Foodie Underground: Kombucha Gone Wild


Recently, a friend was over for coffee and we were discussing the finer points of my “dirty hippy” qualities.

“I’m no dirty hippy!” I exclaimed, thinking of my need for regular showers, my Sunday New York Times subscription, my refusal to drink wine out of mason jars and, of course, a deep-seated love for IKEA.

“But Anna, I don’t have that growing in my kitchen,” my friend responded, pointing to my two huge jars of kombucha sitting atop my kitchen counter and fermenting happily away.

“Oh right, that…”

I looked at the large, gelatinous cultures that were floating in my several-gallon jars, stringy pieces hanging from the bottom, and for a moment questioned my mental sanity for keeping them alive.

Kombucha doesn’t look cool. In fact, it’s pretty gross. Offer a friend a glass of your fermented tea that’s made from the alienesque growth and you’ll probably get some highly raised eyebrows.

But pop a glass bottle of the store-bought stuff with the words “enzymes,” “probiotics” and “detoxifiers” splattered all over and people go wild, paying upwards of $4 for something that’s easily made at home. In fact, in 2009 Americans bought more than 1 million bottles of GT’s Kombucha

The drink is thought to have originated in China around 221 B.C. during the Tsin Dynasty, but it has since spread to the rest of the globe. In recent years, kombucha has gathered a devoted, underground cult following. Scientifically speaking, kombucha is made from bacterium xylinum and yeast cultures. In layman’s terms, that means the drink is chock-full of probiotics, B vitamins, enzymes and amino acids.

Fermented beverages have a slew of benefits, and because of it, kombucha has gone from underground trend to mainstream drink. Kombucha is offered on tap at several select Whole Foods in both Portland, Ore. and San Francisco, Ca. Smaller establishments, like food co-ops, are also taking part in the movement, often offering locally brewed versions. In Vermont there’s Aqua Vitea, in New York there’s Kombucha Brooklyn and in Minnesota there’s Deane’s Kombucha. The list goes on.

No matter how trendy, the underground movement is still sticking to making the stuff at home, and DIY kombucha has seen a bit of a vogue resurgence in recent years.

Want to make your own? The first step is acknowledging that you’re going to be stuck with a slightly gross-looking brewing creature in your kitchen, but the results are rewarding and if you’re willing to take the plunge, you’ll be glad you did.

The second step is tracking down a “starter,” or as it’s known in the DIY kombucha community, a “baby.” These reproduce quickly, and in the kombucha brewing community it’s practically tradition to pass them around to all of your friends so everyone can have a batch going; ask anyone kombucha homebrewer and they’ll probably be able to tell you exactly who they got their baby from. If you don’t know anyone with a healthy kombucha batch at home that you can get a baby from, you can also buy them from online boutiques, find them on Craigslist or even join an online kombucha network.

My personal batch of kombucha is never made using measuring cups — you’ve got to do practically make an effort to do any damage once you’ve got a healthy culture going — so once you’ve made a few rounds you can start eyeing the proportions.


  • 12 cups purified water
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 3 black tea bags — I tend to use fruit-flavored black teas, like ginger peach or mango, just make sure it’s caffeinated
  • 1 cup kombucha brew as starter
  • 1 kombucha culture


  • 1 large glass jar
  • A piece of clean cloth that will cover the mouth of the jar and a rubber band to keep it in place
  • NOTE: Always use clean supplies
  1. Boil the water and stir in sugar until it dilutes.
  2. Add tea bags and let steep fro 15-20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Add brewed tea, starter and culture to jar.
  4. Cover jar with cloth and secure with rubber band
  5. Let sit in a dark place for about 7 – 12 days. The time you let your kombucha brew depends on how strong you want it. Give it a taste after a week to see where it’s at. The longer it sits, the more fermented it will get.
  6. Pour your kombucha into clean containers and store in refrigerator. If you’ve got an glass, juice bottles on hand, those work great.
  7. Start the process again!

Once your kombucha is brewed there are many variations you can try. Dilute it with water for a lighter flavor, or mix it with juice to sweeten it. And hopefully you’ll be so succesful you’ll be passing off kombucha babies right and left that you’ll go from “dirty hippy” to “savvy culinary diva” in no time!

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.