I’ve been continuously brewing kombucha for awhile and wanted to share my set up and method with you as it has been working well for me!
First, a quick introduction to the continuous brewing method of making kombucha at home.
Continuous brewing kombucha is a method of making homemade kombucha and is supposedly how it was made in ancient times. The continuous brewing method allows you to always have fresh kombucha available. It’s pretty simple: once you have established your brew you simply add the same amount in as you take out. It’s continuous!
Advantages of continuous brewing kombucha
- Continuous supply – Once you’re set up and operational, you’ll have fresh kombucha every 3-4 days.
- Low maintenance – Aside from a total clean out every few months, the only maintenance required is drawing off finished kombucha and refilling with sweet tea.
- Lessens your chance of contamination and mold – A continuous brew ecosystem has less of a chance of developing mold because you have a continuous supply of strong starter tea. This is a hostile environment for outside invaders.
- More beneficial bacteria and acids – A continuous brew offers you both younger and older kombucha in the same vessel. As I learned in The Art of Fermentation, the longer food is allowed to ferment, the more opportunity for bacteria and acids to form. Research has shown that specific acids in kombucha take 14-21 days to develop. If you wait 21 days for your batch kombucha to finish, you may be left with a vinegary tasting liquid. Continuous brewing mixes those older and younger liquids together giving you a pleasantly tasting beverage with potentially more beneficial bacteria and acids.
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What do I need for continuous brew kombucha?
While there will be some investment in your initial set up, it should pay for itself pretty quickly.
Here is everything you need for your continuous brew kombucha set up:
You will need a vessel to brew your kombucha in. I use a glass drink dispenser that I found on clearance at Bed, Bath & Beyond. It holds 2.5 gallons which works for our family as we generally drink 1-2 16oz bottles per day. You don’t have to fill the container, so I would recommend at least a 2 gallon size as you can grow into it.
You will also need a tight-weave piece of cloth big enough to cover the top of jar. A piece of an old t-shirt or towel secured with a rubber band works great for this or you can even get these cute hand-made covers for your vessel. DO NOT use cheese cloth, the weave isn’t tight enough to keep fruit flies or other pesky bugs out.
While black and green are the most commonly used teas, you can use any tea from the Camellia Sinensis plant. So oolong, white and pu-erh are also options. It’s also common to use a combination of teas.
Avoid using teas with added oils, like Earl Grey, as the oils can cause stress to the SCOBY, eventually killing it. Herbal teas should also be avoided as they are not derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant and can not provide the SCOBY with nutrients that it needs. You can experiment with using a mixture of black and herbal tea but you’ll want to make sure the herbal tea does not have any added oils or artificial flavors, only dried herbs and fruit.
Finally, I recommend using only organic tea. Awhile back I met a lady visiting from China and she said no one in her city would ever consider drinking tea that wasn’t organic. She has seen the pesticides used first hand and would NEVER consume it herself or serve to family or guests. She was very adamant about it and it left a lasting impact on me. Fortunately organic green and black teas are easily accessible here in the U.S. and are not significantly more expensive than non-organic. You can certainly make kombucha from non-organic tea but consider the pesticides you may be consuming.
Organic white sugar or organic cane sugar are most commonly used. You can find them at most grocery stores including Aldi or Costco. There is also a big selection available on Amazon. Organic cane juice crystals are also a good option. Avoid brown, raw or whole cane sugar as these tend to be hard on the SCOBY and often produce a yeasty brew.
You’ll need a SCOBY to get started. If you can find a friend that brews, they should be able to give you a a baby SCOBY. You can also purchase one online. I can recommend this SCOBY seller on Etsy. They ship healthy SCOBYs with at least a cup of starter tea. You don’t have to worry about the size of the SCOBY. It will grow to the size of your container as you brew.
You’ll need starter tea to get your first batch going. Starter tea is finished kombucha and is as important as a healthy SCOBY. For one gallon of kombucha, I recommend two cups of starter tea but you can get away with using as little as one cup.
Plastic spigots can be ok. You want to make sure it is brew safe plastic and not coated with anything. The coatings will eventually leach out into your kombucha.
Metal is a no as it can be harmful to your kombucha brew.
304 grade stainless steel is ok. I purchased a replacement stainless steel spigot from Amazon. It was super easy to switch out and it’s also easy to clean.
Wood and cork are ok.
First you’ll want to establish your brew. For one gallon you will need:
- 1 SCOBY
- 2 cups starter tea
- 2 tablespoons loose leaf tea or 8 tea bags
- 1 cup sugar
- 14 cups spring or filtered water
Bring the water to a boil
Remove water from heat, add tea and a steep for 10-15 minutes
Remove tea and then stir in sugar until completely dissolved
Let the sweet tea cool completely
Add the SCOBY, starter tea and sweet tea to your vessel
Cover with tight weave cloth and rubber band
Allow to ferment at room temperature until the brew is to your liking (approximately 7-14 days)
*At this point you are ready for continuous brewing!
Once fully fermented, remove cloth and rubber band and give the brew a good stir
Then draw off 25% of the brew and replace with the same amount of sweet tea
Cover with cloth and rubber band and allow to ferment
You can now draw off 25% every 3-4 days, depending on how fast your kombucha is fermenting
You can either drink what your drew off immediately or bottle for later
Oh yes, you can accessorize when it comes to home brewing kombucha!
You can drink straight from the tap but many brewers prefer to bottle their brew. Bottling will allow your kombucha to build carbonation for a fizzier drink and it’s the perfect time to flavor your kombucha. It’s also the best way to store your kombucha for later consumption. It’s important to use bottles that are designed to hold carbonation. Grolsch beer bottles are great if you can get your hands on them. Otherwise, you can purchase swing top bottles. Do not use decorative or square bottles even if they have the swing top caps. These are generally not designed to hold carbonation and may explode. I have tried a few different styles and have developed a preference for these bottles from Otis Classic. I like the clear bottles but the amber-colored ones will work just as well.
A fermometer monitors the temperature of your brew. It sticks on the outside of your vessel so there is no mess. I recently purchased one and tested it. It actually works! I’ve been afraid that my brew has been too cold this winter so I have added this to my setup. I can monitor the temperature to be sure it’s warm enough.
If you live in a colder climate, it can be difficult to keep your kombucha within the recommended temperature range of 68-78 degrees F. A heating strip allows you to increase the temperature by 5-20 degrees F. Though this gadget is a bit of an investment, it’s worth it for ease of brewing year-round.
Alternatively, you can try a seedling mat. You can also try wrapping a set christmas lights loosely around your vessel. Of course, you need to be mindful and never leave them plugged in when you aren’t home. Which, in my opinion, defeats the purpose because your temperature will drop back down again once the lights are unplugged.
It’s important to label your kombucha so you can keep track of what is what! I label my bottles with the flavor (if any) and the date it was bottled. I know my kombucha generally takes at least five days to carbonate to my liking. I started off by using masking tape and marker but quickly switched to this chalk marker.
Have you brewed kombucha at home? Any other tips for those just starting out with the continuous brewing method?