Kombucha, that tangy-sweet, just-a-little-fizzy fermented tea drink is great stuff—light, refreshing, caffeinated, and full up on probiotics that promote good digestive health. At $5 per 16 oz. bottle, it’s also really freakin’ expensive.
The good news is making your own at home is super simple and super affordable, clocking in at over 90% less expensive than store-bought.
Active time: 30 mins
Total time: ~1 week
For a one-gallon batch of kombucha, you will need:
- 1 Gallon water ($0.00)— Tap is fine unless your area has water with a really high chlorine content, then you may want to go filtered or bottled.
- 1 cup sugar ($0.33) Use real sugar. Do not substitute for stevia, splenda, or even honey.
- 8 Tea bags ($0.34)—These can be flavored tea bags, but they can’t be herbal—we need the real deal for this. Don’t use the fancy tea—since you’re going to ferment this drink for over a week, it’s not worth using the good stuff. I use 6 black tea bags and 2 green tea bags. Experiment to see what you like best.
- 1 SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) ($0.00) —This is where the magic happens. This pancake-looking thing is what will ferment the tea, similar to the yeast added to beer. I got mine from a guy on Craigslist who made a lot of Kombucha and had some to spare. Didn’t get stabbed, but proceed at your own risk. You can also cultivate your own from a bottle of raw kombucha. Shoot me a message if you’re interested in obtaining a leftover SCOBY.
- 16 oz. Kombucha (to serve as the “starter tea”)
- Optional: Diced fruit of your choosing. I’ve found strawberry yield delicious results.
- A glass jar. I picked up a 1 gallon sauce jar at Target for about $5. Do not use a vessel made of plastic, metal, or any other material.
1. Add sugar to water and bring to a boil.
2. Remove water from heat and add tea bags.
3. Steep for 5 minutes and discard teabags(longer for a more bitter tea flavor).
4. Allow to cool to room temperature overnight.
5. Clean and sterilize the glass jar with boiling water and vinegar—dish and anti-bacterial soap will kill the SCOBY.
6. Add the starter tea and cooled sweet tea to the jar and carefully place the SCOBY in the tea. It may sink at first, but it will eventually float to the top. Rinse your hands well before handling the SCOBY and steer clear of using any anti-bacterial soap during assembly.
7. Stretch a cheesecloth (or paper towel, or piece of linen, etc.) over the mouth of the jar and secure with a rubber band or piece of string. We want to keep flies out but let the air in.
8. Place in a dark, room-temperature space, such as a cabinet.
9. After a week, taste your kombucha. If it’s not tangy enough, give it a day or two more. If it’s to your liking, bottle your brew, leaving a pint or so of kombucha behind to serve as starter tea for the next batch. Anything sturdy with a sealable lid works, but I’m partial to mason jars, flip-top soda bottles, and liquor bottles with screw-on tops.
10. Optional: Add diced fruit to the bottled kombucha.
11. Let the sealed bottles sit at room temperature for a day or two, which will make the brew fizzy.
Chill and enjoy! You may notice the SCOBY has grown atop the brew vessel. If it looks like it’s going to split into two, break the two pancake-shaped colonies apart. Give the second to a friend, compost, or discard it. Only use one SCOBY per vessel.
Total yield: 7 pints raw kombucha (assuming one is left behind to make another batch) .
Cost in ingredients per batch: $0.67, or under $0.10 per pint. Compare that to the $5 per pint you’ll pay for a bottle of Synergy, GT’s, or other name-brand kombucha, along with the ability to customize a homemade brew and it’s an easy call.
Note: Making kombucha involves fermenting sugar, which leaves the final product with trace amounts of alcohol. You won’t get drunk off this stuff, but if you have a religious, digestive, or allergy-related aversion to booze, you may want to steer clear.
If at any point in the fermentation process you notice mold or off smells, take caution. Don’t drink stuff that looks or smells funky.