Kombucha 101: What Is It & How to Make It at Home?

Posted on Thursday, March 13th, 2014 at 7:49 am



I don’t claim to be a Kombucha expert – far from, but my purose here today is to give you a brief overview of what I’ve recently learned and my experience with making my first batch at home.


What Is Kombucha?


Kombucha (pronounced Kom-boo-cha) is basically a fermented beverage made from combining tea, sugar & SCOBY; an acronym that stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. 


The fermentation process results in a naturally carbonated drink that has a sweet/sour taste. 


Every batch of Kombucha differs, but they all contain at least one benefical yeast, probiotic (good bacteria) to promote a healthy gut and digestion, several anti-bacterial compounds, an analgesic (pain reliever) compound, an anti-arthritic compound, an anti-spasmodic compound, and  different acids that help the body detoxify naturally1.


Some of the purported health claims were:


 Alkalizes the body  Alleviates constipation
 Increases metabolism  Cancer prevention
 Improves digestion  Reduces blood pressure
 Improves eyesight  Reduces eczema – softens the skin
 Speeds healing of ulcers   Reduces gray hair
 Boosts energy – helps with chronic fatigue  High in antioxidants – destroy free-radicals that cause cancer
 Relieves headaches & migraines   Prevents arteriosclerosis
 Aids healthy cell regeneration  Helps clear up candida & yeast infections
 Reduces kidney stones  Rebuilds connective tissue – helps with arthritis, gout, asthma, rheumatism


I must admit, those are very big claims and shoes to fill! 


While I don’t believe that there is one miraculous solution that can cure everything, I do believe in the ability for our bodies to heal themselves if given the right assistance from our lifestyle choices, our environment, our activity level, amount of sleep and of course, what we ingest.


I believe that Kombucha is one of those ancient secrets that can possibly help our body regain balance to allow it to heal itself according to our individual needs, but I’ll have to try it first before endorsing it.


I read that Kombucha has been used for over 2,000 years in China for its medicinal properties, and it was also popular in Russia, Ukraine and Germany until World War II when rationing made tea and sugar hard to get. 


Is It Safe?


I did come across negative warnings from the American Cancer Society who reported illnesses and deaths associated with a few people drinking Kombucha tea. 


And the FDA also warns consumers to use caution when making and drinking Kombucha tea because of potential “health risks” which are unknown. 


They worry that home-brewing can contaminate the tea with harmful germs and mold. 


Keep in mind however that the FDA allows MSG, aspartame, GMO’s, human growth hormones and other additives and synthetic chemicals to be added to our foods even though numerous studies over the years have shown their devastating consequences to our health and the environment. 


Also note that this was an anecdotal report and there was no scientific evidence showing that Kombucha was unsafe. (If I have missed studies however, please do let me know!)


Obviously, it is imperative to keep our work surfaces and tools clean when making Kombucha – or any meal for that matter.


And if your SCOBY does develop fungus and mold on it, then discard it as you would any other rotting food – it’s just common sense.


I am consuming very small amounts to begin with to allow my body to get used to it and also because the warnings were associated with an overconsumption of Kombucha tea and those with compromised immune systems.


Moderation and variety is always best.  And listening to your body is even more important.


How Do You Get Started?


Before you can make fermented tea, you’ll need some SCOBY, which looks and feels like the top of a jellyfish to me.




I received my SCOBY as a gift for sharing kefir grains; another powerful fermented beverage that tastes like sour milk or the Arabic drink called “Laban”. 


Read more about my kefir journey if you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of adding fermented foods to your diet.


Where Do You Get SCOBY?


You can either find people who are willing to share their extra SCOBYs (like myself), purchase starter kits online, or try to make your own by Googling the topic. 


You can even purchase ready-made Kombucha tea from the stores (I believe Bestro in Dubai Mall will eventually be offering Kombucha), but make sure the ones in the stores haven’t been pasturized (it will say so on the label) and is 100% Kombucha with nothing else added (as often is the case once it becomes mass produced).


Once you’ve found yourself some SCOBY, you’re ready to begin.


The process involves 2 phases:


Phase 1:  Aerobic Fermentation (i.e. the Kombucha has access to oxygen)


Here you basically brew tea with sugar, let it cool, add the SCOBY, and wait 5 to 10 days or more depending on your climate. 


The Kombucha tea is ready when it appeals to your taste.  It’s as easy as that.


Phase 2: Anaerobic Fermentation (i.e. the Kombucha tea is sealed off from oxygen)


Next you separate your batch into glass bottles and seal off the oxygen for 2 to 3 days. 


You can also flavor the tea at this point with fresh fruit, spices, herbs, edible flowers, etc. This increases the natural carbonation in the beverage.


There are also 2 basic methods of preparation; batch brewing and continuous brewing. 


The method I tried was batch brewing but I’ll probably switch to continuous brewing the next time around as it seems easier and “safer” because of the reduced risk of contamination from not having to handle the SCOBY between batches.  (This will become clearer in a minute…)


How to Make Homemade Kombucha Tea – Step by Step:


What you’ll need:



- Black or green tea bags

- Sugar

- A large 3 or 4L lead-free glass jar

- Bottling jars with sealable lids (I used my old salt jars)

- A paper tower and elastic to cover


Phase 1: Aerobic Fermentation


1. Poor 3L of filtered water into a large pot on the stove.  Add 3 tea bags* and 1 C of raw cane sugar (organic is best, but regular tea and sugar will work too). Bring to a boil. 


Note: I wasn’t sure if we’d enjoy the taste of Kombucha tea and how long it would take to finish a batch, so I decided try one 3L batch first.  Next time however, I will use the continuous brewing method as there is no need to remove the SCOBY from the jar and you just keep adding freshly sweetened tea as needed.  I will have a separate post explaining how to use this method after I try it.


*I removed the paper logo on the string of each tea bag


2. Remove from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.


3. Once cooled, poor tea into the big glass jar.  Add the SCOBY and poor 1 C of the reserved or matured Kombucha liquid from a previous batch on top.  (The SCOBY will float to the top of the brew.)



4. Wait 5 to 10 days or longer if you live in colder conditions.  Taste the tea.  It is ready when it appeals to your taste. 



Note:  The longer the tea is left to ferment, the more beneficial properties it will have.  However, it will also become more sour/vinegar-tasting, have a higher alcohol level, and less sugar (more on that below). You’ll have to play with it to see what works best for you.


Phase 2: Anaerobic Fermentation


1. With clean hands (wash with soap, then rub with vinegar), remove the SCOBY with your hands and place it in a smaller jar with approximately 2 cups of the prepared Kombucha tea.  This will be used for your next batch. 


2. Poor the remaining Kombucha tea in the smaller glass jars.  Flavor the tea by adding whatever fruits or herbs of your preference.  I used fresh blueberries and raspberries.




3. Place the bottled Kombucha tea in a dark place for 24 to 48 hours, and “burp” the jars (open them) from time to time to release CO2 and prevent any explosions from the carbonation.


4. Refrigerate your Kombucha tea and enjoy!


A Few Do’s & Don’ts:


The below safety tips were taken from the Kombucha Mama’s (http://www.kombuchakamp.com/) DIY guide to making Kombucha, which you can access for free by signing up. 


She answers every possible question and concern there is about Kombucha, so do make the time to visit her site if you’re considering making your own Kombucha tea.



How Much Sugar is there in Kombucha?


The sugar content in Kombucha depends on the amount of time it is left to ferment; the longer it ferments, the less sugar it will have.  


I found conflicting information about the exact amount of sugar present after 7 to 10 days of fermentation, so all I can say for sure is that if sugar is a concern for you, you can get asugar test kit, or just let it ferment longer; between 15 to 30 days.


Keep in mind however that the longer is it left to ferment, the higher the alcohol level becomes.  The alcohol level can also be measured using a hydrometer.


My Final Thoughts…


I let my tea ferment for 10 days, but I’ll reduce the time next time because the tea had a slight taste of wine, which I didn’t like. 


My children on the other hand loved it and asked for seconds – go figure! 


I think it’s due to the fact that they aren’t allowed to have sodas and the natural carbonation appealed to them.


Overall, the taste is pleasant. I will begin by consuming small quantities (< 1/4 cup) on a regular basis and let you know if I notice any differences in health.


I will eventually try the continuous brewing method and I’ll be sure to keep you posted about my experiences.


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