Kombucha, that fizzy, fermented tea on shelves (and tap lists) everywhere, really managed to hit the triple-play of trendiness: health-focused folks obsess over its probiotics and antioxidants, flavor-lovers like the tanginess and bubbly zing, and finally, it’s fun — to say, to drink, and, it turns out, even to make.
Anyone who regularly drinks kombucha has probably entertained the idea of brewing it themselves. The ingredients are relatively cheap; with the right set-up, brewing takes (almost) no effort; and you can customize it exactly to your own tastes. Once you learn what a SCOBY is (and why you will soon be obsessed with keeping this gelatinous disk alive and happy), and after gathering the necessary supplies, you’ll be ready to get your tea fizzing. To help with that second part, here’s a complete list of the equipment you’ll need to start making your own kombucha right now — just add tea, water, and sugar.
Similar to a mother in vinegar or a starter in sourdough baking, the SCOBY is a jelly-like disc that holds the live organisms (yeasts and bacteria) that ferment the tea, turning it from tea to kombucha. A healthy SCOBY will grow constantly, so if you know anyone who brews kombucha, they can probably peel you off a “daughter” within the next week or two. Likely, your acquaintance either throws the extras away, or maybe makes them into vegan leather, which is apparently a thing.
If you don’t know someone who can give you the gummy, alien placenta-esque Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast (yup, it’s an acronym), don’t worry. You can buy them online, along with the small batch of “starter tea” that will help both keep the SCOBY healthy in transit and get you on your way to brewing. If you’re getting a SCOBY from a friend, make sure to remind them to give you this starter tea, too.
The bulk of your kombucha’s life will be spent hanging out in a big glass jar on a counter or in a cabinet, so make sure it has an appropriate home. For home-brewing, a one-gallon jar works well. Even if you end up wanting more than one gallon of kombucha, it’s easier to brew two one-gallon batches with two jars rather than doubling to an unwieldy jar size.
It’s important that the jar is glass because kombucha SCOBYs do not like plastic or metal (prolonged exposure to either will leach the materials into the brew). But the material for the lid doesn’t matter, as you won’t use it — kombucha needs air to ferment, so you’ll never shut the jar with its lid. The only real decision you need to make is whether you want to get a jar with or without a spigot. Jars with spigots can be harder to store and sanitize, but this option allows you to drain the kombucha when it’s ready and brew continuously in the same container. (This option is also helpful if safely lifting a large glass jar full of liquid is difficult for you.)
Remember getting rid of the lid to your one-gallon jar? That’s because you’re going to make it a new top out of cheesecloth so your SCOBY can breathe. A double-layer of unbleached cheesecloth secured around the top of the jar with a piece of twine or a rubber band will make sure that the bad stuff — bugs, dirt, whatever — stays out of the brew, but that enough air gets in to keep the fermentation moving. You can reuse the same piece of cheesecloth over and over, so you don’t need a ton; you might already have some in a drawer, ready to go.
Giant tea infuser
You’ll need to brew a gallon of tea to fill your jar, and to do it in one go, it’s nice to have a giant tea ball (one that fits a quarter to a half cup of loose tea) that you can fill with leaves and let float in a large teapot or bowl. You could brew the tea for your kombucha using tea bags, but you would need at least four tea bags (often more, depending on your tastes) and it’s easier and more economical to purchase loose-leaf. Eventually, you can experiment with interesting teas, but it’s best to start with a basic black until you’re up and running. And even though you want to avoid metal or plastic in kombucha brewing, the tea-making process doesn’t actually touch the SCOBY (tea has to cool before you can add it) so a metal tea infuser is totally fine here.
A funnel and swing-top fermenting bottles
After submerging your SCOBY in the tea and letting it ferment for at least a week, it’s time to pull the tea out of the jar — again, either via spigot or pouring — and bottle it for a second fermentation. This second fermentation is where your brew will pick up that lovely fizz, and it’s also where you can add a little fruit juice for flavor. But what’s important here is that you’ve got that kombucha on lock — literally.
Unlike the first fermentation, this one can’t have any air. The best way to accomplish that is with these swing-top bottles that are basically built for brewing. This set of six should be just about perfect for your gallon of tea minus the tea you’ll need as starter tea for the next batch. You’ll also need a funnel to easily transfer kombucha into the bottles, because the last thing anyone wants is to spill sticky, half-brewed kombucha all over the place.
With this gear in hand, you’re less than two weeks from your first batch of home-brewed kombucha, and all set up for the next batch, and the next.
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