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A Note on Cleanliness
Make the tea
Make a pot of tea with the tea bags and leave it to brew for 15 to 20 minutes. Alternatively add your tea to a saucepan and simmer it gently for 5 minutes.
Strain the tea into your measuring jug, add the sugar and stir it until it dissolves. Now add cold water to bring the tea up to 2 litres. Hot tea can kill the culture. It should be no more than blood heat before you add it to your culture, so if it’s still too warm then let it cool down before you add it to the bowl.
Making the brew
Add the starter.
Pour the cool tea into the bowl.
Add the kombucha scoby.
Cover it and leave it to ferment
Put your tea towel over the bowl and secure it with a rubber band or a piece of elastic. This keeps contamination out of your culture. Fruit flies especially like the smell of kombucha and can appear like magic out of thin air to lay their eggs in the scoby. So it’s important to cover it properly.
Put the bowl in a warm dark place (23°-30°C or 70°-86°F) like an airing cupboard or in a kitchen cupboard or near a radiator.
Checking The Brew
The fermentation will take 5-14 days depending on the temperature. If you check your brew after 2 or 3 days you’ll notice a scum forming on the surface. It’s not scum at all; it’s the first thin membrane of your new kombucha scoby.
Start tasting the brew after 4 or 5 days. Gently move the scoby aside and dip a spoon in to the liquid. When the kombucha is ready it should be neither too sweet nor too sour. This is rather a personal taste and will depend on how much sugar you want left in the brew. Some like it sweet but others prefer it sour. It’s up to you, so test it every day until its the way you like it.
When the kombucha is ready, with clean hands gently lift the mother culture and it’s offspring out onto a clean plate.
Strain the kombucha into your measuring jug leaving behind about 200ml in the bowl as a starter for the next batch.
Now fill your clean bottles with the kombucha, label them and store them in a cupboard or the fridge. You can use any kinds of bottles but some batches will be a lot fizzier than others and it's a good idea to use pop bottles, like the Grolsh bottles, that have rubber gaskets on them. This kind of bottle will let out any excess pressure and prevent explosions!
After bottling your kombucha make up a second batch of tea for the culture and set your second brew to ferment.
Kombucha is ready to drink immediately, but storing the bottled kombucha for a month or two will give you will give you an even better drink. This kind of bottle conditioning can improve the flavour as any home wine brewer will know. The sugar continues to ferment a little, giving you lighter, drier taste and producing more fizz.
The kombucha will often grow little scobys on the top of the liquid in the bottles. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about but look out for them when you take your first mouthful!
You are now ready to drink your first
home made kombucha!
The Next Batch
Now you can make a second batch of sweet tea and when it’s cool add it to the bowl and the waiting starter. Then add your scoby and put the tea towel back over the bowl and put the bowl away to ferment.
For your first 2 or 3 batches it’s a good idea to use both the mother and the baby together until the new scoby thickens up. When they are new they can be paper thin. With each brewing a new layer will form on top and your scoby will get thicker. Then, when it's somewhere between a quarter and a half an inch thick, you can gently separate the mother and baby and use the mother to start off a second brew.
Each scoby will grow with each brew, gradually getting thicker. You can leave them like this and occasionally peel of a layer from the bottom and discard it. Or you can separate them and either pass new scobys on to friends or store them as spares in another jar of sweet tea which you can keep in the fridge to slow down fermentation. It’s useful to have spares in case your active culture becomes contaminated and you need to discard the kombucha and the scoby and start again.
Notes and Variations
The kombucha culture needs oxygen for the fermentation. A Pyrex bowl gives a large surface area and is an excellent brewing container. But you can use taller jars to brew the kombucha, it will simply take longer to brew because there's a smaller surface area exposed to oxygen. So 5-10 days in a bowl becomes more like 10-20 days in a jar.
Several brewing suppliers now carry kombucha fermenting jars They are wide mouthed jars, usually sat in a wicker container that helps to keep the light out. A 3 litre pickle or sweet jar will do very well too.
Kombucha likes a steady temperature of 23°-30°C (or 70°-86°F). A steady temperature gives a more consistent brew. In summer when the air is warm this isn't too difficult. Keeping the brew in an airing cupboard will keep it at a constant temperature too. But if you can't do that then in the winter as the temperature changes from cold to warm with the central heating in modern homes there will be a fluctuation in the brewing time and possibly in fizziness and taste too. The Kombucha Network UK sell heating trays specially for kombucha.
Kombucha requires tea for its fermentation. That's real tea (Camellia Sinensis) not herbal tea. Use black, oolong, green or white tea and look for organic tea as contaminants in some commercial teas can affect the culture.
Kombucha can be also be sensitive to strong aromatic oils. A tea like Earl Grey that contains Bergamot oil, can sometimes kill or badly affect the culture. So avoid these types of flavoured tea.
White sugar is cheap and works very well. Organic white sugar would be even better. Sugar is used by the yeasts during fermentation, and is broken down and transformed into acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and carbon dioxide. Sugar is also involved in the propagation of the Kombucha culture. It uses the sugar to build the scoby. At the end of the fermentation period, if done correctly, the sugar will have been virtually all converted and there should be little or no sugar left in the kombucha. Using raw brown sugars can give the brew a bad taste and result in poor culture formation.
Chlorine added to water supplies to kill harmful bacteria will, unfortunately, also affect the millions of friendly bacteria in Kombucha. That’s why the water you use for brewing your kombucha tea should be filtered. This can be done with a cartridge and jug, or a system plumbed in under the sink. Jug filters will remove chlorine from water and make it taste better. However, only the best quality water filters will remove aluminium, bacteria and heavy metals, like lead, along with organic pollutants like herbicides and pesticides.
If you don't have a filter then bring to the boil 2.5 litres of water in a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. This will remove chlorine and fluoride and other unpleasant things. You need more than your 2 litres to allow for evaporation. However you'll need to let this sit until it's cool before using it to make your kombucha.