Friday, June 01, 2007

Bottling Kombucha

I enjoyed drinking kombucha before I discovered bottling. I have to admit that I tried to make a very small batch every night so that it was usually nice and fresh, without being too old (where it starts to get more vinegary). I had eight 1-qt canning jars lined up in the basement, so that we'd have 2-3 cups fresh kombucha each day.

But when we discovered bottling and aging -- wow, oh wow! -- we really started getting spoiled!

The Frugal Home Brewer is a little shop in downtown Waukesha that sells pint-sized E-Z Cap bottles. The Purple Foot in Milwaukee sells them too, as (I suppose) do many other home-brewing supply stores. Bottles usually sell for a little less than $2/each, but both my stores sell them only in boxes of a dozen.

I have found that it's easier to bottle kombucha in the day, by a window. If I do it in the evening, it helps to have a place where there's a reasonably bright light on the other side of the bottles. If your kombucha is properly ready for bottling, it will be fizzy. When you pour the tea into the bottles, it will fizz up and sometimes overflow. So you want to be able to see through the bottles a bit to know how high the head of foam is getting in your bottle.

I use a funnel to fill the bottles. If the fizzy head is especially significant, you may have to leave the bottles alone for 5 minutes after they're nearly full, to give the head time to "bubble out" and get lower. Thing is, you want the bottles filled into the top of the neck of the bottle. If the tea doesn't come up within an inch of the top, there will be too much air, and that will affect the taste and the carbonation build-up.

We try to let the kombucha age at least 4-5 days after bottling before we drink it. I don't know if that enhances or detracts from the nutrition content, but it sure does make it extra delicious.

On occasion I have run out of bottles when there's tea to be bottled. On other occasions, I have had need of small containers of kombucha (like 4-ouncers). I have discovered that canning jars serve as a sufficient substitute for bottles. When I tried keeping the kombucha in a glass jar in the fridge after it was done fermenting, it seemed that I lost my fizz. So when I need to use canning jars for bottling, I make sure I have small containers: no bigger than pints, and hopefully half-pints. If you fill the jelly jar up to the top (so there's only about 1/8" of air at the top), and if you use a NEW Kerr or Ball lid, and if you screw the band on very tightly, you can get a good tight seal -- enough to keep the air from turning the kombucha to vinegar, and enough to hold in the carbonation. However, I've noticed that the pressure build-up in the jar has bent the metal canning-jar lids. And not by a little bit. So I suspect there's a risk of canning jars exploding from trying this. Whenever I have kombucha aging in the glass jars, I try to get to those bottles/jars first, before I develop a problem with explosions.

When I bottle, I label the bottles with the bottling date. That way I can keep track of what's the earliest I should be drinking from the bottle, as well as making sure that old kombucha doesn't sit in the basement neglected without our realizing how old it is.

We've discovered that it's wise to have a glass nearby when you open a new bottle of kombucha. Sometimes it will spray like a bottle of champagne at the end of the Superbowl. I don't open kombucha bottles in the car anymore, nor over the carpet. It should be at the dining room table or the kitchen counter, with a damp washcloth nearby, and the cup right there to pour into.


  1. hi, susan. i came across this entry because i'm having a difficult time keeping the fizz in my kombucha! i've been using glass jars with tight plastic lids - or "airtight" expanding stoppers, but no dice. i'll try to find home brewing supplies where i live, but i wonder if you have any other thoughts/advice? thanks!

  2. I used to use glass jars with tight lids, but they weren't tight enough to keep in the fizz. When I have more kombucha than I have beer bottles to put it in, and so bottle it in canning jars with new lids, there's still a little fizz, but nothing like there is in the beer bottles with the tight seal.

    If you don't have fizz to start, that could be due to brewing too short, too long, with tap water, or any number of other problem-causers. But if you have fizz, and then lose it over time, I think the solution would be to get a very tight seal.

  3. okay, i'm convinced! i'll go buy some of that grolsch stuff tomorrow!

    thanks, susan.

  4. Hello and thanks for the information - do you refrigerate the bottles for that 4-5 days or leave them out at room temperature?

  5. I leave it at a cool room temperature for the aging. The basement is usually about 55-65, depending on the time of year. I usually leave it out at room temperature to store it to, but it never lasts for more than a month. I've heard that it's better to store it in the fridge after aging, and I would if I knew I weren't going to go through it very fast (and if I weren't already short on space in the refrigerator).

  6. I've been saving glass Lipton tea bottles but found on my first batch that the lids seems to let the fizz escape. Any suggestions?

  7. Mary, bottles like the E-Z Caps (linked above) are the only thing I've found that really works to keep in the fizz. A friend of mine found some of those old flip-top beer bottles at a garage sale and snapped them up. Another friend has some flip-top bottles she had from some upscale root beer she bought several years back. Another friend brought home flip-top beer bottles from his trip to Germany. Wherever or however you get them, there's something really helpful about the narrow neck and the super-tight seal.

  8. Nice post. I just picked up a 12-pack of ez caps. It's been 7 days, but my home is only at 60-65 degrees. So I suspect bottling tomorrow or the following day.

    If the tea is sweet and slightly sour with a bit of fizz, will some of the sugar be converted during aging? I just don't want to bottle barely sweet and mostly sour stuff, which would turn in to vinegar during aging.

  9. Ecclenser, last winter when I was brewing in the basement, where it was about 55, it was taking 12-16 days. This year I've got the kombucha in the warmest & sunniest room of the house, where it runs 64-68 most of winter, and I've been bottling at 8.5 or 9 or sometimes even 9.5 days.

    I honestly don't know if any of the sugar converts during aging. It seems to me --totally unscientifically-- that the main thing the bottling does is change the carbonation. I'm not sure how much it changes the flavor. If I bottle kombucha that's relatively bland, or a little on the sweet side, it comes out bland or a little sweet, but just fizzier. I do think, however, that when I've let the tea go too long, so that it seems a bit more sour than I want to drink plain, the aging makes it more palatable as well as fizzy. I don't know if this helps you any.

    The only thing I'd suggest as for knowing when to bottle (what with the cooler temps) is to check it every morning and every evening by taking just a teaspoon out of your kombucha jar and tasting it. Then, as soon as it starts to move from sweet to vinegary, you can bottle it right quick. Good luck!

  10. I believe that the kombucha is still alive when you bottle it. So, if there is any sugar that hasn't been eaten by the yeast yet, it will eat it in the bottle and produce carbon dioxide, which will add to the fizz. I've heard of some people even adding a little bit of sugar to the bottle when they bottle it to increase the carbonation. Haven't tried it myself yet!


  11. Anonymous#2 posted today with a recipe for kombucha which included a little brown sugar in place of a portion of the white. But the poster also said he/she bottles in 1-liter plastic pop bottles.

    Do not bottle in plastic. Kombucha will leech the toxins out of the plastic. One of my friends was bottling in plastic for a while, and she got sicker and sicker. Eventually she found out that she had elevated amounts of toxins in her body -- the same toxins that are in plastic bottles. She started using glass for her kombucha, and in several months the problem was solved. I try to always drink kombucha out of glass glasses (not plastic, not paper, and certainly not styrofoam), but it's especially important for bottling, where the tea sits in the bottle for days instead of minutes (like in a drinking glass).

  12. Susan, do you know if it makes a difference to bottle in colored glass? A brewing supplier close to me has really pretty cobalt blue SwingTop bottles...

    But just like your post re. leaching toxins out of plastic, I read someone who expressed concern about colored glass doing the same thing. (But i guess ymmv, since there are folks who play music just for their KT! :-)

  13. Oh gosh, Vicki, I never thought about color being a problem as far as toxins. I know I've read that you want to keep kombucha in a darker place. I used to keep my batches brewing in the basement, in a fairly dark spot, with just enough cloth to cover the openings to keep out bugs and dust and stuff. We've moved, and the kombucha just would not brew in the basement -- way too cold down there. So now I've [dorkily] got my brewing jars lined up on the bottom of the bookshelves in the living room. Because of the light in the living room and the big window, I have thin towels big enough to cover the glass jars the kombucha's brewing in. I guess that's part of what was behind my buying the brown bottles instead of the clear.

    The friend who was bottling in plastic (and having health problems because of it) quit using plastic and started bottling in the brown bottles. Her toxin-level went way down. I don't know if it would've gone down more if she were bottling in clear bottles.

    Not much help, am I?

  14. > Not much help, am I?

    LOL. np, I've actually learned a lot from you, thanks! :-)

  15. Hi Susan!

    This is really helpful! I'm getting ready to bottle my first batch of kombucha. It has been aging in a dark room for 16 days now. When should I bottle it? I've heard different things from 20-30 days. I am sterilizing old brown beer bottles as I type. And I bought your standard bottle caps and the little thing to seal them on. I'm really looking forward to not spending $4 per day. Whoo! -Sarah

  16. Hi there, Sarah. Sorry for the long time in getting back to you; I was out of town for a funeral.

    The only time I've let kombucha brew as long as 16 days was when it was really quite too cool in the basement, and it was just poking along very slowly. I usually let it sit for 7-9 days before bottling. Seven days in summer's warmth; nine (and maybe even ten) days when it's chilly in the house, like 60-65 degrees. I think if you let it brew for 20-30 days, you're going to have some pretty sour stuff, and will probably have lost all its fizziness.

    I don't think you need to sterilize the bottles. I've actually heard that it's better not to sterilize them, and not to wash your brewing jar in the dishwasher but to do it by hand in the sink. I'm not sure why. I wonder sometimes if the natural yeasts in the air are better left unkilled??? Nevertheless, for the life of me I can't figure out what harm it would do to use the very hot water to clean them.

  17. Hi Susan:

    I just recently began making my own Kombucha and I think I finally have a batch that will be ready to bottle. I have a few newby questions.
    When will I find the fizz? When I taste the small amount to see if it is ready? Is it OK to use glass bottle with the twist off plastic lids?
    Thank You

  18. Hi Margy. It seems to me that I "find the fizz" when I pour. If I scoop out a little kombucha (say, in a clean gravy ladle or maybe a shot-glass) I will see some tiny little bubbles on the metal ladle or on the sides of the glass. But it doesn't actually look fizzy. Sometimes I can taste a bit of fizz even if I test just half a teaspoon, but it took me a couple of years before I got decent at detecting that. If I pour from the brew-jar into a glass, then I'll notice a head of foam like on beer. Sometimes the head is very thin and goes away in 10-20 seconds; sometimes the head is half the glassful and lasts a while. When I pour the kombucha into the E-Z Cap bottles, that's when I really have to watch for fizz, because the narrow neck of the bottle accentuates the height of the fizzies.

    As far as I know, glass bottles with metal or plastic lids will work, so long as the kombucha isn't in contact with the metal or plastic. Before I had the EZ Caps, I stored my kombucha in a glass jar with a metal twist-off lid; eventually the kombucha began eating into the metal lid a bit. I don't know if that was from "fumes" or from minor splashing now and then. But it certainly gave me respect for how strong it is. That in itself makes me wonder about the safety of using plastic. And yet, when I think about it, the pop-tops on the EZ Caps are plastic, so I guess I'm doing the same thing as you're proposing -- glass bottle with plastic lid.

    The only problem I had with twist-off lids is that I could not get a tight enough seal to develop some really nifty fizz. It worked okay, but my family and I have been much more pleased with the EZ Caps and their ultra-tight seal. (Hey, the way I talk these things up, I should probably go buy stock in their company or something! LOL.)

    My best luck with twist-off lids was when I used canning jar lids and rings (with NEW lids, not recycled ones). But canning jars have much wider mouths than Snapple bottles or whiskey flasks. I have also found, when short of EZ Caps, that the narrow-mouth bottles (even with a twist-off lid) will develop fizz better than a wider-mouth jar with a tighter fitting lid.

    I guess this is a long rambling way for me to say, "If you don't have EZ Caps, try a variety of things till you find which works best for you." I hope my comments on my experiments with different styles of bottles will help you answer your questions as your experiment in your own kitchen.

  19. Thank You very much Susan. Your comment is very helpful. I went to the web site for EZ Caps and did not find the place to order at first glance. I will look again today when I have more time. In the mean time I will use what I have. It is nice to finally start getting moving in the direction of making my own. I only stumbled upon a scoby when I said something to someone in passing one day. Who Knew? Now I have several people watching to "see: how successful I get to give it a try. They will wait a while. YOur post will be one I follow regularly.

  20. Hi Susan:
    So I had some fizz for the first time as I wrote to you and felt the thrill of success. It actually tasted like flat coke. The hint of fizz gone by. I let my bottles sit, well actually one of them since I could not wait another two days and we opened and brgan drinking form one of two.
    I began a second batch using my mother and the new scoby with the tea. On the third day, I had a new scooby forming on top. But on the fourth day I finally learned that I would be able to identify mold. I had been worried about not noticing it. I definitely can.
    I have no idea what happened. Any advice. I will try again in two days. I have no starter. Should I use a tablespoon of Bragg's organic cider vinegar?
    Or see if there is any to be found sold at the store?
    Sorry to bother. YOu have been very helpful and the other sites seem to be filled with experts talking about things beyond new brewing and the "new" folks don't get answered.

  21. I forgot.... Whenever we bought cola in a big bottle we would turn it upside down to keep the carbonation from escaping. Cold this be done with Kombucha bottle witha plastic top?

  22. Hi, Margy. I must've missed your questions while I was at symposium.

    It just clicked what you said about finding a place to buy the EZ Cap bottles. I didn't put the link there as a place to purchase them. I just put the link as a way to show what the bottles I use look like. If you want to buy some, it would be easiest to find a store in your area that caters to home-brewers. If there's nothing available, then you could contact a place like Purple Foot or Frugal Home Brewer and have them ship you a crate. But then you're stuck with shipping costs.

    Sorry to hear about the mold on the one batch. I did that twice. Once was because I forgot to add the fermented tea, and just put the scoby in. Dumb dumb dumb! And yet, I did it again last week when I was in a rush to set my tea to percolating and scoot out to symposium. I came home the next night and added the fermented tea. It may work, but I'm going to be careful. That batch may have to go down the drain. And if not, I will make a note to be sure to use NONE of that batch for starting another batch ... just in case.

    Do you have unspoiled kombucha tea from one of your bottles that you could use as starter? Sometimes I open a bottle to find a tiny little scoby "plug" in the neck of the bottle. It wouldn't be enough to start a full new batch, but you might use a little plug (if you have one) to make a batch that starts with only 3 cups of water and 1 tea bag. That would give you an opportunity to grow a new and bigger scoby.

    I always try to keep a small scrap of mushroom --or an old one-- growing in a coffee mug of kombucha on the counter. I keep it covered with a clean washcloth. That way, if I have a mushroom go bad on me, or if I have a friend who wants a scoby, I've got a back-up. At one point, I had almost everything go bad over the space of month -- due mostly to neglect on my part. So I had to start with small but healthy shrooms in small batches, and separating the new growth from the old scoby underneath, and using both of them for the next round of batches.

    Never tried storing bottled kombucha upside-down.

  23. Hi Susan!
    I've had my kombucha sitting for about 13 days now waiting for it to get just right. There is a bit of fizz, but not a whole lot, and it is still very very sweet and not very sour. ALSO, my scoby never made a baby! What could have happened? It formed a thin layer of goo on top ,but I don't think I can qualify that as another scoby. I was thinking it might be the temperature...the room I had it in isn't the warmest of rooms, but it also isn't so so cool. I think I'm going to bottle what I have with a bit of ginger, and start another batch with the same mother and leave it in my attic which is burning hot. Will that cause more problems too...if the room is too hot?

    Thanks so much!!

  24. Michele, the thin layer of goo on top is growing into a scoby. That's how they start out, usually about halfway through their growth.

    If your kombucha has been going for 13 days and is only about halfway done, I'm wondering if you needed more fermented tea at the start to kick-off your new batch to fermenting. Hey, you aren't using just the scoby to do the fermenting, are you? You need the tea too.

    DON'T put the kombucha in the attic. Attics can get well over 100. One of the good things about kombucha is the enzymes and the probiotics. Both of those will be killed by heat. I don't know if that much heat would interfere with the fermentation (I'm guessing it would) but it would definitely interfere with the good it will do your gut when you drink it. I never leave kombucha in a closed car in summer for that same reason -- like if I take a few bottles with me when I go visit my folks.

  25. Hmm....nope I used fermented tea...I'd say about a cup full, so I don't think that was the problem...unless I should be using more?!

    Okay, I put it into the attic one day, on about day 13, so I don't think that did harm. I won't do it again! I promise! I'm going to start a new batch...I cut off a piece of my kombucha mother, and I am letting it sit in some tea now in another jar and watching it grow...going to add some tea and sugar to it soon...

    Thanks for the advice!

  26. Hi Susan!
    I have a question. How do you know when your SCOBY is too old to use again, and is it possible to split your new SCOBY in two? Thanks

  27. I don't know how to know when a scoby is too old. I don't think I've ever used one more than three times, but I'm sure you can use one longer than that.

    But I do know that you can split the new/baby scoby in two or three. If you can split it horizontally, that's great. You can also tear the new scoby into smaller pieces. Mine are usually 6" in diameter. If I need more scoby-mushrooms, I prefer to take the new one and tear it into 2-4 pieces rather than to keep reusing an old one. But that's my personal preference: some people may prefer reusing old ones.

  28. Hi I just bottled my 1st batch of kombucha and stored it in the cupboard to carbonate it. I found in many of my bottles I have what looks like a baby clear scoby growing on the surface. This does not bother me too much if I am drinking it at home, as I can strain it off. But not so nice one the go or sharing with friends who are a little grossed out. Is there any reason my bottles are growing baby scobies and is there anyway I can prevent it?

  29. I find you get a better carbonation when there's a tiny little scoby growing in your bottle.

    As for preventing it, I found that straining the kombucha as I poured it into the bottles decreased the likelihood of a scoby growing. I would put a tea strainer into my funnel. The fine sieve would snag some of the threads or tiny blobs of scoby that would otherwise make it into the bottles. But then somebody told me that it's not good to use metal on the kombucha. I don't know whether that's true or not. But since that time, just to be on the safe side, I have been tearing too-large scobies instead of cutting them, and I no longer pour my kombucha through a tea strainer. Of course, I still use a metal funnel, so I am not consistent!

    When I have a bottle of kombucha with friends who'd be grossed out, I usually pour the first teaspoon into a glass and dispose of it. That usually will get rid of the blob, but occasionally the scoby won't be floating in the neck of the bottle and may pop out when the bottle is half done.

  30. Do you know if it's possible to can KT?

  31. When you can fruit or veggies or meat, the point is to kill the bacteria and to kill the enzymes. But you want all those good bacteria and all those enzymes in your kombucha tea. I don't know how kombucha is bottled and distributed by companies, but there is RAW kombucha available for sale so there must be a way. But it seems to me that home-canning it would be counter-productive.

    I don't know how long kombucha can sit, bottled and stored in a cool place, and stay good. We usually drink our bottled kombucha within 4-6 weeks, and have occasionally found an old bottle that might be up to 10 weeks old. As far as we know, we haven't experienced a problem with those bottles. But I don't know what's considered safe or reasonable.