What To Expect When You’re Expecting Kombucha

“Just drop it into the tea,” she said, handing me the wet “mushroom” in a zip-lock bag.  Moments earlier she had lifted the cloth lid, scooped the bacterial disk out of its watery home (a brew of Kombucha), and poured in some liquid.  It was about to embark on a three mile journey south, to carry on its reproductive ways in Greenwich Village.  I transported it carefully so as not to crush the live organism or puncture the bag. I carried it as carefully as I once did my goldfish from the pet store.

My friend Juliana, a beautiful, fiery Russian, who collects her own honey and throws parties for emerging artists, has been brewing kombucha for years.  I, on the other hand, can count the number of times I have ever had the drink. But anything that tastes this bad, has got to be good.

Following her instructions, I placed the mushroom, (which has nothing to do with mushrooms and looks like a pancake), in a large glass vessel and filled it with cooled-down, lightly sweetened tea.  I covered it, slid it to the back of the counter and walked away – for two weeks.

When I returned, a new mushroom as thick as half an English Muffin was reclining on the surface.  The original “mother” was floating about and stringy bits were all around her.  A faint smell of beer (from the fermenting) was detectable. The reproductive ability of this female was daunting!

I emailed Juliana:

The mushroom is growing at a frightening pace. The new one is fatter than the original and stringy things are all over the place.

Your mushroom is doing just what it should.

Can I freeze some if I grow too many?  I don’t want to stop the fun but I fear things will get out of control.

They’ll die if you freeze them.  Try eating them cooked like tofu if you wish. I’ve never tried this, but you could experiment on my behalf.

(Though this growth could not continue,  I could no more cook my own kombucha mushroom, than I could my own goldfish.)

And the ginger I added while it was fermenting, (which you told me not to), will this harm the mushroom?

It’s a pretty sturdy thing. Just don’t do it again.

And how long do I leave it? Is two weeks enough?  I’m expecting it to add ten years to my life so I don’t want to rush it.

Drink it when it tastes good. Two weeks minimum.

And she was gone.

As you’ve gathered, kombucha is fermented tea. It originated in Russia (according to the Russians), though many Asian countries have claimed paternity. Kombucha is an acquired taste, or more specifically, an acquired taste for diluted vinegar.  Once you acquire it, the reasoning goes, you’ll fall in love with it. (I’m still at the I-like-you-very-much stage.)

Why the hype

  • It’s a probiotic (filled with live bacteria that is good for us). The bacteria and the yeasts in kombucha, stay alive when ingested and continue to populate your gut aiding in digestion and helping fight off sickness-causing bacteria. (As evidence of the alive-ness of the drink, leave kombucha out for several days and you will see bacteria grow on top*. Below are three store-bought kombuchas that I sat out for five days to test their bacterial potency by watching for a “film”. The one on the right appears to be the most virile. **)

  • Hundreds of the nutritious compounds in the tea itself, can also get unlocked during the fermentation if the bacteria G. Obeidiens is used***.
  • The high enzyme level (found in all raw foods) aids in digestion.
  • It contains acids (acetic, glucuronic and gluconic for example) that help balance the pH in our gut and help with liver function. Lactic acid specifically helps eat away at the bad bacteria in our gut.  In our blood, on the other hand, we want lower levels of acid, which the acids actually help promote. Foods such as sugar and refined grains, create a more acidic environment in our bodies, while foods such as kombucha and other probiotic rich foods, help lower it.

Worth the hype?

Kombucha’s not going to make up for poor diet, and it’s debatable whether it can actually “cure” any diseases, but it’s certainly a healthy drink, so if you like it, drink it. My only major objection, is the proliferation of highly sweetened versions. Some have over 20g per bottle (10g/serving, 2 servings/bottle), which kind of defeats the purpose of drinking a “cleansing” drink in the first place!  It’s like eating kale as a side dish with a Big Mac.

If you’re up for it, play around with growing the bacteria at home. It’s far cheaper, more potent, and delivers an immediate family that asks nothing of you, but a warm room and a place to swim.

See the “Step-by-step how-to-brew” instructions.

Your thoughts?  Love it or hate it?  Any brands you prefer?

Related Posts
Are You Pro-Life? (More probiotic foods)
Tofu: White Bread Of The Soy World? (For a look at other fermented foods)


*The bacterial film thickens and turns into the “mushroom” which is then used as the starter for a new batch.
** The three tested were GTs, Ciara’s and High Country. The one on the right is High Country.
***The strains of bacteria used may vary even though they produce similar probiotic benefits. L.bacterium and S. bouldardi are common, but, according to one producer, the bacteria G. Obediens is the original kombucha bacteria.

Want more detail on kombucha’s health benefits?  This article has lots.

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  • http://Diaryofaformerfoodaddict.blogspot.com Anna

    The first time I tried it I thought it was a mistake. Now I am past the vinegar smell and like it as a soda alternative. I don’t see myself being brave enough to do it at home.

    • Michelle

      It actually really is surprisingly simple. You can’t screw up. The mushrooms know what they have to do, and really, all YOU do is let them be the productive little bacteria they were meant to be!

  • http://www.urbanhomesteadx.com Jamie

    This is a great write up. Nice job. I’ve been brewing my own kombucha for a few months now and we love it, especially my 2 year old!

    • Michelle

      That is so cool that you’ve gotten your 2 yr old into it! Taste preferences form at such a young age (based largely on what we are fed) and sadly that taste preference for most kids becomes a taste for sugar (definitely not for vinegar).

  • Victoria

    I am a huge kombucha fan and fellow brewer who had to give up because of maintenance issues. I travel so much for work, that I couldn’t keep up with production. My tea came to have a really nice little apple vinegar taste to it.

    I learnt everything from this group:

    http://kombuchatea.tribe.net/?_click_path=Application%5Btribe%5D.Tribe%5Bec8f7806-375c-4265-ba6d-e69aa7c50b51%5D

    They are really helpful!

  • http://www.thetableofpromise.blogspot.com The Table of Promise

    Help!!

    I bought a dehydrated SCOBY from Cultures from Health. I made a good first batch after rehydration, but I had a batch with mold and now I am scared that I will never get rid of it. The mold was on the top, not on the mother. What do I do???

    And my mother is not reproducing quite as vigorously as yours. Any tips? Hang in there??

    • Michelle

      So the mold was on the mushroom that was on the surface? Was it def mold? (greenish or blueish? the mushroom can look like it has mold on it when it’s just a natural part of the mushroom.) Was it on the top side of the mushroom or on the bottom? (If it truly is mold it would likely be on the top side.)

      If your original (mother) mushroom is mold free, then my instinct is to toss out the batch you’re concerned about, as well as any mushrooms that you’re sure are moldy, wash off the mother mushroom in warm water (being sure to check for any mold on her), and then start a new batch with the mother again.

      That make sense?

      To make the mushroom grow faster and to help the batch ferment more quickly: be sure there is adequate sugar in the tea as it ferments, and be sure the room is warm enough. Mine sits not far from a hot pipe in the kitchen.

      • http://www.KombuchaKamp.com Hannah Crum

        Hi Michelle & Table,

        Actually it is not a good idea to wash off any Kombucha cultures that had mold. The spores are not killed this way and can end up in your new brew. Always keep extra cultures on hand in a SCOBY hotel.

        Also, and I hate to say this because CFH are nice people, Dehydrated SCOBYs are Bad News. Your experience of having a “successful” first batch, and then having mold on the 2nd, is all too common with dehydrated scobys.

        Of course you can also start by growing your own SCOBY. Make sure to use truly RAW unfiltered kombucha, which can be hard to find these days. Also, know that it will be a slow process, likely 3-4 weeks to grow the initial SCOBY (if successful) followed by 2 cycles to bring the brew to full strength. But it is definitely possible! :)

        What is a SCOBY Hotel? http://www.kombuchakamp.com/2010/08/scoby-hotel-video-quick-tip.html

        Fresh Cultures: http://www.kombuchakamp.com/kombucha-cultures

        • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

          Good advice. It never really goes away it just springs up again in the next batch as a beautiful blanket of blue mold.

  • Heather

    Haha, I’m a terrible kombucha caretaker. I decided I was going to learn how to grow it at home without ever tasting it first, lol. Actually, for a beginner, I enjpy it with a little soda water. Anyway, it’s super easy to take care of. I have a continuous system and I always forget about it – really I mean for a month or two at a time and it’s still going strong. That’s no problem, because I end up with vinegar, which I use for everything, from cooking, to cleaning, to rinsing my hair, to making shrubs to drink. However, it confirms my suspicion that I should never have kids.

    • Michelle

      Hilarious. Yes, the consequences of your mushroom “family” being neglected, are minimal …

  • Debbie

    Thanks for the laugh! I love the “conversation” :) I’ve been tossing around the idea of brewing my own so thanks for the additional inspiration.

  • Jacquelyn Hoag

    Last spring I sampled clear white sparkling GINGER flavored kombucha. I was astounded…I liked it better than champagne. But forgot to ask when they added the fresh ginger. I have been making my K tea for years…..very simple…I am very careful not to have any tap water present….because of the chlorine….and mine is ready in about 7-8 days. Sometimes maybe a day or two slower….I just watch for the sparkles when I pour off sample. I thought vinegar taste comes with letting it brew too long. while it is tangy…and similar, not really vinegar.

  • TellJeremy

    I wanted to like Kombucha – I tried many of the GT versions and settled on the Guava I think, because it was the least ‘chunky’. However – I took it once to work over lunch and at least 3 people walked down the hall towards my office, popped their head in, and said “Do you smell that? It smells like something died around here”.

    That was the kombucha; I couldn’t tell them that of course. I vowed never to drink it in public again, but in reality, never drank it anywhere again. I gave up and admitted it did smell off – and no amount internal monologue repeating its healthy virtues was going to change that.

  • http://three-cookies.blogspot.com/ Three-Cookies

    Very interesting. I have been to Russia many times but never heard of this. Probably not a regular thing

    • http://lishyskitchen.wordpress.com Lishy

      I agree–I have never heard of this as a Russia thing. I think Russians have staked their claim to eating fermented products (e.g. kefir, fermented cabbage) but Kombucha is new to me. Unless Kvas is the Russian equivalent. Any idea how kvas is made? That might be the Kombucha of the motherland.

      • http://three-cookies.blogspot.com/ Three-Cookies

        Kvas is made with bread so its quite different from Kombucha. And kefir is from Caucasus/Turkey which Russia has adopted:)

        • http://lishyskitchen.wordpress.com Lishy

          Thank you for clarifying. I never knew for sure how kvas was made. As for Kefir–any Russian I know will tell you that Russia is where it came from. Maybe they claim it because of the outlying territories of the empire that were part of the turkic lands where it originated?

        • http://www.KombuchaKamp.com Hannah Crum

          Actually there is Tea Kvass and Bread Kvass – different beverages. And Tea Kvass is one of the names for Kombucha in Russia. It is also known as Grib (which you probably know means mushroom) or Kargasok Tea. Those are the ones I know of. :)

    • fourmyeyes

      In Russia it’s called “Chayniy grib” – literally a tea mushroom. It was very popular in the late 80s – early 90s. Not sure whether it’s still got a strong presence, but everyone was doing it in those days.

      • http://www.kombuchakamp.com Hannah

        It is also sometimes called “tea Kvass” and I heard it was popular in Russia as a soda pop substitute.

        • fourmyeyes

          Kvas is different. It’s also a fermented drink, but there the similarities end :)
          It is frequently sold out of big barrels, poured from a little tap, right on the street. Yummy, if you’re into that sort of thing :)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kvass

          • http://www.KombuchaKamp.com Hannah Crum

            Wikipedia says this in Kombucha:

            “The recorded history of kombucha began in Russia during the late 19th century.[citation needed] In Russian, the kombucha culture is called čajnyj grib чайный гриб (lit. “tea mushroom”), and the drink itself is called grib гриб (“mushroom”), “tea kvass” чайный квас, or simply kvass, which differs from regular kvass traditionally made from water and stale rye bread.”

            So we are both right! Or Wikipedia is wrong, which has never happened before. ;)

  • http://katzinn.com meezermom

    Thanks so much for all the information! I’ve only had what I call ‘real’ Kombucha once. I also travel a lot and met someone on the road who gave me a home-brewed bottle. I only took a couple of sips at first, having never heard of Kombucha before that and not really knowing the person who gave it to me. With just a couple of sips I felt so energized it was almost euphoric. Thereafter I drank about a quarter of the bottle each morning until it was gone. I have been wanting to get more ever since. A couple of years ago my daughter, trying to make Mom happy, started bringing me Kombucha from the health food store – a highly sweetened version, which tasted good and didn’t have the same effect as the ‘real deal’. What a great kid, I didn’t want to tell her it wasn’t the right stuff!
    I’m so excited to try the recipe to make my own Kombucha. This article is so timely too. I’m an ‘older’ person, and recently I’ve been experiencing some joint pain after exercising. I ended up buying a bottle of Glucosamine yesterday, which I was hesitant to do because I don’t know how natural it is. I noticed in the article (which you provided the link for) one of the benefits of Kombucha is it produces Glucosamine!
    I’m going to check out that link you gave too Victoria.
    Today I’ll go out and see if I can hunt down some culture. Hopefully my daughter can ‘Bucha’ sit when I’m on the road!
    Thanks again all!

  • Juliana

    Thanks Michelle. I had a great laugh at your description of… I’ve never read that it’s OK to feed it honey, because honey has lots of its own bacteria and isn’t neutral like sugar, but who knows. I look forward to hearing how it goes. Next time I’ll give you 5 yogurt samplers to muck around with at home. ehehe

    • Michelle

      The honey seemed to work for me but you are the honey expert! Five mushrooms and I’d have to open a Kombucha Stand !

      • http://www.kombuchakamp.com Hannah

        Honey is okay to use in the fermentation stage provided it isn’t raw honey so that the bacteria don’t conflict with the bacteria in the SCOBY. Though you may certainly use raw honey in the flavoring stage – best to keep the culture as contaminant free as possible.

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  • Mary

    I have babies coming out my ears!!! No, I don’t think I want to try eating them, either. I’ve been brewing for months and thinks it taste like sparkling apple cider that we’d give the kids at Christmas time. Totally addicted! I brew about 2 gallons/ week and it’s not enough for the two of us-and company that we share it with. Living in hot, sunny Florida it’s the perfect drink to gulp! For the ginger enthusiast, I steeped ginger in bowling water, strained it and froze in ice cube trays. I add 1 cube to a glass for a new refreshing drink.

    • http://www.kombuchakamp.com Hannah

      Love your idea for ginger ice!

  • http://healthygirlskitchen.blogspot.com Wendy (Healthy Girl’s Kitchen)

    Just the title alone of this blog post has me cracking up! Thank you!

  • Brian

    The things we will do for perceived health benefits e.g. drinking moldy tea, eating fermented milk, sprinkling bee pollen popcorn… This is like sprouted grain bread to me, not worth overcoming my gag reflex to get a small health benefit. I’ll get my probiotics in other forms more palatable to me but to each their own. Anyway is there in information on how many CFUs you get with Komucha?

    • Michelle

      I think the CFUs (colony forming units-or the amount of probiotic bacteria, for those unfamiliar with the term) varies wildly (and decreases with time on the shelf) so most brands do not even note the level on their bottles. GTs does, and claims there are over 2Bn.

      • Eric

        Probiotics are very light sensitive. I’d be very surprised to find anything alive in a bottle of GT’s kombucha. At least brands like High Country Kombucha are in an amber bottle. Just looking at the picture in the post above and it’s obvious that they have more cultures.

  • Cindy

    Such a fun read! Super informative too and even though I will probably never make my own, I will look more closely at the store bought ones and try to find one with lower sugar.

  • http://www.kombuchakamp.com Hannah

    Great article. If anyone is looking for more specific info, come visit my site for Kombucha brewers. Packed with info, recipes, etc. No questions left unanswered.

    Thanks for spreading the Kombucha Love! :)

    Hannah
    The Kombucha Mamma
    http://www.KombuchaKamp.com

  • Natalie

    GT Synergy is my absolute fave! I’m brewing some of my own this week!

  • es4d

    i am SOOO confused! (and now slightly sickened)i was going to ask you if there were any bennies from the dried kombucha you can get from Yogi teas, but now i think you’ve just answered my question. (and read my mind by posting this subject – what timing!) obviously, you get nothing from the dried, hot tea.
    but doesn’t kombucha have to remained cool to keep the pro-b’s alive?! you let it ferment on your counter?! drink it room temp? but, but how do you…when does it..it looks slimy! what do you mean “fat stringy things”?! ohgodithinki’mgonnapuke!

    • Michelle

      You add the bacteria/mushroom once the tea is cool/room temp. If you added it when it was hot it would kill the bacteria. The “stringy things” on the mushroom are just part of the bacteria, don’t be put off by them, they’re benign harmless little things! If they are in the liquid once you pour it from the vessel, you can strain them out if you wish.

      • es4d

        i think i’m still freaked out. LoL. thank you SO much for the informative post! and yours is my new favorite blog. :)

  • debbiejl

    I love real kombucha. (A friend at work used to bring it in & I thought my boss would think I had been drinking!)

    She even gave me a mushroom once to start my own. It looked super wierd and I was afraid I had totally screwed it up and was afraid to drink it. I will have to give it a try again – especially with all these links for help.

    • Michelle

      You can’t really screw up. Just toss it into the tea, wait a while and drink it up! Only possible probs: it’s too weak (wait a little longer), it’s too strong/vinegary (you’ll know for the next time!)

  • Jackie

    The description and picture of the mushroom looks a lot like what I’ve found a couple of times at the at the bottom of old bottles of vinegar. Is it possible that I would have grown this mushroom without intending to? It was a flat slimy beige colored disk with a smell that was off from the usual vinegar smell.What do you think this was that grew in a bottle of vinegar?

    • Michelle

      Hmmm…it might be a bacterial disk of some sort but I doubt it’s one of the bacterial strains that are usually used for kombucha – since it did not grow on kombucha but rather on vinegar.

      • http://www.kombuchakamp.com Hannah

        Its called MOV – mother of vinegar and while it does contain its own bacteria and yeast, the Kombucha culture is more complex and has a different variety of yeast & bacteria.

  • Eric

    I love your picture of the three types of kombucha. I’ve never tried that experiment. Simply pouring some different brand kombuchas into seperate glasses and see which one creates the best “mother”. This would be a perfect indicator of probiotic count and the strongest brand. Your picture indicates High Country is the winner here over GT and Ciara’s. I’ll try some other brands to compare. Thanks!

  • laurel

    thanks for the info! everyone always says that making/growing your own kombucha is super easy, but to me it always sounded weird and scary and like something that I probably shouldn’t be doing. now i’m quite entertaining the idea.
    i usually buy gt’s because it’s made with juice, any recipes on how to do that instead of tea? also i agree with Jacquelyn that the taste isn’t really vinegar, i think my mom best described it as ‘astringent’. my first encounter with kombucha was when my friend was drinking it all the time and offered me some. one sip and i made a horrible face. then a few days later i was craving it and we’ve been in love every since…

    • Michelle

      Actually GTs drink is made with fermented tea (not fermented juice) – you have to use tea to get kombucha. I believe they add some juice as the flavoring to the fermented tea (post fermentation.)

  • Barb

    I used to make my own Kombucha and I thought it was really wonderful. I stopped making it though because my monthly cycle got totally wacked out. I can’t guarantee that it was the Kombucha doing it, but things seemed to calm down when I stopped making it. Has anyone else experienced anything similar?

    • Michelle

      I would be surprised if it was the kombucha since there don’t seem to be any indications that the bacteria has any strong influence on hormones that would affect your cycle,but if something doesn’t work for you, then it’s not for you…

    • Fiona

      YES! Before I had kombucha my period was 100% predictable. Now when I drink it, it won’t come at all. When I stop drinking it for a couple weeks it’ll finally come. So strange. If I’m only having sips of kombucha my period will be ridiculously light… There’s got to be something going on

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  • http://www.emmymadeinjapan.blogspot.com emmy

    In all of its horrid slimy-dom — I love love love kombucha. I managed to start a batch from a couple bottles of GTs and kept her going until for months, but in a mad-dash move had to leave her behind. It’s a comfort to know that starting over’s only a bottle away.
    http://lonetreedrivein.blogspot.com/2009/03/mysteries-of-kombucha-revealed-kombucha.html

    • Michelle

      So funny you say this, as I just had to start over as well!! I left a few “bacterial discs” in too little liquid in the glass container (waiting to start a new batch) and when I finally got to them they had grown blue mold!!

  • Andy

    Great recipe and wonderful site. One suggestion for the recipe: make sure to put the starter batch in a sunny/well lit area. This speeds the process up drastically. I started mine in a not so sunny location and got very little activity in five days. Once I moved it to a new location it took off!

    • Michelle

      True – thanks for adding!

    • http://www.KombuchaKamp.com Hannah Crum

      Hey Andy. Nice tip. Just remember, sunlight kills bacteria, and we want our bacteria to thrive over time. So while you are correct that the brew will thrive in the sunlight, because Kombucha needs warmth to brew (best temp 72-84 degrees), make sure the sides of the vessel are shielded from the sun with a long cloth cover or else over time the bacteria production will be too low and the brews will start to taste funny.

  • Cindy

    Thanks for the info. I tried my first komucha after reading your post. I tried the GT brand, and like one reader said, it reminded me of sparkling apple cider. So then I tried to brew my own batch (since it’s nearly free), and after letting it sit for two weeks…I’m not sure if it tastes like it’s supposed to. It definitely tastes vinegary, but I definitely expected more of the “sparkling” effect that the GT brand has. Is there a way to get this? Should I just brew longer? Maybe I should’ve added more tea?

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      When I make my own it never tastes “sparkly” either. The carbonation in some store bought ones occurs from being in the bottle on a shelf for a period of time and carbon dioxide is created (though some store bought, never get carbonated). So it does not mean that it is less “healthy” if there is no carbonation. If you brew yours longer it will simply taste more vinegary. Once thing you could try to alter the taste (and possibly the fizz) is to add more sugar. I tend to only sweeten the tea until its a little-bit sweet, but some people add a LOT of sugar. In the next batch try adding about 2 tsp of sugar per cup of tea (which is more than I had recommended). I’m going to try this myself and see how it affects mine. We’ll compare notes :)

    • http://www.KombuchaKamp.com Hannah Crum

      Hi Cindy,

      Michelle is right, you can try a bit more sugar, but actually in the second fermentation cycle is when it’s best to add, and in the form of fruit pieces or fruit juice is healthiest.

      If you need more carbonation tips, check out these posts:

      Carbonation for Beginners:http://www.kombuchakamp.com/2011/01/kombucha-carbonation-for-beginners.html
      Carbaonation for Advanced Brewers: http://www.kombuchakamp.com/2011/02/kombucha-brewing-carbonation-techniques-advanced.html

      Just watch out for exploding bottles if you’re not careful. (no I’m not kidding)

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle Madden

      CIndy — Have you had any more luck with slightly more carbonation in your kombucha? I made a batch recently where I put just under 1/4 cup of sugar into 6 cups tea and it def had a more carbonation than in the past when i used less sugar – and even more so in the bottle after a couple days in the fridge.