I tend a pot of continuous brew kombucha on my kitchen counter where it sits, transforming sweet tea into an ancient, acidic, vinegary tonic that we sip in small amounts, though I also use it in my kombucha vinaigrette. We treat kombucha with care, consuming a little bit at a time, for it’s also strikingly medicinal which is why it leaves me concerned when I see health enthusiasts replace a soda addiction for a kombucha addiction – swilling pints at a time. Where’s moderation?
We dip into our continuously brewing kombucha about once a week, I pour the sour tea into flip-top bottles with a bit of sugar or fruit juice, and let them ferment once more so the kombucha becomes bubbly and fizzy – the way we like it. I replace what ever I siphon off with a bit more sweet tea, wait another week and continue again.
In this way, continuous brew kombucha is a lot like tending a sourdough starter or a crock of perpetual bone broth: it is always available in my kitchen, and for every bit of the finished product I remove, I add a few ingredients to replace it. It’s a method that works in my kitchen – providing a lovely consistency to my cooking and routine.
Benefits of Continuous Brew Kombucha
Like many newcomers to traditional foods, I began to brew kombucha years ago using the method outlined in Nourishing Traditions; that is, I brewed kombucha in small batches, exchanging jars. For several years now, I’ve favored the continuous brew method, because it’s easier, it’s cleaner and it produces a healthier kombucha mother that is less likely to be contaminated by stray microbes – though, admittedly, kombucha mothers are sturdy and are not typically prone to contamination.
As with any fermented food, different strains of microbes will proliferate at different times during the fermentation cycle (you can read more about this in the best-selling book the Art of Fermentation). By only consuming kombucha at the end of its cycle, as in batch-brewed kombucha, you’re consuming a smaller array of beneficial microorganisms. With continuous brew, the sweet tea that serves as the start for kombucha is in a constant state of flux, so you typically consume a wider variety of microbes which enables you to better take advantage of kombucha’s many health benefits.
What You Need to Get Started
Ingredients for Making Kombucha
To make kombucha, either with batch-brewing or with the continuous brew method, you’ll need the same basic ingredients: tea, caloric sweetener, a kombucha mother (find one here) and a bit of previously brewed kombucha tea.
The tea should be true tea; that is, it should be from the camellia sinensis, and while experienced brewers typically favor black tea, you can also create successful brews from green tea, oolong or pu erh. I favor darjeeling for my brewing.
I favor organic white sugar for brewing my kombucha; remember, the sugar’s not for you: rather we use it to support the optimal growth and feeding of the microorganisms in the kombucha. Most of the sugar will be consumed by the microorganisms in your kombucha, so very little remains in the final brew.
You’ll also need a kombucha mother which is a large, moist, flat beige-colored disc developed by a matrix of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. You can purchase a kombucha mother and a bit of starter tea online (see sources). Since a healthy kombucha mother readily produces baby cultures, you might also ask a kombucha-brewing friend for a starter as well.
Choosing a Continuous Brew Container
The type of container you choose for your continuous brew kombucha is critically important; it should be large enough to contain 2 to 5 gallons of kombucha, with enough airflow to keep the kombucha mother healthy as, unlike other fermented foods, kombucha relies on and needs air circulation.
I picked up a glass jar with a lid and a small plastic spigot at is base. Consistent contact with metal may inhibit the help of your kombucha culture, so avoid metal containers or containers with metal parts.
Maintaining the Continuous Brew
To maintain the brew, remember to add sweet tea in the equivalent you take out. So if you take out a quart of the finished kombucha, add a quart of room temperature sweet tea back to the brew. Over time, your kombucha mother will thicken. You can remove the mother, separate the babies that form on top of the mother and compost them, give them away to friends or make an assortment of other foods including dehydrated kombucha jerky or kombucha candy. You can clean the jar out once in a while – every six months to a year or so. Take care that no residual bits of detergent adhere to the jar lest they negatively impact your brew. I run mine through a dishwasher, without added detergent or soap.
- 2 tablespoons loose-leaf tea
- 1 cup organic white sugar
- 1 kombucha mother
- 1 cup kombucha tea from a previous batch
- Bring one quart of water to a boil. Turn off the heat, stir in tea and organic sugar. Continue stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Allow the tea to sit undisturbed until it cools to room temperature.
- Strain the tea through a fine-mesh sieve into your continuous brew container. Stir in 3 quarts water. Add the kombucha mother and the kombucha tea to the container. Cover it loosely, and allow it to ferment about a week.
- After a week, draw off up to 25% of the kombucha, bottle it, and replace it with an equivalent amount of sweet tea. After the initial week of fermentation, you can draw off kombucha as frequently as you like - usually 1 to 3 times a week - as long as you replace it with an equivalent amount of tea.
- To bottle the kombucha, pour your kombucha into a flip-top bottle, adding up to ¼ cup sweet tea or fruit juice to the bottle. Close the bottle and allow it to ferment a further 2 to 3 days, then transfer to the fridge and consume when you like it.