WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that’s made by adding yeast and a culture of bacteria to a mixture of black or green tea, sugar, and sometimes additional flavorings or fruit juice. After you blend the tea with sugar, it becomes kombucha with the help of something called S.C.O.B.Y., which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. This live bacteria sets the stage for a fermentation process, which is what gives kombucha its slight effervescence and tart-and-tangy taste.
BREWING – FIRST FERMENTATION PROCESS
My SCOBY has brown fibers hanging from the bottom. What is that?
- Those are yeast strands; it means that your cultures are healthy, alive, and they are growing; it is a sign that good fermentation is going on.
There are many bubbles around the SCOBY. What does it mean?
- Bubbles occur during normal fermentation, which means that your cultures are working and there is carbon dioxide C02 build-up. If you stir gently your brew at this point, you will see how C02 is liberated.
There is a kind of white powder or residual at the bottom of the brew jar. What is that?
- That is a layer of yeast. Some of the yeast suspended and spent on the cultured tea goes to the bottom.
My cultures look weird. How do I know everything is ok?
- Yes, they look weird. Cultures grow in different forms and shapes depending on different factors such as the quality of water, tea blends, added flavoring in the first fermentation process, airflow, movement, temperature, etc. If you followed the instructions and keep good hygiene the possibility of growing mold is rare due to the PH levels of acidity in your brew.
- When you are starting a new brew your SCOBY can sink to the bottom float vertically, in the middle, or on the top; that's ok. A few days later you will see that a new pellicle is forming at the top; that is your baby's SCOBY.
- Kombucha cultures are usually pale or brown at the top but if the SCOBY got yellow, green, and grey spots resembling the mold that grows on bread or cheese, there is a chance that your SCOBY is not healthy.
- If you have a question related to your cultures please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
My first brew is done and now I have two SCOBYs. What should I do?
- That is great! If you are brewing your first batch, the SCOBY you received in your Kombucha Kit refers to the mother and the one growing at the top is the baby. The mother could be floating at the bottom, in the middle, or at the top of the brewer with the baby; if they are growing one onto another keep the whole culture under two inches to ensure the flow of oxygen. The Kombucha fermentation process is different from the beer; the bacteria and yeast for brewing Kombucha require oxygen.
- You can keep brewing your Kombucha with both cultures. The baby will be ready to be separated and placed into a SCOBY hotel when it reaches between ½” to 1”. You will use that SCOBY to renew your cultures and retire the old one after three to six brews.
What is a SCOBY hotel?
- A SCOBY hotel is where you put your SCOBY to rest if you do not want to flow directly from one batch into another. This is the best place also to put to rest your baby or younger SCOBY(s) when they reach ½” to 1” and are pulled out to brew future batches or replace an older SCOBY that completed three to six brews. Add 4-6 cups of your raw Kombucha (previously brewed Kombucha) into a wide mouth jar with a swing-top cap or cover with cotton fabric and a rubber band. You should repeat the process every 8 weeks to ensure the health of your cultures. Keep in mind that the more SCOBY(s) you storage the more sweetened tea you would require.
Can I store my Cultures in the refrigerator?
- We do not recommend to keep your cultures in the refrigerator as the cool temperatures can cause that the yeast and bacteria go dormant and may not have the strength and PH levels to brew your next batch.
What could cause mold to grow on top of my SCOBY?
- The most common cause of an unhealthy SCOBY covered with mold are:
- A weak starter liquid; this may happen by not allowing the tea mixture to properly cool down before adding the cultures
- When the brew temperature is too cold the yeast and bacteria get dormant and as a result, there is no fermentation process. The sweet spot will be between 68 oF (MIN) to 86 oF (MAX).
- When the fermentation process did not have enough time so the Kombucha does not fully ferment and then the next time you brew your Kombucha the cultured tea or starter liquid will be weak and won’t have the right PH or acidic level to protect the brew.
- The fermentation process should last between 7 to 10 days and could be extended until 14 days depending on preferences and taste –the longer the better. Airborne may contain harmful bacteria and wild yeast so keep your brew away from fruits, plants, trash, etc. and clean your equipment before you start brewing your Kombucha.
- Other causes of mold are brewing with flavored teas or adding oily flavors in the first fermentation process. Use ONLY black, green and white tea blends in the first fermentation process; black teas are rich in caffeine and tannins that along with cane sugar are important nutrients for the SCOBY; use ONLY evaporated or refined cane sugar when brewing your Kombucha.
- Debris from the jar cover can fall into the brew. We recommend using cotton muslin or similar with tight fibers; do not use cheesecloth to cover your brew.
What is the purpose of the Started Liquid?
- When you add starter liquid or cultured tea to your brew it immediately lowers the PH of the sweet tea and that is why your brew should sit at room temperature while the fermentation occurs. The starter liquid is also important because it will allow the production of a biofilm that will turn a few days later into your baby's SCOBY.
Can I add spices, flowers, herbs, fruit, or fruit juice during the first fermentation process?
- No, it is not recommended to add flavoring during the first fermentation process. It will harm the cultures or introduce bacteria, wild yeast, and mold. Flavoring takes place within the second fermentation process.
Can my brew jar withstand high temperatures?
- Yes, your brew jar is FDA approved and it is designed to resist 850 oF. To avoid cracks and extend the life of your brewer we recommend letting the sweetened tea cool, downpour it into the brewer and mix with sugar or water with a plastic or wooden spoon.
I notice fruit flies around my brew. How can I deal with it?
- Fruit flies love Kombucha and could infest a SCOBY if the brewer has not been covered with tight fibers cotton fabric.
- Remember to keep away your brew from fruit, plants, and trash; if that is not the case and your brew is attracting fruit flies you can try making a fruit fly trap; take a small container and add a small quantity of fermented Kombucha with a drop of dish soap. The tea lures the flies and the soap breaks the tension of the liquid surface so that they fall and can’t escape. You can cover your container with cling plastic and make a few holes with a fork so the flies cannot escape and will drown anyway when they fall into the liquid.
- Carefully remove the cotton cloth cover, wash it, and put it back. This will ensure that the cover does not have fly larvae
- If your SCOBY got a mild infestation remove the infested culture from your brew; try not to let larvae (if present) fall into the liquid. If your cultures got a severe infestation dispose in the garbage, start the brew with a new culture from your SCOBY hotel, and take one cup of starter liquid to start your new batch.
FLAVORING – SECOND FERMENTATION PROCESS
What is the second fermentation process?
- Most of the Kombucha brewers go thru two processes, the first process involves all the steps to produce raw Kombucha and the second fermentation process includes bottling, flavoring and carbonation. You can drink your Kombucha right after the first fermentation process but you will lose all the fun that involves the flavoring and the possibility to add flowers, herbs, fruits, or spices or crafted syrups that boost the health benefits of the Kombucha teas. Kombucha beer includes a couple of variations in the first and second fermentation process.
Do I need a second fermentation to drink my Kombucha?
- No, you do not need to go through a second fermentation. You can drink your Kombucha directly from the brewer or you can strain, bottle, or fill a jar and move it into your refrigerator. Your Kombucha will not be as sparkling but it will provide your body with lots of probiotics and boost your energy. You can add flavoring, juice, and fruit concentrate to your raw kombucha avoiding bottling in the second fermentation process but you will not have much carbonation in your beverage.
How can I increase the level of carbonation in my Kombucha?
- Carbonation occurs when yeast converts sugar into alcohols and CO2. In principle, if you want more carbonation you should add more sugar but there are other doings to keep the right balance between sugars and C02.
- Try the following tips:
- Allow more time to the first fermentation so instead of the 7-10 days extend it to 14 days. Keep in mind that the longer time you keep the first fermentation process the acidic or cider flavor of your Kombucha will increase.
- Increase the level of sugars in the second fermentation by adding fruits, fruit juice, or syrups. Use 1-2 tsp for every 16 OZ of Kombucha or ½ of a cup for a whole 4-gallon brew to bottle.
- After bottling extend the second fermentation from 4 days to 6-7 days before putting the bottles into your refrigerator.
My bottles are exploding after the second fermentation. Why is that happening?
- Exploding bottles is something we want to avoid, is not usual but it can happen. Carbonation occurs during the second fermentation when you add sugar and C02 build up inside the bottles.
- If your bottles are exploding is probably because:
- You added more sugars than required into your bottles or your fruit or fruit juice was richer on sugars.
- The bottle(s) were sitting for an extended period
- The bottle was stored in a too-warm room
- The bottle was not created to withstand pressure or the bottle was made with poor quality glass.
- If you have (or want) to keep your bottles stored for a long time beyond 7 days, we recommend burping the bottles. Open a little bit of the bottles to release CO2.
Do I have to refrigerate my Kombucha? How long can I store it?
- Your bottled Kombucha long shelf life is due to its low PH or acidic level. It is recommended to store your Kombucha when the second fermentation process is completed because the fermentation process slows down and the cultures inside the bottles get dormant and the carbonation is completed. If you don't move your bottles to the refrigerator, carbonation will build up inside the bottles and they will blow up. After the second fermentation is completed, move your bottles to the refrigerator and in term of 3-4 weeks you will get a fresh, flavored, and healthy Kombucha ready to drink.
Why my Kombucha is not as clear as the one we buy at the grocery store? What is inside the bottles?
- As we mentioned before your Kombucha will change from one brew to the next due to multiple factors such as temperature, tea blends, quality of water, or sugar.
- Inside your bottles, new cultures and yeast are growing; that is ok. It is due to the beneficial yeast, bacteria, and probiotics loaded in your brew that is continuously reproducing; use a strainer to pour your Kombucha into a glass and enjoy.
- Commercial brewers have very skilled brewers that use chemicals to inhibit yeast and bacteria, use filtering to reduce the amount of yeast and bacteria into the bottles or apply pasteurization to deploy the yeast and bacteria and finally add CO2. That is why we get clear and carbonated Kombucha at the grocery store.
What are the best bottles and caps for bottling my Kombucha?
- The best bottles are Swing Top and Boston, 16 OZ bottles. Poly caps for Boston bottles or similar are preferred as they absorb the pressure and hold carbonation inside the bottles.