How to Make Your Own Kombucha Brewing Kit (and Four Common Issues)
It's So Much Cheaper to Make Kombucha at Home
Brewing your own Kombucha at home is incredibly easy and inexpensive. I enjoy this beverage, but at $3 per bottle, it was killing my budget. So when a friend offered me a baby SCOBY to start my own brew, I jumped at the chance.
Yep. All you need is the SCOBY. Occasionally I'll go online to get tips for the brewing process, and I see websites selling DIY kits for anything from $25 to $50. Are you kidding me? If you are the type of person who is willing to care for your brew from week to week, you can gather the supplies you need to begin with minimal effort at a fraction of that cost.
What Is SCOBY?
If you want to brew your own kombucha, it’s a pretty simple system: it's made by fermenting tea with the aforementioned SCOBY. That stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. It will look like a strange, light-colored growth. Some people call them mushrooms and as they mature and get thicker they do bear a remarkable resemblance. You can order them online, grow them from a store-bought bottle, or take the route I did: I got one from another kombucha-brewing friend!
Brewing and fermenting kombucha at home is not difficult or complicated, but it also is not for the faint of heart. If you are not a person who enjoys the idea of a blobby growth floating in a liquid you will later consume, you should head to the natural foods aisle and pick up your bottles there.
Brewing and fermenting kombucha at home is not difficult or complicated, but it also is not for the faint of heart.
Ingredients and Equipment
Instead of wasting your money on some online kit that you will probably have to supplement anyways, gather these items:
- 1 gallon jar
- SCOBY + 1 cup of starter liquid
- Black tea
- Green tea (optional)
- White sugar
- Dishtowel/tea towel
- Large rubber band
- Mesh strainer (optional)
I'm literally racking my brain trying to think of what else you would need, and I can't think of anything.
Is It Actually Cheaper?
You might be thinking, "By the time I buy all of these things, will it really be cheaper than a $25 kit?"
One hundred percent, "Yes!" But just in case you're having trouble, I broke it down one element at a time so you can have the best kombucha possible for the smallest amount of money.
How to Get a Cheap Gallon Jar
It literally costs $4 at Wal-Mart to get a gallon of pickles—in a glass gallon jar! There you go. Don't want a gallon of pickles? I don't blame you. Here are a few other ideas:
- Goodwill or other second-hand shops
When I made a DIY kit as a gift for my brother, this is where we found his jar. The actual capacity is slightly under a gallon, but it only cost us $1 and it has been working very well for him.
- Friends and family
Don't be afraid to ask around, especially if you know people who do their own canning! Our kombucha jar came from my in-laws' basement, free of charge.
- Retail stores
Walmart, Rural King, Target - especially if they have any kind of canning section, many retail stores have gallon glass jars available.
- The internet
If all else really fails, you can order jars online for under $10 if you shop around. This would be my last recommendation though, as it will probably end up costing you the most.
SCOBY and Starter Liquid
To begin our process we received a small, newly formed SCOBY from my friend. While we made the trip home we stored it in a little jam jar with one cup of liquid from her kombucha. This is important for two reasons: first, you don’t want the SCOBY to dry out. Second, you will need that starter liquid for your own kombucha.
So for me, this portion was $0. If you have trouble this could end up being your most expensive part (about $5), but there really is no need to spend a lot of money on it. Ask around online to find a local brewer who can give you one (after five months of brewing, I have at least three strong options I could give away).
Though I don't have time to cover it right now, there are lots of guides on how to grow your own from a store-bought bottle of kombucha.
Use Plain Old Regular Tea
No matter what anyone says, you do not need some fancy blend of proprietary tea to make your kombucha. There are only two qualities you need to worry about is picking a tea for your brew:
- it's caffeinated
- it's free of oils that could damage your SCOBY
The tea you choose determines the health of your SCOBY, but those two factors are the only ones that matter. It needs caffeine because along with sugar that helps your SCOBY develop.
I personally like to blend black, green, and rooibos teas. It creates a nice, varied, finished product that I enjoy. The black and green tea provide caffeine, and the rooibos contributes a sweet and smoky element that deepens the flavor. But if you use just plain black tea, which is all you need, you'll only be out $1-$2.
What do I mean by "free of oils?" See below.
No Herbal Teas
Others will disagree with this point, but it's important to remember: the tea you use affects the health of your SCOBY.
When you introduce teas like peppermint or cinnamon, you are injecting foreign elements into your brew that over time could weaken the delicate balance of yeast and bacteria.
If you are really curious about how these teas would taste, you do have an option to try it. Over time your SCOBY will develop new, baby SCOBY growth. That is the perfect time to grab an extra mason jar, brew some herbal tea, and then add the new growth and some starter liquid. this way you can experiment without risking the health of your primary ferment.
Pour Some Sugar on It
This is relatively straightforward: White sugar, which costs about $1.
Some insist that organic white sugar promotes better growth because there are fewer contaminants to interfere with your brew. We have only ever used generic, plain, white sugar and have never had any issues.
There is one exception: in one of my experimental secondary brews, I mixed some coconut sugar with herbal tea. It came out alright but I would recommend avoiding that in your primary brew. The SCOBY feeds off the sugar, so trying to use less of it or a "healthier" alternative is pointless. It needs to be processed by the brew, so it's good if it's already refined.
Towel and Rubber Band
These bear little explanation. The towel covers the opening of the jar, protecting the brew from dirt and dust but allowing air to circulate. The rubber band secures the towel.
Don't use cheesecloth. Don't put a lid on it. Go to a dollar store and buy a tea towel. Better yet, find an extra one sitting around in your kitchen (but please make sure it's clean first). The total cost need not be more than $1.
Towel + rubber band = kombucha bliss.
This is optional, but we like to have it when we bottle to help strain the floaters out. Ours was $1 for a pack of two different sizes at Dollar Tree.
My Ingenious Bottling Solution
I will admit, glass bottles can start getting kind of expensive. Here's my little hack:
You're paying for kombucha in glass bottles right now, right?
Stop throwing them away! We keep an eye out and buy bottles when they're on sale. So usually for $2 or less, we can get a glass bottle and all of the delicious beverage that was inside it as well. Our collection is getting so big it's taking over our kitchen.
My Favorite Bottles
The best option I have found is the glass bottles with plastic lids like the ones above. These bottles are used by brands like GTO Kombucha, Simple Truth Organic, Kevita, and others.
When we first started we used basically any glass bottles we had, but as time goes on we've collected more of these and phased the others out. These keep the carbonation in really well and are a great size.
Adding up the Cost
Even looking at the most expensive possibilities, this whole thing will cost you only $14. With our free SCOBY and gallon jar, I believe all we paid for to get started was the cost of tea, sugar, and that $1 strainer. That's it.
Why I've Fallen in Love With It
I won’t go over all the basics of how kombucha works because it has increased so much in popularity over the past few years, and there are plenty of awesome places online to learn more.
I like this beverage because it’s a fun alternative when I don’t want to just drink water, but it’s healthier than a lot of other options like soda or traditional sweet tea. Now that I can make a batch for pennies, there's no reason to hold back! I was talking with a friend about brewing my own, and she immediately said, “I need to start doing that. Kombucha costs me a fortune every month.”
Putting Your Kit Into Action
So do you have your one-gallon jar, black tea, white sugar, hot water, and a clean dish towel? you're ready to get brewing. Below you can see the recipe for how to put your DIY kit into action.
- Kombucha SCOBY
- 1 cup starter liquid
- one-gallon jar
- 2 tablespoons black tea
- 1 cup white sugar
- hot water
- a clean dish towel
- Brew 2 tablespoons of tea in 4 cups of hot water.
- Add 1 cup of sugar.
- Add 8 cups of cold water.
- Place SCOBY in tea along with 1 cup of starter liquid.
- Cover with dish towel and set aside for a week or more.
Four Common Issues
You now know how to start fermenting your own brew. But what about trouble-shooting? Below I've enumerated some of the usual problems or doubts people have about their kombucha, so you don't have to stress out about them like I did.
I have a tendency to stress about things, so this applied to my kombucha too. In over five months of brewing, I have learned one big lesson: Don’t worry! A SCOBY is more resilient than one would think, and the tea will ferment under a variety of conditions. Here are a few of the things I was terrified about that turned out just fine:
Is It Too Cold?
The ideal temperature for fermenting this wonderful probiotic drink is around 80 degrees. There’s no way I’m paying to keep my apartment that warm all winter, and you know what? Ours has been just fine. It will take a little while longer for it to ferment at a colder temperature, but we have found that we like the taste at just less than two weeks, even when the brew has been in a room that’s 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where Should I Store It?
No direct sunlight! Good ventilation! Warm! No Vibrations!
These are just a few of the qualifiers I read for where we needed to store our brew. I live in a small, one-bedroom apartment with limited counter space. After worrying about the perfect location for our kombucha (and moving it several times in the course of a week) I decided to calm down and put it on top of the fridge. It gets shook up every now and then, but it’s out of the way and the towel on top keeps direct light off of the SCOBY.
Could It Be Mold?
We took a trip during the first fermentation. I walked in the door, anxious to see our SOCBY’s progress. I was horrified when I discovered it was covered in little spots! If a SCOBY develops mold, you have to throw it away. After thoroughly researching on the Internet, I realized they were air bubbles, a perfectly normal part of SCOBY development. We also get a lot of stringy brown bits on our SCOBY from the yeast that helps transform the tea.
In the process of making kombucha, it’s normal to see a lot of strange looking things. I don’t have to worry that it’s mold every time.
Is It Floating Correctly?
A lot of pictures I saw online had perfect, thick, SCOBYS floating right on top of the brew. I was filled with concern when mine floated diagonally through the middle of the jar. The kombucha still developed, and a new SCOBY formed at the top of the jar. We were even able to transplant that SCOBY to start another batch the next time around.
I’m sure that the longer I brew kombucha, the more I will discover all the nuances that affect it. For now, I have been happy to learn that it’s a pretty difficult thing to mess up. If you’re in the early stages of brewing kombucha, or you think you want to try, don’t worry too much about the details. Nature has left us a lot of room for trial and error. Happy brewing!
What would be your greatest concern about brewing kombucha?
© 2017 Bethany Halbert