Last Christmas, I tried to gift my parents some new hobbies. For my father, I got him a bonsai tree kit and a rocket launcher kit (like for children). For my mother, I started a blog for her. I’m fairly confident I went 0 for 3 on those gifts, especially the bonsai, as it was DOA.
All this is to say gifting someone a new hobby — while it can seem like a fun idea — is risky. My sister took that risk and gifted me a kombucha brewing kit this past Christmas. I was both excited, as kombucha is expensive and I love it, but also nervous because my cooking skills are not fantastic.
After a few weeks of hesitantly waiting for the ‘perfect’ time to begin brewing, I wiped down my entire kitchen in vinegar (since all my research told me soap is bad for brewing), and followed my recipe to the T (but also tea because I’m brewing kombucha, get it!?).
For those who want the kombucha recipe:
All the credit goes to Humble Bumble, which is the starter kit I was given.
Boil 4 cups of water. Once it boils, wait 2 minutes and throw in 3 organic black tea bags. Let sit for 15 minutes.
While you’re waiting for the tea, measure out 3/4 cup of organic cane sugar and 9 cups of water (filtered and cold).
After your 15 minutes of brewing, squeeze the tea bags. Add in the sugar and stir until it dissolves.
Dump in the sugar tea and the cold water into a gallon jar and add your SCOBY and starter tea.
Place your brew in a dark space. Wait a week or two (I usually go long and strong).
Bottle your kombucha with flavor and store for another 3-4 days to let the carbonation build, and then put in the fridge so they don’t explode.*
*I’m going soft on this last step because it’s where Humble Bumble kind of lets the brewer run free with limited direction, but also THE MOST EXCITING PART OF BREWING KOMBUCHA, so the rest of this blog post will be about this bottling and flavoring process.
Bottling and Flavoring Kombucha
Like you can glean from the caps lock above, I’m most passionate about the bottling part of kombucha brewing. And who wouldn’t agree!? This is really where creativity comes into play.
At the onset of my brewing career, I had a journal, where I’d date how long I let my kombucha ferment, what flavor ingredients I added, how long I let it bottle before refrigerating, what I’d rank my carbonation and how good I did with the flavoring. I’d say I kept measurements, but that’s impossible since I just threw in however much I had of each ingredients. That’s what makes my brewing so special though since it’ll never be the same again?
Then I lost my notebook because that’s just who I am as a person. So lucky us — this blog post is mostly from memory and my Instagram stories that basically chronicle my kombucha brewing career.
My First Kombucha Brew: Lemongrass Ginger
I anguished over how I wanted to begin my komucha journey, so I went semi-classic. I bought a little stick of lemongrass and one knot of ginger. I chopped everything up pretty small so there was a lot of surface area for the brew to come in contact.
The flavor of this one was definitely one of my favorites to this day (so light and fresh), but the carbonation was really lacking slash really nonexistent.
Rosemary Beet Kombucha
This one was inspired by my brother, who said beet kombucha was his favorite. Speaking of favorites, my brother is everyone’s favorite, so while there was no plan for me ever to let him try this batch, somehow him liking it really inspired me.
Overall, it was a bitch. Did you know beet juice stains everything including your hands for days? I did not. But I do now.
Sidebar: I was going on a work trip with people I didn’t know very well and had painted my nails to cover up how purple my skin looked (since it was mostly under my nails). Then I told everyone about my beet kombucha anyways, and everyone made Dwight Schrute jokes for the rest of the day.
But even over the fact that I dyed my hands, counter and soul in purple beet juice, this flavor was EARTHY. I mean we’re talking really heavy savory beet tones.
While I liked it, I think maybe beet and a fruit would have balanced out the flavor profile a bit, but that’s what testing brews are for!
Apple Cinnamon Kombucha
My cube neighbor inspired this one! It was tasty, but very sweet. Truly, it was more like apple juice than kombucha, especially since I was 0 for 3 on good carbonation. However, the creation of this flavor is what led to another conversation I had with a fellow kombucha brewer, who clued me into the key to carbonation (which I’m about to also share with you).
If you’ve clued in, I love a dual flavor, mostly an herb (or spice) and then the main flavor. This one was a diversion of my plan because I set my sights on fixing my carbonation issues. My kombucha friend told me that using 100% juice instead of real fruit gives the brew more sugar, and sugar is a helper of carbonation.
She also was telling me about some of her more explosive bottles, where she’d fill and forget them. Since I hadn’t exploded any bottles yet, I thought I’d just let ‘em sit longer than the recommended 2-3 days too.
And just like that, we had bubbles! I’m talking spritely, excited bubbles! The flavor was less enticing, but I got the bubbles I needed, and I had a plan for my grand master brew.
Blueberry Mint Kombucha
For this brew, I decided that I’d use a juice base flavor (to help with the carbonation), but also infuse it with a fresh herb to liven up the flavor. What’s better for this weather than blueberry mint, am I right?!
I also disregarded the suggestion to leave an inch of headspace in the bottles, and filled that sucker up to practically overflow. Then I squeezed on the top, knowing I was making this ripe for explosion (since there is a lot less room, carbonation should get aggressive). I was excited for it, and anxiously waited a few days to see if I’d end up with great carbonation AND flavor, or a pantry full of blown-out glass bottles.
I’m happy to report that this was my most magical brew yet (and still have yet to accidentally pop bottles, which I know now I’ve just jinxed)! The flavor was fun, full and effervescent with a whole lot of happy carbonation!
So What’s Next for my Kombucha Brewing Adventure?!
Because I’m obsessed, I’ve just split my SCOBY so I could double my production! What am I planning on doing with twice as much kombucha, you might ask. Honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to be able to make and give bottles to people without feel like I’m cutting into my stash.
I also want to get a bit experimental. I’ve read about a coffee kombucha brew (that uses coffee grounds instead of tea), which is a combo of two of my favorite beverages. Now with more SCOBY, I don’t have to worry if I ruin one (the further you stray from black tea, the harder it is on the SCOBY).
I also have this pipe dream of selling kombucha at farmer’s markets, but my production levels are that of a peasant, so unlikely (unless you’re reading this and have a large brewing set-up and/or seed money for me to pursue my dreams).
If you are a kombucha brewer or drinker, tell me your favorite flavor in the comments! And feel free to follow me on Instagram to stay up-to-date on all my brewing adventures.