Get Baked: Kombucha

People have many strong feelings about kombucha, or as I sometimes call it in my head, “kombuchacha.” Is it a miracle cure for everything from hangovers to eczema? Is it mildly alcoholic from the fermentation process? Is it stupid and pointless health food obsession? Regardless of all those things, I think we can agree that paying like $4 a bottle for it at the store is unfortunate. Also, while I don’t actually believe that it does anything good for you and kind of don’t even like the way it tastes that much, I love weird food projects and fermenting things in my kitchen. It’s sort of like online shopping; you do some relatively simple stuff on a Sunday afternoon because you’re bored, and 2-3 weeks later, you have something new and exciting in your life, which you may or may not actually like. Anyways, here’s a way to make kombucha at home, if that’s a thing you feel like you’d be into.

(Sidenote: there are resources online about the care, feeding, and appreciation of kombucha that are frankly terrifying to me in their volume and gravity. I used this guide from The Billfold because it was easy to understand and had a lot of all caps and exclamation points. I halved it because it makes an insane amount of kombucha, and there’s no need to go overboard. Here is a recipe from someone who is clearly very invested in kombucha as a concept, if you would like something slightly more legitimate.)

KOMBUCHA

this is storebought kombucha, helpfully labeled “wonder drink”

Ingredients:

Tea (black, green, white, or oolong. No fancy flavored or herbal stuff.)
1/2 cup of sugar
A scoby (we will discuss further below!) and/or a bottle of storebought kombucha
Glass jar or container
Cheesecloth or other thin cloth that will let air pass through

1. Put 8 cups of water in a pot on the stove. Bring to a boil.

2. Once it’s reached a boil, add your 1/2 cup of sugar, and let boil for 5 minutes for the sugar to dissolve.

3. After 5 minutes, take the water off the stove, and add your tea. I use 4 teabags, or 2 tsp of loose tea. (Teabags are a little easier, because you can just fish them out rather than straining the water.) Let the tea steep for  15 minutes, and then remove the tea.

i used this green tea!

4. Now you get to wait for a super long time for it to cool down! Seriously though, wait for it to get to room temperature. Put it in the fridge if you’re in a hurry. But also don’t be in a hurry, because if the tea is too warm it will kill all the cultures that make kombucha kombucha and not just tea, and also you need time to contemplate your scoby situation.

4a. A scoby is a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” In real life, it is a thing that looks like a super gross disc of white mucus-y stuff. I know, super appetizing! Sorry, you had to find out how that sausage gets made somehow. It sits inside of sweetened tea, and the yeast and bacteria ferment the sugar, and kombucha is born. “But I don’t have a scoby!” you say. Well sure, in an ideal world, probably you don’t have a mucus-y disc of bacteria just sitting around. The good news is that if you live in a large city or even a small city with a large hippie population, there is almost definitely someone trying to get rid of a scoby on Craigslist. If taking a blob of yeast and bacteria from a stranger you talk to via the internet is too sketchy for you, then there’s always option two, which is:

4b. Making your own scoby! This is what I did, and is surprisingly easy. It essentially involves pouring some storebought kombucha into your own tea, and letting the bacteria in the storebought kombucha feed on the sugar, and thus grow a scoby. More on this later.

this is a scoby inside a ziploc bag. appealing, no?

5. You’re going to want to pour your tea, once it’s cool, into some glass containers. I use two big glass jars. I usually pour boiling water into my jars first to sanitize them and make sure that the only bacteria growing in them is the kind I want to be drinking, but then again maybe I’m super neurotic, who knows. Once your tea is cool, pour it into your container(s), leaving a little room at the top. If you have a scoby, put it in there! I know, looks delicious. If you don’t, you can pour a half cup or so of storebought kombucha into your container. Either way, cover the top of your container with cheesecloth, and secure it with a rubber band or something. (If you use a Ball jar, like the one on the right, you can just use the jar lid with the lid insert taken out.)

6. Now The Waiting Game! Just let your kombucha hang out for a week or so, and it will turn into kombucha! The only exception to this is if you see anything in your kombucha that looks like actual mold, like black or green. Then you need to immediately cancel any and all plans to drink that kombucha and start over. Otherwise, mazel tov! You can take the scoby out and drink! You can also keep your scoby for more batches of kombucha in the future. Scobies naturally double each time you use them, which is confusing and slightly terrifying, so once you’ve taken it out you can just sort of peel it apart into two discs. Put each of them in a covered container with a little bit of tea for them to sit in, and they can hang out in your refrigerator until it’s their time to shine again. You may enjoy your fizzy sugary hippie drink, and any and all nebulous health benefits that come with it. Enjoy!

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

19 Comments

    • It tastes kinda like concentrated evil, at first. You have to get used to it.

      But seriously, it’s fermented tea, so it’s a little fizzy kind of like beer, but the overwhelming flavor is acetic acid/vinegar.

  1. The first time I had kombucha it was the worst thing ever. Now I think it’s awesome. Buttttt I’m a little weirded out by making it at home because I’m afraid of growing bad things in addition to the things it’s supposed to grow. This happens enough when I’m in lab, I don’t need it in my kitchen too.

  2. Some roommates of mine a few years ago were obsessed with kombucha, which I like to call “buch” (like butch with an accent!)
    They had prolly 8/10 giant jars brewing at a time..
    I’m not very fond of it honestly, but I find it tolerable mixed half and half with apple juice.

  3. Oh good I’m glad that you posted this because you wrote in your blog a long time ago that you and your roommates were making kombucha (“KOMBUCHAWATCH 2010”) and I have been sitting here waiting for an update on it ever since then. I was starting to get cramps.

    For real though I’m not sure I could bring myself to make this.

    • how kombuchawatch2010 actually ended was that we got stalled at the point of trying to grow our own scoby because somehow fruit flies got INSIDE the jar we were using and we were super grossed out, and then got bogged down in dwelling on the terrible pantry moth infestation we had and how we were all broke and hated ourselves and also each other, sort of, and end of story we didn’t have the initiative that kombucha requires. BUT now i live alone and can ferment whatever the fuck i want in my kitchen, SO! here we are. thank you for remembering!

  4. Oh Autostraddle, always with the perfect timing.

    One of my friends is moving across the country next week and offered to give me his scoby the other night. In spite of the fact that making my own kombucha seriously terrifies me and I probably won’t ever drink whatever strange creation grows in that jar… these directions are beautiful and perfectly on time.

  5. I just did a google search of scoby and I am pretty weirded out by the whole thing. Also, there are currently five for sale on craigslist in the Seattle area. People will sell/buy anything on there.

  6. I have absolutely zero interest in consuming kombucha, because it sounds like all the tastes I don’t want near my body (other than the fermented bit), but I sort of want to get a scoby and keep it, like, as a pet. They look like jellyfish that got a rough start to life.

    I don’t know, I just like the mental image of tugging a little red wagon down the sidewalk, with the inevitable family of scobies merrily bobbing along in their jars.

  7. I was violently opposed to the idea of putting kombucha into my mouth for about two years, because it smells like vinegar and not a whole lot more. Then, for some reason lost to the ages, I tried it one day. It was delicious! Fizzy fizzy and really flavorful like soda without being overwhelmingly sweet, and not a very vinegar-like taste at all. I enjoy the flavor, but what’s really had me hooked is that it calms my upset stomach like real fast (as far as I can tell, this is its only physically beneficial property, but who knows). I eat all sorts of weird shit all the time, so this is an extremely important function.
    But I have heard of people dying and stuff from growing the wrong kinds of bacteria in their homegrown kombucha, so I’ve always shied away. But have no idea how common this outcome actually is. I write to say that everyone should taste of the kombucha before knocking it.

  8. OMG! YES!
    I found out about the Komb from my lovely hippie (like, midwife-in-training/have worms delivered to the house to help with the compost pile/don’t you DARE use flea medications on your pets as it’s POISON!!!) friend about four or five years ago. I went through a run of making it. I found it’s easier if you can get some beer bottles and go through the bottling process (obvs after it’s fermented the appropriate time frame)- that way it keeps for a bit longer and decreases the whole “Holy shit this drink has been sitting in my warm apartment for way too long for it not to be growing foul shiv.”
    Thanks for the tips in the article- I wish that I had known that I could have used store bought Kombucha for the scooby instead of ordering it from some guy on ebay. (EBAY!!!)

  9. My friend left her “original flavor” kombucha in my fridge so I tried it & it was horrendous. But I hate to waste things so I forced myself to drink it. My kombucha face was pretty intense I’m sure. I’ve sinced tried a few different flavors & my top faves are the ginger & green one. I drink it because A) I enjoy the taste now and B) it helps with my hangovers. Win-win.

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