I recently started my second kombucha culture and am really excited about it - it's a perfect winter project when you are spending a lot of time inside and need little hobbies. Kombucha is "a drink produced by fermenting sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria," and you can flavor it with a wide variety of ingredients. It might seem gross, and the culture itself is a bit odd (a layer of bacteria/yeast that forms a flat mushroom that floats on top of the liquid...), but it's really not! If you've ever enjoyed an alcoholic beverage, or yogurt, you've consumed something that was fermented by microorganisms. It's very normal. I promise.
While there aren't too many scientific studies to back it up, Kombucha tea is thought to have a wide range of health benefits, primarily from the probiotics resulting from fermentation. You can also benefit from antioxidants if you use green tea to make it, which is my preferred tea type. While some health claims seem far-fetched, the antioxidants (green tea) and probiotics (fermented tea) are pretty straight forward. I also like the taste! It's tangy and if you add flavorings it can be really tasty.
I had my first SCOBY in college and loved it, though I didn't regularly take care of it/drink it so it usually turned to vinegar by the time I got around to it. This time around I am going to use it properly! I love drinking kombucha, and while most grocery stores now sell it in bottles, it can get expensive if you drink it regularly. It's really cheap and easy to make, so if you're willing to get the supplies you need to get started, I highly recommend giving it a try. I've included the instructions I follow for making my own kombucha below.
Makes ~ 3.5 liters per batch
Small piece of cloth (the jar linked above comes with one; any breathable cloth works)
4 tea bags (with caffeine; i.e. black or green); I like using this kind because of the color!
4 cups water
8 cups cold water
1 cup sugar
Kombucha culture (SCOBY) + ~1-2 cups of reserved kombucha liquid (for your first batch, the kombucha culture will come in the mail in some kombucha liquid)
Brew the tea by bringing 4 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add the 4 tea bags. Let steep according to the tea's instructions (~5 minutes). Allow to cool until it is warm to the touch but not hot.
Add the sugar to the tea and stir to dissolve.
Add the sugar/tea mixture to the gallon glass jar.
Add 8 cups of cold water to the gallon glass jar.
Add the SCOBY and liquid from last batch (or what it came with in the mail). *If this is not your first batch and your SCOBY is getting very large, you can tear off the top-most layer (newest part) and discard the rest or give it to a friend.
Add a bit more cold water to top off the jar up to the point where the jar starts narrowing toward the lid.
Cover with the cloth and secure with a rubber band.
Let sit for 2 weeks in a dark, warm place. *If it is a very warm time of year or if where you are keeping it is very warm, it may not need the full 2 weeks. In colder temps let ferment for 2 weeks.
If not adding flavoring: after 2 weeks, remove SCOBY and place into a small mason jar with ~1-2 cups of reserve liquid. Pour the remaining kombucha tea through a mesh sieve & funnel into your storage bottles. Keep refrigerated.
Repeat steps 1-8 with the kombucha culture and reserve liquid.
Second Fermentation & Adding Flavoring
You can use a wide range of fruit, juice, herbs, spices, veggies, etc. to flavor your kombucha. I'll provide a few suggestions below but feel free to experiment! The general rule is 10-30% fruit to 70-90% kombucha, and 10-20% juice to 80-90% kombucha.
*Quantities depend on how large your bottle is. The general rule is 10-30% fruit to 70-90% kombucha, and 10-20% juice to 80-90% kombucha.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh ginger, minced
100% tart cherry juice
100% pomegranate juice
Fresh ginger, minced
100% tart cherry juice
Apple, peeled and chopped
100% cranberry juice
Other ingredient ideas
After 2 weeks, remove SCOBY and place into a small mason jar with ~1-2 cups of reserve liquid.
Add fruit/juice/etc. to storage bottles
Pour kombucha liquid into the storage bottles through a mesh sieve placed over a funnel.
Close bottles and place in a dark place at room temperature. Let sit for 2-5 days (the colder it is the longer it needs to ferment).
After 2-5 days, re-bottle the flavored kombucha tea. Place the funnel/mesh sieve over clean bottles and strain/decant your kombucha tea. Store in refrigerator.
Other Helpful Resources
What Does a Healthy Kombucha SCOBY Look Like?
The Kombucha Shop supplies, resources, and recipes