Kombucha should be tart and tangy, neither too sweet nor too sour. Of course, taste is subjective. Kristen Hinman finds that seven to 10 days of brewing works well in the warmer months, while 2 to 3 weeks generally is required in cooler weather. Taste it, and bottle it when the brew reaches your desired tartness.
Kombucha can't be made without a starter SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and some kombucha that has already fermented.
You can make your own SCOBY, or procure one from a friend or via online forums such as Craigslist; SCOBYs also can be purchased from online vendors such as Kombuchabrooklyn.com and Getkombucha.com. Whoever provides the SCOBY should also provide a cup or more of fermented kombucha; alternatively, bottled kombucha can be purchased at Whole Foods and many organic markets. In between brewing batches of kombucha, store the SCOBY in a cup of fermented kombucha in a glass bottle. It will keep for years.
White sugar is a requisite; neither agave nor honey will work. You can change the drink's flavor profile by experimenting with different teas, though. After plain old black tea, a basic white-pomegranate from Trader Joe's is Hinman's second choice.
Never use reactive vessels for brewing kombucha or for storing the SCOBY; glass is best. And, should any mold ever form on the SCOBY or in the kombucha, discard both and start over.
Servings: 1 gallon
- 1 gallon bottled or filtered water
- 8 regular-size black-tea bags
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 cup kombucha
- 1 kombucha scoby (see headnote)
Bring the water to a boil in a large stockpot. Turn off the heat, add the tea bags and sugar, stir with a wooden spoon and let steep for 45 minutes. Remove the tea bags and cool the sweetened tea to room temperature, about 45 minutes to one hour.
Thoroughly clean a 1-gallon, wide-mouth glass vessel with hot, soapy water. (You may use 2 half-gallon jars if you'd like, but you'll need 2 mother SCOBYs if you do so.) Pour the sweetened tea into the jar. Add the kombucha. Use wooden tongs or your clean hands to add the SCOBY, which may float or sink.
Cover the jar with cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter fastened in place with a rubber band.
Let the kombucha sit undisturbed on a countertop or atop the refrigerator for at least 7 days in warm weather, 2 to 3 weeks in cool weather; then begin to taste. The kombucha is ready when it tastes pleasantly tart, neither sweet nor sour. (Always re-cover with the cheesecloth or coffee filter if the kombucha is not ready; you don't want foreign particles, which can harm the SCOBY, entering the drink.)
One way to tell whether the kombucha is on track: A smaller, second SCOBY will form, usually attached by a thin strand or affixed to the mother SCOBY.
Remove both SCOBYs, using clean hands or wooden tongs, and reserve them for a future batch in a glass jar containing at least 1 cup of the newly brewed kombucha. Pour the remaining kombucha into 2 half-gallon clean, wide-mouth Ball jars. Cap them and leave them in a cupboard or a shaded spot on the countertop for 2 to 3 days, checking the seal on the jar. When the seal is taut, the kombucha is sufficiently carbonated; it's ready to refrigerate and drink.
Adapted by Kristen Hinman from various recipes.
Tested by Kristen Hinman and Bonnie S. Benwick .
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