A couple of years back a friend gave me one of the weirdest but most brilliant birthday gifts ... a kombucha scoby! This slimy, brain like blob provided me with the tastiest, sparkling drinks through the summer of 2017. I loved it so much, I became a little obsessed with my Kombucha 'brain'. I spent a great deal of time living in my campervan that year and my scoby travelled with me.
Short for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, a S.C.O.B.Y is a syntrophic mixed culture of yeast and bacteria. It looks like the huge flat cap of a mushroom. Thick, slimy and jellyfied! But whatever you do, don't let its alien appearance put you off.
What's so good about kombucha?
Chances are, you've heard the word kombucha mentioned in relation to health & wellbeing. You might even have seen bottles of it in wellness shops or cafes, but what is this magical sparkle? Kombucha is a fermented, lightly effervescent, black or green tea drink commonly consumed for its supposed health benefits.
As kombucha is the product of fermentation, a number of probiotic bacteria are produced. At specific concentrations, probiotic bacteria can help to balance the gut microbiome and improve digestion.
Kombucha and skin
It's no secret that our gut health plays a vital role in the health of our skin. Imbalances of good and bad bacteria on the inside can affect how our skin looks on the outside. Skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, rosacea, dermatitis & eczema have all been linked to digestive health. As well as helping our skin build a better, healthier relationship with our gut, the B-vitamins found in kombucha are also directly beneficial for our skin.
Kombucha is a probiotic. Probiotics offer types of bacteria that are considered to be helpful to our gut. These are the good bacteria that come in many different strains, from Lactobacillus Gasseri to Bifidobacterium Bifidum, strains like these are helpful to support different gut imbalances and to promote healthy skin specifically.
Drinking Kombucha on a daily basis can help us keep gut bacteria balanced. This is particularly relevant whilst taking medication such as antibiotics, as the bacteria imbalances triggered by medication can cause breakouts and weaken the immune system.
Focusing on Gut Health
Science is finally catching up to the news dieticians and naturopaths have shared for years! Gut health is KEY to our well-being. We're finally seeing more and more extensive studies into our gut microbiome and now understand it plays a vital role in our health. Seventy percent of our immune system lives in our gut, so it's especially important to take care of it if you're struggling with autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis or lupus.
This is where kombucha can play a vital role. By promoting more of the healthy, diverse bacteria we are creating a strong environment to boost our immunity.
What will I need to make kombucha?
Kombucha can be made with relatively few ingredients;
- black loose leaf tea or tea bags
- a scoby
- cold filtered water
You will also need a large kilner jar with tap. One like this is perfect.
You will also need to get a scoby from somewhere. Scobys are really great at multiplying, so if you know someone who already makes kombucha you can ask them for one. Alternatively you can place an order online for one like this. Your scoby should come already in starter liquid.
How to make kombucha in 12 easy steps
So, you've got all the basic ingredients above, but what next?
- Begin with your scoby and starter liquid in the kilner jar. The starter makes the liquid acidic, which prevents unfriendly bacteria from taking up residence in the first few days of fermentation
- The way I like to make kombucha is by boiling the kettle to heat 1.5 litres of water, pour that into a saucepan and add 8 tea bags. Pour 300g of sugar into the pan, stir well until the sugar dissolves, then leave to cool. Once cool, drain the liquid to remove the teabags.
- Meanwhile boil the kettle again so that you have another 1.5 litres of pure boiled water. Put this to one side and allow to cool. Both the tea/sugar water & the clear water need to cool completely. I usually make mine in the evening and cool overnight.
- Now pour both liquids into your kilner jar over the scoby. Your scoby might begin to float, it may sit on the bottom of the jar or it might sort of flop halfway between sinking and floating. Any of these is fine.
- Place a muslin cloth over the opening of your jar and secure with an elastic band. This allows air in but keeps flies out. In summer you may need a more tightly woven cloth to prevent fruit flies. Place your jar out of direct sunlight in a warmish environment. A corner of the kitchen works well. Leave for 5 days.
- From day 5, check your kombucha daily. It's still early days, but the first sign your ferment is working is tell-tale bubbles on the surface. Once you begin to see those bubbles, open the tap and try a little kombucha. It should have a slightly sour edge but will taste mostly sweet and lightly sparkling.
- After a week or so, a new cream-coloured layer of scoby should begin to form on the surface of the kombucha. It usually attaches to the old scoby, but it's ok if they separate. You might also see stringy bits floating beneath the scoby, some sediment collecting at the bottom, and bubbles forming around the scoby. These things are all normal and signs of healthy fermentation.
- Your kombucha should be ready to bottle between days 7 to 12.
- At this stage it's a good idea to make a fresh batch of tea. Prepare and cool another saucepan of tea. Making sure your hands are clean, carefully lift the scoby out of the kombucha and set it to one side in a clean bowl. If the bottom layer is getting very thick you may wish to peel it apart. This gives you a scoby to pass on to a friend!
- Set to one side at least a couple of cups of liquid from this batch of kombucha. This will form your starter liquid for the next batch. Pour the completed kombucha into bottles. Leave at least 2 cm of air at the top each bottle.
- Store the bottled kombucha at room temperature out of direct sunlight and allow 1 to 3 days for it to carbonate. You might like to use plastic bottles to begin with until you get a feel for how quickly your kombucha fizzes up. The kombucha will continue to ferment and is fully carbonated when the bottles feel rock solid. You may have to let a little air out, don't let them go pop! To stop the fizzing process refrigerate the bottles which will halt fermentation and carbonation. Your kombucha will be good in the fridge for up to a month.
- Clean the kilner jar with boiling water then combine the starter liquid you saved from your last batch with your scoby and a fresh batch of sugary tea, plus 1.5 litres of water. This way you can begin the entire process again right away.
If you'd rather not make another batch right away, simply leave your scoby floating in it's starter liquid. There are varying suggestions for how long kombucha should be left like this. Some people suggest needing to feed your scoby fresh tea each month to prevent killing it, but I left my scoby asleep for 2 years and it's still working brilliantly! They're hardy little things and so long as they're kept stored out of direct sunlight submerged in liquid they should be safe.
Flavouring your kombucha
I love the taste of original kombucha, but livening up the flavour can be fun too! This makes a brilliant sparkling summer drink alternative to sugary soda pop.
I love to use fresh fruit and spices to flavour my kombucha. You'll find the probiotics eat up the natural fruit sugars giving your batch a more intense flavour. There are two options for adding flavour to your kombucha;
- After the 7-10 day initial ferment (not as fizzy)
- For the second ferment (very fizzy and great for a more complex flavour)
If you're not too bothered about having a really fizzy kombucha and want to enjoy it sooner rather than later, stir chopped or crushed fruit into to your brewed batch and enjoy it right away. This is also the sweetest option. It you prefer a fizzier less sugary taste, add the fruit for a second fermentation. If you're using wide mouth plastic bottles to store your kombucha, you can simply add these fruit & spice flavours to them;
- Mixed frozen berries
- Fresh raspberry and root ginger
- Fresh blueberries and mint sprigs
- Green apple, rhubarb & cardamom pods
- Fresh Blackberries and sprigs of rosemary
- Watermelon and red apple
- Turmeric root and pineapple
It is so important to monitor the gas buildup in each bottle with a second ferment. You are basically creating little kombucha bombs if you leave the bottles for too long! Burping them by loosening the cap every few days to release a little gas will stop them exploding in your fridge!
Is there alcohol in my kombucha?
Kombucha may contain a tiny bit of alcohol as a by-product of the fermentation process. It is usually below 1%, so unless you quaff litres of the stuff you're not going to get anywhere close to drunk. However, if you're extra sensitive to alcohol or if you avoid alcohol for other reasons, you should be aware it might be present in your brew.
My kombucha did not get fizzy or sour?
Make Sure Your Kombucha Tea Starter Tea and scoby are healthy. If you haven't made kombucha regularly and have let the tea and scoby sit for months, it might not have the number of bacteria and yeasts it needs to make fizzy kombucha. That said, I've left mine two years and it's working just fine!
Temperature is a huge factor in the timing of when your brew will be done. If your home is 22C or above, it can take three to five days. Cooler homes can take longer, and warmer temperatures will brew your kombucha faster.
If your kombucha brew is more than a week old and nothing is happening, something went wrong in the fermentation process. If you didn't boil your water first you might have introduced some chlorine to your starter. This will kill off fermentation. Your scoby begins to feed on the sugar, so using white, refined sugar is the easiest source of food for your kombucha brew. Coconut sugar or molasses can work, but it creates a different flavour which may or may not be to your liking. It also introduces minerals which can be taxing for your scoby and it may therefore take longer to work. If you're getting no fizz after 10 days, discard your brew. It will begin to go mouly. If you see any mould in your brew at any stage, you'll need to discard it right away and begin again.
Keep things simple the first time you make your kombucha. The time to get adventurous is when you have more than one scoby. Put one to the side & try experimenting.
Need more help?
If all this sounds too complicated but you're still keen to begin, check out Janice & her amazing kombucha blog and workshops here. Janice is also on first podcast series which you can listen to here. Check out episodes 4 & 5 to hear Janice talk about the awesome benefits of probiotics.