CONTINUOUS BREW KOMBUCHA
If you are already a little familiar with kombucha and the basic differences between small batch brewing and continuous batch brewing, read on! If not, you should probably start here where I provide a brief overview of the health benefits and brewing options. To learn about the benefits of Living Foods in general, start here: Living Foods
The first time I made my own kombucha I used the batch brew method. The process was so much simpler than I expected, and I probably could have continued that indefinitely if it wasn't for one, small problem: My family was drinking our kombucha faster than I could make it with my existing setup. I knew it was time to upgrade to a larger vessel, so when I found the perfect 2 gallon glass dispenser on sale, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to make the switch from the batch brew method to continuous brew method- and I have never looked back.
BENEFITS OF CONTINUOUS BREWING
The best part of the continuous brew process is that I rarely have to handle the SCOBY. On my current continuous brew schedule, I only need to maintain the vessel once every 6 months. So just twice a year I remove and trim my SCOBY, scrub my vessel until it's squeaky clean, put everything back together and begin again.
And my weekly process? It is basically this:
1) Dispense my freshly brewed kombucha from my large brewing vessel into my favorite carafes (the spout makes this easy).
2) Make a new batch of sweet tea, allow it to cool, then add it to the brewing vessel.
3) Wait ~ 7 days until it's ready, then repeat!
MY CHOICE OF TOOLS
I decided to go with an inexpensive, 2-gallon glass vessel I found on Amazon, and purchased a separate stainless steel spigot to replace the one that came with it. There are some beautiful ceramic options available as well, and these are wonderful if you plan to keep the vessel on your counter for easy access. But keep in mind, these tend to be a bit pricier than the plain glass ones and a lot of ceramic glazes contain lead so you need to be careful; If you choose this option, be sure to verify that the vessel is listed as lead-free, and make sure you are buying it from a reputable seller. I keep my kombucha in the pantry and don't mind keeping a kitchen towel wrapped around it to keep out the light. Plus, I really like that I can easily see what's going on inside the vessel. For a complete list of my favorite kombucha-making tools, click here.
HOW BIG IS YOUR SCOBY?
If you have a SCOBY and strong starter liquid that is large enough to brew 1 full gallon of kombucha, then just follow the steps below. You can buy large SCOBYs packed in starter liquid in health food stores and even on Amazon. The seller should tell you the "capacity" of the SCOBY they are selling. Look for a listing that reads something like: "Kombucha Tea Culture with SCOBY and strong starter, makes one gallon."
If you already purchased and started using a smaller SCOBY using the batch brew method fear not; You can to switch to continuous brew method and don't necessarily need to buy a new, larger capacity SCOBY. The wonderful thing about SCOBYs is that they are living, breathing organisms that, if cared for properly, grow and continue to get stronger. Just be patient and increase the amount of sweet tea you add to each new batch a little bit each time. Here's a good rule of thumb: At batch sizes of under 3 gallons, your SCOBY should be able to transform the sweet tea to kombucha in about one to three weeks max. If it takes longer than that, you are probably "overfeeding" it. This could cause the acidity of the tea to be too low for too long and that could increase the risk of your SCOBY developing mold. By the way, that would be a very BAD thing and you would need to throw out your kombucha and your SCOBY if that happens so try not to rush it!
The instructions below explain the exact process I use to make 1 gallon of (bottleable/drinkable) kombucha per week in my 2 gallon dispenser. I love it because I only have to measure one thing- my one cup of sugar. And if you are impatient type like me, you can make the process even faster by quick cooling your kombucha in a double boiler setup with ice water on the bottom. Either way, it doesn't get any easier than this!
Ingredients (Makes 1+ Gallons*):
- 1 large healthy SCOBYs and ~4 cups of strong kombucha (starter liquid)
- 8 tea bags, black or green tea, preferably organic (definitely NOT decaffeinated, herbal tea or flavored)
- 1 cup of cane sugar
- 1 gallon jug of spring water (or boiled filtered water- it must be chlorine free)
- 1.5 to 2 gallon vessel/beverage dispenser with a stainless steel spigot
- Cloth and large rubber band to use as a cover
- Digital thermometer (Optional- some people can gage room temperature just by testing it with a finger!)
- Medium size pot (big enough for 1+ gallon of water)
- Big wooden or stainless steel spoon
- 1-cup Measuring Scoop
- Glass bottles or carafes with air tight lids for storing your finished kombucha
- Small strainer
* NOTE: The yield will be less than the total amount in the vessel because you will always need to leave some behind to act as a starter for the next batch. See section on ADJUSTING YIELD below.
EASY, CONTINUOUS BREW KOMBUCHA, STEP-BY-STEP
1) Begin by adding your "starter fluid" (strong, unflavored kombucha) to the dispenser, then float your SCOBY on top. If this isn't your very first batch, you should already have your SCOBY and a few cups of your fermented kombucha in your vessel from the previous batch, so you can skip this step- it should already be good to go!
2.Pour about half the water from a gallon jug into a medium pot and set the pot on the stovetop to boil. As long as you are starting with a full gallon jug of water, there's no need to measure; In this step, you just need enough water to steep your tea. But don't do anything with the rest of the water just yet- we’ll use the full gallon of water by the end of the process.
3. As soon as the water reaches a full boil, turn off the heat, add your 8 tea bags. Dunk them a few times and allow them to steep for 5-8 minutes. You can use all green tea, all black tea, or any combination. Just stick to regular (not decaffeinated), unflavored tea. You'll have a chance to customize the flavor to your liking in step 9.
4. After 5 - 8 minutes, scoop out the bags, gently squeezing out some of the excess liquid before tossing them. Then add 1 cup of sugar to the hot tea and stir until dissolved. I recommend using organic cane sugar, but any plain white granulated sugar will do.
5. Pour the remaining water from the gallon jug into the pot and stir to combine. Allow the tea to cool to ~75-85 degrees F (or until it feels barely lukewarm to the touch. It is VERY important that the tea isn't too warm when moving on to the next step). I usually brew a fresh batch in the evening, put a cover on the pot, and allow it to cool overnight. If you want to speed up the cooling process, you can place the pot into a larger pot or into a sink filled with ice water and check the temperature with a cooking thermometer.
6. Pour the room temperature (or cooler) sweet tea into the vessel.
Be sure to pour the tea slowly and gently. The SCOBY may drop to the bottom of the vessel but that's okay; Normally it will float back up to the top, but it's fine even if it doesn't.
7. Cover with a dish towel or cloth and seal with a rubber band, then place it out of direct light to ferment for a few days. (Normally, my vessel is covered with the towel that is off to the side in the photo). Begin taste testing it daily after about 6 or 7 days. I like to mark the start day or date on a piece of Washi tape on the container so I remember when to begin testing. If it tastes too sweet give it more time. When your kombucha is ready (whenever it tastes good to you) you can begin to bottle it.
8. To bottle your kombucha, just place a glass jar or carafe under the spout and flip open the spigot. I like to fill each container, leaving just a little extra room at the top for any "2nd fermentation" favorings and just a bit of air space. Be sure to always leave at least 2-3 inches of kombucha in your main dispenser (I make sure my SCOBY always remain above the level of the spigot).
9. And now for the really fun, creative part! You can decide to skip this step and enjoy your booch plain and fresh from the big dispenser, but I really love to infuse mine with other flavors in a process called the 2nd fermentation. The natural yeast and probiotics in your kombucha will feed on the new sugars that you introduce with your flavor additions creating another fermentation process (hence the name, 2nd fermentation).
A good rule of thumb is to add any form of fruit- whether it be whole fruit (like cherries or blueberries), the rind (lemons or oranges) or just the juice. You can also try combinations that incorporate herbs or edible flowers. My favorite go-to flavor combination for this is lemon ginger. I just add a bit fresh lemon zest (I can get enough for 3 or 4 carafes from one lemon) and a few slices of fresh peeled ginger to each carafe. The great thing about adding the lemon flavor, in my opinion, is that it really camouflages the natural vinegar flavor and scent that some people can find off-putting about kombucha. I've also had great success with mango juice, frozen cherries, and fresh raspberries.
Once bottled, I drop my 2nd ferment ingredients into the bottle with the kombucha, seal the top, and let it sit on the counter for up to 2 or 3 days before refrigerating the bottles. Remember, the kombucha will continue to ferment as long as it is at room temperature, so you may want to tap your kombucha when it's a little sweeter than what you typically like to drink to allow for a longer second fermentation.
10. Serve and enjoy! I always pour my kombucha through a small strainer to prevent any fruit or rind or newly formed SCOBY (that clear slimy stuff that may be floating on the top of your carafe) from getting into my cup. If a new SCOBY does form in your 2nd fermentation carafe, you may be tempted to save it or add it to your main fermentation vessel, but because of the potential contamination from the 2nd ferment ingredients I don't recommend doing that (in other words, just toss it when the carafe is empty).
NOTE: For more information on ingredients for the secondary fermentation process, visit the Batch Brew Kombucha page.
PREVENTING MOLD GROWTH (PUBLIC ENEMY #1 FOR YOUR SCOBY)
Your SCOBY will flourish as long as it is kept in a healthy environment. The important factors are the temperature (70-85 degrees is optimal), exposure to light (it likes the dark), and the pH of its environment (it does best in an acidic liquid). By making sure to leave enough strong kombucha in the vessel for every new batch, you are giving the SCOBY a probiotic-rich, acidic kick start which will support the SCOBY and help to stave off the risk of mold. If you use a SCOBY that is too small for the size of the batch, or don't leave enough "starter liquid", you increase your chance of developing mold.
Keep in mind, yeast is a necessary component in a healthy batch of kombucha (hence the name: Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and YEAST) so don't be alarmed if you see brownish "growths" either on top or dangling beneath your floating SCOBY. This is just yeast and it's not only perfectly healthy but it's desired! If, on the other hand, you see white, pink, blue or green fuzzy growths (MOLD) on your SCOBY, it's time to toss the SCOBY and the whole batch of kombucha, sterilize everything and begin again.
STARTING WITH A SMALL SCOBY OR LIMITED AMOUNT OF STARTER
If you are starting your first batch and are worried that your SCOBY is too small for a full gallon, or that you don't have enough strong starter, you can always begin by using just 1/2 gallon of sweet tea with your SCOBY and starter. You should still use the large 2 gallon vessel because a new SCOBY will begin to grow and cover the surface of the liquid. You'll just have a small amount of liquid at the bottom to get things going. You can store the remainder of your sweet tea in the refrigerator until the first 1/2 gallon of kombucha has properly fermented for 1 - 3 weeks. Once the kombucha has developed a strong, tart flavor and you see a new healthy SCOBY growing on top of the liquid, you can add the remaining 1/2 gallon of sweet tea (it's best to allow it to warm to room temperature first). Treat this like a new batch and allow it to ferment for another few days before taste testing it again.
You probably noticed, I am using a 2 gallon dispenser, but the recipe above only calls for 1 gallon of sweet tea. The reason I start off with the vessel only half full is to get the SCOBY going slowly (since the largest SCOBYs you can typically find are sized for 1 gallon batches). As the SCOBY grows, you can begin to increase the amount of sweet tea, and the amount of kombucha you can later tap, with each new batch. All you need to do to scale it up is keep the ratio consistent.
1 gallon (or 16 cups) water : 1 cup sugar : 8 tea bags
VERY IMPORTANT- DO NOT FORGET
The SCOBY is a living organism that can die if exposed to extreme temperatures or chlorine. It functions best at a temperature of 68-85 degrees F, so never add boiling hot tea to your vessel, and don't refrigerate or freeze it.