How to Brew Kombucha with Coconut Water (Instead of Tea)
Kombucha is most often brewed from black or green sweetened tea. This is because the kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) is adapted to feed of off the nutrients contained in the leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush, the plant from which all non-herbal tea is derived.
Once fermentation is complete, brewers often flavor their kombucha with fruit, herbs, spices etc, sometimes allowing their batch to go through a second ferment without the SCOBY. This is the recommended practice as adding in flavoring to the initial ferment with the SCOBY still in it, can over time damage the culture.
Brewers who are just starting out are encouraged to stick to the second ferment method of flavoring their kombucha and adding variations with fruit juice etc.
If however you have a good amount of brewing cycles under your belt, and a few more SCOBYs in storage than you have need for – then you might want to start experimenting with the some alternative brewing tricks. One of these is termed primary ferment flavoring.
Fermenting Alternative Beverages By Replacing Tea with Something Else
One of the ways to try out primary ferment flavoring is to test fermenting a beverage other than tea. Replacing (or blending) tea with fruit juices is a popular method; some people brew Kombucha from alternative herbal teas (Tisanes) such as mint or berry teas. I have even heard that one can ferment a Kombucha using Sprite.
In this post we are going to show you how to do a first ferment flavoring using coconut water. Coconut water fermented with a kombucha SCOBY makes for a very refreshing bubbly ferment, which carries with it the coconut water flavor. This is very much an experimental brewing technique, but if you have some spare SCOBYs and a desire to try something new, give it a try.
So, now that we have gotten the SCOBY health and safety basics out of the way – let’s proceed to the beautiful drink, coconut water kombucha.
Coconut water versus coconut milk
For those of us who are not versed in coconut terminology, there is a difference between coconut water, and coconut milk. Coconut milk is a creamier substance than coconut water. It is not the liquid that naturally forms in the center of the coconut. Traditionally it is derived from soaking the flesh of the coconut in water, and then squeezing it to remove the oil rich ‘cream’ from the coconut. Canned coconut cream is of course processed via factory methods, but the basic process is probably the same.
Coconut water however is the liquid which comes from the center of the coconut. This is what you need for your brew of coconut kombucha. If you are not lucky enough to be living on a palm fringed isle, canned coconut water can be found in certain super markets and health shops.
Since we are messing about with replacing ingredients such as sugar and tea with something else, here’s a rough brewing guide to sugar types and what happens when you substitute sugar for something else (like coconut water).
Kombucha Sweetner GuideThe complete tabulated guide to flavoring Kombucha through sugar replacement...and the effects of each sweeter on the brewing process. For more information about the types of sugar and Kombucha brewing, please read our Types of Sugar to Use for Brewing Kombucha article.
|Sugar Type||Brewing Time||Amount to Use||Effect on Flavor|
|White Sugar||Temperature dependant – the average brewing time for white sugar kombucha is 7 to 10 days||1 cup to 1 gallon of tea.||White sugar results in regular tasting kombucha, and steady fermentation results. Good levels of carbonation etc.|
|Honey||Shorter than white sugar, apt to sour quickly – 5 to 8 days.||7/8 of a cup to every 1 cup of pure cane sugar.||Can produce light bubbly ferments which carry the flavor of the honey used – citrus, almond, etc.|
|Molasses||Usually longer than white sugar – 7 to 14 days.||Same as that of regular refined sugar: 1 cup to 1 gallon of tea.||Can produce a strong tasting and sometimes slightly bitter brew. The overall taste: malt.|
|Raw Forms of Cane Sugar||Usually longer than white sugar – 7 to 14 days.||Same as that of regular refined sugar: 1 cup to one 1 of tea.||Raw forms of cane sugar can add in a richer flavor profile, but not as intense as that of molasses|
|Evaporated Cane Juice||Very similar to ordinary processed sugar.||Same as that of regular refined sugar: 1 cup to 1 gallon of tea.||Good choice for great tasting ferments and good SCOBY Health|
|Maple Syrup||Similar to that of white sugar – 5 to 8 days||1/2 - 2/3 of a cup to every 1 cup of pure cane sugar.||The taste is – you guessed it! Yummy maple syrup.|
|Agave Syrup||Shorter to that of white sugar – 5 to 7 days||2/3 of a cup to every 1 cup of pure cane sugar.||Can give really nice flavors that hint of caramel|
|Raw Sugar Cane Juice||Slightly longer than that of white sugar - 7 to 10 days||Recommended: Mix with 25% of sugar usually used.||Neutral, similar to regular sugar. Mostly unprocessed and a healthier source of sugar.|
|Coconut water||Often quite a bit shorter than white sugar - 5 to 8 days.||When fermenting coconut water, the naturally occurring sugar acts as the sugar source. You can also aid the fermentation by mixing in 25% of usual amount of sugar.||Coconut water flavored kombucha which has fermented successfully can be a beautifully light and refreshing ferment.|
|Raw Fruit (pureed or diced)||Shorter - 5 days usually.||Fruit replaces the sugar. Use about 1 cup of fruit in lieu of the 1 cup of sugar.||Completely changes the flavor, giving it a strong, fruity flavor with a hint of a fermented bite. This is a good experiment for those who want to try a completely 'natural' combucha|
|Fruit Juice (freshly juiced, store bought, concentrate)||Shorter - 5 to 7 days||The juice replaces the sugar & tea OR is blended with existing tea, but replaces the sugar. Use 1 cup of raw or store-bought fruit juice per 1 cup of sugar. If concentrate, use 50%. Make sure you use double the starter and / or stronger started from a SCOBY hotel.||You get something like a second fermented, but a deeper version due to the longer fermentation time. The flavor will vary depending on the type of juice you use and if you completely replace the tea with the juice or blend the juice. If the later, you get a fruity tasting Kombucha. If the former, you get a fermented fruit juice drink that does NOT taste like Kombucha.|
How to Make Coconut Water Kombucha
The Coconut Water Recipe
Before starting your brew you must choose whether you wish to ferment pure coconut water, or whether you want to include tea in the brew as well.
If you opt for incorporating tea in your coconut water batch, then you have the choice of mixing brewed tea and coconut water, or brewing the tea directly in the coconut water. The presence of tea can help for a successfully ferment and happy SCOBY and the batch will taste sort of like Kombucha tea with a coconut flavor.
If you don’t include tea, you’ll get a more unique (and stronger) flavored brew that won’t taste like regular Kombucha. This would then be ONLY fermented coconut water.
So you have 3 types of Coconut Kombucha brew choices (choose ONE):
1) Coconut Water Only
This one is for the real Kombucha scientists who want to push the limits of what you can do with your SCOBY. Much like Coffee Kombucha or Juice-Based Kombucha, this involves completely replacing the tea base with another liquid, in this case pure coconut water.
Simply add in an equivalent amount of coconut water that you would normally add as tea. So for a a 1 gallon container, you would want about 1/2 to 3/4 of a gallon (about 3 liters). Keep in mind we need to save some space for the Kombucha starter, which we are going to need in abundance to help prevent mold issues and ensure the fermentation takes properly.
If you wish to include a tea blend (makes a more regular, yet exotic tasting Kombucha with hints of coconut), pick one of the following methods below, if not, skip on to the instructions.
2) Coconut Water Infused with Tea
This option involves making tea from coconut water. I find this makes a stronger infusion between the two, rather than just pouring in coconut water into the tea, as per the method below.
Cold Infusion: Place the tea bags or loose leaves into your room temperature coconut water. Leave to soak overnight and use this as your sweat tea base. A cold infusion is recommended as it will preserve more of the beneficial elements of the coconut water.
Hot Infusion: Heat the coconut water and stop it before it reaches boiling point. Insert you tea bags or leaves and let steep. Let the brew cool to room temperature. Note that heating up the coconut water could affect some of the benefits and might alter the taste. However, this may lead to a better ‘infusion’ of both tea and coconut water.
3) Mixing Coconut water and Sweat Tea
If you don’t want to spend the time brewing tea from coconut water (instead of water), you can just add the two liquids together directly.
Brew up your tea as normal, but use enough tea bags or leaves for the volume of water plus that of coconut water. This will ensure that you are getting a good strength of tea. You can also reduce the amount of sugar. If you are doing a 50/50 combo of tea and coconut water, then reduce the sugar by 25%. This ratio is derived from the fact that coconut water contains 50% to 60% less sucrose than standard sweet tea. Once the tea is brewed, combine it with the coconut water when setting up your ferment.
The Process: How to Make Coconut Water Kombucha
Step 1: The Ingredients
- One of your usual kombucha brewing containers, glass jar or whatever you are using.
- IF choosing only to brew with Coconut Water with no tea: Use 2-3 liters if you want to do a gallon batch. If you don’t want to commit to a full gallon brew, then use 3 large cans, which should be about suitable for a half gallon jar. The key is that you want about 1/2 to 3/4 of the container to be full of the coconut water. The rest of the space will be filled with the starter and the SCOBY.
- If choosing to brew Coconut Water with tea: Follow one of the methods above (Coconut Water Infused with Tea or Mixing Coconut Water with Tea) to get your coconut tea blend. You can use black or green tea, either bags or tea leaves. Note that I recommend you go with black tea over green, just because you are using Coconut water and you want to give the SCOBY the easiest to use ingredients since you are radically altering the method of fermentation.
- One healthy SCOBY.
- Starter liquid. You will need enough to equal half of the volume of coconut water. This can be some mature kombucha from one of your previous ferments, but it must be unflavored. At a pinch you can also use some spirit vinegar to get the ph level down. It is very important that you use enough starter liquid and that is strong enough.
- Optional: bamboo straw for tasting.
- Optional: thermometer for temperature recording.
Step 2: Sterilize the brewing vessel with spirit vinegar
Step 3: Combine the coconut water tea or pure coconut water, and starter liquid (if you are including brewed sweet tea now is the time to add that as well) and put the SCOBY into it.
Step 4: Cover the opening securely with a piece of cloth and string/elastic band.
Brewing Time: The timeframe that you should leave your batch of coconut kombucha to ferment for will vary depending on what climate you are in. The lower the temperature the longer it will take. The best thing is to keep testing your brew, and the moment you like the level of sourness and carbonation, you can stop the ferment.
Step 5: When ferment is done, simply bottle and enjoy at this point! Throw the SCOBY out — you don’t want to re-use it as it will be infused with a coconut flavor. However, if you want to try another batch, you can re-use the same SCOBY again. But don’t mix it with your regular SCOBYs.
Step 6: You can try second fermenting, if you wish. Follow the normal second fermentation process (bottle in a sealed container for 1-3 days) to build up carbonation.
As for the SCOBY, if you have a SCOBY hotel for experimental cultures, now would be a good time to give it a holiday there in its usual sweet tea food source.
What to Look Out For:
When fermenting coconut water there is a chance that the SCOBY could develop mold, or that the brew might start to taste ‘off’. Keep a close eye on your ferment. If either of these things happens, chuck out the whole lot, SCOBY and all. As long as you have back up cultures there is no need to hang on to a compromised culture.
Fermenting Kombucha with Alternative Beverages
When fermenting alternative beverages besides tea, the first thing one needs to take into consideration is the fact that the liquid you are going to be using, in this case coconut water, is not going to be an ideal medium for the SCOBY.
1. Make Sure There’s a Sucrose Source
If there is some form of sweetness present, the SCOBY will be able to carry out its process of fermentation, but if the source of sucrose is too complex it might not be able to feed itself properly from it. This is not a big issue, as it will take quite a bit longer than one brew cycle for a kombucha SCOBY to starve.
Your culture breaks down common sucrose (i.e. table sugar) into glucose and fructose molecules, and feeds on those.
So whatever type of sweeter you use it needs to have sucrose (or fructose or glucose) to power the fermentation. This means you can’t put in exotic sweeteners that don’t have some glucose, fructose, or sucrose.
If one makes a few successive ferments with a drink which does not contain a source of sucrose which the SCOBY can easily feed on, starvation will start to happen and you will begin to notice a drop in the vitality of your culture.
Brewing results will deteriorate, the culture will be in a weakened state towards pathogens such as mold or foreign bacteria, and the appearance might change a little. SCOBY growth will also be impaired. If you think that your culture is already in a weakened state, have a look at these articles What Does A Healthy Kombucha SCOBY Look Like? And Top 7 Signs of a Perfectly Healthy Kombucha Brew to help determine if it really is under the weather or if it is merely demonstrating inexplicable SCOBY morphing.
2. Avoid Harmful Substances
The other thing which could influence the SCOBY negatively with regards to fermenting a beverage other than tea, are substance that might be present which the SCOBY does not like. The presence of minerals can damage SCOBYs and weaken them, and natural oils, such as those found in certain herbal teas, can also have a detrimental effect which will bring the health of your culture down.
Again, these substances will very rarely have that large of an effect on your SCOBY after only one brew. But if exposed to high levels of minerals and continual contact with natural oils, the culture will start to lose condition and with that, fermentation ability.
SCOBY Safety Program: Alternative Beverages
Although the above impacts which alternative beverages and additions into the ferment can have on SCOBYs are inevitably if you keep on exposing your culture to them brew after brew, they are quite easily side stepped.
The most important thing before you start experimenting with fermenting juice, coconut water or herbal teas is to have at least one or two additional cultures on hand. This way you can go ahead and brew, and if your culture becomes severely compromised you can merely chuck it out, and fall back on your other ones.
The very best place to store extra cultures is in a SCOBY Hotel. Storing cultures in the fridge is not a good idea, and neither is drying out cultures for later use. For more info check out Why You Should Never Brew Kombucha from Dehydrated SCOBYs and Why You Should Never Put Your SCOBY in the Fridge.
Once you have selected a culture to experiment with and put through a coconut water brew, it is not advisable to place it back into the SCOBY Hotel after the ferment. My advice would be to keep strong backup cultures and experimental cultures in two separate SCOBY Hotels.