Q: How can I keep my brew warm in the winter time?
A: We are located in Madison, WI so we're experts at brewing in cold temps! Here are some of our top tips for keeping your brew warm:
1) In the winter, we prefer to move our jars up to a high shelf in a warm room, like on top of cupboards or a tall bookshelf. Sometimes this means moving the brew jar upstairs, where it tends to be warmer (if you have a multi-story home).
2) If your brew jar is resting on a cold countertop, place a book or cutting board underneath it for insulation.
3) If taking those steps doesn't get the temperature above 68 degrees, we do recommend using a heating pad—setting it on its lowest setting, and wrapping it around the jar. This can be very effective at maintaining a consistent temperature in the mid 70's.
The trick with using a heating pad is checking on it so that it doesn't get too warm. Our brewing kits come with a temperature gauge to make it easy to always read the temperature on the side of the jar. If the heating pad starts overheating your brew (in the mid to upper 80's is too warm) then only use the heating pad for a few hours a day. Once you flip off the heating pad, you can keep a towel wrapped around the jar to retain some of that heat for a few hours.
As for the second fermentation, it is less necessary to keep the temperature in the 70's. Simply store your kombucha bottles somewhere they will stay above 68 degrees. If you want to move the second ferment along quicker, then store them somewhere warmer.
Q: I'm trying to reduce my sugar intake, can I use less than the recommended amount of sugar?
A: No. As we like to say at TKS, the sugar isn't for you, it's for the culture. Kombucha cultures feed on sugar and it is a necessary piece of the fermentation puzzle (the yeast in the culture process the sugar for energy, in turn creating Co2 and alcohol). Lowering the amount of sugar in your brew will only throw off the fermentation process. Remember, with an average 2 week brewing period, most of the sugar has been processed out by the time it is ready to drink.
Q: I finished brewing my kombucha! How long can it sit in the fridge before it goes bad?
A: You can store kombucha bottled in the fridge for months. Like vinegar, kombucha has a very long shelf life due to the low pH. The shelf life can fluctuate based on various storage variables, but we tend to try and drink up our kombucha within 3 months. However, the fresher your kombucha is, the tastier it will be! So if you want it to always taste fresh, we recommend drinking your kombucha within a month of going into the fridge.
Q: Do I need to sterilize my brewing or bottling jars?
A: No, simply rinse with water and vinegar. You can use soap, but not antibacterial soap. Rinse well before brewing or bottling.
Q: I lost the instructions. Where can I get another copy?
A: Click the link to download a PDF of our brewing instructions!
Q: Is there any way to add fruit/herbs/etc for flavoring without secondary fermentation?
A: You can always add fruit or flavorings at the point of serving! For example, if you'd like to have a cherry or raspberry flavored kombucha, simply pour yourself a glass or carafe of cold kombucha, and top it off with a little juice, fruit concentrate, or smashed fresh berries. Stir it up and let it sit for 10 minutes to blend.
Q: Is there a way to test the alcohol and sugar content in my brewed kombucha?
A: Unfortunately, we're not aware of any affordable and/or accurate home tests. Here are a few things you can assume without testing:
Your plain, home brewed kombucha will be roughly 8 grams sugar per 16 oz. That is a pretty tried and true measurement, based off of an average 14-day brew. Just remember to account for any juice/fruit etc. you add in a second fermentation.
As for alcohol, it takes very highly technical brewing skills (usually brew masters in commercial breweries) to get the alcohol up over 1% alcohol by volume. They are manipulating yeasts, adding large amounts of quickly digestible sugars, aging brews, etc. For a home brewer like yourself, consuming your bottled kombucha within a reasonable time frame (3 to 4 weeks), you can rest assured your brew is at or well under the legal limit of .5%.
Q: Is the alcohol content higher in home brewed kombucha?
A: Both commercial and home brewed kombucha contain trace amounts of alcohol, registering under the legal limit of .5%. There is no detectable difference between the alcohol content in store-bought vs. home brewed kombucha when done in a similar brewing fashion.
To achieve detectable alcohol levels in kombucha it takes highly technical brewing skills (usually brew masters in commercial breweries) to get the alcohol up over 1% alcohol by volume. Youyou can rest assured your brew is at, or very well under, the legal limit of .5%.
Q: I want the pH to be lower. Can I add vinegar? What kind should I use?
A: While you can use vinegar to lower the pH of your brew, only do it as a last resort, as it can damage the culture. Use no more than 1 tablespoon of plain white vinegar.
Q: Is store-bought kombucha pasteurized? I'm concerned about the safety of home brewing.
A: While we cannot guarantee the safety of your home brewed kombucha, it is actually safer than fermenting/canning many other things at home due to its very low pH level. The low pH level of kombucha makes it difficult for any unfriendly organisms to survive in it. Like most hand-crafted kombucha breweries, we feel raw kombucha is best because the raw state is what makes kombucha so healthy to drink—the living bacteria and healthy acids, enzymes, etc would be destroyed upon pasteurization. Very few commercial breweries pasteurize their kombucha, so your home brew set up is no different!
Q: Can I still use your kit if I want to only make half a gallon? What if I want to make 2 gallons?
A: To make less than a gallon, simply reduce each ingredient by the correct ratio. For example, in a half gallon brew you would need 1/2 cup of sugar and 1.5-2 TBSP loose leaf tea.
Your culture/starter tea is not meant for brewing more than 1 gallon. If you'd like to brew larger quantities, we would recommend brewing a 1-gallon batch first. Let this first brew go for a least 12-15 days so the starter tea gets strong enough, and the culture grows large enough, to be able to brew a 2-gallon batch on the next go-around. Then use both the new culture as well as the original culture for your 2-gallon brew.
After your first batch, just double the recipe for two gallons! So you'll need both your cultures, 2 cups of liquid starter tea, 2 cups of sugar, and 6-8 TBSP loose leaf tea.
Q: Can I brew my kombucha for more than 3 weeks?
A: It entirely depends on the temperature. If you can leave the brew jar in a cool location (74 degree or lower) then 3 weeks is totally fine. It will undoubtedly be tart, but you can simply sweeten it back up with sugar/ fruit during the second fermentation.
When you then do the second ferment, we recommend going no more than 3 to 5 days. If your bottles are stored in a warm location, try to keep it closer to 3 to avoid too much carbonation.
Q: Do you recommend the continuous brew method?
A: We don't sell continuous brew equipment actually because many brewers struggle with it. Our friends over at KBBK actually wrote up a great explanation as to why the batch method tends to yield a more consistent brew than with continuous brewing.
Q: There's a big yeast bloom in my brew! Is this safe to drink? Should I strain it out?
A: It's perfectly safe to consume the yeast and scoby bits, although some people choose to strain it out along with fruit/etc after the second fermentation. It all depends on what kind of texture you prefer!
Q: What is the cost per batch using a TKS kit?
A: The only two items you need to purchase after the initial batch are tea and sugar. So the cost of each succeeding batch depends on the quality of those ingredients. The average cost falls somewhere around $1.50/gallon. You can get make it for less, you can make it for more, but that is going to be your average continual cost per gallon of kombucha.
Q: Can I add in fruit or fruit juice during the first fermentation?
A: We do not recommend adding in fruit or fruit juice during the initial fermentation phase. It typically will damage the culture and/or cause mold to grow. If you would like to flavor your kombucha, you should do so during a second fermentation as described here.
Q: Can I use cheesecloth to cover my kombucha brew?
A: We don't recommend using cheesecloth. The holes are actually too porous and allow fruit flies and other airborne contaminants to get in the brew. We recommend cutting up an old t-shirt, or even using a paper towel in a pinch.
Q: I have multiple fermentation projects gong on in my kitchen! Can I brew kombucha in the same room?
A: It's ok to have other fermentations going on in the same room so long as you don't mind non-kombucha yeasts possibly getting in your brew. The main concern is if anything goes awry with your other fermentations, it could cause problems with your kombucha. Small risk, but it's there. If you have enough space, it's not a bad idea to keep fermentations separate from one another.
Q: My scoby seems to be attracting fruit flies. How do I get rid of them?
A: Fruit flies can be a nuisance in the summer. Try making a fruit fly trap: take a small mason jar and fill it a third of the way with apple cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar, white vinegar, etc.). Drop a tiny dollop of soap in, cover with plastic wrap, and take a fork and poke a few small holes in the top. The idea is that the fruit flies go in but can't get back out. If you are having problems with bigger house flies, just make the holes slightly bigger for them. We promise this trap works like a charm!
Q: I have gunk stuck on the sides of my bottles that I can't get off. What should I do?
A: Use a bottle brush! We have one available for sale in the shop. Also try using baking soda and vinegar. Let the bottles soak in warm water and vinegar, add baking soda and use a bottle brush to scrub off any stubborn residue.