So you tried kombucha and want to start making it on your own. The first step: acquire a kombucha mother, a.k.a. SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). If ordering one online, follow the instructions that come with it. If a friend passes along a mother in a jar, the basic process follows below, based on the steps described in Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation.
Use any type of tea that you like, as long as it does not have added oils and spices that might affect the chemistry of the brew. I tend to switch between brews of black, green, and oolong teas.
Sugar versus honey: I use granulated sugar for only two purposes: kombucha and making a natural mite repellant for my bees. I substitute honey for most recipes that call for sugar, but don’t produce enough honey to feed my kombucha mother’s sugar addiction. If you have a surplus of honey, use it!
Starting a New Kombucha Mother
This recipe makes a gallon of kombucha tea, which can be continued on a two-week cycle.
If you stored your new kombucha mother in the refrigerator, let her acclimate to room temperature. Don't be surprised if she tries to climb from the jar once you open it.
Bring water to a boil in a large cooking pot. Add teabags and steep about 15 minutes.
Stir in granulated sugar once it stops boiling to prevent it from caramelizing on the bottom of the pot. The kombucha mother eats through much, but not all, of the sugar. Let the tea cool to room temperature; it usually takes about two hours.
Pour the lukewarm tea into a vessel with a wide mouth. The fermentation happens on the surface of the tea—the greater surface exposure to oxygen, the better. I've seen pictures of people making kombucha in bathtubs. Leave a couple inches of room at the top to discourage the mother from climbing out of the vessel.
Clean your hands thoroughly and then rinse them with vinegar. The acidic vinegar helps to mitigate oils and naturally occurring bacteria on your skin from stressing the kombucha mother.
Pour about a cup of the old kombucha brew into the new tea to help acidify and inoculate the environment. If the mother threatens to slide from the jar while you inoculate her new tea, use your vinegary hands to place her on a clean plate in a shallow pool of vinegar. Keep her opaque side up.
Once her old brew infuses your new tea, carefully lower the mother into her new spacious home. Keep her opaque side up. If she sinks to the bottom or floats askew in the middle, that's okay.
Cover the vessel with a breathable fabric to keep out dust and flies. Fermentation requires steady air exchange.
After a few days, a skin forms on the surface of the kombucha. Taste the liquid after about 7 days; each day it becomes less sweet and more acidic. Once it develops the flavor you like, start a new batch and store the kombucha tea in the refrigerator. Each generation forms a new kombucha mother on the surface. Save one mother for continued use, and compost the other or store it in a jar of kombucha to share with a friend.