Note from Shannon: Please welcome Julie Feickert, Cultures for Health Founder and Cultured-Kitchen Keeper.
I love kombucha. I love how it tastes, I love how it bubbles. I love how it makes me feel. Over the last few years I have tried a number of systems for brewing kombucha. For a long time I simply used gallon jars. There were all over the house (for lack of counter space in my kitchen) and when it came time to harvest the kombucha, I took on the messy task of trying to funnel it into bottles or at least jars with smaller mouths for easier fridge storage and pouring.
In the last year though I’ve settled into a new kombucha brewing routine that I feel not only maximizes the benefits of drinking kombucha but also makes the brewing and bottling processes much simpler and less messy.
I use continuous brewing vessels. At the moment I have two of them. One is around 3 gallons and the other is around 5 gallons. They are both made of glass and have plastic spigots at the bottom. I use a tight-weave tea towel and a tight rubber band over the top. They are beautiful and incredibly functional. There are several benefits to using a continuous brewing system for making kombucha…
- I’m maintaining the best possible ecosystem to ensure successful batches. Instead of starting with new jars each time, I simply add new sugar tea. In addition the jars are always sitting in the same place in my kitchen reducing the odds I’ll accidentally set them too close to another culturing food or the garbage can and cause a cross-contamination issue.
- I gain some benefits of a long fermentation period even when I only let mine brew for 3 weeks or so. Longer fermentation has the benefit of producing a wider array of beneficial bacteria and enzymes. By continually using what’s left in my container for starter tea (including the yeast that settles on the bottom) I am infusing each batch with the benefit of a long fermentation period.
- It’s easy to fill my bottles directly from the spigot. No more trying to balance a funnel in my bottles while I pour kombucha out of a gallon jar. I have yet to make a mess using the spigot.
I bottle my kombucha after the desired fermentation period rather than drinking it directly out of the spigot. While one of the often touted benefits of a continuous brewing system is a steady supply of kombucha, there is a downside. If I constantly add fresh sugared tea, I’m going to have a variable amount of sugar in the batch depending on where it is in the cycle. Sugar and I are simply not friends and I need to remove the vast majority of it from the kombucha.
Also, there is ultimately a limit to how much I can drink and kombucha can turn quickly. If I don’t start drinking the batch until week 3, by the time I make it through several gallons it can be week 6 and have turned to a very strong vinegar-tasting batch. By bottling it directly out of the spigots, I can control the fermentation period for the best taste and control the amount of sugar in each batch.
Want to give this a shot? Here is my step-by-step process:
- I leave a scoby and some kombucha from the last batch in the bottom of the continuous brew jar. I generally shoot for at least 1/8 the total volume.
- I brew sugar tea in whatever random jars I have around the house (find the ratios for the sugared tea here). I let it cool completely then add it to the continuous brew jar. I generally leave about 1 ½ inches of head room. My goal is to allow for maximum surface area. I’m impatient at times and a larger surface area means more air contact and a faster brewing process.
- Although not strictly necessary, I do sometimes give it a stir with a wooden spoon just to get the starter tea well distributed with the fresh sugar tea.
- I cover the jar opening with a tight weave tea towel and a tight rubber band. Fruit flies and ants are sneaky creatures and there are few things more depressing then having them ruin five gallons of kombucha.
- I generally let it brew for about 3 weeks. I prefer to remove the vast majority of the sugar but would rather not have a strong vinegar taste. A nice side benefit to the spigot though is that I can easily remove a bit at various points in the process and taste it. This is particularly important when seasons change and the ambient temperature shifts affecting brewing time.
- I bottle about 7/8 of the kombucha from the continuous brew jar. I use the spigot to directly fill my flip-top bottles. I also generally discard the new gigantic scoby that formed on the surface and simply retain the smaller scoby I started with. The filled bottles get set aside for consumption over the next few weeks and I start the process again with fresh sugar tea.
So that’s it, super simple and easy. Inspired to start your own continuous brew system? Click here for more information on setting up one for your kombucha.
Want to learn more? We have a fantastic kombucha eBook with 130 pages including 27 recipes. If you’re getting started I highly recommend downloading it (it’s free!). Lots of amazing information and ideas for brewing and using kombucha.