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).

Rachel Roszmann and Sonja Overhiser
Updated April 29, 2020
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Kombucha has made a splash as a health-promoting beverage in the last decade. This fizzy probiotic fermented tea has quickly gone from niche to mainstream, showing up in grocery stores and on tap at restaurants and trendy bars. But kombucha is an age-old drink that's easy to brew at home. Making kombucha is simple and only takes a few minutes of hands-on time. Best of all, the homemade brew is much cheaper than store-bought kombucha! Here's all you need to know to make 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 kombucha culture called 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, but there haven't been enough studies done on humans to back up the claims.

What is SCOBY?

At first, it's easy to be wary of the kombucha SCOBY: it's a slimy, 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.

How to Make Kombucha

Step 1: Find a Scoby

Before you start this kombucha recipe, you'll need to locate a source for your SCOBY. The budget-friendly way to acquire a SCOBY is from a friend or family member who already brews kombucha. They can divide off part of their SCOBY because they grow fast and it's easy to peel off a layer to give someone. If you don't know anyone who brews kombucha tea, you can find a SCOBY on the internet fairly easily.

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.

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.

Pro Tip: This should be black tea. Herbal tea won't work, so steer clear of teas like chamomile and mint tea.

Step 3: Cool the Tea and Add the SCOBY

Allow the sweetened 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. (This is very important because the SCOBY does not like hot water.) Gently pour the SCOBY and 1 cup of starter kombucha into the jar.

Pro Tip: If you want to speed up the cooling process, brew a half-gallon of the tea and sugar and add a half-gallon of cold water to the brew after the sugar has dissolved.

Step 4: Ferment the Kombucha

Cover the jar with something breathable. You can use a paper towel or a clean tea towel and affix it with a rubber band.

Place the jar in a warm, dark location for a week (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–don't worry too much about it; SCOBYs are sensitive to temperatures, but they recover if they're undisturbed.

After a few days, a new SCOBY layer will form to fit the opening of the jar, kind of like a seal.

Pro Tip: Fruit flies love kombucha. To keep them out, a repurposed knit t-shirt folded into layers to cover your brew can keep them out.

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

After a week, 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 30 days until the desired flavor is reached.

Step 6: Filter and Bottle the Kombucha

Remove the SCOBY and one cup of kombucha and set them aside (you'll use this for your next batch). Using a funnel, pour the kombucha through a fine-mesh strainer into sealable glass bottles, filtering out any sediment.

Pro Tip: Use flip-top bottles designed for brewing. It helps keep the fizz. But make sure you're not using decorative flip-top bottles; the rubber on the cap falls apart easily and results in flat kombucha.

Pro Tip: After you remove the SCOBY, you can continue the brewing process and use fruit to flavor the kombucha. Before you bottle your tea, you can add things like grapefruit peel, elderberries, pears and mashed apples to the brew. When you're ready to bottle, strain out the fruit and funnel the liquid into your bottles.

Step 7: Ferment the Kombucha to Add Carbonation

Close the bottles and return them to the warm, dark storage location. Store them for at least one day to allow the kombucha to naturally carbonate.

Pro Tip: Homebrews can be explosive. Most people suggest "burping" each bottle (opening it for a second to let out the gas) every twelve hours. Kombucha is fickle. You may have to play around with how you burb your bottles a little bit. I've had success with leaving the bottles uncapped for 24 hours before sealing the bottles until I'm ready to drink them.

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. To store it, combine the SCOBY with 1 cup of the kombucha you reserved in an airtight container. Put it in the fridge until you're ready to make your next batch (this is called a SCOBY hotel). 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 the 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.
  • 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.

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.