Our family has been making Kombucha for years and this health-boosting drink is a favorite in our house. Many of my friends and family have been gifted a “Baby Kombucha” as my kids call the SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast).
What is Kombucha?
From a previous article:
“Kombucha is a fermented sweetened tea that has been around for centuries. It is slightly tangy and slightly sweet, and a great treat on a summer day. Just as with water kefir, Kombucha can be double fermented into a fizzy soda with a slight fruit taste.
Kombucha contains high levels of antioxidants, b-vitamins, probiotics and glucaric acid. It has been reported to have a variety of health benefits including:
- liver detoxification
- improved pancreas function
- increased energy
- better digestion
- improved mood (helps with anxiety/depression)
- kills Candida (yeast)
- helps nutrient assimilation”
Kombucha has gained popularity in recent years and there are some pre-made commercial versions available and while they taste great, homemade versions are a much more frugal alternative (and equally delicious in my opinion).
Continuous Brew vs. Batch System
For years I had been brewing with the batch system for making kombucha and while I still really like that method, I’ve found that the continuous brew method is easier to fit in to our schedule now. As the names suggest, the batch method is where kombucha is brewed in batches and re-started with each batch by using the SCOBY “baby” and some of the liquid from the previous batch.
The continuous brew method involves removing only some of the liquid each time and replacing with the same amount of fresh brewed sweetened tea. This yields a fresher brew (in my opinion), helps it brew faster (good when there are 6 people consuming it each day) and takes up less room on the counter. This article from Cultures for Health explains more how to continuous brew in more detail and this article from the Weston A. Price foundation talks about the benefits of continuous brew.
From that article:
“The benefits of continuous brewing are both practical and nutritional. They include:
Less risk of mold and other contamination in kombucha batches, as once established, the liquid maintains a far more acidic environment, more hostile to outside invaders because of smaller amounts of free sugar and a greater population of good bacteria and yeast.
• Less overall work to produce more overall volume.
• More consistent supply of kombucha (a few bottles every day or every few days rather than having a large batch all at once).
• A broader array of bacteria and other beneficial compounds in the final product.”
Continuous Brew System:
The main difference in the methods is that continuous brew uses a container with a spigot so some of the brewed kombucha can be removed without disturbing the rest of the brew. Selecting a good container is important, as Cultures for Health explains:
“Size. A continuous brew container should hold between 1 and 5 gallons.
Material. Kombucha should be brewed in glass or porcelain. Ceramic, plastic, crystal, and metal are problematic and generally should not be used.
Spigot. A continuous brew container should have a spigot located near the bottom of the container so kombucha can be drawn off without disturbing the contents at the top of the container. Do not use a container with a spigot that has metal on the inside of the container! Metal in contact with the Scoby is detrimental. Be sure to test the container and spigot thoroughly for leaks prior to filling it with the Kombucha mixture.
Cover. A cover serves two purposes. It should allow the gases created during the fermentation process to escape while keeping out transient yeast and bacteria as well as pests such as fruit flies and ants. If the container has its own cover, determine that the lid is not airtight so the gases can escape properly. If the container does not have a built-in cover, use a tight-weave towel, paper towel, coffee filter, etc. to cover the top. We also recommend securing the cover with a tight rubber band to prevent infestation by fruit flies and ants.”
We have this three gallon glass dispenser (in picture above) because I found it on sale and it has a non-metal spigot and holds enough for our family. I have several friends who use a two gallon mason jar type jar with a spigot or this 2.5 gallon smooth glass jar with a spigot. Really any glass or ceramic jar with a spigot works as long as the spigot isn’t metal though you can also replace the spigot with a plastic version to make any jar work.
How to Get a SCOBY?
SCOBYs are living and thriving colonies of bacteria and unfortunately, you can’t just pick one up at your grocery store. There are a couple ways to acquire a SCOBY.
- If you know anyone who already brews Kombucha, ask them for an extra SCOBY and they will probably be glad to pass one on. the SCOBY has a “baby” every batch or two and this baby can then be used to brew Kombucha. This is the best way if you are able to find one.
- You can order a SCOBY from an online source. Just make sure the source is reputable. I’ve seen SCOBYs on sites like ebay or amazon, but prefer a trusted site like Cultures for Health (check out their tutorials on Kombucha also!)
Once you have a SCOBY, the actual process of making Kombucha is very easy!
Making Continuous Brew Kombucha:
- One glass jar (With spigot if continuous brewing)
- A wood stirring utensil (never use metal in contact with a kombucha scoby!)
- Cheesecloth, a coffee filter or kitchen towel to cover
- A rubber band to secure the cover
- One kombucha SCOBY (rehydrate first if you order a dehydrated one online)
- Tea (I order in bulk here)
- Starter tea from a previous batch of Kombucha or vinegar (distilled white vinegar or pasteurized apple cider vinegar)
- Filtered water (preferably free of chlorine, chloramines, and fluoride- we use a Berkey Filter to filter the contaminants but keep the minerals)
Cultures for health offers this handy chart for proportions and it can be increased to fit your container size:
How to Brew:
- Prepare the sweet tea. I use 2 tablespoons of loose tea, 2 family size tea bags or 8-10 small bags per gallon of water. Add 1 cup of regular sugar per gallon(organic preferably) Do not use honey!
- Let tea cool to room temperature and make sure it is really cool! This step is very important as too hot of tea can kill your SCOBY.
- Once tea is completely cool, pour into glass jar, leaving about 20% of the room at the top. Pour in the correct amount of liquid from a previous batch of Kombucha or if starting from a dehydrated SCOBY, pour in 1/2 cup from a store-bought bottle of Kombucha. If you don’t have starter liquid, vinegar can be used instead.
- With very clean hands, gently place the SCOBY at the top of the jar of tea. It should float, though if it doesn’t just let it fall and don’t stick your hands in the tea!
- Cover the jar with the coffee filter or cloth and rubber band tightly (flies love this stuff!)
- Put the jar in a warm (around 70-75 degrees is best) corner of the kitchen where it is at least a few feet away from any other fermenting products.
- Let sit to ferment for around 7 days, though the length of time may vary depending on your temperature. You can taste test the Kombucha to see if it is done. It should taste tart but still very slightly sweet also.
- At this point, Kombucha is ready for a second ferment. If you aren’t doing the second ferment, just pour the kombucha into another jar or jars with airtight lids and seal until ready to drink.
- For continuous brew, we dispense in to several quart size mason jars with plastic storage caps (don’t use metal!), leaving about 20% of the room on top.
Second Ferment (How to Make Soda!)
Kombucha can be consumed as soon as it is done brewing, but adding fruit juice or fruit can make Kombucha carbonated and slightly sweeter, which is often more appealing to kids. It is an easy second step too!
- Dispense the kombucha in to mason jars with plastic lids or these type of grolsh bottles, leaving about 1/5 of the room at the top for add ins.
- Add fruit juice to almost fill the jar, or fresh fruit of choice and then cap tightly to allow the mixture to carbonate.
- Leave out at room temperature for 2-3 days to allow to carbonate, but check it carefully as pressure can build up and break the jars if left for too long.
- Store in fridge until ready to drink.
Our favorite add-ins:
- Minced ginger root and blueberries
- 1/2 organic lemon (quartered) and 1/2 tsp grated ginger (tastes like Sprite)
- Minced ginger root and citrus
- 1/4 cup fresh or frozen berries
- prunes and vanilla (Dr. Pepper/Cream soda type taste)
For more specifics, this video from Cultures for Health shows how to brew kombucha (batch method):
Special Notes for Continuous Brew:
Some helpful notes from Cultures for Health:
“Timing Harvesting and Feeding. If desired, harvesting and feeding can be done every 3 to 14 days. We suggest weekly as that is the method used by most people. If you wish to draw off kombucha to drink daily but only feed the mixture weekly, be aware that kombucha drawn off at the beginning of the week is likely to have a higher sugar content than kombucha drawn off later in the week (further away from when sugared tea was last added).
Controlling Sugar Content. It is a bit more challenging to control the sugar content of the kombucha when using a continuous-brew system. If low sugar content is an important factor for you, be sure to draw off all the kombucha you will require first before adding the fresh sugared tea. We also recommend allowing the new sugared tea an adequate fermentation period prior to the next draw. For example, if you require kombucha with a low sugar content, we would recommend drawing off 2 to 3 weeks’ worth of kombucha from the brew system prior to adding the new sugared tea. We would then recommend waiting 2 to 3 weeks before the next draw to ensure the batch has fermented sufficiently.
Ongoing Cleaning of the Brewing Vessel and Spigot. We recommend only cleaning the vessel and spigot when warranted; for example, if the spigot becomes clogged with yeast particles or if too much yeast debris builds up in the bottom of the container. To clean the system, remove the kombucha and scoby and set aside in a safe container. Clean the system thoroughly using vinegar if possible. (Soap can be used but the container must be rinsed very thoroughly several times as soap residue will be detrimental.) Once the system is clean, the kombucha and scoby can be added back to the vessel, sugared tea can be added, and the process can resume.
The Large Scoby. One side effect of the continuous brewing system is the development of very large scobys as the scoby will generally cover the entire surface area of the liquid. The primary issue with large scobys is that after some time they grow very thick and take up valuable space in the container. While a giant scoby can be a fun thing to show off and possibly make a great prop for Halloween, you may want to reduce its size to allow more efficient fermenting. A very large scoby can be cut up using a non-metal utensil, and pieces distributed to friends for making their own kombucha. Or, check out our list of ideas for using extra scobys”