How to Make Kombucha at Home

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Here's a complete guide to making kombucha at home from homebrewing expert Emma Christensen, from best ingredients and equipment to ways to flavor your finished booch. Making your own kombucha is easy and fun!

Several filled bottles of homemade kombucha on a counter

I started making my own kombucha years ago when I first moved to California and discovered this weird-sounding new drink on store shelves. I’m a fan of anything sour, tart, and tangy, so with kombucha, it was love at first sip.

I loved it so much that I eventually wrote a book about kombucha, along with cider, beer, and other favorite homemade beverages called True Brews. Astute readers will notice that the method I give here is a little different from the one I first shared in the book, and also a little different from the recipe I shared on The Kitchn a few years ago — I’ve streamlined the method over the years and tried to make it a little more approachable for new brewers.

WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?

Kombucha is a fizzy drink made by fermenting sweetened tea. It starts off tasting like your average glass of sugary Southern sweet tea, but after a week or two of fermentation, it transforms into a tart, tangy, effervescent beverage. It’s not for everyone, certainly, but for those of us who love those kinds of flavors, it’s unbeatable.

This fermentation is made possible thanks to something called a SCOBY. This stands of “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” Dig around the internet for long enough and you might also hear this scoby referred to as a “mother” or a “mushroom.”

The scoby looks and feels like a flat, rubbery, beige-colored pancake — not the most appealing thing, to be sure, but it houses all the yeast and beneficial bacteria needed to ferment the sweet tea into kombucha. It’s similar to the mother used to make vinegar or the starter used to make sourdough bread.

Fizzy homemade kombucha in a glass

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF KOMBUCHA?

Why would anyone want to make fermented tea using a blobby pancake? Well, aside from just liking the way it tastes, kombucha also contains a lot of beneficial probiotics, which many of us believe help out with gut health.

You hear a lot of pretty far-out health claims about kombucha — everything from “it made my acne go away” to “it cures baldness.” Personally speaking, I just find that regularly drinking kombucha seems to keep my whole digestive system happy. It’s not a cure-all and it’s doesn’t produce miracles, but personally, I think it’s overall beneficial for my health.

If you’ve never tried kombucha before, I recommend picking up a bottle at the store before making it yourself just to see if you like it. GT’s is a very good, widely available brand, though it tends to be fairly vinegary and tart. If you want a gentler introduction, seek out locally made brands of kombucha, which I often find to be sweeter and less assertively vinegary.

The Ingredients for Kombucha

Here’s what you need to make a batch of kombucha at home:

  • Water: Filtered water or spring water is best for making kombucha, but if your tap water tastes good to drink, then it’s usually totally fine to use it to make kombucha.
  • Sugar: You can use any cane or beet sugar to make your kombucha, including regular table sugar, turbinado, demerara, sugar-in-the-raw, or brown sugar. Alternative sugars, like agave and coconut sugar, are trickier to work with and can cause problems with fermentation; wait to experiment with them until you have more experience brewing kombucha. Do not use artificial sweeteners like stevia or Sweet-and-Low; these will not work to make kombucha.
  • Caffeinated tea: Any caffeinated tea can be used to make kombucha: black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or white tea. Avoid herbal teas or any teas with essential oils (like Earl Grey); these can cause problems with fermentation and potentially lead to mold growth on the scoby.
  • “Prepared kombucha”: For the “prepared kombucha” either use store-bought, unflavored kombucha or a few cups of homemade kombucha saved from your last batch. (Flavored kombuchas can cause mold growth on the scoby, but I have heard from people who’ve successfully used ginger kombucha and citrus-flavored kombuchas for this ingredient.)
  • The scoby: You can get a scoby from a kombucha-making friend, grow one yourself, or order one online from a place like Kombucha Kamp. If you order online, I recommend getting a “live” scoby in its liquid rather than a dehydrated scoby if possible; live scobys are generally heartier and easier to get going than dehydrated scobys.

Add the scoby for homemade kombucha to the jar with the sweet tea and prepared kombucha

How to Grow Your Own Scoby

Growing your own scoby from scratch is possible, but can be hit or miss. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t and either the scoby never forms or it develops mold. If you want to give this a try, just be prepared for a bit of a science science experiment!

To grow your own scoby:

  1. Prepare a half batch of the recipe below, but leave out the scoby (obviously!). Cover with a double layer of a tightly woven napkin or tea towel secured with a rubber band and leave the jar somewhere out of the way. Try not to move it or jostle it since this can make the scoby take longer to form.
  2. Let the jar sit for 1 to 4 weeks. Check it after 1 week and then every few days after that. If all is well, you’ll see bubbles forming on the surface, which eventually join together into a thin, transparent layer that looks and feels kind of like a contact lens. This layer will start to thicken and turn opaque.
  3. Once it’s about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick, it’s ready. You can use it to make your first official batch of kombucha. You can also use the remaining liquid as your “prepared kombucha.”

Equipment for Making Kombucha

  • Stock pot (at least 8-quart or larger): This is for making the sweet tea base.
  • 1-gallon glass jar: You’ll use this for actually brewing the kombucha. You can use two 64-oz jars instead, but note that you’ll need one scoby for each jar.
  • Finely-woven flour sack dish cloths: A double layer of dish cloths is used to cover the jar, allowing air flow in but keeping bugs and dirt out. You can also use tightly-woven tea towels, napkins, or other lint-free cloths.
  • Swing-top glass bottles, or an assortment of recycled plastic soda bottles: This is for bottling your kombucha! Either brown or clear glass bottles are fine. Be sure to use swing top bottles that are intended for brewing and holding carbonated beverages; ones that are just meant to hold water don’t have a strong enough stopper to allow the kombucha to carbonate properly.
  • Small plastic funnel: You’ll use this to transfer the kombucha into bottles.

Filled jars of kombucha with the flip-tops on

How to Make Kombucha

Making your own kombucha is actually a surprisingly easy and straightforward process. First, make a strong, sweet tea and let it cool. Transfer it to a gallon jar and slip the scoby into the liquid. It usually floats, but it might also sink to the bottom, float sideways, or move up and down during the course of fermentation; all of these are fine!

Cover the jar with a double-layer of finely-woven dish towels secured with a rubber band. This lets air flow into the jar and keeps bugs and dirt from getting it. Place the jar somewhere away from direct sunlight where it won’t get jostled too much and where the temperature is about 70°F – 75°F on average. Kombucha will ferment faster at higher temperatures or slower at lower temperatures.

Let the kombucha ferment for 1 to 3 weeks. During this time, the yeast and bacteria in the scoby will start consuming the sugar in the sweet tea, and the kombucha will become gradually more tart and tangy. Start tasting it after a week; just pour a little from the jar into a glass. Once the kombucha tastes good to you, it’s ready to be bottled.

use a small funnel to pour the finished kombucha into swing top bottles

How to Bottle Kombucha

Before you bottle, be sure to remove and set aside 2 cups to use as the prepared kombucha for your next batch!

Transfer the remaining kombucha to clean swing top bottles or recycled plastic soda bottles. Secure the caps and leave the kombucha at room temperature for 1 to 5 days to carbonate. Each batch of kombucha will ferment at a slightly different rate based on how much sugar is still in the kombucha, the temperature, and whether you added any flavorings.

Check each day by opening up one of the bottles. When you hear a soft pop! and see bubbles flowing to the surface of the liquid after you open it, it’s ready! Refrigerate all bottles and drink within two weeks.

Several bottles of store-bought juice on a counter

Ways to Flavor Kombucha

Plain, unflavored kombucha is all well and good, but flavoring your kombucha can be a whole lot of fun! Here are some favorites:

  • Fruit Juice: Add a small amount of juice to each bottle of kombucha. I usually add 1/4 cup or so to each bottle and then top with kombucha. Use more or less depending on the size of your bottle and how fruity you like your kombucha. Some favorite flavors are cherry, blueberry, grape, cranberry, pomegranate, and mango.
  • Whole Fruit: You can also chop up some fruit to flavor your kombucha, which is nice if you want a flavors like strawberry or plum that you can’t easily find as fruit juice. You can either add chopped fruit directly to the bottles, or you can transfer the kombucha to a new 1-gallon jar with the chopped fruit, cover and steep for a few days, then strain and bottle. Note that a new scoby may form on the top of the liquid; this is fine and normal, and can be discarded before drinking.
  • Ginger: Chopped fresh ginger or ginger juice make a spicy, tingly kombucha. Add it by itself, or along with your favorite juice. (Do not use powdered ginger since it doesn’t dissolve and makes the kombucha taste gritty.)
  • Fresh Herbs or Whole Spices: Chopped fresh herbs (rosemary! thyme! basil!) or whole spices (cinnamon! cloves! cardamom!) add a subtle punch of flavor to plain kombucha. I also like combining these with fruit or fruit juice. (Strawberry basil is a favorite!)

Note that adding fruit juice or chopped fruit to your kombucha tends to make it carbonate much faster. The sugars in these ingredients are like a fresh meal to the yeast in the kombucha! Check your bottles a little more frequently than you would otherwise.

Side view of several bottles filled with kombucha

Your Next Batch of Kombucha!

Properly cared for, your scoby will last for a very, very, very long time and allow you to make batch after batch of kombucha. With each new batch, another layer will grow on the surface of the kombucha. You can peel off this new layer and give it to a friend, use it to start a second jar of kombucha, compost it, or discard it. You can also just leave it, though eventually your scoby will grow so thick that you’ll need to peel off some layers!

Scobys are happiest if you start a new batch brewing as soon as you’re done with the last one — this is like giving your scoby regularly scheduled meals. You don’t need to do anything special to your scoby between batches; just take it from a finished jar of kombucha and add it to a fresh jar of sweet tea.

If you want to take a break or you’re going on vacation, that’s totally fine. Leave your scoby in a jar of sweet tea and just let it ferment on the counter. The scoby will be perfectly happy hanging out for weeks or even months as long as it’s submerged in liquid. Check it occasionally and top it off with some fresh sweet tea if needed.

It's fine if the scoby sinks to the bottom of the jar

It’s totally fine if your scoby floats on the top of the liquid, sinks to the bottom, or floats somewhere in the middle.

Trouble-Shooting Kombucha

There’s a brown spot on my scoby! And weird brown threads hanging off of it! Help!

Worried people send me photos of their scobys every day, and 99.9% of the time, that brown spot and those threads hanging off of it are clumps of yeast. This is totally normal and actually a sign of a healthy scoby.

I’m not sure if this is yeast or actually mold. How can I tell?

Yeast will look kind of like dirty brown pond algae; it will be wet and slimy, and feel gritty if you rub it between your fingers. Mold looks a lot like the mold that grows on an old loaf of bread; it will be different colors and look fuzzy (not slimy). Also, mold will get worse and worse, blooming across the top of the scoby over the course of a few days. If you’re not sure, just wait a few days and see what happens.

I definitely have mold on my scoby. Can I save it?

Sadly, no. If your scoby has grown mold, it’s really best to toss it and start again with a fresh scoby. I’m sorry!

My tea bags burst and now there’s tea in my scoby!

Strain out any loose tea and transfer the liquid to a new jar. If any tea is stuck to your scoby, try to pick it out as soon as you notice. Keep an eye on your scoby for the next week or so to make sure no mold starts to grow.

My scoby sunk to the bottom! Or is floating in the middle! Is it ok?

Yup! While scobys usually float on the surface of the liquid, it’s totally fine if they sink to the bottom (see photo above!) or even float in the middle of the liquid. Scobys tend to become more buoyant the longer you brew with them.

My kombucha isn’t carbonating. What did I do wrong?

There are lots of reasons why your kombucha might be carbonating slowly or not carbonating at all. The most common reason is that the seals on your bottles aren’t totally air tight — either they’re old and worn out, or you’re not using bottles intended to hold carbonated beverages. The second most common reason is that there isn’t enough sugar left in the kombucha. The yeast make the carbon dioxide that carbonates your kombucha by eating sugar, so if there’s no sugar, there’s no carbonation. Try adding a few mashed up raisins to the bottles or a little fruit juice.

  • For more carbonation trouble-shooting, check out this post from my personal website!

Pouring homemade kombucha into a glass

FOOD SAFETY AND MAKING KOMBUCHA AT HOME

Kombucha is very safe to make at home, even without sterilizing or using fancy equipment. The very act of fermentation protects the beverage (and you) against anything truly harmful, which is how humans have made food safe to eat for centuries. If your kombucha ferments even a little bit, it’s safe for you to drink.

This said, of course you should use your best judgement and take note of the following:

  • Clean all your equipment thoroughly before making kombucha, including your hands.
  • The kombucha should smell fresh and vinegary as it ferments. If it starts to smell foul, or if you see mold growing on the surface of the scoby, discard both the scoby and the kombucha and start over again with fresh ingredients.

However, be careful of confusing “bad” signs with signs that are just unfamiliar. When you first start making kombucha, everything is new. Something that might be perfectly normal — like the smell of vinegar or some brown clumps of yeast — might make you worry that something has gone wrong.

A good rule of thumb to follow is that if something is bad, it will generally get a lot worse, the way one speck of mold on a loaf of bread will quickly turn the whole loaf green. If you’re not sure whether something with your kombucha or scoby is good or bad, just wait a few days and check again. If you’re still not sure, wait a few more days. If it hasn’t really changed, then it’s probably fine.

ALCOHOL IN KOMBUCHA

There is a small amount of alcohol in all kombucha, even store-bought kombucha. Most of the alcohol is converted into acetic acid and other non-boozy things during fermentation, but it’s not a perfect system. On average, a serving of kombucha contains less than 1% alcohol (which is much less than even a light beer).

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How to Make Kombucha at Home

  • Prep time: 1 hour
  • Fermentation time: 1 – 3 weeks
  • Yield: 1 gallon

You can use this basic recipe to scale up or down, making larger or smaller batches depending on how much kombucha you like to drink.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 cup sugar (table sugar, turbinado, demerara, sugar-in-the-raw, or brown sugar)
  • 8 bags caffeinated tea, or 4 tablespoons looseleaf tea (black, green, or white)
  • 2 cups prepared unflavored kombucha
  • 1 scoby
  • To flavor: 2 to 3 cups of juice, 1 to 2 cups chopped fruit, 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh herbs or spices
  • 1-gallon glass jar, or two 64-oz jars
  • Finely-woven flour sack dish cloths, or tightly-woven tea towels, napkins, or other lint-free cloths
  • Swing-top glass bottles, or an assortment of cleaned recycled plastic soda bottles
  • Small plastic funnel

Method

1 Make the sweet tea base: Bring 1 quart of the water to a rolling boil in the stock pot. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Remove the pot from heat and add the tea (if you’re using looseleaf tea, put it in a tea ball first). Let stand for at least 10 minutes to steep the tea, though it’s also fine if you end up letting the tea sit for a few hours.

Remove the tea before continuing.

Add the sugar for making kombucha into the water in a medium saucepan Next, add the tea for making kombucha into the sugar water n a medium saucepan Let the tea for making kombucha steep in the medium saucepan for at least 10 minutes or up to a few hours

2 Combine all the liquids in a 1-gallon glass jar: Pour the sweet tea into a 1-gallon jar and add the remaining 2 1/2 quarts of water.

Check the diluted sweet tea mixture with a clean finger to make sure it has cooled sufficiently before adding the prepared kombucha or the scoby; it should be lukewarm (or cooler) to the touch. If it still feels hot, wait for it to cool before continuing.

Stir the prepared kombucha into the diluted sweet tea.Be sure to include any blobs or floaty bits that are in the kombucha.

Pour the cooled sweet tea into a large jar to make homemade kombucha Add water for homemade kombucha to top off the sweet tea in the jar Add the prepared kombucha to the jar with the sweet tea for making kombucha at home Stir the prepared kombucha, the sweet tea, and the water together in the jar for homemade kombucha

3 Slip the scoby into the jar of liquid. The scoby might float on top of the liquid, sink to the bottom, or hover somewhere in the middle — wherever the scoby ends up resting is completely fine.

Add the scoby for homemade kombucha to the jar with the sweet tea and prepared kombucha

4 Cover the jar with a double-layer of cloth and secure with a rubber band. The cloth allows airflow in and out of the jar, which is necessary for fermentation, but the tightly-woven cloth and the tight rubber band will prevent dust and bugs from getting through.

Covered jar of homemade kombucha on a counter

5 Place the jar somewhere out of the way, away from direct sunlight, and at a steady room temperature. Ideally, you want the jar where you can check it every so often over the next week or two, but where you don’t have to constantly move it around. An unused corner of your countertop, a kitchen cupboard, or an out-of-the-way shelf are great. Complete darkness isn’t necessary; just make sure it won’t be exposed to direct sunlight.

Kombucha ferments best between 70°F and 75°F. Warmer temperatures make it ferment more quickly and cooler temperatures make fermentation slow down. Avoid temperature extremes; move the jar of fermenting kombucha somewhere more moderate if the temperature rises above 90F or below 68F during the daytime.

6 Let the kombucha ferment for 7 to 14 days, or until it tastes good to you: I recommend fermenting the kombucha for at least 7 days, but there really is no minimum or maximum time. Start tasting the kombucha after a few days — just pour a little into a glass.

In the first few days of fermentation, the kombucha will taste very sweet — like sweetened tea — but then it will gradually become more tart and vinegary the longer it ferments. You will also start to notice a vinegary aroma round the jar. This is a sign of healthy fermentation.

Continue tasting the kombucha every few days until it tastes good to you. Once it tastes good, it’s ready!

7 Remove the scoby and set aside: When your kombucha tastes good to you and you’re ready to bottle it, move the jar to your countertop where you have some room to work. Have a bowl, a liquid measuring cup, a few clean glass or plastic bottles, and a small funnel nearby. (There is no need to sterilize your kombucha jars; just make sure they are clean and fully rinsed of any soap.)

With clean hands, reach into the jar of kombucha and grab the scoby, including any new layers that have formed. Lift it out and transfer it to the bowl.

As you transfer it, check it over to make sure there are no signs of fuzzy mold growth. Leave any wet brown clumps of yeast attached. If your scoby has formed a new layer, you can leave it attached, pull off and discard the older layer, or divide the layers and use each one to brew its own batch of kombucha.

Pour out 2 cups of your kombucha and pour it over the scoby. Use this as your “prepared kombucha” for your next batch.

At this point, you can either start a new batch of kombucha right now using this scoby and liquid, or you can cover the bowl and keep the scoby and liquid at room temperature until you’re ready to make another batch. (You can store your scoby this way for up to a month or two; add additional sweetened tea as needed to keep the scoby covered.)

Remove the scoby from your current batch of kombucha and place it in a bowl or measuring cup The scoby should be at least 1/4-inch thick and feel smooth, wet, and rubbery You might see or feel gritty slimy bits on the bottom; these are clumps of yeast and are ok.Place the scoby in a bowl or measuring cup and cover with 2 cups of prepared kombucha

8 Bottle the remaining kombucha: Divide the remaining kombucha between your bottles. I find it easiest to pour the kombucha into a measuring cup, then pour it into the bottles using the small funnel. If you like, add some juice, chopped fruit, fresh herbs, or spices to each bottle to flavor the kombucha.

Cap each bottle tightly.

use a small funnel to pour the finished kombucha into swing top bottles

9 Wait for your kombucha to carbonate: (Optional — if you don’t really care if your kombucha is fizzy or not, you can refrigerate and drink your kombucha immediately.) Set your capped bottles of kombucha somewhere out of the way, away from direct sunlight, and at room temperature for 1 to 5 days to give them time to carbonate.

Check each day by opening up one of the bottles. When you hear a soft pop! and see bubbles flowing to the surface of the liquid after you open it, it's ready! Refrigerate all bottles and drink within two weeks.

Once the bottles are carbonated, refrigerate immediately. Do not leave bottles of kombucha unrefrigerated for longer than 5 days, otherwise there is a risk that too much carbonation can build up inside and the bottles may shatter.

9 Refrigerate all bottles of kombucha for 24 hours before drinking. Open bottles of kombucha slowly and carefully over a sink; over-carbonated bottles will sometimes gush up when you open them and cause a mess! Consume all bottles within two weeks. The kombucha will continue to very slowly ferment even in the fridge and you may notice that it gradually becomes more vinegary over time.

Side view of several bottles filled with kombucha

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Emma Christensen

Emma Christensen is the Editor-in-Chief of Simply Recipes, and has over 10 years of experience creating food and content for web and print. She was formerly the recipe editor for The Kitchn and is the author of three books on home-brewing, True Brews, Brew Better Beer, and Modern Cider. Emma is a graduate of The Cambridge School for Culinary Arts and Bryn Mawr College. She lives in San Jose, California.

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