A Beginner’s Guide To Brewing And Drinking Kombucha

Kombucha: a drink you’ve definitely heard of, even if you don’t have any idea what it is. A fizzy tea originating in China, kombucha has been around for over 2,000 years, spreading to the likes of Russia and Japan before heading West in the 20th century. Like other coffee alternatives, kombucha sales have soared in the United States thanks to its apparent health benefits. It’s believed to prevent everything from hair loss to cancer.

To make kombucha, you’ll need yeast, sugar and black tea, though there are some acceptable substitutes. Once assembled, let the brew ferment for a week or more, allowing the bacteria and acids to form and give it a unique, carbonated taste. Below is a brief rundown on all you need to know when it comes to making your own batch of this special beverage. 

How much tea do you need for kombucha?

Kombucha is packed with the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY from here on out), meaning it’s very important that every ingredient is precise. Adding too little or too much of something can cause mould to develop in your precious kombucha. 

Here’s all you need to remember (for now): sugar, tea and starter tea. 

For 16 cups, or 1 gallon, of kombucha, you’ll need 1 cup of sugar, 8 tea bags (or 2 tablespoons of leaf tea) and 2 cups of starter tea. 

If you’re brewing by the cup, to make a single cup you’ll need 0.00625 cups of sugar, 0.5 tea bags (or 0.375 teaspoons of leaf tea) and 0.125 cups of starter tea. If you want to add more cups, simply double the amounts. 

How much sugar do you need for kombucha?

How crucial is sugar to the brewing process of kombucha? Sorry for any sugar haters among you, but: very. To make 1 gallon of kombucha you’ll need 1 cup of sugar. 

When you add sugar, the SCOBY turns it into alcohol, acids and carbon dioxide. If it doesn’t have enough sugar, the SCOBY will die of starvation. You’re also putting your brew at risk of moulding as the alcohol and acids the SCOBY creates maintains the high acidity of the brew, which consequently fends off any chances of mould developing. 

Can tea be too strong for kombucha?

Tea is, as you might guess, the most important part of any kombucha. If you get it wrong, everything else becomes wrong. Make sure to get your base just right by combining a perfect alignment of flavor and nutrients. 

As for which tea, kombucha isn’t too strict but it’s also not particularly versatile. If you only have, say, herbal teas in the cupboards, worry not. Though pretty rogue when it comes to traditional kombucha, you can still add black tea to it when fermenting. 

If this is your first time making kombucha, black tea is what you’ll want to use for a base as it’s the easiest tea to blend during the fermentation process. Steeped and brewed well, tea can be very flavourful. Steeped and brewed too long, and it can be very bitter. 

While opinions do vary from person to person, the consensus is that if you’re using black tea bags, steeping should last around 30 minutes. If you’re using black loose leaf tea, it should last around five minutes. For green loose leaf tea, this should go down to 3 minutes.

Should you shake kombucha?

Shaking kombucha is like shaking a soda or a beer – ill-advised, at best. Thanks to the fermentation process, it has natural carbonation. Shaking bottled kombucha will build up pressure and cause your delicious fizzy brew to spray out everywhere. 

By shaking a bottle of kombucha, you’re also distributing the particles throughout the drink, altering the actual taste of the brew. The sediment lying dormant at the bottom of the kombucha isn’t dangerous, but some people don’t like the texture of it. Spreading it up and around the drink will dissatisfy many tea lovers. 

Let it be known that a gentle stir is not the same as a full-throttle shake, and will actually activate many of your kombucha’s benefits. 

When is kombucha ready?

This answer is pretty fluid. 

Kombucha is ready to drink whenever it tastes good to you, essentially. This obviously changes from person to person. Some may prefer the taste of a week-long fermentation, others with a day-long fermentation. Remember that many will also add fruit to the drink once bottled or placed in a cup. 

If you aren’t so trusting of your taste buds, or are concerned that jumping the gun too fast may be robbing you of a greater-tasting brew, then you could wait for the kombucha to be tarty. A hint of vinegar. If it tastes completely like vinegar, it’s fermented too long. 

Ultimately, though, this is on you and your own preferences!

Can you drink the bottom of kombucha?

So you’ve made your kombucha, you’ve brewed it for as long as you were told, applied every exact ingredient. 

But wait a minute, what’s all this mouldy build-up at the bottom of my brew? Is my kombucha ruined? Will it poison me if I drink this? No!

The sediment at the bottom of your kombucha usually looks brown, if not outright slimy. But it’s very normal to see. A simple result of the fermentation process, it’s nothing more than an array of yeast and bacteria cells. That may sound distasteful but, don’t worry, it poses no health risk if you happen to digest some. 

Kombucha is like sauerkraut, sourdough bread, kimchi, and apple cider vinegar, in that it’s fermented. All of these things contain several amounts of healthy probiotics, which are safe to drink.

Josh Teal

Josh Teal is a freelance writer with wit and verve, powered by copious amounts of tea and coffee. That makes him something of an expert in all things brewing, whether it's for you or for your pets!

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