I have not gotten sick in over 5 years, which is when I started drinking kombucha every day. My work would certainly put me at risk for sickness, but not once, not once. What would you give to never have a cold again?
About 5 years ago I was in a business meeting, and there were these drinks in some cool looking bottles, kind of like apothecary bottles. I just thought they were avant-garde new drinks, a kind of healthy twist on the soda, but someone informed me that it was “kombucha”.
At the time I had never heard of kombucha before, but a few sips in and my wellness journey had begun. This post is about what happened to me, the benefits I have seen, and how to make your own, and to incorporate kombucha into your life.
I’m not kidding. From that time over 5 years ago when I first drank a bottle of kombucha, I haven’t gotten sick. And this coming from someone who flew several times a week, including long-haul international flights. I used to get the sniffles fairly often, and would get really sick at least once, maybe twice a year. But, for the past 5 years, not even once.
Okay, I drink kombucha every day, or almost every day. And I have learned a certain way of drinking it…on an empty stomach…first thing in the morning…before anything else. And I have moved from commercial brands to home brew, which is healthier as you can control the sweetness—basically the more sour, ie. Like vinegar, the better it is for you.
I related this change in my health dynamic to a close friend in California. He described his company Christmas party where they had a food truck cater the event, and the entire office got sick. Seriously sick. Food poisoning. Except for four people. The ones who drank kombucha all the time.
Kombucha is not and cannot be a magic bullet. But it does build the strength of your gut, and it is your gut that determines the strength of you, your mood, your energy. Kombucha became for me a starting point on a wellness journey that is still very much in the early stages, but a focus on the gut, starting with the flora that live there, will absolutely change your life.
What did my SO notice and comment on? Mood improved, bad breath gone, no more gas, general tone and skin colour…and of course, not getting sick despite flying all the time. Are you convinced?
The only drawback? Kombucha is expensive and you can’t always find it everywhere. And believe me, travelling with a suitcase full of the stuff, as I have done repeatedly, invites frequent visits into your luggage from the TSA, and occasional leak. I soon started making my own—that solved the expense problem, but didn’t solve the travel problem.
I can’t speak highly enough of the stuff. Here is how to get started. This recipe is based on building a continuous cycle, so you drink it regularly and make it regularly, and keep one batch going (I actually have two going at once because I also use the kombucha for other things—another story, another day).
Here is how to make Kombucha
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from black tea and sugar. You can use other teas, but the bacteria likes and needs black tea to thrive, so at least start here. Not a flavoured tea, and preferably just a plain, organic, black tea, loose leaf.
You can flavour your kombucha afterwards, though I do really like “plain”.
The fermentation process produces acetic vinegar, which is good for digestion. You hear about apple cider vinegar (ACV) all the time right? This is the same idea. Some people say the residual sugar in kombucha makes it less attractive than ACV, but the bacterial colony in kombucha is much more complex, and that is what your gut likes. Besides, if you let the kombucha grow long enough, you will convert all of the sugar.
- Everything organic if possible
- Black tea is preferable, and loose leaf, not in sachets
- Filtered water, not mineral water
- Keep things clean and sterile to prevent pathogens entering the process and ruining your batch, or worse, contaminating it and you.
- Black tea: first choice for kombucha, with a bold taste, fruity. It is the basis for a healthy kombucha
- Oolong tea: also excellent, though milder and fruitier, with a grassy flavour. It is my personal favourite and makes delicious kombucha
- Green tea: can be used blended with black tea, but doesn’t feed the yeast colony as well, so no more than 50%. It produces a lighter and softer tea
- White or Red (Rooibos) tea: can be used at no more than 50% with black tea. Flowery and delicate
- Herbal tea: as a blend with black no more than 50%, but better at 25%.
- Flavoured teas: teas that are made with oils or flavoured in any way are not suitable for kombucha making
Measures to Remember
- 1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 16 cups
- 1 cup sugar = 200g
The first step is to grow a suitable culture, or “mother”. Hippy kombucha talk is “SCOBY” a.k.a. “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” In English it is a culture. In the same way that you inoculate yoghurt with a yeast culture, or seed a vinegar with a “mother”, kombucha-making requires a yeast starter.
There are two ways to do this: grow your own or get one from someone else. I prefer to grow my own, as you know where it came from, and that it is healthy, whereas if you get one from an acquaintance or from the internet, though they are probably good, who knows?
The method below requires you to buy a commercial kombucha that has been made carefully and naturally and is known to be good and healthy. For this, you must choose a plain one, not a flavoured one. Ideally this is one that you like the taste of, as this taste will become a part of your own kombucha.
- 2 cups of freshly brewed black tea
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 cups of plain kombucha
- 1 tsp of white vinegar, to help raise the acidity and prevent the growth of bad bacteria
Mix these ingredients together in a sterile jar. Cover with cheese cloth, and place in a warm place. Room temperature is usually fine. Let it stand for a month. You should see the yeast grow into a disc that covers the top, though it may also sink. If green or black mould develops, the container was not clean, and you must start again.
The next step involves taking your healthy mother and putting it into a brewing container and letting it work its magic. I use a 2-gallon glass container without a spout (a spout has little nooks and crannies that are hard to clean, whereas a simple glass container will remain completely sterile). Again, it is critical to sterilise everything you use with boiling water.
- Remember this ratio: 9 cups of sweet tea to 1 cup of starter.
- 8 teaspoons loose organic black tea
- 12 cups plus 2 cups of filtered water (3.5 qts)
- 2 cups starter mother tea as above with its yeast colony
- 2 cups of organic white sugar or 400 g (1 cup per gallon, 200 g, is the minimum required)
Boil the water and sugar. Remove from the heat. Add the tea. Let it steep, covered, until completely cooled down. Pour through a strainer into the glass fermenting vessel. Add the mother. Cover the container with a sterile cloth. Let sit for 10 days or more, testing after 7 days for taste. The longer you leave it the stronger the vinegar flavour. Once it is as you like it, then bottle and chill it, or proceed to the next step to carbonate it.
If you like your kombucha to have some fizz to it, you need to encourage a secondary fermentation. It is true that if you bottle from step 2 above at an early stage, there is likely enough residual sugar to create a mild base for secondary fermentation. Especially if you like a mild flavour, this is the best approach, and you will not need to add more sugar to achieve a mild fizz. If you are like me, however, and like to ferment out the sugar as much as possible and have left your step 2 running for as much as 20 days, then you will need to do the following to achieve a second fermentation.
Just as when brewing, you need to prime (add sugar to) each bottle, to give enough extra sugar for the yeast to create the needed gas. For a 1 litre bottle, you need 1 level teaspoon of sugar, about 6g of sugar, or 1 teaspoon of honey. If you prefer not to add sugar, you can add up to 20% of fruit juice of the flavour of your choice, and this will provide sufficient sugar to ensure carbonation.
- 20% fruit juice blended with the kombucha is ideal, using natural fruit juice. In a half litre bottle, therefore, 100 ml will be fruit juice and 400 ml will be kombucha tea;
- If using green tea or other fresh tea to blend, then add unsweetened tea plus 6 g of sugar (this is one level teaspoon) per litre. So, for a 500 ml bottle, use 3 g of sugar, or a half teaspoon (ie 400 ml brewed kombucha, 100 ml fresh tea and 3 g of sugar).
- Flavourings such as lemon juice, ginger juice, etc will be not more than ½ teaspoon per litre—a little goes a long way. Spices also work, but only if you don’t mind the residue.
Sterilisation of the bottles and any funnels or ladles you use at this step is paramount. It is also critical not to over-prime or your bottles could explode. If your kombucha overflows when you open it, it is most likely the result of unclean bottles.
You can also add flavouring, such as ginger extract. 1 teaspoon per litre is sufficient, though taste and experiment with your own blends.
It is important to use strong bottles for this list step. Grolsch-style flip-top beer bottles are ideal.
A final note. If you are not able to run a continuous process and your main tank of kombucha sits for a while, developing very strong vinegar flavour, dilute it more on bottling. Just use more tea. To prime the bottle so it will carbonate, just remember to add 6 grams of sugar (1 level teaspoon) to 1 litre of tea and starter combined. A 12 oz beer bottle sized bottle will need only 3 grams. This way you can just dilute the sourness out of your kombucha. This by the way is true if you use a fruit juice flavouring as well. Simply dilute the kombucha starter with enough sweet tea to get the flavour balance to your liking, then add the fruit juice in the 20% ratio. Voila.
As you drain down your kombucha pot to fill bottles, you should prepare your next batch of tea. You add this once you are down to two cups of mother tea and start the whole process over again. In this way you can be in kombucha heaven for years to come.
- 1 cup of fermented kombucha out—1 cup of sweet tea in
- 200 g sugar per 16 cups = 12.5 g per cup of sugar/tea mix
One gallon, 16 cups, will yield about 7 standard kombucha bottles, about 450 ml. This leaves enough mother and colony behind, so you can just add a gallon of fresh tea. Once the cycle has started, I prefer to lower the sugar level from 2 cups to 1 per gallon (the minimum) and have not had any adverse effects.
I am not a voodoo doctor or anything. I get no financial gain from espousing this lifestyle choice or this drink. But I do get the benefits. I live a lifestyle through travel that has put me in contact with a lot of people during the worst pandemic of our lifetimes. I have flown almost 2x per week the entire time this virus was spiking, and finding myself in situations where I should have been at risk, including being with colleagues who got sick. I never did. Not even a bit. And I wonder whether this has given me an added layer of protection. And just as I wonder this, I have received information that suggests that there is a strong link between gut health and not getting this illness. Try it, and you tell me 6 months from now how it is has changed your life. But don’t mess around. Do it, and make the difference.