Kombucha Essentials: Choosing Equipment and Ingredients
Making your own Kombucha can be a deeply satisfying and therapeutic process besides being super economical. Having an easy access to a natural probiotic drink also helps dodge the urge to stock up on processed beverages and equips you for a guilt-free unwinding weekend night.
The process of making Kombucha involves simple and basic steps. But there are a few factors to be considered in order to perfect it – right equipment, right ingredient choice, right ingredient ratio and the right temperature.
Let’s delve in deeper, shall we?
Brewing Kombucha does not require anything fancy but only 2 basic things as equipment – A brewing vessel and a cover.
Brewing Vessel – Usually the first question that arises in the minds of first-time brewers is ‘What should I brew my Kombucha in?’ Well, you can choose from a few options that are safe and effective-
- Ceramic – Ceramic containers are completely safe to brew kombucha as it’s a stable material that does not interfere with the fermentation process. Only thing to make sure is that the Ceramic jar is of ‘food grade’ quality to prevent potential contact with lead.
- Porcelain – A porcelain jar of food grade quality is also a good option.
- Glass – The safest bet and the most widely used for homebrewing is a glass jar. Glass is a stable and non-reactive material that is resistant to the acidity in the brew that develops over time. Glass is also more readily available.
Avoid using plastic and metal containers like aluminium, iron, copper or steel, at all costs as they tend to react with the byproducts of fermentation. This leads to leakage of chemicals from the brewing vessel into the final Kombucha which is not desirable and could even prove to be potentially dangerous for you.
Jar Cover – Once the ingredients are assembled in the right brewing vessel, it needs to be covered to protect the Kombucha from being infested by molds and worms.
Some of the covering options-
- Weave cloth
- Filter paper
- Old cotton t-shirt
Avoid using loosely woven cloth that could cause contamination. Also avoid synthetic polyester material that does not allow a healthy amount of air flow into the brewing jar.
Ideal Container Size
There is no such thing as ideal container size. Make sure to choose a container that’s large enough to hold all the Kombucha ingredients and a little more. It is advisable to start with a small manageable batch of 1 Litre Kombucha and increase with time as per your requirement.
We have included a 3L glass jar in our Kombucha Kit. The Kit also contains everything you need to kick start the home-brewing process.
Right Ingredient choice
Brewing Kombucha at home requires 5 ingredients – tea, sugar, water, starter tea and a potent SCOBY. You may have to buy or lend the SCOBY and the Starter Tea from a professional trustworthy master brewer whereas the rest of the ingredients can be picked up from retail outlets which sell organic products.
Tea – For as many varieties of tea available in the market, it is easy to feel stuck as to which one to use to make your batch of Kombucha. It is essential to remember that the best choice would be what the SCOBY or the Kombucha culture prefers and that is - regular, plain, black tea.
While it is okay to experiment with other types of tea but always go with tried and tested options for your first couple of batches as the health of the SCOBY formed will determine the quality of the subsequent batches. You can also use, white, green and pu-erh tea or a combination of these teas to achieve a complex depth of flavours and to combine the nutrient profile of each.
There a few tea types that need to be completely avoided. For example: Flavoured tea, herbal tea or any other kind of infusions need to be avoided as they do not contain the nutrients required for the healthy growth of the SCOBY.
Sugar – Similar to teas, the choice for sugar is also straightforward and that is plain white cane sugar. Make sure the sugar is sulphur-free. Other sources of sweetness like molasses and jaggery are high in mineral content and although safe to use, the tart flavours developed using these types of sugars are more intense and the brewing cycles tend to be shorter. Make sure to taste frequently to assess the right fermentation time required for the brew if using these types of sugars.
Water - We recommend using filtered water. Avoid using chlorinated or mineral-rich water or any other type of water like alkaline or black water. If you do not use a water filter, you can simply boil the water and allow it to cool down before adding to the starter tea.
Starter Tea – Starter tea is essential in creating the much-needed acidic conditions in the fermentation jar that helps in warding off growth of undesirable molds. You can buy your starter tea from trusted source of experienced brewers or save a starter from your previous batch.
Another option is to use store-bought unflavoured and unpasteurized (or raw) Kombucha. One way to check if the Kombucha is raw is by leaving the bottle at ambient temperature of 20-30 degree Celsius and check for the development of a SCOBY on top of the liquid. If there is no SCOBY developed, the Kombucha is likely pasteurised and won’t make for a starter at all.
SCOBY – You need a healthy, robust and extremely potent SCOBY to make the perfect Kombucha. Consider investing in SCOBY from a well-renowned and trusted brand of brewers or find an online community of brewers who could lend you one of their SCOBYs. If all goes well, a SCOBY is a one-time purchase and is worth it, considering you’ll be making batch after batch for a long time.
Right Ingredient Ratio
The ratio of ingredients namely – tea, sugar, water, starter tea – have to be in accurate amount to create an environment conducive for the Kombucha cultures. An imbalance could lead to an underwhelmed brew and nobody wants that to happen especially after all the efforts taken to kick start the fermentation process.
We recommend a standard ingredient ratio that is tested and works every single time. The ratio is 2tbsp Tea + 60g Sugar + 1L Water + 250ml Starter Tea.
Another aspect that contributes to the brewing environment is the ambient temperature in which the jar is left to ferment. The temperature needs to be maintained at 20-30 degree Celsius throughout the fermentation period.
If it’s too hot, the brew will ferment too quickly and there is a possibility of the glass jar exploding because of the build up of gases inside the jar. The flavours developed in a hot environment also tends to be strong and almost vinegar-like. In such a situation, try finding a cool spot for the tea to ferment. Like a secluded, clean and cool cabinet or a dark cupboard. If you do not have a cool spot in your home, just make sure to taste the flavours developing in the brew every alternate day and choose a brewing cycle accordingly.
On the flipside, if the ambient temperature is too cold, the culture would not ferment and stay stagnant. You can try using hot towels, heating pads or find a warm spot in your home that can safely host your jar for a couple of days.
To create a successful batch of Kombucha, it is important to provide the cultures with the right temperature conditions.
Sterilization – honorary mention
Although sterilization has become the new normal hygiene practice across masses, we still felt the need to mention it as it holds the potential to ruin your beloved batch of Kombucha completely.
Always start with clean hands and a sanitized countertop. All the equipment used including glass jar, spatula, measuring cups, etc, need to be gently washed with hot water to free them of any contaminants.
Vinegar is a popular suggestion for cleansing equipment but if the vinegar you use is raw or unpasteurized, it could give rise to eels (worms) in your final Kombucha. It’s difficult to tell the quality of store-bought vinegar and so you can avoid using vinegar for sterilization if you are not sure about its quality.
With so many factors at play in the process of brewing Kombucha, it’s safe to say that no two homes will have the exact same tasting Kombucha. Although the process of brewing Kombucha in itself is not complex but perfecting the final flavour profile, could take time.
So, remember to be patient and mentally prepared for multiple attempts at Kombucha brewing before you get it just right. And once you get it right, you won’t ever find yourself relying on those sugary sodas and desserts to satiate your sugar cravings.