What is Kombucha? (+ save $ making it at home!)

Hannah Crum of Kombucha Kamp & co-author of The Big Book of Kombucha is sharing what the deal is behind this trendy fermented beverage that is popping up everywhere. Learn how kombucha supports a healthy lifestyle and how to save loads of $ by making it at home in today’s guest post.

How to make kombucha

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What is Kombucha?

Kombucha, which has been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, is the fastest-growing beverage category as people are wanting options that are healthier than sodas and juices. It’s an effervescent fermented tea that is said to aid in digestion, improve energy, and boost immunity. Once only brewed at home, these days every major grocery chain not only stocks a variety of brands but often has their own store brand as well. Priced between $2.50-$5.00 a bottle for 12-16 oz, there are a plethora of flavors to choose from, which may prove daunting to a new consumer.

Why pay that much for a drink when you can spend the same amount for a gallon of juice or milk?

Kombucha bottles on display

How Fermented Foods Can Help

Gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance), which has a range of symptoms from leaky gut to acid reflux, has become ubiquitous in both adults and children. Adding fermented foods is an easy way to get probiotics and nutrients which help support a healthy gut. With Kombucha, the first thing most people notice is how quickly it soothes their digestive system. Being an acetic acid ferment like vinegar, the flavor ranges from tangy to slightly sweet. The acids also help to break down anything in the gut, which immediately improves digestion, and along with it, better nutrient absorption and easier elimination. Keeping the body’s engine moving smoothly is the main reason many people turn to Kombucha in the first place.

Kombucha also contains vitamin C, B vitamins, and trace minerals. Several studies on rats and on liver cells demonstrate a hepatoprotective effect (1,2) when consumed on a regular basis. This may be why Kombucha, also called “The Tea of Immortality,” has also earned a reputation for helping those with metabolic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Of course, Kombucha is no miracle cure or magic bullet, it is simply another healthy food to add to the arsenal.

Since it’s so readily available, even at big box stores, people continue to buy Kombucha until their “thirst outgrows their budget.” How do you maintain a steady supply not just for mom and dad, but for all the kiddos too, without breaking the bank? As a traditional “counter-culture,” it is easy to make at home for pennies a glass. Since it’s been made at home for hundreds of years in every country around the world, it’s been proven to be easy and safe.

ingredients to make kombucha

What is Kombucha Made Of?

Most people already have the basic ingredients lurking in their kitchen cabinet—sugar and tea. “Wait, sugar? I thought this was supposed to be healthy?” The sugar in the fermentation process is fuel for the microorganisms and, along with the nutrients in the tea leaves, is converted into the healthy acids and vitamins mentioned above. The most important ingredient required is a SCOBY, aka mother, aka culture, aka slime glob. Again, that last one may not sound appealing, but many would consider it to be an accurate description.

SCOBY stands for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.” What’s unique about the Kombucha culture (similar to mother of vinegar in raw apple cider vinegar) is that the bacteria create cellulose. It’s the same stuff that trees and plants are made of, but the bacteria create it from the raw nutrients of the tea and sugar. It starts out looking like a thin skin and then gradually thickens into a white pancake, and houses both the bacteria and the yeast. Each type of organism plays a crucial role in the fermentation process.

SCOBY Hotels

The Science Behind It + Kombucha Flavors

Yeast are responsible for the bubbles. The bubbles are created by the fermentation process as the yeast consume the sugar, breaking it down from a disaccharide (sucrose) into its monosaccharide components glucose and fructose, which has a lower glycemic impact on the body. They create carbon dioxide and trace amounts of ethanol, which acts as a preservative (like rubbing alcohol) to prevent mold from colonizing the brew.

The bacteria in turn feast on the glucose and fructose converting it into gluconic, glucuronic, acetic, and a host of other organic acids. The entire process takes about one to two weeks per gallon batch depending on brewing conditions (temperature) and taste preference (how sweet or tangy). The ideal temperature for brewing is 75-85F with 80F as the sweet spot. The warmer the temp, the faster the ferment. The longer the fermentation, the more acids produced and the tangier the flavor.

Just like any food, the worst that can happen is mold. When that happens, simply throw everything away to avoid consuming mold and prevent allergic reactions. One of the great features of Kombucha is that it is “infinite abundance in action” as the culture reproduces with every batch brewed.

One of the best parts of brewing Kombucha is flavoring! Start with a favorite fruit (apple, strawberry, plum…) and a favorite spice (ginger, clove, cinnamon) or a favorite flower (hibiscus, lavender, rose..) and voila—an infinite number of combinations present themselves. If you need more ideas, The Big Book of Kombucha features 260+ flavoring inspirations.

How We Can Help

Getting a SCOBY might seem difficult, however since they are highly reproductive, if a friend is brewing up Kombucha, they will have a spare to share. It will need to include at least 1 cup of starter liquid (aka already brewed Kombucha). If no friends are brewing it up, then Kombucha Kamp is your “trusted friend.” Brewing for over 15 years, our cultures are produced using all organic ingredients in an inspected facility based in California. It includes one cup of really strong starter, the cultures are guaranteed, and we also offer all the supplies, tea, vessels, flavorings, and more to get your new healthy hobby off the ground. Plus, as a small family business, each phone call and email is answered by an expert. So if you need help figuring out which products are right for you, just give us a call!

Some adventurous souls will also try to grow a SCOBY from a commercial brand. This is an excellent test of product quality, however, due to manufacturing practices, many products are not “full strength.” Rather, they have been filtered or sweetened to satisfy a mainstream palate. So even if a culture grows, it will often be weak due to lack of organism diversity. Of course, give it a try as it is magical to see a SCOBY form out of seemingly nothing! For your own consumption, grab a quality culture from a quality source and enjoy a lifetime of quality Kombucha.

Save Money Making Kombucha at Home

Check out this handy chart!

Ingredients Initial Cost Cost per gallon Cost per 8oz (about 12 servings per gallon) Store bought per 8oz
Organic Tea (prices will vary) $16.95/4oz (yields 12-16 gallons) 4-6 tsp = $1.06- 1.41 $.08-.12
Organic Sugar $1/lb approx (yields 2 cups) 1 cup = $0.50 $.04
SCOBY $25 (yields lifetime supply)
Total Cost $42.95 $1.56- $1.91 $0.12-0.16 $1.25-2.50+

As you can see, once the initial ingredients are purchased, the per glass cost is literally a 10th or less than store bought Kombucha. Of course, these costs don’t factor in the time it takes to make tea (15 minutes once the water is boiled) or how long it takes to ferment (1-2 weeks, plus flavoring time = total 1.5-2.5 weeks). Nonetheless, the process is so simple and kids love Kombucha, so it will be easy to teach them how to help with the brewing process. Plus, it makes for a lot of fun science experiments for school, too.

Why You Should Consider a Continuous Brew

Continuous Brew is the way the ancients kept up their Kombucha habit without exerting too much effort. A simple way to think of the process is “drink a cup, add a cup” though typically it’s “decant a gallon, add a gallon.” Here is how it breaks down:

Easier: Everything comes out of the spigot, directly into the bottle—no funnels, no mess, no heavy lifting. Plus, we only clean it once every 3-6 months. Need to take a break? Just leave enough Kombucha in the vessel and it acts like a hotel. When ready to restart, simply drain some sour stuff off (Kombucha Vinegar for salad dressings, marinades, hair tonic, drain cleaner, etc) and then top off with sweet tea and you’re back to your Kombucha in just a couple of days!

Safer: The low pH of Kombucha prevents mold, and since there is always 50% or more fermented Kombucha in the vessel, the risk of mold is virtually none.

Healthier: Some of the acids are produced later in the fermentation process and may not fully express in a 1-2 week brew. However, by leaving 50% or more Kombucha in the vessel, those acids have a chance to form and then that tangy flavor is tempered by the addition of more sweet tea.

So whether you grab a bottle from the store or are ready to dive into Continuous Brew, one thing is certain, adding more fermented foods and drinks to your diet will support a healthy lifestyle. Kombucha is one trend that is likely to turn into a family staple!

Special offer for 100 Days of Real Food Readers

Receive a free flavoring with purchase at the Kombucha Kamp store. Enter “FREE FLAVOR: GINGER (or whichever flavor you choose)” in the NOTES section of the payment screen and they will include a free flavor (on orders over $22). Free Flavor choices include ginger, peppermint, chai spice, chia seeds, chamomile or lavender.

Why not give it a try!?

1 Gharib, O. A. (2010). Review article: Does kombucha tea attenuate the hepato-nepherotoxicity induced by a certain environmental pollutant. Egypt Acad J Biolog Sci, 2(2), 11-18.

2 Aloulou, A., Hamden, K., Elloumi, D., Ali, M. B., Hargafi, K., Jaouadi, B., … & Ammar, E. (2012). Hypoglycemic and antilipidemic properties of kombucha tea in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 12(1), 63.

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  1. Thanks, Hannah for convincing me to start Kombucha. My daughter mentioned it multiple times but now I went to the source. I usually use Green tea, which has been great so far, and I am experimenting with red tea also. Liquid, liquid, liquid!