David A. Antler

Kombucha brewing

Drinking out of a bucket of bacteria is scary, but I thought I would try out brewing my own kombucha anyway.

I don’t subscribe to any of the woo around the miracles of kombucha, but I do like the way it tastes. Summer is coming up and it’s my favorite beer alternative. Plus I have a hunch that home-made can be much better (and cheaper) than store-bought.

Here are my notes.

Progress log

2019-04-03: Ordered equipment

After doing some shopping online, I came up with a list of kombucha brewing equipment.

2019-04-09: Received all the stuff.

As a sub-Prime™ citizen, I had ample time to practice the virtue of patience.

Once I got all this stuff, I cleaned out the jar/bottles using the bottle brush and a very mild soap that I use on my hands and dishes. People online will say soap is bad for the SCOBY, but I imagine whatever chemicals found on my glassware are worse.

Stupidly, I stored the kombucha starter in the refrigerator, which is completely unnecessary and probably slowed down my first brew.

2019-04-11: Started making my first batch.

I don’t have fancy purified water, so I opted to boil my tap water for 5-10 minutes to try to remove the chlorine. A quick googling suggests this might work.

I started by filling my 4 Qt sauce pan up with tap water, boiling it for 5 minutes, and letting it cool completely. I then dumped it into the glass jar.

I then refilled the 4 Qt sauce pan with water and brewed a strong sweet tea. For the sweet tea, I used 1 cup of sugar and brewed in 2 TBSP of strong black tea. After this cooled I dumped it into the glass jar as well.

Finally I added the SCOBY out of the fridge. It sank to the bottom. A bit neurotic from reading too much about kombucha failures online, I was a bit concerned about the pH of my solution. I didn’t want to buy tester strips so I opted instead to dump half a bottle of GT’s Kombucha (Original flavor) into the mix. It was also nice to taste the other half of the bottle so I would have a reference for what a good plain kombucha tastes like. That stuff was really tasty.

Brewing vessel, fully loaded for the first time.

Supposedly in 7 to 10 days I’ll have a decent kombucha. Getting a bit excited! Will it mold? Lets find out!

2019-04-17: First inspection/taste.

Inspected my SCOBY after a week. It looks much larger and seems to have covered the entire air/liquid boundary. Looks normal; no visible mold. The original SCOBY seems to have started floating, maybe. But the solution is cloudy now.

Poured myself a shot glass. Taste is a bit sweet but watery. Maybe slightly carbonated. I don’t think it’s quite ready.

Top-down view of SCOBY

2019-04-21: Bottling day.

Shot glass today tastes both sweet and tart, but also a bit watery. Drinkable for sure. Seems like a good time to start stage two of fermentation.

I made several different flavors:

First bottling.

Left to right: plain, peach/pear, ginger/pear, blackberry/ginger, and lemon/black tea.

2019-04-22: Bottle burping.

I heard it was a good idea to try and release some carbonation to prevent the bottles from exploding. The middle 3 flavors had a ton of carbonation! The plain and Arnold Palmer had almost none.

I let the plain and lemon ones sit out for five days, and refrigerated the more fruity ones for after just two days. This is because I got tired of burping the fruity ones!

2019-05-03: Tasting notes.

All the kombuchas have been consumed. They were all tasty. The main issue was lack of fizzy-ness, which is surprising because the bottles practically exploded when I opened them. The taste is more like a fruity iced tea.

I drank the plain kombucha last. One surprise was that the plain kombucha tasted much nicer after the bottle fermentation. It actually had a tiny little SCOBY growing in it when I drank it.

2019-05-04: First “continuous” brew batch.

At the end of my first bottling, the SCOBY and roughly half the liquid remained in the container.

I added about 6 cups of sweet tea (1 cup of sugar dissolved in) and two cups of water back into the mix. This should produce another half gallon of kombucha.

I biked to the Vietnamese market and found some lemongrass, which I plan on using for flavor in this next batch. Tasting will be in 5 days this time.

2019-05-09: Bottling

Tasted the second batch and it already seems ready for bottling. The solution is tart but not quite vinegary. It tastes much richer and less watery than last time. The batch of tea I’ve added might have been a bit strong!

The flavors are plain, lemongrass, and more lemongrass.

Second bottling.

2019-05-12: First taste

None of the bottles seemed to need much burping. I refrigerated and drank the plain kombucha today. It tastes very good, just like the GT’s original which I used to get started, but still a bit less carbonated.

I’ll try the lemongrass soon!

2019-05-19: Third bottling

I’ve been drinking the lemongrass and it is pretty good. The flavor is somewhat more subtle than I expected, and I think chopping it more finely would have made it more flavorful. I’ll try that next time.

The local grocery store had strawberries on sale; two pounds for $3. I made two with plain strawberries, and two with strawberries and ginger. They took on a nice pink color shortly after bottling.

Third bottling due to a strawberry sale.

2019-05-24: Refilling again.

The bottles I made of strawberry and strawberry ginger are both excellent. Everyone who tried them enjoyed them! I think the ginger is slightly more delicious, but it doesn’t make a huge difference with these flavors. I’d like to do strawberry vanilla at some point.

I strapped a Brita filter to my kitchen sink tap to make the bottling process easier. This time I boiled 6 cups of strong tea with 3/4 cup of sugar, and then added 6 cups of water directly from the tap.

2019-05-27: Getting sour quickly

I tasted my kombucha and decided it was ready after just 3.5 days. I finished bottling just before midnight on Monday. The safe flavor is blackberry+ginger, and the other one is pineapple and sichuan peppercorn (left over from the twice cooked pork I made a few days prior).

Fourth bottling.

My continuous brew vessel is still going strong, so my new water filter appears to be working well enough.

2019-05-31: Less burping, straight to the fridge.

I was experiencing less carbonation than expected, so I didn’t actually burp these bottles very much. The reused kevita bottle hasn’t been burped at all. I’m excited to see if the carbonation is much higher!

2019-06-13: More sugar.

Again I boiled 6 cups of strong tea with 3/4 cup of sugar, but I only added about 3 cups of water directly from the tap.

2019-06-17: Blueberry time

Blueberries were on sale so I made a bunch of blueberry and blueberry ginger kombucha. I also made one with left over rainier cherries.

Blueberry bottles

The cherry one was like a delicious sour cherry flavor, since I think my brew vessel started running pretty sour.

The blueberry ginger ones were tasty, like a juice.

The plain blueberry one sort of reminded me of that gross boysenberry pancake syrup at IHOP, which I did not particularly enjoy. It was a bit too sweet.

2019-06-30: A new batch

This time I drained the brew vessel pretty thoroughly and started over. I boiled 6 cups of strong tea with 2/3 cup of sugar, and I added about 3 cups of water directly from the tap.

2019-07-04: Bottling the mango

I think the batch has gotten a bit weak.

I made three bottles of mango kombucha and a plain one. My friend Bryan got a mango and said it was good. I’ve yet to taste it.

This is the first one I’ve made with fruit concentrate from a can. I wasn’t able to find anything interesting on sale at the store.

Mango bottles, chilled.

2019-07-20: Refill the vessel

I added about 8 cups of sweet tea (3/4 cup sugar) and 2 cups of water to start a new batch, since the last one was slightly weak.

2019-07-22: Bottling already

The mixture was plenty sour from sitting for a couple weeks, so in just a couple days I’m ready to bottle again. It’s peak summer and everything at the market looks fantastic. This time I chose organic strawberries + thai mint, as well as plain plum.

Strawberry+mint, and a plum.

2019-08-03: Refill again.

I added about 8 cups of sweet tea (3/4 cup sugar) and 4 cups of water to start a new batch.

2019-08-06: New strawberry bottles

Strawberries were on sale again, and they’re just about my favorite flavor of homemade kombucha so far. I made two of the big 30oz bottles: 1) strawberry anise, 2) strawberry ginger.

Strawberry+anise and a strawberry+ginger with an empty bottle for scale.

2019-08-26: New blackberry bottles

A good sale on blackberries compelled me to make a few more bottles, and adding a bit of ginger for flavor.

blackberry and blackberry ginger bottles

Although I enjoy eating blackberries, they seemed to get overpowered by the tartness of the kombucha. This kombucha gets a beautiful color but the flavor is a bit underwhelming.

2019-09-14: Batch refill

I added another 3 Qt of water, with 6 bags of tea and 2/3 of a cup of sugar dissolved into it. I tasted the leftover tea and it was extremely tart, so I drained half of it (probably down to 1 qt) and started again.