How to make kombucha from starting your scoby to flavoring the brew

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Making kombucha always seemed like this mythical science experiment. It could explode. It could kill you. Or you could end up with this magical potion that tastes like fizzy fruit vinegar and does wonders for your gut.

Needless to say, I avoided making it.

My sister was the brave one. She began brewing her own kombucha years ago and, after insisting that it was easy and fun, she taught me how. I was shocked. Not only is it surprisingly simple — as long as everything goes according to plan, that is — but it also tastes better than a lot of store-bought options (IMHO).

We’ll walk you through all of it step-by-step so you, too, can make delicious, healthy kombucha at home.

What is a scoby?

First things first, we need to talk scobys. A scoby is a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. Think about it like your sourdough bread starter. Same idea. Sort of.

A healthy scoby looks like a milky slab of mucus. Yup, we’re gettin’ blunt here. It is slightly opaque, but as it grows, it will become whiter in color and you may see some white dots and bumps throughout.

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We Hickam sisters like to think of our scoby like a fish. Your fish likes to swim in liquid that isn’t too hot and isn’t too cold. Your fish likes dark places,. You have to feed your fish. And your fish may smell a little funky, but you will know if the fish is dead. (For more on a healthy scoby, keep reading.)

Part 1: Make the scoby

Making the scoby is the most delicate part of this process.

You can buy a scoby online if you don’t want to wait to make your own. It takes about two weeks for your scoby to grow. If you’d rather buy your scoby online, skip to Part 2.

What you need to make the scoby:

  • 1 cup store-bought original, unflavored kombucha (we like GT’s Kombucha)
  • 1 quart-sized glass jar
  • 1 coffee filter
  • 1 rubber band

Make sure your glass jar (and your hands, for that matter) is completely clean and sanitary. We washed ours and then poured some boiling water into the jar as a final rinse. We dumped the water and allowed the jar to clean and dry, with a paper towel covering the top to make sure no bacteria could get inside.

From there, pour a cup of unflavored Kombucha into the glass jar.

Cover the jar with a coffee filter, securing it with a rubber band.

Allow the jar to sit in a dark place, undisturbed, at room temperature for 10-14 days. We kept our house at 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the scoby formed perfectly.

You’ll know the scoby is ready to use when it’s about half an inch thick. It will sit at the top of your starter liquid and look like a white semi-translucent membrane. (There’s really no way to make a scoby sound pretty. It’s not.)

Check it after 10 days. If the scoby isn’t quite thick enough, allow the scoby to sit for another half-week before checking again.

The scoby should smell like kombucha — think yeasty and vinegary. If your scoby smells rotten and/or you see greenish mold forming on it, throw it away immediately.

MORE: Think you have gut problems? Wait until you hear about your oral microbiome

Part 2: Make the brew

Once you have a healthy scoby, you’ll make your brew. Think of this as scoby food.

What you’ll need to make a half gallon brew:

  • 3 organic black tea bags (more if you want a stronger tea)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 cups filtered water
  • 1 cup store-bought original, unflavored kombucha
  • Scoby — either the scoby you made in Part 1 or the one you purchased online

If you’re using the scoby you made in Part 1, drain the original kombucha from the scoby. Use a wooden spoon to hold the scoby in place and keep it from slipping out of the jar as you drain the liquid.

You can keep the starter liquid if you prefer a more bitter kombucha, but we don’t like the flavor as much and prefer to start with a fresh brew for Part 2.

Once the old starter liquid is drained, add another cup of store-bought original, unflavored kombucha to the glass jar and scoby.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 8 cups of water to boil. Remove from the heat, add the tea bags and sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cover the tea mixture with a paper towel and allow to cool to room temperature. Using the paper towel allows heat to escape without allowing bacteria into your brew.

Once the mixture is cooled to room temperature (this can take hours — patience is key), fill the glass quart with the tea mixture, leaving about 2 inches of room at the top.

Reseal the top of the glass quart with your coffee filter and rubber band and put the jar back in the dark cupboard for 7-10 days.

What you’ll see/smell when the brew is ready:

  • Your brew will get lighter: Basically — and this is the fun part — the sugar (being the living organism that it is) acts as scoby food. The scoby will eat the sugar from the tea and “poop” it out as the probiotic fun that is oh-so-good for your gut.
  • Brown pieces: You may see some brown floaties forming in the brew. That is totally normal and good.
  • Vinegar: When I opened my cabinet to check the brew, I got a distinct whiff of vinegar.
  • A growing scoby: The scoby will continue to grow. You might even see your scoby divide into two pieces. This just means you’re ready to start a second quart or share your scoby with a friend.

Part 3: Carbonate and flavor the brew

What you’ll need to finish your kombucha:

  • Glass bottles for storage. We recommend using 16 ounce, dark glass bottles with screw top lids.
  • Strainer
  • Funnel
  • Kombucha flavoring like raspberries, strawberries, ginger, lemon or thyme (check out our favorite recipe below).

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Use a funnel to pour your brew into smaller containers. Leave a couple of inches of room in each bottle. We reused GT’s kombucha bottles, which worked perfectly, and divided our brew into 2-cup portions.

Leave one cup of the brew in the glass jar with the scoby. You can then begin again at Part 2 to make another round of brew.

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The best kombucha recipe

Flavor the bottles with whatever flavors you like! Make sure you have at least one fruit, like raspberry or strawberry, to aid in carbonation. We recommend buying organic. Source the cleanest, freshest fruit you can. Remember, your scoby is delicate. No bacteria allowed.

Our favorite recipe is a copycat of GT’s Trilogy kombucha.

For each bottle, add:

  • Juice from a lemon wedge — 1/8 lemon
  • 6 organic raspberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger

If you’re looking for more recipes, check out our kombucha Pinterest board.

Allow the bottles to sit at room temperature for 3-5 days. Monitor the bottles closely. Check carbonation after three days. If you open the bottle and it sounds like opening a bottle of soda, you know it’s ready.

Be sure to set an alarm so you don’t forget about your kombucha. This is the part of the process where you hear about kombucha bottles exploding. Air is building inside the containers. Eventually, if the carbonation is allowed to continue, that air pressure will burst the bottles. Not good.

Once the kombucha is carbonated, place the bottles in the refrigerator.

Drink that ‘booch

When you’re ready to enjoy your kombucha, strain the liquid into a glass and serve.

Your kombucha will last up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

We want to know your go-to kombucha add-ins. Tag us on Instagram @makeitgrateful and #makeitgrateful!