Brew Kit Instructions & FAQ
Hello and welcome
Thank you for purchasing the Theonista Kombucha Home Brew Kit. Here you will find all the information and instructions required to brew your very own kombucha.
A few notes on this kit:
These instructions assume you are making your kombucha in the standard 3L Consol glass jar your kit came in. However, you can certainly brew in something else suitable (i.e. food-safe) and you can increase the recipe to suit your needs.
Remember, sugar is essential food for the SCOBY. Please note that the more sugar you add doesn't necessarily mean a sweeter drink—many factors contribute to the final sugar content. In general, longer the primary fermentation lasts, the stronger the beverage, but if you overdo it you run the risk of essentially making vinegar.
We recommend starting with 200g sugar as per our instructions below (about half of what’s provided in the kit) on your first batch and then maybe cut back as you experiment further and refine your brewing techniques.
After you’ve made a couple batches, you can get more of the Home Brew Tea Blend and other organic loose leaf teas and botanicals from us directly, as well as more of the unbleached raw cane sugar we brew with and which is also in this kit.
You can also play around with any other tea or sweetener combinations that interest you, even normal white sugar!
We’re always keen to see how our baby SCOBYs grow up so feel free to tag us in your photos on social media so we can follow your brewing journey. And if you’re between brews and live in Cape Town, don’t forget that you can fill up on fresh kombucha straight from the tap at our brewery – just BYOBottle or get a glass growler from us to keep you going while you wait for your homebrew.
Warm regards and happy brewing!
Brewmistress & Founder
INSIDE THIS KIT:
SCOBY with Starter Liquid
Theonista’s Home Brew Tea Blend
Raw Cane Sugar
Cotton Cover Cloth & Elastic Band
Reusable Cloth Tea Bag
Let’s get started!
1. Clean and dry your brewing vessel and a large spoon. Use soap & hot water to sterilize but be sure to rinse very well; even a tiny amount of residual soap can harm the SCOBY.
2. Put loose tea in the cloth tea bag (15-20g) and sugar (200g*) in the jar. Note that the brew kits come with enough ingredients for TWO brews so just use half the tea and half the sugar for your first batch. (A)
3. Fill with enough boiling water to cover the tea and sugar. Gently stir to dissolve the sugar. (B)
4. Cover with the cloth provided and let it sit for 15-20 minutes so you get a nice strong brew.
5. Remove the tea bag, carefully press to extract any remaining tea, and compost the tea leaves (the cloth tea bag can be washed and reused). Stir the brewed tea again in case there are any undissolved sugar crystals hiding at the bottom. (C)
6. Add cool, filtered water until the jar is about 2/3 full and stir. As the volume of your SCOBY increases (it gets fatter over time), you’ll have to adjust the water level to avoid going into the neck of the jar.
7. If your tea is about room temperature, you’re ready for the next step. If not, let the tea rest until it cools down or else you may damage the SCOBY.
8. Add the starter (prepared liquid in your SCOBY pack or leftover kombucha from a previous batch). In general, the starter should consist of approximately 10-15% of the total liquid.
9. With clean hands, gently place the kombucha SCOBY in the jar. Wipe down the exterior of the jar to remove any spillage. (D)
10. Cover the jar with the cover cloth provided and secure it with the elastic band. (E)
11. Place the jar in a warm, dark place away from strong odors. Do not disturb your kombucha for 5-6 days. Look but don’t touch! Even a small disturbance can interrupt the fermentation process.
NB: It is completely normal for dark clumps or even long goopy brown strands to form on the SCOBY and hand down towards the bottom.
Don’t panic! This is not mold, which is typically fuzzy and white or black and can only grow on the surface of the SCOBY where there is contact with air. Mold is very rare, especially if you follow the instructions above (so rare we’ve never seen it).
So carry on - all is well and you’ll strain this stuff out later. If you’re not convinced, just Google it and you’ll find loads of photos to assist your diagnosis.
12. Around day 6 or 7, start tasting your kombucha daily but try to do so with minimal disturbance to the liquid and SCOBY.
A good method is to stick a reusable straw down into the liquid and use your thumb to create a seal and lift liquid up to taste. (If you touch the straw with your mouth, don’t stick it back in the brew though). Observe how the sweetness decreases and the tartness and acidity increase each day.
When the solution has a distinct but not overwhelmingly vinegary sharpness and the sweetness has reduced significantly, you’re ready to bottle – this can be anywhere between 7-21 days depending on taste, season, and batch quirkiness. This takes a little practice and new brewers usually bottle too soon. Also, note that the liquid near the top of the jar is likely to be more acidic and the liquid at the bottom will likely be more sweet. (F)
13. With clean hands, gently remove the SCOBY and place it in a sterile bowl or another clean jar (brewers usually call this the “SCOBY hotel”, where your spare SCOBYs go to chill out between shifts).
14. Stir the kombucha to lift the yeast off of the bottom of the jar. Pour or ladle enough of your newly prepared kombucha to cover the SCOBY completely. This will usually be a sufficient amount of kombucha to use as a starter for your next batch. Cover the jar and keep aside for your next batch. You can also store it in the fridge. (G)
15. Congratulate yourself—you made kombucha! You can play around with flavouring it now, but if you also want to add fizz, you’ll need to do a secondary fermentation….
16. Get some bottles with tight sealing lids cleaned and ready (be very careful with glass bottles, which can explode if you forget about them.)
17. Strain the rest of the kombucha through a kitchen strainer before bottling. This should remove the larger kombucha strands and leave enough of the yeast to react with the remaining sugar.
18. If you’re planning on adding any flavours, add them now. You can use juice or play around with whole berries, fruit chunks, sliced ginger, etc. Fill bottles, leaving a few centimeters of headspace at the top. Seal tightly. (H)
19. Set the bottles away from direct sunlight and at room temperature for 2-5 days.
During this time, some of the sharp acidity mellows and the liquid will be naturally carbonated.
20. Once the desired level of carbonation is achieved, refrigerate until you are ready to consume.
Getting consistent flavour and reliable, robust carbonation from home brew can take some time and experience. If you have a few flat bottles, don’t worry about it. The kombucha is still perfectly good, this just means that the yeast cells in that particular bottle punked out.
FAQ & Troubleshooting
Q. Do I need to keep my SCOBY packet refrigerated until I’m ready to use it?
A: Yes and no. If there is any fermentable sugar in the starter liquid the SCOBY is packed with, the yeast will continue to ferment it at room temp. It’s not harmful at all, but the resulting CO2 will bloat the bag. In refrigeration the yeast falls dormant. That said, keeping the SCOBY cool for too long could potentially make it too sluggish so if you’re going to wait more than a couple weeks to brew, rather decant the SCOBY and liquid into another container, cover with the cloth in your kit, and store in a cool dark place.
Q: Do I have to use green tea?
A: No, but you’ll probably have best results with real tea from the tea plant, camellia sinensis. That means white, green, black, oolong, pu-erh.
Q: Can I use herbal teas?
A: You can experiment with herbal teas knowing that they might kill your SCOBY. Herbals aren’t from the tea plant, camellia sinensis. They’re plants, flowers, extracts, oils, fruit, etc. that is steeped in water. Some of the ingredients in herbal teas may damage or kill your SCOBY. That doesn’t, however, mean that you should avoid herbals if you like them. Just don’t damage your only SCOBY. They grow quickly enough, so after a few batches, you’ll likely have an extra SCOBY or two to experiment with.
Q: I don't want to consume a lot of sugar. Is the sugar necessary?
A: Yes. The sugar is part of the nutrient solution that feeds the yeasts surrounding the SCOBY. If you were to leave the solution for an extended period, eventually all of the fermentable sugar would be metabolized by the yeasts. How long this takes depends on the size of the SCOBY and the amount of sugar you added initially to the tea. If you're looking for a dryer(less sweet) kombucha, experiment with adding a little less sugar or allow the fermentation time to extend.
Q: Sugar vs. honey vs. agave nectar vs. any other sweetener. What's the difference?
A: Stick with the sugar. Remember, the sugar is for the nutrient solution. The nuances and arguable health benefits of various sweeteners will likely change or be eliminated before the kombucha fermentation is final. Also, many of the volatile oils in honey, for example, can alter and potentially damage the SCOBY in the long run. If you choose to experiment with a variety of sweeteners, be sure to keep a healthy SCOBY on the side, just in case.
Q: Help! What is the brown stringy stuff? Is it mold?!?
A: These are harmless strings of yeast – not mold. (Note that mold cannot grow under the surface of the liquid – if in doubt just Google “does my kombucha have mold?”). You may want to filter this yeast out at bottling. Simply pour the kombucha through muslin cloth or other strainer before bottling.
Q: Sometimes it floats, sometimes it sinks. What's going on with my SCOBY?
A: Both situations are okay. When the culture sinks, a new culture will start to form on the surface. It's important not to disturb the liquid during this period so that the new growth can complete its initial formation.
Q: What do I do with an extra SCOBY?
A: You could start another jar of kombucha. Simply repeat the original recipe. You could also keep it as a backup. If you choose this option, store the SCOBY and plenty of prepared kombucha in a clean container. Cover with a clean swatch of fabric to keep pests and dust out and place it in a cool dark place until ready to use again.
Q: What will kill my SCOBY?
A: Exposure to tea that is too hot may kill it immediately, and long term exposure to direct sunlight and frost may severely damage the SCOBY.
Q: When is my SCOBY over the hill?
A: As the yeast around the culture begins to darken to a mocha color and tear easily while the surface of the SCOBY itself becomes withered, it's getting too old. As the SCOBY ages, it produces a kombucha that is more acidic and slightly acrid. By the time your SCOBY is too old to produce fresh kombucha, it should have yielded at least a few offspring to replace itself. Discard your SCOBY in your compost bin.
Q: There is a film growing on the surface of my kombucha. What is it?
A: If it starts as a clear film and grows larger and milky in color, you're growing a healthy daughter SCOBY. Leave it alone and let it develop in peace while you're waiting for the kombucha solution to ferment. Since the SCOBY needs air to grow, all new growth will occur on the surface area of the liquid. When pulling this new SCOBY and your previous SCOBY out of the solution during bottling, cover both with enough prepared kombucha to use in your next batch(es) as starter. When placing the SCOBYs into the next batch, always place the side with the developing SCOBY facing upward to promote its growth.
Q: When is it time to split my kombucha into another jar?
A: The mother scoby you started with was just large enough to support kombucha production in a 3-4L jar. When your SCOBY has doubled in size, it's ready to split. (This could take multiple brew cycles.) Gently pull them apart. They should split easily. If you're not ready or interested in producing multiple jars, you can leave it alone and the scoby will grow quite large.
Q: I bottled my kombucha and after a few days it developed a brown film along the surface area. What is it?
A: It's the yeast. And it's totally fine. Typically, the yeast will float to the top when the cap is not sealed tightly enough. If the natural carbonation developing within the kombucha is allowed release at the top of the bottle, it will push the yeast up with it. No problem, tighten the cap. The yeast should gradually drop to the bottom
Q: It looks like a little SCOBY growing at the top of my bottled kombucha. What's going on?
A: If the cap to the jar allows for any air transfer, the kombucha strands in the beverage will continue to grow. Just remove the clump and drink up!