Kombucha 101: Learn How to Make Your Own at Home

You know, I was thinking, when my diet changed earlier this year, so did this place. And along the whole journey, from the early stages of removing refined flours and sugars, to the next steps of incorporating new ingredients (from whole wheat pastry to spelt to buckwheat flours), and even recently as I’ve started soaking flours overnight, you’ve stuck with me.

An image of a glass jar, filled with kombucha, on top of a table.

You may have been shaking your head or laughing out loud, but at least a few of you have jumped right in, and those of you that haven’t: you’re still here. I was telling my brother yesterday that I really value people who will stay, who will stick by you and not run when things get uncomfortable or hard to understand, who are willing to put a little effort into relationship.

And while of course every relationship is valuable because every person is, I have to say: those people who will fight through the rough stuff? They’re few and far between.

They’re the best ones. They’re you guys.

An image of a bottle labeled Synergy and a ziplock plastic beside it filled with orange stuff.

So that said, I’ve got a real treat for you today, one that friends on Twitter or Flickr will probably have already seen coming, and one that friends in real life have already heard about. Buckle up: it’s time to talk about kombucha.

I started drinking kombucha in January, partly for the probiotics, partly for the soda-like carbonation, partly because someone told me I wouldn’t like it and hello? Game. On.

An image of two pieces of paper with instructions written on it.

The first time, it tasted a little strange, a little acidic, with weird strands of what I later came to learn were (good) bacteria cultures. Pretty quickly though, that fascination grew to affection grew to full-on addiction, and I was drinking it almost every day.

Essentially a fermented tea, kombucha gets credit from drinkers for all kinds of health benefits, an article on the suppzoo diet pill guide shows some benefits: better skin, detoxification, easier digestion, even cancer recovery, although there’s little research to support this. Anecdotally, I can tell you it definitely affects my digestion and I can absolutely feel it in my body.

An image of a kitchen counter with a large steel pot and glass bowl with stirrer.

The levels of acids and vitamins in a batch varies pretty dramatically, but when done right (like GT’s did it), there’s super-low amounts of sugar, too. I attended a class back in March, where I was given illustrated instructions and articles about the benefits of kombucha while I watched a live demonstration of the kombucha-making process.

There are a few things you need: a four-quart glass bowl, plain tea, sugar, a wooden spoon, a thin and clean white towel, a big rubber band. But the biggest thing you need is what’s called a kombucha “mother” and six ounces of starter.

An image of a stack of tea packets on a table.

You can order a complete kit from Amazon or, if your life is full of crazy providences, you can walk into a Bible study three months after taking a kombucha class, recognize a girl who was at said class, introduce yourself and find out she has a culture/starter she’ll give you. Kombucha and me = meant. to. be.

Kombucha Brewing Kit with Organic Scoby available from Amazon

So obviously you have to get a starter to begin making your own kombucha, but that aside, the process is crazy simple:

(1) Boil three quarts of water and then add around 1.5 cups of sugar, dissolving it completely. I used my Alexapure Pro Water Purifier to get the cleanest water available to me.

(2) Steep five plain tea bags (I use four green and one black) for ten minutes off of heat. Remove tea bags.

An image of a glass bowl filled with tea mixture.

Let cool for a while. Then pour into a glass bowl and let cool for a little less than two hours.

(3) Add the starter kombucha liquid and lay the mother (sometimes also called a mushroom) on top.

(4) Criss-cross tape over the bowl.

An image of a glass bowl with crisscross tape over the edge.

(5) Cover with a clean, white towel (like t-shirt material) and tie a rubber band around the bowl. Store in a dim, ventilated place for 7 to 10 days (or 11 if your kitchen is super cold like mine).

An image of a glass bowl covered with clean white cloth.

Strain through a funnel lined with a towel into glass containers.

That’s it. Then you can start the whole thing over again. Raving about it to everyone you meet is optional.

Other kombucha questions:

Q: What flavor will it be?

Someone asked me this when I made it, and I said, I don’t know, Original?

An image of two glass jars with various mixtures of kombucha tea.

You can add fresh or frozen berries to some if you like; I do this. I’ve tried blueberries, mixed berries, cherries and peaches. Original still might be my favorite.

Q: So do I really have to order a mother online?

No. The kombucha world is growing, and if you’re lucky, you might know someone who already makes some. If you know me, for example, we can talk.

Or if you’re brave, I’ve also heard Craigslist is an option.

Q: Doesn’t it have alcohol in it?

Yes. It’s a very, very small amount, not even enough to make it legally alcoholic.

A top view image of a glass filled with kombucha tea flavored with berries.

However, as the article above indicated, in certain circumstances, at certain temperatures, kombucha may ferment again, raising alcohol levels slightly, warranting a new label in stores (but seriously, not that much). Also, note that when you make your own, it’s pretty hard to measure the alcohol or sugar levels.

You just know it’s very low.

Q: Did I really hear someone talking about a kombucha baby? Whaaat?

It sounds so strange when people talk about it, but when your kombucha is finished fermenting, it will have a second mushroom-looking thing that’s grown on top of the mother, and that’s called the baby. Assuming they look good, both can be used to create a new batch.

A close up image of a mushroom-looking thing.

Got more questions? Shoot.


More questions, drawn from comments below:

Q: Could you explain a little more about the mother? I couldn’t exactly tell by looking at the pictures. It sounds like some kind of fungi but it LOOKS like a piece of thick paper. Is that a mother in the third picture down? Is it like a filter with yeasty stuff in it or something?

It’s like a weird, thick fungi-like thing that conforms to the shape of the container you’re using. Absolutely, I can give you a better look, although I warn you, it’s not that pretty.

An image of a hand holding a mushroom-looking thing over a glass bowl.

Here are a few more shots I took today, as I just so happened to be finishing up another batch!

Q: How does one share it?

Basically what happens is that over the 7 to 10 (or 11) days, the mother reproduces itself into a replica that grows on top of it, called the baby.

A glass bowl filled with kombucha mixture in the process of fermentation.

Then you can take either the mother or the baby and brew a new batch (or give it away).

Q: Is the mother bacterial or fungal (or a mix of the two)? Will different mothers give different flavors of kombucha, like the way different sour dough starters will give different flavors of bread?

The mother contains a combination of yeast and live bacteria, like yogurt. And as far as I know, there are not different flavors of starters like there are different flavors of sourdough.

Q: It definitely seems to have some health benefits, but dang it is putting a big hole in your pocket all the while!

I’m so glad you said this because I forgot to mention it above. The bottles were definitely pricey (like $3 or $4 a bottle!) so that makes making it yourself a good idea for another reason!

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About Shanna Mallon

Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.

23 thoughts on “Kombucha 101: Learn How to Make Your Own at Home

  1. *raises hand*
    Could you explain a little more about the mother? I couldn’t exactly tell by looking at the pictures. It sounds like some kind of fungi but it LOOKS like a piece of thick paper. Is that a mother in the third picture down? Is it like a filter with yeasty stuff in it or something?

  2. wow – very interesting! I don’t know that I’ll be making my own, but I definitely feel more informed. So in case I’m out and about or attending a Bible study and someone is talking about said kombucha at least I’ll know what they’re talking about. 🙂

  3. What Kim said! I was expecting the mother to look strange and fungi-like… is it the thin filter-looking piece? And if so, how does one share it?

    I’ll admit, I find kombucha completely fascinating. I associate the taste with umeboshi plums. Fermented and kind of acidic and full of strange and wonderful probiotics – and unexpected.

    I’m pretty sure it’s still on the shelves in Toronto – I guess we haven’t pulled it (yet?!) in Canada?

  4. Is the mother bacterial or fungal (or a mix of the two)? Will different mothers give different flavors of kombucha, like the way different sour dough starters will give different flavors of bread? This sounds like a really interesting drink!

  5. I too am a kombucha convert, and here in Cincinnati there’s a company called
    Fab ferments that makes a huge variety of delicious flavors. I haven’t scored a starter yet (also called a SCOBY) but I’m anxious to make my own. Just gotta get over my fear of living bacterias and yeast!

  6. Shanna! props to you for making this. . . how bummed were we when we learned that this addicting drink was being pulled off the shelf?! i really think my body went into complete shock! thank you for posting this and making it yourself. i think i may need to try this.

  7. interesting! it definitely seems to have some health benefits, but dang it is putting a big hole in your pocket all the while! enter – homemade product. awesome. i might have to give this a try….

  8. Yep, I’m sticking around 🙂 And while I probably will never make kombucha, sprouted wheat bread is one of the best things ever. So hey, that counts for something, right?

  9. Thanks for the questions and comments, guys! I’ve started updating the Q/A above with what you wanted to know. Feel free to add more questions as you have them!

  10. I drank local kombucha in San Francisco a few weeks ago. It had a delicate rose flavor and was lovely; even better than the bottled stuff — though just as expensive. Thoughts on why the bottled is so much? The labor intensive process? The fragility?

  11. When people change, it can be a sad parting-of-ways event…or it can be a chance to learn something new from somebody you may have thought you knew inside and out. I love when that happens.

    I made your soaked-oat granola this weekend with a just bit of trepidation, and it was yummier and crunchier than anything I’d ever tried. Count me as a fan of these 2010 changes of yours!

  12. Anne – I wish I knew! Other than plain old supply and demand, I’ve no idea.

    Maddie – You need to come to Chicago, and we will have lunch. I think we’d be great friends.

    Hana, That sounds interesting, too!

    Evan, Indeed!

  13. My husband and I were talking about kombucha the other night. I guess now that you have spoken on it, I’ll have to try it, huh? 🙂

  14. TJ, I love that kombucha finds its way into random conversations. Yes, try it, as soon as you see some! I’m partial to G.T.’s and locally brewed versions, and it’s good to look for ones with low sugar content. I’ll warn you now: it’s easy to get hooked! : )

  15. My dad makes kombucha.
    Something I find quite funny in my parents home is the “his & her” fridge. My dad has a small, bar sized fridge and inside are all his healthy goodies. He is always passing on helpful info. like, “eat kelp, it’s good for you” So, inside his wee fridge sits his “mother” kombucha.
    I think it looks like a wet crepe.
    I took my sister to our Whole foods yesterday and we now carry the brand you mentioned in a previous blog. I will have to try it.
    Dad’s was just the straight up drink.

  16. Celeste, Well I am jealous on two fronts, first that you in Canada can still buy GT’s kombucha!? and second that you have a dad who makes his own! Tell him I think that’s super cool.

  17. I will. I am grateful for the way he will research “healthy” options and then mail them to me.
    eg: “drink cranberry juice, it’s good for women”
    He makes me smile.

  18. Oh yeah,
    if you ever decide to travel this far North, I would gladly show you around.
    I confess I have let some of my “foodie” writing go but I could still show you around Vancouver and the popular, great eating places.

  19. Celeste, It makes me smile, too. And you have yourself a deal. If I am ever in Vancouver, I’d love to see your favorite places!

  20. Do you drink it with food or an empty stomach? I enjoy the fizzy drink after I eat, but want to drink it when it’s most beneficial, especially for digestion. Thanks! 🙂

    • Hi June, I haven’t been making kombucha lately, but when I was, and with the kind I buy at Whole Foods, I drink it any and every time I want to. : ) It’s good before meals, with meals, after meals. For the best digestion aid, you’d probably want to go with before, just like if you were taking probiotics, but it’s good for you and offers benefits anytime.

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