used independently, or gifted to a new kombucha brewer! This is totally normal, but watch out for spots of fuzz, which indicate unhealthy mold growth.
Is there alcohol in kombucha?
The fermentation process does produce a small amount of alcohol, but it is only a negligible amount (<1%) of the finished product. While it’s unlikely to produce any noticeable effect, people who avoid alcohol for health reasons should be aware.
Have you tried brewing your own kombucha tea? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
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