Kombucha has become a popular beverage among home brewers. Previous generations may have highlighted the health benefits associated with kombucha, but in more recent years home brewers are investing in kombucha more for its refreshing, tangy, sweet flavors.
If you’ve always wanted to brew your own kombucha at home and you’re ready to make your first brew, you’ll want to make sure to avoid these three common mistakes.
Mistakes With Your Starter Liquid
Kombucha starter tea acts just like the scoby but in liquid form. Starter tea has the same properties as the scoby and helps jumpstart the scoby for a quicker and stronger brew. If you’re ordering a scoby online or purchasing from a local brewing supply shop, it should come with a cup of starter tea. Getting your scoby from a friend? Ask that they also provide 1 cup of starter tea from their last batch of kombucha.
The best practice is to use a starter tea that’s 7 or more days old. This ensures the levels of bacteria and yeast are high enough to support continuous brewing.
One of the most common mistakes often made, is using vinegar as your starter liquid. The acids and molecules in vinegar are not the same as what the kombucha scoby needs for producing kombucha tea. Over time, the vinegar can weaken the effectiveness of the scoby and run the risk of just brewing vinegar and not kombucha tea.
Vinegar can also be contaminated with vinegar eels. A vinegar eel is a type of roundworm found in raw vinegar. Although harmless and not parasitic if they get into your system, these little worms will feed off of the scoby and damage its productivity.
If you’ve introduced vinegar to the scoby and are worried about contamination, the easiest thing to do is throw out everything and start over. Starting over is much easier than trying to get rid of the vinegar eels in your brew. A thorough cleaning of your kombucha equipment with regular soap and hot water should do the trick.
Mistakes Using the Wrong Tea
Another mistake that kombucha homebrewers make is using flavored teas and herbs for their first fermentation brew. Flavored teas and herbs tend to weaken the bacteria and yeast in the scoby. You’ll notice that each batch will begin to get weaker and weaker as a result.
Make sure you use authentic tea (Camellia Sinensis) for a healthy, strong brew. This will also ensure you have quality starter tea for continuous brewing.
There are four types of tea to choose from, each producing a unique taste and color. We’ve broken each down into its process, taste, and color.
- Process – black tea is made from tea leaves that have fully fermented. When it’s harvested, it’s spread out and allowed to wilt.
- Taste – the full fermentation produces a deep, rich flavor.
- Color – produces a brew that’s amber (yellowish-orange) color.
- Process – Oolong tea is harvested ½ way between green and black tea. It’s then partially fermented.
- Taste – produces a combination of black and green tea characteristics
- Color – a combination of black and green tea characteristics
- Process – when the harvested tea is allowed to wither and then heated to prevent oxidation. It’s then rolled and dried.
- Taste – green tea produces a sweet, delicate taste.
- Color – produces a light green color.
- Process – White tea is tea harvested 48 hours or less between the time of the first buds coming to maturity and when they open. It’s then air dried.
- Taste – produces a light and slightly sweet taste.
- Color – produces a pale colored tea.
Mistakes Using The Wrong Sugar
Sugar is a key component for brewing kombucha. Sugar is the food source for the bacteria and yeast of the scoby to feed on. For kombucha newbies, it’s best to use plain white sugar (cane sugar) for the best results. White sugar is the easiest sugar for the scoby to break down. There are two benefits, (1) faster brewing time and (2) healthier scoby over multiple uses.
Be careful using noncaloric sweeteners like Sweet-n-Low, aspartame, Splenda or Stevia. The scoby will not be able to break noncaloric sweeteners down. When you cut back on the calories in the sweetener, you risk starving the scoby. Kombucha tea needs the calories for the sugar to do its job.
However, there are other sugars that you can experiment with. But experimentation with kombucha is not for the faint at heart. Here are a few sugars choices other than cane sugar and the adjustments you may need to make for a successful kombucha brew.
Molasses – molasses is a by-product of sugar cane processing. While molasses takes longer for the scoby to break down, it produces a higher mineral content. You can also combine molasses with other sugars to adjust flavor and brewing time.
Honey – The fermentation process highlights the characteristics of the honey you use for a great tasting brew. Combine honey with pure cane sugar, a ⅞ cup of honey to 1 cup of sugar. (Make sure to avoid using raw honey. Raw honey contains its own bacteria which can affect the SCOBY.)
Maple Syrup – Maple syrup produces a tasty brew while adding zinc and manganese to your kombucha. Use ½ – ⅔ cups of maple syrup to 1 cup of sugar.
Agave Syrup – Agave syrup is a natural sweetener. It’s mainly fructose based, and for that reason, it can produce a sour brew. You can cut the quantity of syrup to a ½ cup per gallon batch to reduce the sour taste.
Coconut Palm Sugar – Coconut Palm Sugar is a great choice if you’re avoiding cane sugar. The results can be sour and bitter. However, adjusting the brewing time can help balance the flavor to a happy medium you can enjoy.
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We hope that sharing our experience with kombucha will help you become a better home brewer. Don’t forget to check out all of our kombucha content right HERE.
When you’re ready to start brewing kombucha on a larger scale or start a continuous brew so that you can enjoy kombucha every day; check out our Kombucha Brewing & Kegging Kits.