Get the lowdown on exactly what kombucha is, why it's good for your health and how to make it at home (plus a list of everything you'll need to make it).

Kombucha is making a splash as one of the hottest new health-promoting beverages. This fizzy probiotic fermented tea has quickly gone from niche to mainstream, showing up in grocery stores and on tap at healthy restaurants and trendy bars. But kombucha is an age-old drink that's easy to brew at home. Making your own kombucha is simple and only takes a few minutes of hands-on time. Best of all, homemade kombucha is much cheaper than store-bought! Here's all you need to know to make your own kombucha at home.

Get the full recipe: Homemade Kombucha

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a fizzy probiotic beverage that's made by fermenting sweet tea using a scoby: that's an acronym for symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast. During the fermentation, the scoby eats the sugars, tannic acid and caffeine in the tea, transforming it into a lightly carbonated, tart beverage. The flavor is similar to a mild hard cider, though the drink is nonalcoholic (kombucha does contain trace amounts of alcohol, but only about 0.5% per serving). It's also touted to have health benefits including improved digestion/gut health and elevated energy.

At first, it's easy to be wary of the scoby: it's a slimy, pancake-shaped living culture that floats in the jar of kombucha during fermentation. However, there's nothing to fear! The scoby is perfectly safe to touch, and it's what makes the magic of kombucha possible. Take good care of your scoby, and you'll be brewing for years.

Related: 3 Fermented Drinks to Try: Kombucha, Kefir and Kefir Water

How to Make Kombucha

Step 1: Find a Scoby

Before you start, you'll need to locate a source for your scoby. A great source is friends or family who already brew kombucha and can divide off part of their scoby. If not, kombucha's popularity has made the scoby widely available on the internet (for example, here). You can also find dehydrated scoby at natural-foods stores (follow the package directions to get a dehydrated scoby started; it will take a little longer to brew your first batch of kombucha if you go this route). A fresh scoby will come with 1 cup of kombucha from the previous batch, called starter kombucha. If yours does not come with starter kombucha or you are starting with a dehydrated scoby, you can use purchased kombucha for your starter. The starter is crucial for the scoby to survive and for brewing your first batch of kombucha.

Step 2: Brew the Sweet Tea

When you're ready to make the kombucha, brew the tea by bringing 1 gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Once it boils, turn off the heat and stir in 1 cup sugar, then add 6 tea bags.

Step 3: Cool the Tea and Add the Scoby

Allow the tea to cool to room temperature (about 2 to 3 hours). Remove the tea bags, then pour the tea into a 1-gallon glass jar. Gently pour the scoby and 1 cup of starter kombucha into the jar.

Step 4: Ferment the Kombucha

Cover the jar with a paper towel or a clean tea towel and affix it with a rubber band. Place the jar in a warm, dark location for 8 days (the ideal temperature is 75°F). Avoid cool locations, which can lead to mold. During fermentation, the scoby may float on top or sink to the bottom. After a few days, a new scoby layer will form.

Step 5: Taste the Kombucha and Ferment Further, if Necessary

After 8 days, taste the kombucha for doneness: it should taste tangy and fruity. If it tastes more like sweet tea than you prefer, allow it to ferment for another day or two. If necessary, you can continue fermenting (and tasting) for up to 14 days until the desired flavor is reached.

Step 6: Filter and Bottle the Kombucha

Using a funnel, pour the kombucha through a fine-mesh strainer into sealable glass bottles, filtering out any sediment.

Step 7: Ferment the Kombucha to Add Carbonation

Close the bottles and return them to the warm, dark storage location. Store them for 1 week to allow the kombucha to naturally carbonate. After 1 week, taste it to see if it is bubbly enough for your taste. If it's not, continue to let it sit for up to another week to develop more carbonation. When you've got the desired fizziness, transfer the bottles to the refrigerator. When cold, enjoy the kombucha and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Step 8: Store Your Scoby

Once you use the scoby in the first batch of kombucha, you can use it over and over for future batches. After you've brewed a batch, combine the scoby with 1 cup of your freshly brewed kombucha in an airtight container in the fridge until you're ready to make your next batch. Or, start on the next batch of kombucha right away, starting with Step 2.

The scoby will grow another layer during the fermentation process; after several layers have formed, you can peel them off and provide a scoby to a friend (or discard it). A scoby will last a long time, but if it turns black or develops mold, discard the scoby and begin again with a new one.

A Note on Kombucha Nutrition

Pictured recipe: Homemade Kombucha

A myriad of health claims surround kombucha, including that it fights cancer and aids in weight loss and depression. Many of the claims may seem too good to be true, but here's what we do know:

  • Kombucha is full of probiotics. Probiotic bacteria are produced during fermentation of kombucha. Probiotics can improve gut health, aid in digestion and reduce inflammation. In addition, a healthy balance of gut bacteria can help with maintaining an ideal body weight.

Related: Can Probiotics Really Help Your Health?

  • Kombucha's fermentation process and vitamin C content make its antioxidant potential higher than that of plain black tea. But many variables, including type of tea and length of fermentation, can affect kombucha's nutrient profile, and more research is needed before any health claims are proven.

Related: 10 Everyday Superfoods

Ways to Use Kombucha

Pictured Recipe: Clean Breeze Smoothie

There are many ways to use kombucha outside of gulping down a tall glass-first of all: cocktails. You can combine kombucha with fruit juice to make a mocktail. Or, try subbing it in as the sour element in a cocktail: for example, a kombucha whiskey sour.

Other creative ideas: blend kombucha with fruit or juice and freeze it to make popsicles, like a strawberry kombucha popsicle! Or, use it as the liquid to whir up a kombucha-fruit smoothie. You can also use kombucha to replace vinegar in salad dressings: try whipping up your favorite vinaigrette with kombucha instead.

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