It has been my experience that more tea and more sugar make better Kombucha. Now, you can argue with me, but only if you have been brewing Kombucha for a long time and have experimented enough to tweak the recipe the way you like it, and you really love your own Kombucha. I use 1 Cup Sugar, 5 TBS Black Tea (Oolong or Irish Breakfast blend are my favorites) and 3 Quarts water for my base tea, and I brew this in a 1 gallon jar. 3 quarts keeps the liquid level low enough to allow the Scoby the full width of the jar, including 1-2 cups of starter liquid from a previous batch. This is the way I like it, and you might too.
The real secret is to try new things, but starting carefully within the scope of normal. Learn the rules, then break them carefully, because that’s how you craft and create new rules that are shareable.
7 Tips for Normal Kombucha Brewing:
Have a back up SCOBY or 6 before you start playing with herbs, fruits or different sugars in your 1st fermentation (the part where you boil the tea, cool it and add the SCOBY). This will give you confidence and you can use your own judgement on what you want to use for flavor. Keep in mind that many herbs have medicinal properties, and you should consult with known information about any plants you use for potential affects or side effects.
Do one experiment at a time. If you are playing with Coconut Sugar for the first time, don’t add mint leaves for the first time in the same batch. You need to learn the parameters of what you are working with, so you can get the most consistency out of your of your creations. This is a discipline I’ve had to learn the hard way when it comes to food and beverage preparation. My younger self loved creating so much that I would risk whole batches on a whim and the results were entirely inconsistent. If it was incredible, I could not re-create it. If it was awful, I could not understand why. The goal is to understand the why of each ingredient that inspires you, and then masterfully craft things that other people will delight in.
Take notes. Keep a simple notebook for jotting down your brew dates and batch details so you can re-create your ideal tastes. If you liked pineapple in the 2nd ferment, but your bottles were way to fizzy, notes about exactly how much you put in each bottle, how many days you let it carbonate etc. can really be helpful in making your Kombucha even better next time. You are the brew master, and remembering all the little details about every brew is nearly impossible, but keeping track is what will make your Kombucha better than average and more predictable.
Brew Clean. Sanitize your jars, utensils, strainers and anything that goes into the brew. I have grown hundreds of batches, and the most vulnerable time is when the sugar tea has no culture in it and it get’s some mold or invisible microbes from the air or a brewing vessel that was sitting around collecting things. If you use a starter liquid from a previous batch, the fermentation get’s started more quickly, and this makes mold almost impossible to grow, even with less sterile practice. If you have a SCOBY without liquid, just sterilize your containers and everything that comes in contact with the SCOBY, and actually boil the tea and sugar, making sure it’s covered while cooling. I brewed this way for a couple of years, (without the starter liquid) and only ever had trouble with a batch where the jars were not properly washed or the tea was left uncovered for a period of time before I added the SCOBY. I use the starter liquid now because it jump starts the process, making it ready up to a whole day sooner.
Use Good Tea. Don’t just use old tea bags. Buy loose leaf organic tea, in bulk for a better price (see my links). I recommend black tea, because it works really well. Anything from the Camellia sinensis plant is considered reliable and traditional, including Oolong, Green, Black and White Tea. Just avoid teas with added oils, because oil and Kombucha don’t get along. Once you get your SCOBY farm started, try any tea that you really like. If it’s good on it’s own, it will probably make good Kombucha. You can vary the amounts by a lot, so don’t be afraid to try more or less. I have seen people use as little as 4 teabags (4 teaspoons) in a 4 quart recipe, and as much as 8 Tablespoons loose-leaf in a 3 quart recipe. Some people use decaffeinated tea. Some people use Coffee. I think it’s the sugar that really feeds the SCOBY. The tea just makes flavor, and probably bi-product vitamins and minerals as any other ferment would.
Sugar. I’m not a stickler here. Good old cane sugar works great, and if you can get organic, you probably should. When I was growing up, my family always brewed Kombucha with Turbinado sugar. It gave it a few more minerals to work with, and a specific taste that we loved. Start with some kind of cane sugar, refined or less so if you want. If you want to use any other types like coconut sugar, apple juice, maple syrup or honey, keep a back up SCOBY (or 6!) just in case you get something wrong with the amounts, and carefully consider the sterilization aspect, as well as any preference the SCOBY might have for sucrose vs. fructose vs. glucose. No, you cannot use Stevia, Xylitol, Splenda, Sweet ‘n Low or Erythritol to make Kombucha. The fermentation process depends on sugar, but the longer you leave it to ferment, the more of it will be used up. If you need lower sugar Kombucha, you can let it ferment longer than usual making a strong vinegary brew. You can then dilute it with water or carbonated water and add stevia to sweeten it.
Share a SCOBY with a friend. The best way to share one is to peel off a layer from your main culture, (don’t try to cut it). You should include some starter liquid (1-2 cups) and give it in a jar or double bag it in ziplocks. Include a printout of the Master Kombucha Recipe (mine or another one you have come to love) and or give them a reliable website to refer to for information and trouble shooting. Encourage them to call you with questions and of course try their Kombucha if you can, to see if they are on the right track. Share brewing tips and tricks with friends and discover new things from their experiences as well.