October 29, 2023

Homemade Kombucha - First Fermentation

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Making kombucha, or sweet fermented tea, is easily done at home!  It’s a fabulous drink, tart and refreshing, to have handy for you and your family, full of gut healthy probiotics and anti-oxidents.  And did you know that kombucha originally came from China?  That's right, kombucha came originally from northeast China around 200 B.C.  After that kombucha traveled around the world, passing through Japan, Europe, and Russia, celebrated everywhere for its health benefits.

The thing about making kombucha is that you have to set it up first.  Once you’ve got everything set up it’s just a matter of keeping it going, very easy.  I’m breaking my homemade kombucha posts into three parts so as to be really clear and avoid the misunderstandings that confused me when I first started my kombucha journey.

The first thing to do is to make the SCOBY, a gelatinous blob that contains all the good bacteria and yeast that is needed to power the kombucha fermentation.  We’ve done that in our first post on How To Make a SCOBY.  Once you have a viable SCOBY you’re ready for the next step which is making the kombucha tea, first fermentation, which is what this post is about.  In our next post we’ll talk about the final optional step:  kombucha tea, second fermentation.

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You’ll find that the steps to making kombucha tea, first fermentation, are quite similar but slightly different to making the SCOBY. 

If this is the first time for making kombucha start here:  Following our homemade scoby guide, make a baby scoby!  When done you will have a jar with sweetened tea with a wee scoby floating on top (see photo above).  Well, to be precise, what used to be sweetened tea.  During the month that it took to create the scoby fermentation has caused the tea to turn into very vinegary liquid. 

You're now ready for making your very first batch of kombucha tea:  1) Keep the baby scoby in the jar, 2) use sterilized equipment to scoop out all the liquid except for the amount that is needed to use as ‘starter tea*’  (Note that the liquid that you've scooped out is not really drinkable as it’s very vinegary.  Some folks use it for cleaning purposes.  That’s right, it’s that strong), 3) proceed to making your first batch of kombucha.

*'Starter tea' is already fermented kombucha tea which is added in order to help kickstart the fermentation of a new bathc of kombucha tea.  You can buy kombucha tea which is specifically labeled as 'starter tea' or you can just use regular kombucha tea, preferably unflavored.

If this is not your the first time making kombucha start here:  For every time after you will make kombucha tea by 1) keep the scoby in the kombucha jar, 2) scoop out all the fermented tea except for amount of ‘starter tea’ needed for the next batch, 3) enjoy the scooped out kombucha tea as is or go on to the second fermentation, 4) proceed to making the new batch of kombucha.

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You will now have a kombucha jar with a scoby and starter tea in it.  Now to proceed to make the first or new batch of kombucha tea

This part is pretty simple: brew the sweetened black tea.  It is recommended to use black teas for kombucha. Black teas are ‘oxidized’ teas.  Oxidization is the process of exposing the tea leaves to oxygen until they turn black.  In Chinese black tea is known as 紅茶, which translates directly to 'red tea', so sometimes you will find black tea labeled as red tea.  Same thing.

There are many types of black tea.  Some of the most well known are: Chinese Gongfu Tea 工夫茶, Chinese Lapsang Souchong 立山小種茶,  Chinese Pu-er Tea 普洱茶, Darjeeling Assam, Ceylon and Earl Grey.  We used Pu-er tea 普洱茶 tea bags, since that is our most favorite tea. 

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Black tea bags (or leaves), sugar and boiling hot water are mixed to make sweetened tea.  Let this brew, covered, until the tea is completely cooled down to room temperature.  Remove the tea bags or tea leaves, using sterilized utensils.

Scoop the completely cooled down sweetened tea into the kombucha jar that already has the scoby and starter tea in it.  Don’t worry if the scoby ends up on the bottom as you add the liquid, it will eventually make its way back to the top.

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Note that as you keep on making kombucha with that same scoby it will grow, adding a layer each time.  You can see in the photo above that the scoby is much thicker.  Eventually it'll grow too thick and you will have to discard some or give away some to a friend.  You can also see the carbon dioxide bubbles formed from the fermentation process.

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Once the sugared tea is added to the wide mouthed jar it’s time to cover securely with clean towel secured by a rubber band.  This prevents dust from entering and allows fermentation gas to escape.

Place kombucha jar in a dark quiet spot to ferment.  I use a bit of black cloth to wrap the sides, leaving the top alone.  The kombucha tea fermentation time will vary according to temperature and also desired taste.  The more the kombucha ferments the more tart the taste.  The first time you make the tea you will have to taste test the tea at intervals until you reach your desired tartness.  

Test the kombucha readiness by sticking a sterile drinking straw in.  Plug the top end of straw with a finger and pull out.  You will find some trapped kombucha in the end of the straw.  Taste.  If it tastes the right amount of yummy tartness you’re ready for the next step.  If not let sit for a couple more days and test again.

Once satisfied with the tartness note the number of days of fermentation required so that you can set a calendar alert for the next batch of kombucha without having to taste test.  We found that 12 days was the perfect amount of tartness for us.  

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At this point your kombucha tea, first fermentation, is ready to be drink!  Scoop out your kombucha tea into new jar, leaving only the scoby and starter tea in the original kombucha fermentation jar.  Store the kombucha tea in the fridge to stop fermentation (unless proceeding to second fermentation**).

For the next batch of kombucha, repeat the steps of preparing fresh sugared tea as detailed above and add to the scoby and starter tea reserved in the kombucha jar, cover and let ferment.  Set your calendar alert to how ever long you've decided on for perfect fermentation.  You have now set up a system for making endless amounts of kombucha which is very easy to keep up with minimal effort.

You will find that your homemade kombucha tea is tart, slightly sweet and filled with all kinds of gut healthy probiotic goodies.  The amazing thing about this wonderful tea is a shot of this stuff is like an energy shot to the brain, very invigorating! 

You can now go onto kombucha, second fermentation** if you like, which I totally recommend, though it will take a bit more time and effort.  Kombucha tea, second fermentation is when you mix outside flavors into the kombucha and create a truly fizzy refreshing flavored drink.  So yummy!!  To make it check out our next post on kombucha, second fermentation!
Homemade Kombucha - First Fermentation Recipe
(makes 1 1/2 liter)  Prep time: 2 mins    Fermentation time: 12 days



*Kombucha starter tea can be bought at the store.  However if you have already made kombucha just reserve 1 1/2 cup of kombucha to use as a 'starter tea' for the next batch.

Add sugar, tea and boiling water into one large mixing bowl.  Stir until sugar dissolved.  Cover and let the tea brew until it's cooled to room temperature.  

Remove the tea bags or tea leaves, using sterilized equipment.

In a sterilized wide mouth jar, add in scoby and kombucha starter tea.  If you've already been making kombucha just keep the scoby and 1 1/2 cups kombucha tea (for use as 'starter tea') in the fermentation jar.  Pour in the completely cooled down sugared tea.   

Cover jar with paper or cloth towel and secure covering with rubber band.  Let ferment in dark area for 12 days or so until the tartness of the fermentation is to your liking.  Taste test by scooping out a bit of tea with a sterilized utensil.  If not tart enough, continue ferment for another two days and test again.

When satisfied with the taste, scoop out the fermented kombucha tea into another jar, leaving the scoby and 1 1/2 cup kombucha in the fermentation jar to start the next batch of kombucha.  Repeat the above steps to make the next batch.

Enjoy your kombucha tea, first fermentation, as is or go on to the second fermentation where you can add extra flavors and fizziness.  Check out our next post on kombucha, second fermentation!



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