I have finally gotten my first batch of Kombucha under my belt and am well on my way to a regular brewing cycle. I am happy to report that the starter kit I got worked fantastically and produced a tasty product. However, there are certainly improvements to be had and my second batch came out better than the first!
The first transition
I didn’t take pictures of my initial brew with the started kit. I followed the included directions precisely and ended up with the expected brew. The kit came with a baggie of starter along with a pellicle. The starter had a fair bit of thin, wavy pellicle parts mixed in. They looked quite alien in the jar! I let it go about 8 days before bottling. A new pellicle formed on top as expected and the brew had begun to taste nicely tart.
Brewing the next round of tea
I started my process by gathering all my materials in the kitchen. For the second round, I decided to follow a similar recipe, but substituted plain old Lipton tea bags for the much fancier loose tea that came with the kit. The first step was to brew the sweet tea that would be the next round of kombucha.
Basic Kombucha Sweet Tea Recipe
Designed to fit in a 1 gallon jar (meaning less that one gallon total volume, so the jar isn’t full to the brim)
- 7 Lipton tea bags
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 cups starter liquid (finished 1F kombucha or unpasteurized store-bought)
- Boil 4 cups water
- Remove from heat, let cool a minute or two
- Place tea bags in water, let steep 6-7 minutes
- Add 1 cup white sugar, mix to combine
- In your clean fermentation vessel, add 8 cups filtered cool water
- Add sweet tea mixture to fermentation vessel
- Add starter to fermentation vessel
- (optional) Add additional water to top off, just don’t overfill!
Gathering all the ingredients. You will see the bottles and pitcher come into play after brewing the sweet tea.
Here is my technique for keeping all the bags in the water without needing to fish them out later.
Getting the fermentation vessel ready for round two
After brewing the sweet tea, I had to take care of the kombucha currently in the fermenter. To help with this, I got a 1 gallon pitcher for use as an intermediary vessel. I took the time to mark the side with 1 cup increments, along with ounce measurements.
My fermentation vessel after finishing 1F. The heat wrap keeps the vessel between 78-82 F even my chilly winter house!
Removing the pellicle
There is a lot of debate online about if the pellicle is required. I am most convinced by the the side indicating that it is not, since it is mostly the cellulose buildup of a certain kind of bacteria. All of the probiotics are in the liquid, so that is what I want to use to inoculate my next batch! That being said, the pellicle formation is an impressive feat for those little bacteria, so I took a few pictures to appreciate their hard work.
Viewed from the top of the jar.
Flipped out onto a plate. The smaller disk is the pellicle that was in my starter kit. During the brewing it rose to the top and bonded with the new pellicle.
Moving to the pitcher and saving the starter
After removing the pellicle, I poured the fermentation vessel into the pitcher through a mesh screen. It isn’t a super fine mesh, just enough to catch the big hunks of gunk that you don’t want in your mouth. After that big pour, I poured off two cups into a measuring cup right away to act as the starter for my next batch. I then covered the pitcher and finished setting up my next batch (basically just pouring in the starter and covering) so that was all taken care of.
Flavoring and Bottling
Now, all I had left was a pitcher of basic kombucha, ready to be the canvas for my flavoring dreams! Unfortunately, I am not a very creative dreamer, so I decided to make this first batch cranberry pomegranate, a stalwart duo known to be tasty.
Mixing the flavoring
I decided to use fruit juice for flavoring my first round. It is easy to control, consistent and means less stuff in the bottles. I purchased some 100% juice cranberry and pomegranate (making sure there were no preservatives). I decided to go with a 60/40 mix of pomegranate/cranberry for my first batch. When I picked out this ratio, I did a bit of “back of the napkin” math to figure out how many grams of sugar would end up in each bottle.
Pomegranate: 40g sugar / 8 fl oz serving = 5g sugar per oz Cranberry: 7g sugar / 8 fl oz serving = 0.875g sugar per oz Juice per bottle 16 oz bottle * .1 (10% juice per bottle) = 1.6 oz per bottle 1.6 * .6 (60% pomeg) = .96 oz * 5g sugar per oz = 4.8g sugar 1.6 * .4 (40% cran) = .64 oz * .875g sugar per oz = .56g sugar 4.8 + .56 = 5.36g sugar per bottle
The ending total was about 5.4 grams of sugar per bottle. The r/kombucha wiki indicates adding 1 tsp (approx 5g) sugar total for bottling, so my fruit juice was in the right ballpark.
I didn’t want to measure out fractional ounces for each bottle though! Luckily, I had my kombucha in a big pitcher so I could just add one big round of flavoring then pour into bottles. Again, some quick fuzzy math to get the right amounts in/
80oz final bottling volume (rounded up-ish) 80 * .1 (10% flavoring) = 8oz total flavoring volume 8 * .6 (60% pomeg) = 4.8oz pomeg (rounded up to 5 for ease) 8 * .4 (40% cran) = 3.2 oz cran (rounded down to 3 for ease)
The final juice volumes were not exact, but close enough. I added 5oz pomegranate and 3oz cranberry juice to my pitcher, stirred, then poured into bottles.
The pitcher after adding the flavoring.
Final count of 5 bottles. Pouring from the pitcher into the bottles was very easy!
For my second fermentation, I placed the bottles in a big Rubbermaid bin with a seedling heat mat. This kept them at a cozy 78-80 degrees F and would contain any possible explosions. I let them ferment for two days, then moved to the fridge for at least 12 hours.
Tasting and results
The end result was tasty, but perhaps a bit under carbonated. Could have been a bit more tart as well. I have already done a second round following the same procedure, and the second round came out more carbonated and tart. I think this is because the second round was inoculated with an active starter, rather than starting from the sealed kit. My second (and in progress third) round of 1F have all formed a nice pellicle, even though I didn’t retain any pellicle from the previous batch.
My next batch is just finishing up 1F in the next few days, and I am going to try a cranberry-apple flavoring. I have also ordered the stuff to try making some hard kombucha, another fun experiment!