1. Don’t skimp on the sugar. If you get stingy with the sugar, your tea will not ferment because the kombucha SCOBY/Mother hasn’t got anything to eat. Don’t be a scrooge. Your SCOBY needs to feed on something. By the time your batch is ready, only about 10% of the sugar is left – a few meagre grams – and all that sugar will be broken down into vitamins, minerals, acids and enzymes. Stop worrying and sweeten as directed.
SCOBYs love plain white sugar, which will produce a kombucha with a very consistent pH level. It’s also the cheapest kind and available at the corner store. Anything else will not be as consistent in the fermentation process. Brown sugar, sucanat and other varieties are a little harder for the SCOBY to digest. I compromise by using organic evaporated cane crystals, which work great and don’t contain any of the pesticides or bleach found in your average grocery store sugar.
2. Brown stringy stuff is normal. That stringy stuff is actually a sign of healthy fermentation. Brewers even have a name for it: kombucha beard. These are yeast particles and they are harmless. You can strain them out when you make your tea, but it won’t hurt you to drink it.
3. Get your ingredient ratios right. When I started out brewing, I was a real miser, especially when it came to the sugar. My tea wasn’t fermenting well and I was often dousing it with apple cider vinegar after about 8 days, trying to get the fermentation process going. (Usually to no avail.)
One Quart Kombucha Batch Recipe
(large mason jar)
2 tea bags or 1 1/2 teaspoons loose tea
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brewed tea or apple cider vinegar
5 tea bags or 2 tbsp loose tea
13 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cups brewed tea or acv
4. Use real tea. I recommend you master basic brewing before you start brewing with fruit teas. Using fruit tea can cause your SCOBY to mould, in which case you’ll have to throw the whole batch out, Mother and all. Nobody likes that.
Kombucha Mothers don’t like oil either, so stay away from spiced chai or earl grey teas. If you want to experiment with different types of tea, add some traditional tea to the mix. The tea plant (camellia sinensis) contains minerals and nitrogen that your Mother/SCOBY needs to thrive. But combining teas can be super fun. I like to try new brews in a quart jar, and save my gallon jars for recipes I know will do well. Set your test batches apart from the other, since your don’t want any funky spores leaping over to other jars.
And don’t worry about the caffeine; the Mother eats that too. I like to use organic tea, because I don’t want all those pesticides in my tea. (If you think tea leaves are washed before they’re dried and packaged, do some more research.)
5. Taste before you bottle. I use a turkey baster to test each batch before I bottle it. It’s easier than pouring off a sample, which can make a mess and possibly contaminate your kombucha mother. Some people use a straw but I find a turkey baster is more efficient and plus, it’s fun to use your turkey baster more than once a year.
Start tasting after about 7 days. The longer you leave your kombucha to ferment, the more tart it will get. I like mine nice and tart so I usually leave it about 10 days. Try not to open and test too early or too often; that much opening and closing put your SCOBY at risk.
RECOMMENDED but optional steps for a healthy SCOBY:
6. Add some minerals. Because I brew my kombucha with filtered reverse osmosis water, it doesn’t have any natural minerals in it. They’re stripped out along with the chlorine and fluoride in the filtering process. If your water is also filtered, you can add some trace minerals to your brew, or, even easier, add a pinch of good quality sea salt like I do. It’s less costly and just as efficient.
7. Treat your kombucha lovingly. Working with fermented foods and drinks is sort of like having pets. You have to love them and treat them nice. Every time I work with my Mothers I speak loving words to them. Also, I like to play baroque music in the fermenting room. Sometimes I go into my fermenting room and sing to the SCOBYs myself.
This may seem like some New Age hooey, but I assure you it is based on real science. Read Dr. Emoto if you doubt me. The rice experiment will blow your mind.