I am a huge kombucha lover and an advocate of brewing your own at home. It saves a ton of money, it’s available to you whenever a craving strikes, and you can customize the flavor and sweetness to your liking. But! I also understand the hesitation in brewing kombucha at home – the time commitment, taking up valuable pantry or counter space, and…THE SCOBY. The scoby isn’t pretty, I get it. As someone who has a low tolerance for gross things and used to (somewhat) happily fork over $5 for a ready-made bottle of the stuff, I’m still here to tell you that homemade is the way to go if you’re regularly consuming this fun and fizzy beverage.
P.S. I have learned to accept the scoby over time. Now, it doesn’t phase me in the least.
I first connected with Hannah a couple of years ago when I was a kombucha newbie with a million questions. Her site is like the holy grail of all things kombucha and Hannah is so passionate about what she does, it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of making your own. So, here to demystify the home-brewing process and tell us everything we ever wanted to know about kombucha, is the bubbly (pun intended) Hannah herself!
1. Kombucha can be a bit of an acquired taste for some. Was it that way for you, or was it love at first sip?
It was “Kombucha Kismet!” Back in 2003, when I was still on the Pizza/Pasta/Microwave Diet, my husband and partner Alex & I were visiting a college friend of mine in San Francisco. He and his girlfriend had all kinds of groovy stuff around the apartment that sent my mind into major question mode: a filter on their shower (I know I need to filter my drinking water, but my shower water?), a glass jar filled with drinking water and chunks of pink Himalayan Salt (isn’t drinking salt water bad for me?!), and finally a whole box full of Kombucha Jars, secretively covered in cloth towels (what the heck is that?)!
We were not even allowed to sample the Booch as it was still brewing, but something connected and I was instantly intrigued by this strange blob with a funny name. When we got home to LA, I hit the local Whole Foods for a bottle of GT’s Gingerade and it was love at first sip. True confession: I was the girl who would drink the pickle juice straight from the jar while hiding in the kitchen so my mother wouldn’t yell at me. So for me, Kombucha was a perfect flavor fit!
2. Was your husband a fan from the start? Aaron took some convincing at first.
Alex was not intrigued and, though he would sip the GT’s with me, he was not interested in making it himself. A couple of years later, when I started making my Pink Lemonade Kombucha, he really started to enjoy the flavor and began incorporating it into his daily routine. So it can be an instant love or it might take time, it just depends on you!
3. How did you first get into making your own kombucha?
I got so turned on to Kombucha from that first bottle that I was soon craving more than a few bottles a week, but at $5 a pop, it was unsustainable for my budget and I knew I had to get my own “mysterious jars.” So, I set out on a quest for a Kombucha culture. I sent a friend to pick one up for me and she was totally freaked out. “That thing looks like an alien baby!” she exclaimed. I’ve always reveled in my weirdness so the fact that the SCOBY was a strange, rubbery blob was a good sign.
4. Have you personally noticed any health benefits from drinking it regularly?
While many would like to attribute all kinds of health benefits to Kombucha, we tend to think of Kombucha more as a facilitator than a panacea. Kombucha’s most important benefits have to do with balancing the digestive system as well as removing toxins from the body gradually. As the body eliminates these toxicants, the immune system can concentrate on wellness and, for many people, is naturally able to bring the body back into balance.
The most common benefit ascribed to Kombucha is simply “feeling good” which likely results from improved digestion and micro-doses of living bacteria, yeast and vitamins in a bioavailable form.
For me, improvement in my digestive system and regularity of elimination came right away. Over time, the Kombucha detoxed old poison oak outbreaks from my body years after I’d been exposed to it, my menstrual cycles have evened out and are very regular and I have noticed an increase in energy and mental focus.
My husband Alex also had a terrific experience from drinking Kombucha. 18 months after he really began to consume it regularly, he had changed his diet dramatically, dropped 35 lbs and was feeling great. You can read about his story here.
5. How much kombucha would you recommend people drink?
Our motto is Trust YOUR Gut. To us, that means closing the feedback loop of information with your body to discover how much is the right amount of Kombucha for you. We recommend that those new to Kombucha take it slow at first, consuming just 2-4oz on an empty stomach and observe how that makes you feel. Repeat that process 1-3x a day. If the body feels good, then increase from there.
Some people experience a Herxheimer reaction which is detoxification in action. Basically, they may experience symptoms of illness such as a rash, frequent urge to use the bathroom or a mild headache. Many mistake this normal detox process as an adverse reaction to Kombucha, but usually it is simply the body adjusting to living foods. If you experience any of these symptoms, increase water intake, decrease Kombucha intake and take it slow until your body gives you the signal that its ready for more.
Just to be clear, Kombucha may NOT be right for everyone. Moreover, we want to include a diverse range of ferments in our diet as no single ferment contains all of the different types of bacteria that can co-habitate in our Microbiome. If Kombucha isn’t right for you, check out our kefir grains.
6. A lot of folks are initially hesitant to start brewing at home because they worry it’s too much of a time commitment or overly complicated (I was in that boat a few years ago). Could you talk a little about the process and generally what’s involved?
If you can brew a cup of tea, you can brew Kombucha. It’s just that simple! Basically, we make a big pot (1 gallon) of sweet tea, let it cool, add a culture and wait a week. Super easy! Then when it has the sweet/sour balance YOU prefer, its ready to decant and flavor (optional).
7. My understanding is that there are two methods for making your own kombucha: batch and continuous. I brew batch, but I’m thinking about switching to continuous (I’ve had my eye on your handmade artisanal crocks…). Is there an advantage to one method over another?
The easiest, safest and healthiest way to brew Kombucha is with the Continuous Brew Method. In CB, the mother culture is always in a pH protected environment which prevents contamination from mold. It also allows for the full expression of the healthy acids that peak at the 30 day mark but mellows the flavor by the addition of the sweet tea. Then, when it is time to decant, you simply pour the brew from the spigot into your bottles – no funnels, no mess, easy! We clean the brewer once every 3-6 months.
8. What would be your top piece of advice for someone looking to start brewing their own kombucha at home?
Go with quality. A good culture will produce a LIFETIME of Kombucha if properly cared for. Starting with an inferior culture or growing one from a commercial brand will yield Kombucha, but many have commented that the flavor and the bacterial growth isn’t as good over time.
Plus, when you go with a quality culture from say, Kombucha Kamp, you also receive loads of support. If you buy a culture from a friend or off of Craigslist, their knowledge base tends to be limited and they may not be able to help with the finer points of brewing. We answer EVERY email that we receive whether they are our client or not. Purchasing supplies from KKamp ensures that we are able to provide that quality info to everyone!
Alex and I are also writing a book – so be on the lookout for our massive 400 page tome on Kombucha coming in 2015 from Storey Publishing!
9. Aside from drinking kombucha, what else can we do with it? I am a huge fan of kombucha smoothies (and kombucha sangria!), but is there maybe a more unconventional use for it as well? Something that might surprise us?
There are loads of fun things to do with Kombucha and SCOBYs. Alex has been no-poo for the last 3 years and uses Kombucha Vinegar fermented with rosemary as his hair tonic. It also makes a great facial toner and cleaning solution (like distilled vinegar).
The SCOBY can be consumed either by dehydrating it into jerky or sauteeing in a pan as a vegan squid substitute. Marinate for a robust flavor and cut into small pieces as it can be a bit chewy. When dehydrated at a low temperature, it preserves the bacteria and also provides B vitamins from the yeast.
10. If you had to choose, what would be your favorite kombucha flavor? (I love strawberry because it gets so fizzy!)
Alex’s favorite flavor is Pink Lemonade – strawberry, lemon, & thyme. Mine is Love Potion #99 – blueberry, lavender, rose. There are loads of flavoring tips and recipes at the KKamp blog.
Photography by Aaron Scott.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Hannah!
If you’ve been thinking about making your own kombucha at home, I hope this interview helped to break down the process a little. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really very quick and easy. I plan to switch from batch brewing to a continuous system soon and will be sure to update you on how that goes.