Kombucha 101: Benefits and Preparation — Guidelines and Recipe

I got my first kombucha culture from my uncle. A good many of my relatives have always made the most of nature’s bounty, especially easy around here since we all spend so much time out in the bush. My uncle ordered the kombucha online, though. His kombucha culture had a baby, which he gave to me once mature.
A fermented SCOBY is what gives kombucha tea its nutritional benefits.
Kombucha culture floating at the top of the fermentation jar

He brought me some prepared kombucha tea along with the culture and some photocopied pages. He said he had researched the topic and gotten the library in St. Charles to order factual, trustworthy books, and that he now had several people in the village taking the tea daily. He went over the process of preparing the tea and the benefits of consuming it, and wished me the best of luck, leaving me with a phone number and a reasonable amount of apprehension.

Reassured that kombucha would work wonders from the long list of ailments listed on the front page of my homemade info packet, and confident I could boil tea and leave it alone to ferment, my only fear was: Could I somehow kill the culture? What if I hurt it while transferring it from one vessel to another?
The preparation of kombucha tea couldn't be easier!
Tea ready for the fermentation process
But, it occurred to me that leaving it alone entirely might do it more harm than good, so I hardly delayed before taking out my cauldron-sized pot and largest pickling jar.

Peering at the kombucha culture bobbing in a sour-smelling fizzy liquid, a fungus with long strings dangling beneath it, I thought I knew from where some witch lore might have come (winky face).

Still, I had always wanted to try some type of detox, and here was a free and natural method readily available. Scanning the first page again, some keywords registered.

I remembered my uncle saying kombucha helps restore the natural flora in intestines, and saw that arthritis, grey hair (I don’t have any yet, but why not take preventative measures?), stress, insomnia, eyesight, headaches, skin and respiratory problems and so many more benefits were listed.

Now I really didn’t want to hurt the kombucha culture…

Preparing kombucha tea couldn’t be simpler, but we still handle the culture carefully after having had months to adjust:

  • A standard recipe calls for bringing 3 litres of water to a boil, adding 1 cup of sugar, and returning to a boil, only to immediately remove from heat and add 5 teabags.
  • Once the tea is cooled to room temperature, transfer it to a 1-gallon glass jar and gently place the kombucha culture on top. If it sinks, don’t worry. It will float to the top as it becomes used to its new environment.
  • Follow the culture with 1 cup of starter (the liquid in which the kombucha is stored when not fermenting) or a quarter cup of vinegar.
  • Put a coffee filter over the jar, hold it in place with a rubber band, and forget about it a few days.

There are lots of ways to vary the recipe to come up with different flavours. Some sources say that the kombucha culture prefers white sugar best, though most agree it will thrive on any type of sugar. When I first started making kombucha tea, I used brown sugar because that’s what was in the cupboard. While the taste was better because a bit sweeter, the tea’s effects were perhaps a bit weaker.

Likewise, 5 teabags can be substituted for 5 tablespoons of loose tea. The tea then needs to be strained at any point before transferring it to the glass jar. The longer it soaks, the stronger the flavour will be. Any type of tea can be used, though sources again say the culture prefers black or green tea.

I’ve got a huge penchant for green tea, so I’ve stuck to that throughout, though I have tried bags versus loose tea. While it’s easier to work with bags, I prefer the quality of loose tea. I bought some organic green tea in bulk and am now stocked for a year or more if I kill my kombucha culture.

Some different methods also affect levels of carbonation and acidity. The standard recipe calls for fermenting the tea for four to ten days. The longer the culture ferments the tea, the more it will become acidic, first turning into vinegar, then alcohol. As it stands, kombucha tea contains a minor amount of alcohol — an amount equivalent to what can legally be sold in grocery stores — and for this reason, it actually helps alcoholics control their cravings.

Update: Read about why that’s actually inaccurate in Kombucha Revisited: Correcting Misconceptions (Including My Own)

Note that storing the fermenting tea in a dark, cool place speeds the process. Kept in the kitchen cupboard, I have the kombucha on a 5-day cycle. It is essential to keep the fermenting tea away from smoke.

Update: Read about why I increased the length of the fermentation cycle in Kombucha Tea 201: Tips and Tools.

The first few times you make kombucha tea, you’ll want to taste it to make sure it’s ready before removing the culture. It should taste something like apple cider or bubbly wine, although not quite so pleasant. Once ready, take out 1 cup of tea and put it in the jar with the starter liquid, where you will keep the kombucha culture while you prepare your next batch.

At this point, you might start wondering why your kombucha culture seems to have grown an ultra-thin, transparent top layer. I kind of screwed that one up myself for the first month or so, since I peeled back each new layer that formed on the culture by the end of each fermentation cycle. Oops! My worst fear finally came true when I realised the baby needs to grow on the mother or else won’t survive. So, leave those thin translucent layers on until together they’re about a quarter-inch thick, then gently peel off the baby, now mature, and put it to work.

The culture feeds off the fermentation process, so it won’t get tired out from too much activity. If need be, refrigerate the kombucha culture in starter for up to six months.

Kombucha tea, a healthy and beneficial beverage!
All done!

Update: Learn why I was wrong about storing SCOBYs in the fridge by reading Kombucha Revisited: Correcting Misconceptions.

Next, pour the kombucha tea into glass bottles and store them in the cupboard another day or two to complete the carbonation process. Refrigerate. To start, take half a cup of kombucha tea every morning on an empty stomach, increasing your dosage by a quarter cup as needed. Don’t stray too far from the house the first week — the tea acts quickly, sometimes more than once. Take up to 1 litre per day.

Update: Interested in brewing your own? Get Kombucha Mamma's free DIY Guide from Kombucha Kamp!

After about five months, I’m at 1 cup per day, and now I’ve got friends and family in French River hooked, too. Kombucha tea is great for people who don’t eat breakfast because it contains nutrients, boosts the metabolism, and provides energy. It’s been an easy sell so far.

Not needing as much kombucha tea as I can produce, I’ve been selling some in small quantities to local residents. Bottles are priced at five dollars for 750 millilitres and ten dollars for one and a half litrescontact me if you’re in the area and would like to try some. Quantities are limited for now, but I’ll happily soon have a kombucha baby to put on the assembly line. At that time I may also consider participating in the Land of the Voyageurs Farmers’ Market in French River.

Update: You can now buy commercially-brewed kombucha tea from Eat Local Sudbury.

Cheers to a good start to every morning!


One Thought on “Kombucha 101: Benefits and Preparation

  1. Marie-Paule Dupuis:

    Very informative. Thanks.