Is homemade kombucha safe to drink?

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Cool. But what is kombucha, exactly?

Kombucha is a bubbly fermented drink made from black or green sweet tea.

To make it, all you need to do is brew some tea, mix it with sugar, let it cool and then add your SCOBY and some starter liquid and then let it sit on your counter and ferment at room temperature for a few days. Once it’s fermented, your kombucha will be ready to flavour and bottle, and then a few days later it will be bubbly and delicious and ready to drink!

Is There Any Dangers in Making Kombucha?

Fermenting kombucha in a normal and safe environment does not pose any health risks (ref).

The Canadian Food Inspection Association has declared kombucha to be safe and that it meets their inspection criteria (ref).

In fact, there are no serious cases of poisoning in scientific literature directly related to the consumption of homemade kombucha (ref). When properly prepared, kombucha is safe.

The only incidents reported were related to completely unsanitary fermentation environments or the use of antique jars contaminated with lead. Both incidents are easily avoided!

Note: Like any food, kombucha may not be suitable for everyone. Among other things, it may contain a small amount of alcohol, which can be dangerous for children and pregnant women. Do you have any questions? Consult a health professional!

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What is a SCOBY??

The acronym SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.

You use an existing SCOBY to start each new batch of kombucha and then a new SCOBY forms as a thin layer on the surface of the batch when it’s fermenting. It eventually grows into a thick, gelatinous disc that looks a bit like a large mushroom or an alien sea creature of some kind. I’m not gonna lie, it can definitely be a little confronting the first time you lay eyes on one! (Just ask my friends who gasp and ask “dear God what is that thing?!” When they see it floating in a gallon of kombucha on my counter!)

But I assure you, there’s nothing threatening or alien about SCOBYs. They’re a perfectly natural part of the sweet tea fermentation process, and they’re an essential ingredient when it comes to brewing your own kombucha at home.

Equipment for Making Kombucha

  • Stockpot (at least 8-quart or larger): This is for making the sweet tea base.
  • 1-gallon glass jar: You’ll use this for actually brewing the kombucha. You can use two 64-oz jars instead, but note that you’ll need one scoby for each jar.
  • Finely-woven flour sack dishcloths: A double layer of dishcloths is used to cover the jar, allowing airflow in but keeping bugs and dirt out. You can also use tightly-woven tea towels, napkins, or other lint-free cloths.
  • Swing-top glass bottles, or an assortment of recycled plastic soda bottles: This is for bottling your kombucha! Either brown or clear glass bottles are fine. Be sure to use swing-top bottles that are intended for brewing and holding carbonated beverages; ones that are just meant to hold water don’t have a strong enough stopper to allow the kombucha to carbonate properly.
  • Small plastic funnel: You’ll use this to transfer the kombucha into bottles.

Emma Christensen

RO Filtered Water

Reverse Osmosis (RO) is the best way to filter out chemicals like chlorine and fluoride from our water supply. These chemicals aren’t good for you and certainly aren’t good for the SCOBY. RO systems are expensive, but we think it is worthwhile in order to have the best SCOBY, and the healthiest kombucha possible.

Print the Homemade Kombucha Guide

By popular demand, I’ve created a printable PDF with all the instructions from this post. Enter your email below and it will be sent to you!

Time to Enjoy!

Once you’ve finished brewing your first batch, take a moment to enjoy the fruits of your labor. But don’t forget to keep 2 cups of your brew with your SCOBY in it so you can start your next batch as soon as you have time.

Whether you become a back-to-back brewer, a continuous brewer, or take a few weeks off in between each batch, we’re confident about one thing: store-bought ‘buch will never taste as good again.

The problem with store-bought kombucha

It’s no surprise that kombucha has become very popular around the world as a healthy soft drink alternative. Even though I’m constantly brewing my homemade kombucha, I still find myself buying some when I’m out from time to time.

However, my main problem with the store-bought ones is that most of them are super sweet. When it’s really sweet, it means that the bacteria haven’t had the chance to eat enough sugar yet (which is the fermentation process), or that they have added sugar back into it to make it almost like a soft drink to appeal to a broader market.

This defeats the purpose of drinking kombucha for its benefits completely!

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Alcohol in Kombucha

There is a small amount of alcohol in all kombucha, even store-bought kombucha. Most of the alcohol is converted into acetic acid and other non-boozy things during fermentation, but it’s not a perfect system. On average, a serving of kombucha contains less than 1% alcohol (which is much less than even a light beer).

Delicious recipes using kombucha

Also called second fermentation kombucha, the kombucha can be flavored with ingredients like ginger, pear, grape, strawberry, lemon, pineapple, orange and other fruits, imparting a new flavor to the drink and adding the benefits of these fruits.

The fruits and other ingredients should be added to the ready-prepared kombucha base, and in this fermentation the drink will become carbonated, resembling a soda.

Kombucha with lemon and ginger

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 liters of kombucha;
  • 3-5 slices of ginger;
  • 1/2 lemon juice;
  • 1.5 L bottle.

Preparation:

Put the ginger slices and the lemon juice in a clean bottle. Add the kombucha to the bottle, filling it well until the bottle is completely full, so that there is no air in it. Cover and let it rest for 3 to 7 days, which is the time required for further fermentation, but in general this flavored beverage will be ready after 5 days of fermentation. However, the drink creates gas quickly and some consumers like its taste after only 24 hours of the second fermentation process.

To make the kombucha with other flavors, you simply have to mix the fruit in the blender, strain and add to the bottle along with the kombucha base, then wait for 5 days, because the new fermentation will add flavor to the drink.

Just the Gist: Making Homemade Kombucha

  • What You’ll Need: Active SCOBY, water, sugar, tea, distilled white vinegar or starter tea, glass jar, cover, and warm spot out of direct sunlight.
  • Instructions: Dissolve sugar in water, steep tea, let it cool, remove tea bags, add vinegar or starter tea, and SCOBY, cover, and culture for 7-30 days at room temperature (68-85°F) out of direct sunlight. Retain tea and SCOBY for the next batch. Repeat.
  • Fermentation Temperature & Time: 70-80º F is the ideal culturing temperature. Warmer temperatures speed up fermentation, cooler temperatures slow it down. The longer you let your kombucha culture the less sweet and more vinegary it will become.
  • Signs of Fermentation: Flavor becomes less sweet more vinegary, SCOBY thickens, stringy brown yeast particle present, haze or new baby SCOBY at top of the liquid, tea has lightened in color.
  • Bottling & Flavoring: Flavor finished kombucha or bottle it to give is extra carbonation. HOW-TO VIDEO: Flavoring & Bottling Kombucha Tea.
  • Continuous Brew Kombucha: A more advanced brewing method for making larger batches – learn more!
  • Troubleshooting: Try our Kombucha Troubleshooting FAQ for answers to most common issues.
  • Storing Kombucha: Learn how to make SCOBY Hotel to store kombucha or take brewing breaks.

Kombucha Brewing Tips:

Between batches of kombucha, leave the SCOBY in the jug with enough kombucha liquid to barely cover it, about 1-2 inches of liquid. This liquid will now be considered your “starter liquid,” which you’ll need for each batch of kombucha.

Always keep the jug covered with cheesecloth (or a breathable kitchen towel) bound by a rubber band to keep any bugs out of the SCOBY (if you leave it uncovered, bugs will gravitate toward it).

If you see any mold (it will look like bread mold…green/white and fuzzy circles), discard the SCOBY and the whole batch of kombucha.

You will notice your SCOBY is bigger after the first batch of kombucha – it will grow to the width of the container, and a second SCOBY will form. SCOBYs will always continue to grow with each batch of kombucha.  Once a SCOBY gets to be a couple of inches thick, you need to peel off slices in order to keep the SCOBY healthy. You can give these slices to your friends along with some starter liquid so they can start their own batch, or you can discard them.

The SCOBY is fine to sit unused for a few days to a few weeks until you are ready to make another batch – just make sure you keep the jug covered with cheesecloth, and check the SCOBY before starting another batch to be sure it’s mold-free and is still floating in starter liquid. I have had my SCOBY sitting unused for up to three weeks. Just be sure you check on it from time to time.

One of the funnest parts about brewing kombucha is flavoring it. Once you have finished your primary fermentation, you can either bottle your kombucha and be done, or you can perform a secondary fermentation to flavor it. Here is how to do a secondary fermentation.

While secondary fermentation is not necessary in brewing kombucha, this extra step is what enables you to flavor your kombucha as desired, and makes the drink “effervescent” or fizzy.

When more sugar is added to the brewed kombucha, either in the form of 100% juice, fruit, or brewed tea with cane sugar, the kombucha can be brewed again for a second time. The probitoics continue to grow, as they feed off of the added sugar. It is during secondary fermentation that kombucha becomes fizzy!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Secondary fermentation happens without the use of the SCOBY. You do not use the jug with the SCOBY for secondary fermentation. In order to keep your SCOBY healthy, you never want it to come into contact with anything other than brewed tea with sugar. Read all instructions for secondary fermentation very carefully before proceeding.

To put your kombucha through secondary fermentation, follow all of the instructions above, but instead of bottling the kombucha and being finished at Step 13, add your flavorings to the pitcher with the brewed kombucha (NOT the jug with the SCOBY!)

To recap: after your first fermentation is complete, pour the brewed kombucha into a pitcher, leaving the SCOBY with some starter liquid in the jug. Cover the jug with the SCOBY with the cheesecloth bound by a rubber band, and store it in a warm, safe place. You now have your pitcher of kombucha, which is what you will use to move forward with secondary fermentation.

Notes

1. Choosing Which Sugar

Type Of Sugar Likely Result
White Sugar This is the easiest type of sugar for the SCOBY to ferment, however it is the most highly processed type of sugar. For beginners this will be the easiest sugar to produce a pleasant tasting kombucha brew – however it is very difficult to find organic white sugar.

To avoid GMOs or pesticides – you may prefer to try organic evaporate cane sugar instead.

Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar This is the closest thing to organic white sugar available. It is a bit harder for the SCOBY to digest so Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar can be a bit more work to produce a great tasting brew.

We personally recommend using this type of sugar.

Brown Sugar Brown sugar is simply highly processed white sugar that has had molasses added back in to create a richer flavour.

Sugar with high molasses content is difficult for the SCOBY to digest, creating a more ‘vinegary’ tasting kombucha.

The SCOBY may not be able to maintain a healthy level of acidity in the culture – increasing the risk of contamination and batch failure.

We recommend avoiding this type of sugar.

Rapadura Sugar Rapadura sugar creates a similar outcome to brown sugar – a strong, vinegar-like kombucha.

It would be preferable to brown sugar as rapadura sugar is usually less processed, however for taste and the health of the SCOBY we recommend avoiding rapadura sugar for kombucha.

Honey Honey is not a good option for kombucha as it introduces other bacterial strains that will compete with the SCOBY.

It is likely that honey will lead to contamination and failure of the batch.

Others Natural sweeteners like stevia, agave, maple syrup and coconut sugar are not suitable for making kombucha and should be avoided.

All artificial sweetners like aspartame, sorbitol and xylitol will not work for kombucha at all.

To be safe – only use white sugar or Organic Evaporated Cane Crystals for homemade kombucha.

2. Choosing Which Tea

Type Of Tea Information Likely Result
Black Tea The fully fermented leaves of black tea allow for the easiest digestion of nutrients for the SCOBY. This is the best tea choice for a beginner kombucha brewer. Avoid black teas that use oils such as Earl Grey, Chai or other flavoured teas. Easy kombucha with a bold, fruity flavour – similar to apple cider.
Green Tea Green tea leaves are not fermented so the nutrients are harder for the SCOBY to process. Still, green tea kombucha can be very good – it may just need a bit more monitoring as it usually brews slightly quicker than black tea. A lighter coloured kombucha with a softer flavour – many people actually prefer green tea kombucha over traditional black tea brews.
Oolong Tea The Oolong tea leaves have been partially fermented so it sits somewhere between black and green tea in terms of flavour and brewing difficulty. The kombucha colour is more amber than green tea, and the flavour is complex.
White Tea White tea is the least processed form of tea – making it the most work for the SCOBY. It is tricky to brew, so we suggest that you do a white and black tea blend with at least 25% black tea. A light coloured, light flavoured kombucha – something worth experimenting with!
Herbal Teas Herbal teas are not suitable as the kombucha base as they do not contain the right nutrients and often have oils that can harm the health of the SCOBY. Teas like Rooibos can be used in a mix with a black tea base. A sick SCOBY – best to stick to a black tea base or mix in additional flavouring after the fermentation is complete.

3. Avoiding Metal Containers & Utensils

For brewing kombucha it is critical to have a sterile environment that is also free of chemical contaminants. This is for two reasons – 1. To keep the SCOBY healthy and 2. To not pollute the kombucha brew.

The bacteria and yeast found in the SCOBY are sensitive to antibacterial soaps and detergents. It is critical that there is no bleach or detergent residue in the container you choose for your homemade kombucha.

As kombucha is very acidic (pH is normally 2.5 – 4.0) it can cause chemicals like phthalates, BPA, nickel and chromium to leach from the brewing container into the kombucha. This may contribute to a heavy metal and chemical build up in the body if kombucha is being consumed regularly.

It is also recommended to avoid using any metal utensils that will come in contact with the SCOBY – the ionic charges of metal can harm the good bacterial growth of the SCOBY and encourage the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Instead of using metal – choose wood or a hardy plastic.

4. The Brewing Environment

It is very important to have a clean space for brewing your homemade kombucha. Kombucha needs to be stored in a dark space where it will not be disturbed for the fermentation period. The ideal temperature range is about 20-25°C.

Make sure there is no dust, or other fermenting cultures (like sauerkraut or sourdough) in the same area to avoid contamination of the brew. This can even happen if the kombucha is brewed in the close proximity to the garbage where bread waste is stored.

Also check that the jar is covered appropriately to avoid any insects getting into the kombucha.

5. The Brewing Period

The brewing period of your kombucha will vary depending on the type of sugar, type of tea and temperature. Generally speaking, a good batch of kombucha will normally take about two weeks.

As the flavour of kombucha is influenced by personal preference – after about 10 days you may like to start taste testing to find your ideal balance of sweetness and tartness.

A shorter brew period will retain more sugar so will be much sweeter than a long brew. Throughout the fermentation process the sugar and caffeine content in the sweet tea is consumed by the SCOBY.

If you prefer a low sugar or low caffeine kombucha, it should brew for at minimum two weeks.

Homemade Kombucha FAQs

Can you get drunk off of kombucha?

Most kombucha contains less than 0.5% ABV (for reference, beer has about 5% ABV), so it is not likely that you will get drunk from kombucha.

What are the side effects of kombucha? 

The high amount of probiotics in kombucha mean that drinking too much can lead to GI discomfort (bloating and in some cases diarrhea). Kombucha also contains caffeine and sugar, which may also effect you.

What are the health benefits of kombucha? 

Kombucha contains probiotics, which contribute to a healthy gut microbiome (and in turn, help regulate weight and obesity). It also contains antioxidants and polyphenols.

Can you put kombucha in the refrigerator? 

When you put kombucha in the refrigerator, fermentation slows down dramatically. You can therefore store it in the fridge if you need to take a break from fermenting, or to chill it prior to serving.

Can you use no-calorie sugars (like Stevia, Splenda etc.)?

This is one of few recipes where you really cannot use sugar substitutes. BUT you won’t actually be consuming that whole 1 cup of sugar. The sugar is food for the bacteria and yeast. They’ll basically eat it all up and produce wonderful things like acidity and carbonation, and the finished kombucha will be much lower in sugar as a result.

My SCOBY sank to the bottom! Is it okay? Yes! Your kombucha SCOBY may sink or float around the container. This is totally normal and nothing to worry about. It will likely float back to the top eventually, or a second SCOBY may form on top (which is also okay).

Kombucha Troubleshooting?

Starting a new project can be tricky at times, but with our tips and resources, we are confident that you’ll be successful.

Maybe you’re wondering what a healthy SCOBY looks like or perhaps you’re not sure if your SCOBY was properly activated.

Whatever the case, browse our troubleshooting FAQ and you’ll be in good shape to make the best homemade kombucha possible!

Ginger-Mango Homemade Kombucha Tea

Course: Drinks Cuisine: Paleo Prep Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 10 minutes Servings: 4 Calories: 27 kcal

Author: Steph Gaudreau

Making homemade kombucha is simple and easy. Learn how to flavor your homemade kombucha with ginger and mango.

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How is Kombucha Made?

For those new to kombucha brewing, a SCOBY is a magical Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast which gobble up (ferment) the sugar, metabolizing it into the slightly carbonated, tangy drink that’s rich with probiotics and beneficial acids.

In reality, it looks like a pale, weird, flat pancake and sort of like a science experiment. Click here to read more about kombucha health benefits.

How to Make Kombucha

Once you get the hang of it, making your own Kombucha is a simple process that will provide you with endless bottles of this delicious, probiotic-heavy beverage.

Below is a basic kombucha recipe that even a complete beginner can brew successfully on the first attempt.

PART 1: How to Make Your Own SCOBY

If you’re new to brewing kombucha, the very

If you’re new to brewing kombucha, the very first thing you’ll need to do is create a SCOBY. This symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, is responsible for turning your sugary tea into an acidic, nutritious beverage.

You can skip to part 2 if you already have a SCOBY from a friend or have ordered a starter culture online.

NOTE: Make sure all your tools and your hands are clean before starting. Avoid touching the brew with your hands.

  1. Start by boiling 2 cups of filtered water in a large pot. 
  2. Remove the water from heat once it boils and add 4 bags of unflavored caffeinated black tea (or about 1 tablespoon loose leaf in a tea diffuser). Allow to steep for about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add a 1/2 cup granulated sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved.
  4. Add 5 cups of cool filtered water.
  5. Pour your sweet tea mixture into your clean brew jar and add 1 cup of starter kombucha. You can use any commercially available, unflavored, unpasteurized (raw) kombucha. GT’s Original is probably the best known and most readily available.
  6. Cover the jar with a cloth or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. Place it in a dark cupboard or closet that stays warm throughout the day and night (between 70 and 85 degrees).
  7. Check your jar every few days after the first week. You should notice bubbles rising and eventually a thin film forming on the top of the brew (that’s the cellulose mat, or pellicle).
  8. It will take between 1 and 4 weeks for your SCOBY to form. Once the pellicle has thickened into an opaque layer about ¼ inch thick, you are ready to move on to Part 2!

PART 2: The First Fermentation (1F)

Once you have a live SCOBY, you’re ready to begin your first batch of kombucha. 

The first fermentation takes simple sweet tea and turns it into acidic, probiotic-rich kombucha tea. The second fermentation, which will follow, is when kombucha gets its tasty flavor and fizzy carbonation.

This recipe outlines how to make one gallon of kombucha. If you’re using a smaller or larger jar, refer to the helpful Kombucha Recipe Chart below to see how much of each ingredient to use for different sized batches.

IMPORTANT: Make sure your hands and tools are clean before beginning.

If you made your own SCOBY, reserve 2 cups of that brew to use as your starter and throw the rest out.

As you get ready to reuse your jar for your first

As you get ready to reuse your jar for your first real brew, remove the SCOBY and place it on a clean plate. You can rinse the jar before pouring in the new tea if you prefer.

  1. Boil 2 cups of filtered water in a large pot.
  2. Remove the water from heat add 8 bags of unflavored black tea (or about 2 tablespoons loose leaf) and allow the tea to steep for about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add 1 cup granulated sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved.
  4. Pour the sweet tea mixture into your clean brew jar and top off with cool filtered water, leaving enough room to add your starter tea and SCOBY (about 3-4 inches from the top).
  5. Gently pour 2 cups of starter kombucha, into the brew jar and take a pH reading. To prevent mold growth, your starter brew needs to have a pH of around 4.5 or lower. If your pH is higher, slowly add small amounts of distilled white vinegar, stir, and retest until it reaches the desired level.
  6. With VERY clean hands, place your SCOBY into the jar.
  7. Cover the jar with your cloth or paper towels and secure with a rubber band. Place it in a dark cupboard or closet that stays warm throughout the day and night (between 75 and 85 degrees).
  8. Allow your brew to ferment for between 7 to 21 days. Start tasting (by using a clean baster or pinching the end of a straw) after day 6 (if you’re using a drink dispenser like mine, you can just use the spigot). Once your brew reaches your preferred balance of acidic and sweet, you can move to Part 3. You can also use your pH tester to check the acidity. Kombucha will be between 2.5 and 3.5 pH when done brewing.
A pH of around 2.8 is about the right level of aci
A pH of around 2.8 is about the right level of acidity for my tastes. It’s ready!

PART 3: The Second Fermentation (2F)

The last part of the kombucha brew process is to add carbonation as well as extra flavorings if you’d like.

To get a bubbly final product, transfer your brew (without the SCOBY) to airtight bottles and allow for further fermentation with additional flavorings, before stopping the fermentation process by placing the bottles in the fridge.

NOTE: As always, make sure your tools and hands are clean before beginning. Because it is impossible to tell when a glass bottle becomes too pressurized before it’s too late, we recommend utilizing a plastic test bottle until you feel comfortable with the second fermentation process. Simply replace one of your airtight glass bottles with a plastic one of similar size. Once this bottle becomes rock hard, your brew is ready to be put in the fridge. Discard the tea in this plastic bottle but enjoy the rest!

  1. Pour your freshly brewed kombucha into your airtight bottles. You can filter the tea if you prefer but it is not necessary. Save 2 cups of tea and your SCOBY in your brew jar to act as the starter for your next brew. 
  2. Add your flavorings (see ideas below) and extra sweeteners if you would like.
  3. Seal each bottle and allow them to further ferment in a dark room or cupboard for 3 to 10 days. Using your plastic tester bottle mentioned in the notes above will help you determine the optimal brew time for your specific environment.
  4. Once the desired carbonation is reached, strain out the added flavoring (if desired), reseal the bottles, and place them in the fridge. Or just place them directly in the fridge and strain out the flavoring stuff. Or just leave the flavoring stuff in there and don’t worry about it. At this point you’ve made delicious homemade kombucha, so how you drink it is up to you. It should last 1 to 3 months once refrigerated.

Blueberry flavour

For the 1.5 litres (recipe below) you will need:

  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries (I use the small wild blueberries)

Leave it out on the bench in well-sealed bottles for 1-2 days and then place it in the fridge ready to drink. It will release a beautiful pink colour. Strain before drinking – unless you like the blueberries to chew on.

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