How to Flavor Kombucha During the Primary Fermentation: The Ultimate Guide
Typically, most Kombucha guides will tell you to add the extra ‘flavoring’ to your kombucha after the first ferment is finished and you have removed the SCOBY.
But you can instead choose to flavor your Kombucha during the primary fermentation either though a change of ingredients or by adding in extra ingredients to the ferment.
If you have been brewing for awhile, have additional SCOBYs on your hands which you can afford to risk losing, and you feel the urge to start experimenting a bit with some pretty unique flavors – first ferment flavoring can be a powerful brewing technique that will give unique flavors.
Why Flavor During Primary Fermentation?
Because flavoring during the primary ferment can give an altogether different flavor profile to your Kombucha than Secondary Fermentation.
While second ferments usually happen in an anaerobic (sealed container with no oxygen) environment over 1 to 3 days, flavoring during the primary ferment lasts the entire duration of the fermentation process — 7 days to 14 days typically.
This much longer ferment time AND the allowance of oxygen during the fermentation (which mean both the bacteria AND the yeast are working at the same time, compared to mostly just the yeast working during the second ferment) allow a more potent medley of flavors to imbue into the liquid.
Basically, you can get a richer, more powerful flavor from the flavorings soaking into the Kombucha itself.
Interested? Then follow along!
This is our 6,000 word Ultimate Guide on How to Flavor Your Kombucha During the First Ferment. That is, absolutely everything you need to know about flavoring the primary ferment and more.
What To Flavor the First Ferment With?
With first ferment flavoring, you have the opportunity to add ingredients into the initial brew to get a deeper flavor profile, use substitutes sweeteners, or experiment with fermenting an alternative beverage, such as herbal teas, fruit juice, coconut water – you can even ferment a soft drink if you really want to try something different!
First Ferment Flavoring vs Second Ferment Flavoring
The effects of incorporating flavorings into the initial ferment instead of adding them after removing the SCOBY can be subtle and, depending on what you flavor with, powerful, but nevertheless noticeable and unique. If compared, you will probably find that the primary ferment flavored batch of booch will have a far deeper and more powerful flavor profile than one flavored with the same ingredients but which were added after removing the SCOBY.
Second Ferment Flavoring = subtle, complex flavors that still show off the origins of the Kombucha tea flavor.
First Ferment Flavoring = powerful, very stronger flavors that can transform the taste completely
How a First Ferment Flavoring May Impact SCOBY Health
There are three things that may happen to your SCOBY by exposing it to flavorings during the first ferment, using substitute sweeteners, or fermenting alternative beverages such as fruit juice etc can be dangerous for the SCOBY or threaten its vitality or at the very least, impact future brew flavors.
The easiest way to prevent problems below is to simply use an EXTRA Scoby and, after the brew is done, either throw it away or put it in another seperate SCOBY hotel so it’s not in contact with your existing SCOBYs.
Here’s what primary ferment flavorings may do to your SCOBY.
1. Different Sugar May Impact SCOBY Health and Fermentation
The first reason that a SCOBY might suffer from foreign flavorings being added to the initial ferment or from having to ferment an alternative drink such as fruit juice, is that the sugar source might not agree with the culture. SCOBYs are usually accustomed to feeding off of refined white sugar. More complex forms of sucrose can be difficult for the SCOBY to process and absorb. While a SCOBY will not starve from undergoing one brew cycle where the sucrose is difficult to work with, multiple batches where a SCOBY cannot feed off of its usual refined sugar food source can cause it to go into a slight state of starvation. This can impair brewing power and eventually impact the health of the SCOBY severely.
Worst case scenario is that your Kombucha will fail to ferment properly. However, this is unlikely to happen during the first brew cycle, as long as there is a sugar source for your culture to digest. However, subsequent brews may have fermentation problems or not ferment at all.
2. Foreign Substances May Harm the SCOBY
The other thing which can damage a SCOBY when doing primary ferment flavoring are substances which it is not used to, and which can cause it harm in some way. These include minerals and naturals oils. Both can cause harm to a culture. Even hard water can have a negative impact on a SCOBY’s health if it is brewed in it too long. If you have hard water and want to know more about how to circumvent this problem, check out What is the Best Water For Kombucha. Minerals can also be found in fortified fruit juice and coconut water, and in some cases in very small amounts in herbal teas. As for natural oils, these are usually only found in herbal teas and coconut water.
Again, this will likely result in weak fermentations, no fermentation, no SCOBY reproduction, or your SCOBY degrading after a few brews.
3. The Flavorings May Soak Into SCOBY
Another reason why you want to keep your experimental SCOBY isolated from the rest of your SCOBYs is that the flavorings you add to the first ferment may be absorbed into the SCOBY itself. This may throw off the taste of future batches you brew with that SCOBY. This will make it hard to ‘control’ your Kombucha flavoring in the future.
The takeaway here is that you should use a SCOBY that you can toss away after the experiment and not your primary SCOBY. Nor should you try to save the SCOBY and throw it back into the SCOBY hotel (as the extra flavors may impact the other SCOBYs in the hotel or soak into them too).
Before You Start
There are a few things to note before you start the actual experimentation process.
Firstly, when doing primary ferment flavoring, be prepared to lose your SCOBY. Do not decide to try a batch of first ferment flavoring if you do not have at least two or three additional SCOBYs on hand in your SCOBY Hotel.
1. Use a Spare SCOBY from your SCOBY Hotel
As long as your have backup cultures you can experiment away, and if you do happen to lose a culture to mold, or have one decline in health to the point where you just feel like chucking it, it is not a problem because you have other cultures in storage to use for your next brew.
2. Use a Kombucha Diaries to Record Experimentation Data
Another great thing to do, again particularly if you are keen to do some brewery experimentation, is to keep a fermentation diary. Here you can jot down ingredient changes which you make, temperatures, and fermentation rates of batches.
This is a really wonderful tool to track how your SCOBYs respond to different ingredients, how the temperature affects brewing, and might help to straighten out any brewing anomalies. While a brewing diary might sound like it could be time consuming and a bit of a chore, all it has to be is a jot down of changes, temps, results, etc, with the date. A batch number can also be helpful if you are looking back later to identify the start of a problem or phenomena.
If you are keen to start a Booch Diary, just lay a blank notebook and pen down next to your fermentation set up. Picking it up and recording will then be just a moment’s work.
How to Flavor Your Kombucha in the First Ferment (8 Different Ways)
There are at least 8 completely different ways to uniquely flavor your Kombucha during the primary ferment. I’ve listed these off as separate because each on does provide a different tasting Kombucha, and in some cases a radically different tasting Kombucha.
- Adjusting the Type of Sugar
- Replacing the Sugar with Fruit
- Using Different Types of Tea from the Tea Family: green, black, white, Pu-erh tea, or one of the thousands of sub varieties of tea.
- Blending the Tea with a Tisane
- Blending the Tea with Juice
- Replacing Tea with Juice (or something else)
- Adding Dry Hops to Kombucha
- Adding in Extra Flavorings
In addition to these ingredient variables above, you can also change the flavor profile by adjusting the Fermentation Length & Brewing Temperatures which will have a significant impact on the overall taste and sweetness of the final product.
Chart of First Ferment Flavor Methods & Brewing Variables
|Method of Flavoring First Ferment||Flavor Impact||SCOBY Impact||Brewing Difficulty|
|Use Different Teas||very low - low||very low||very easy|
|Use Different Sugar Types/ Sources||medium -high||medium||very easy - easy - medium|
|Blending Tea with a Tisane / Herbal Tea||low - medium||medium - high||easy - medium|
|Replacing Sugar with Fruit||medium - high||low||medium|
|Blending Tea with Juice||medium - high||medium||medium|
|Replacing Tea with Juice||high - very high||high||medium - hard|
|Adding in Hops||low - medium||low||medium|
|Adding in Extra Flavorings (herbs, spices, essential oils, flowers)||low - high||low - medium||easy - medium|
|Flavor Impact: How much flavor change over regular 'black tea fermented kombucha'||*SCOBY Impact: how it affects SCOBY health over several brews||*Difficulty: how likely it is for the fermentation to fail or experience problems|
1. Adjust the Type of Sugar
Using an alternative type of sugar can change the flavor of your ferment from slightly to quite noticeably, depending on the sugar type you use.
This can be doing something as simple and minimally flavor-impacting as changing from a white refined sugar to cane sugar, to something more flavor impacting like moving to a minimally processed sugars like Muscovado, Demerara, & Turbinado. You can also try out sugars sourced from fruits like Date Sugar or Coconut Sugar, which may have even more of an impact.
Switching to another (very different) liquid sugar source completely like Honey, Molasses, Maple Syrup may radically alter the final flavor of your Kombucha.
Some people wish to incorporate the additional health benefits that some sweeteners bring. Others merely wish to capture the special taste. Here are some examples of alternative sweeteners which you can use.
- Maple Syrup: Maple syrup makes for a really delicious tasting booch. While quite costly, you do not need to use as much as with sugar. Substitute about 1:2 to 3:4 ratio of maple syrup to sugar. See our guide How to Brew Kombucha with Maple Syrup for a full guide.
- Honey:Honey is another health giving sweetener which can produce some lovely flavors. Most honeys have a unique taste particular to the flower nectar(s) from which they come. These will often come through into your brew. Using honey usually makes for a shorter brew cycle, and you will need slightly less than sugar. After fermentation, it can be a good idea to put it straight into the fridge. A second ferment in a brew which has been made with honey can often go sour very quickly, so keep tabs and cut the second ferment short if you really want to do one. Read our guide on How to Brew Kombucha with Honey for the full guide.
- Raw, Minimally Processed Can Sugars: Raw forms of cane sugar such as musocavado, turbnino, sucanet, piloncillo, demarara can also be used to alter the flavor profile. Each of these will make a different tasting kombucha with stronger levels flavors, and a usually a darker texture. See our guide to the best types of sugars.
- Sugar Cain Juice: You can also use pure sugar cane juice, if you have it. This is what most common table sugar is derived from through various processes (such as evaporating the cane juice for the resulting sugar crystals). You can indeed make a fine, powerful tasting Sugar Cane Kombucha by using this instead of sugar. Replace the sugar in about equal amounts.
- Fruit-Derrieved Sugars: Fruit sugars such as Date Sugar, Coconut Sugar, or liquid Sugar Cain Juice can also be used instead of sugar with significant flavor differences in the end products
- Molasses: Molasses is the darkest form of cane derived sweetener. It has a high mineral content, which can be difficult for the SCOBY to process. It also has a strong and distinctive flavor. For a happy compromise it can be nice to use a sugar/molasses combo, enough so that the flavor does come through, but not so much that it is overpowering. This also makes for an easier job for your SCOBY. Read our guided on how to brew Kombucha with Molasses for more info.
- Agave: Agave, a popular sweetener used a lot in the place of sugar can also be used for kombucha brewing. Agave is a fructose high sweetener which does not contain much glucose. The low level of glucose can inhibit the SCOBY, as it is used to feeding on sucrose which is a combination of fructose AND glucose (sucrose = fructose + glucose). What can also happen with agave syrup is that the brew can sour quicker. To help prevent this, use about half of the volume of agave as that of sugar for your brew. Read our guide on how to brew with Agave.
- Coconut Water: Coconut water (which includes sugar in it) can be used to make a light, fizzy and unusual kombucha. Use it in place of water when making your sweet tea. You can do a cold infusion with tea rather than boiling, to preserve the health benefits of the coconut water. This is an advanced brewing tactic and we list it under one of the main categories ‘Replacing Tea with Juice’.
- Fruit: The last sugar substitute is that of using raw or dried fruit to sweeten your tea base instead of sugar. This is a very experimental brewing technique, can often hit a fermentation pitfall such as mold, but can yield some really superb, fresh-tasting ferments. This is also one of the main categories in flavoring the primary fermentation. Read #2 below for detailed guidelines on how to successfully carry out a fruit substitution.
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.
2. Substitute Sugar with Fruit
When substituting fruit into your kombucha to replace the required sugar, there are a few ways which you can go about this, depending on what you have available, what flavor you want and what is most convenient.
How to Substitute Fruit for Sugar in the Kombucha First Ferment
In place of sugar, you can substitute the following:
- Fruit juice, mixed into plain unsweetened tea. The best way to determine how much fruit juice to use is to taste a sample of the sweet tea which you usually make for your kombucha. Then taste your fruit juice and plain tea combo, and if needed add in juice until it reaches approximately the same level of sweetness as your normal sweet tea.
- Coconut water can also be used instead of water for brewing the sweet tea. Because the coconut water contains glucose, nothing more needs to be added beside the tea leaves or bags. The tea can then be brewed in the coconut water either by heat, or via a cold brewing process to preserve the properties of the coconut water.
- Pureed Fresh Fruit: You can mix in pureed fruit to the brew to make it sweet and provide flavoring from the fruit. To determine how much to add you will have to taste the mixture and make an estimate.
- Dried Fruit: You can mix dried fruit into the tea. This provides more sugar per weight than fresh fruit. The best is to chop up the dried fruit and soak it in the tea overnight. This will release some of the fruit sugars into the tea before the SCOBY is added. You can also taste the batch to see if you think it is sweet enough. Some more sugar will be released as the dried fruit pieces continue to soak, but it should already be at a decent level of sweetness after the overnight soak.
- Cut Up Fresh Fruit: You can also use chopped up fresh fruit. You will need to use more fruit to get enough fructose into the tea for the SCOBY to feed on than when using pureed fruit. However this method imparts a more delicate fruit taste into the tea than when using pureed fruit, because the flavors infuse out rather being ‘mushed’ into the tea.
The process of substituting is exactly the same. Simply replace that sugar source with the substituted fruit (in whatever ratio’s we’ve suggested) and brew your Kombucha as normal — nothing else over the basic Kombucha recipe changes.
Note the following:
- Use about 1.5 to 2 cups of fresh fruit substituted for 1 cup of sugar
- 1 Cup of fruit juice concentrate substituted for 1 cup of sugar
- 1 Cup of fruit puree substituted for 1 cup of sugar.
- Make sure you brew a stronger tea (double the amount of tea you normally use) which will help balance out the stronger fruit flavor
- Use stronger starter — Kombucha starter from your SCOBY hotel (if you have one) or double the amount of regular start you use. This helps prevent mold.
- You may have issues with you SCOBY reproducing during fermentation or problems with long term brewing
- Do not put the SCOBY back into your SCOBY hotel if you mix in fruit or you may experience flavor issues with your other SCOBYs.
You can read our full guide How to Brew Kombucha with Fruit Instead of Suga for even more information on this process.
3. Substitute Tea With Juice
A fun and easy way to flavor the primary ferment in a big way is to substitute the sweet tea, with fruit juice. There are two methods here: completely replace the tea with juice (or another liquid) or blend the tea with juice (or again, something else).
Completely substituting the tea with juice will result in a radically different fermented product that won’t taste like the typical Kombucha (there won’t be tea in it). However, you can get some surprisingly delicious results. Yes, the SCOBY can still ferment in liquids non-tea, though the culture will struggle and the brew may turn sour much quicker than regular kombucha.
Meothod 1: Completely Substitute Tea with Juice
Simply use exactly the same volume of juice as for a regular batch of kombucha, but add more starter liquid (I recommend about double the amount OR use very old, very strong Kombucha starter from your Kombucha Hotel). Why use more kombucha starter than usual?
Because when you substitute the tea for juice, you are depriving the SCOBY culture the nutrients the tea provides. This means the fermentation may struggle and the culture might not, at least during the first few days, be able to resist other cultures from taking hold, such as mold.
So making sure that the liquid is nice and acidic from the get go protects it from any invaders, and helps to get fermentation going.
Juice Substitution Ideas
Here are some juice ideas:
- Coconut water – makes a refreshing, slightly fermented kombucha coconut water. A bit similar to water kefir at this point, though with an effervescent coconut flavofr.
- Orange Juice — yes, this works and it’s pretty damn good
- Apple juice
- Pear juice
- Mango juice
- Prune juice
- Orange juice
- Lemon juice mixed with water and sugar – or some other sweetener
- Grape juice
If you really want to try something different, you can even use non-juice liquids:
- Coffee – you can replace the tea with coffee, which is called Kufucha or Coffee Kombucha
- Mountain Dew or Sprite – yes, you can actually do a ferment of a soda pop, though the result is…interesting
- Milk – I’ve heard people have tried fermenting milk with Kombucha and something happens, giving a sort of bland kefir result, but I’ve not tried it personally
The fruit juices in the list above are merely ones which are readily available and affordable in most places. If you have something else in mind – try it out! That is what flavoring the primary ferment is all about, experimenting and coming out with a flavor nobody else has.
Method 2: Blend Tea with Juice
This gives you a more typical flavored kombucha end product — one that tastes like Kombucha tea, but fruity — much like after the second ferment. However, the flavors may be much stronger due to the flavors penetrating the tea for much longer than when you add juice during the second ferment (7-14 days versus 2-3 days). Mixing tea with juice also ensures the SCOBY culture is healthier as the tea, though lessened, is still present while the sugar in the juice feeds the yeast. There is less of a chance of the brew turning sour or mold taking root in the culture.
Note that if you blend tea with juice, you’ll want to brew a stronger tea then normal to balance out the flavor. I recommend steeping your tea longer when making it AND using double the tea quantity than regular.
How to Do It
Simply blend the sweet tea with juice and pour the mix into your fermentation vessel, adding in the SCOBY and putting a cloth covering over the top. You can blend the tea with juice in whatever ratio you wish. The less tea and more juice, the stronger the resulting flavor will be.
- 70% juice / 30% tea – gives a strong fruity fermented product with a hint of tea. This is primary just to give the culture enough tea to get some nutrients from.
- 50% juice / 50% tea – a strong fruity flavor, yet still hints of tea
- 30% juice / 70% tea – gives a more typical ‘second ferment’ flavored kombucha, though the longer fermentation time will deliver a stronger flavor than if you did the same thing but in the second ferment.
4. Use a Different Tea
An easy, beginner-friendly way to ‘flavor’ your Kombucha differently is to simply brew your Kombucha with a different tea. Green Tea Kombucha tastes slightly different than Black Tea Kombucha. White Tea Kombucha tastes a bit different than Oolong Tea Kombucha. There are thousands of tea varieties that falling under the main 4 tea categories – black, green, white, and Pu-erh teas.
Here are some quick flavor tips for using different teas:
- If you are used to brewing with tea bags, move to loose leaf tea. This will make a subtle flavor difference.
- Try different kinds of tea. Try white tea, Pu-erh tea, Oolong Tea, and more. Remember, just because you use ONE variety of tea does not mean you’ve experienced the full range of flavors you can find under that tea category. China, for example, has thousands of varieties of tea, and many taste very different.
- Using a high quality, loose leaf premium tea will make a difference in your flavor (for the better!). And trying out different kinds of tea will also make a significant flavor difference.
- For additional flavor combinations, try blending different tea types together. A good mix is 70 percent black and 30 percent green, though you can easily change this ratio to something different or switch tea types.
5. Use Herbal Tea / Tisane
This actually a popular method to get new flavors which many brewers might use without knowing that they are ‘flavoring the primary ferment’.
The word tea actually only means tea which is made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. All other ‘herbal teas’ are actually tisanes or infusions. Whatever you want to call them, these teas, tisanes, or infusions, can impart lovely flavors to your kombucha.
These herbal beverages can, to varying degrees, impact the health of your SCOBY. Herbal teas do not have the nutrients which SCOBYs use, and many of them contain natural oils which are harmful to the cultures. That is why primary ferment flavoring experiments are for those brewers who have some experience and some extra SCOBYs.
You can either REPLACE the regular tea completely with a herbal tea / tisane OR you can blend the herbal tea with regular tea (which tends to keep the SCOBY much healthier, especially if you plane on doing this over many brew cycles and not just a one off). We cover both methods below.
Brewing with herbal tea does not usually cause immediate fermentation or SCOBY problems, so you should be ok. After fermentation, if you want to rest your culture, place it into you Experimental SCOBY Hotel. : )
Here are some herbal tea / tisane suggestions to get you going:
- Apple mint
- Lemon grass
- Lemon balm
- Rooibos (makes a particularly good Kombucha tea)
1. Replace Tea with Herbal Tea in Kombucha Brewing
Replacing your regular tea completely with a herbal tea will create a more unique end product that might not taste like your regular Kombucha brewed from tea. And this is why you might want to try it. You may get a very ‘unkombucha’ flavored kombucha!
In order to make a kombucha batch from herbal tea of your choice, merely make up a brew as you would with ordinary tea.
- Add in the sweetener of your choice, whether that is ordinary sugar, or a substitute (note we recommend a regular sugar like white refined sugar, since you are already making it difficult for the SCOBY by switching tea with a herbal tea).
- Insert your SCOBY, seal up, and watch the batch as usual.
- The fermentation may take longer than usual and you may not get a new SCOBY forming — this is normal in this situation.
Note: At the first sight of mold, or the first sniff of any kind of funny smell, we would advise you ditch the ferment and either try it again, or move on to a different experiment.
2. Mixed with Regular Tea
Quite a good way to achieve consistent good quality ferments while flavoring with herbal teas is to do a normal tea and herbal tea combo. You get a more standard tasting Kombucha flavor, though with a hint of something else. Additionally, the SCOBY will do much better health wise and you may get a stronger ferment from it. If you want to keep your SCOBY and not toss it away after, then mixing in tea with a herbal tea is the best method, though the end product won’t be as unique tasting as if you replaced the tea completely.
You can adjust the ratios to your liking, and come up with some lovely brews, which have fermented in a nice predictable way due to the presence of normal tea. Of course you must still keep tabs on the ferments, but with the best of both worlds approach you might even be able to do quite a few successive brews before the culture needs to be put on holiday in its hotel. If however the herbal tea which you have been using happens to contain natural oils, then damage might be such that you just want to retire that culture and keep on with a fresh healthy one.
6. Add Hops
Another interesting and experimental way to flavor the primary ferment is to add hops to your kombucha.
Yes, we are talking about the same hops you add to beer! Hops are the flowers of the hop plant (called Humulus lupulus) and are used primary for beer brewing as flavoring and stabilizing agent. But it’s also used to make teas as well. Hops also makes a fine Kombucha and I highly recommend you try it.
You have two choices when it comes to brewing Kombucha with hops: Dry Hopping or Non-Dry Hopping.
The Dry Hop Kombucha Method
The way this is done is termed ‘dry hopping’ in beer brewing terminology. When brewing beer, usually the hops is added in during the boiling process (for us kombucha heads that would be when we are steeping the tea leave or bags). With dry hopping however, the hops is added in after the heating stage when the liquid has cooled. This allows for a milder, fresher, more floral and less bitter flavoring. This is my preferred method and I feel the end result gives a remarkably delicious, floral-flavored Kombucha that’s reminiscent of a good craft beer, with far less alcohol.
The Non-Dry Hop Kombucha Method
If you really want to experiment, you can choose not to dry hop and add hops during your tea-making while you boil the water. This will impact the flavor profile and give a different end flavor to the kombucha vs the dry hopping method above. It will be stronger and more bitter, which you might like.
If you want to use hops to flavor your primary ferment, merely add in some flowers to the brew while it is fermenting. You can start off with approximately 12 grams of whole cone hops to one gallon of kombucha. After fermentation is complete, you can decide if that is the strength that you like.
Hops can also be used in second ferment flavoring quite successfully instead of the first ferment flavoring, if you want to experiment with that instead.
7. Add Extra Flavorings
Another way to flavor the primary ferment is to add ingredients directly into a brewing batch of regular kombucha. Merely make the batch as usual, and add in your additional flavor ingredient into the sweet tea.
Go easy at first, as you do not want the flavor to be overpowering, or for the extra ingredient to wreak havoc with your ferment.
The list of what all you can add in is almost endless, but here are some ideas of the different types of things which you can use, just to get you going:
- Dried herbs
- Fresh herbs
- Flavoring extracts
- Edible flowers (jasmine, hibiscus etc)
The flavor profile can be minimal to overpowering, depending on what sort of ingredients you add in. Note that if you add something powerful like dried spices or flavor extracts, you are best off tossing your SCOBY away after you complete the batch. The flavorings will penetrate the SCOBY and impact any other brews (or SCOBYs) that come in contact with it.
8. Adjust the Fermentation time
Adjusting fermentation time is another way you can manipulate the flavor of your kombucha. It’s part of the regular brewing process, but it’s so impacting to the flavor of your end result that I had to mention it.
In terms of controlling the fermentation time, there are multiple ways you can do this, such as adjusting the level of yeast, the ratio of yeast to bacteria, adjusting the sugar & tea, and more. But, outside of these variables, you can also control the brewing temperature in the room and the time you let the Kombucha ferment.
Usually when brewing in warm or cold climates we try to place of brews in spots where they have a middle range of temperatures. The middle band of temps between 69-71o Fahrenheit (21-22o Celsius) and 82-84o Fahrenheit (28-29o Celsius) are the most conducive for steady fermentation results, and the correct balance between the yeast contingent and the bacteria component of the SCOBY.
However, making use of the opportunity to extend your fermentation time in cold temps, and shorten it in warm can manipulate the flavor of your kombucha. Overall, super long ferments in cool climates usually result in richer and subtler flavors. Shorter ferments in warm weather most often result in ‘surface level’ and lighter flavors.
Primary Ferment How To Guidelines
Above we went into the 8 different methods of flavoring your primary ferment. Here are some loose ‘rule of thumb’ guidelines on how to implement these ingredients and techniques given above. They have been divided up into two categories, the addition of flavorings, and the fermenting of an alternative beverage.
Adding in Flavorings
If you are wanting to do an initial ferment flavoring – you can use the following GENERAL guidelines.
How to Do It:
- Assemble your brewing items as usual – brewing vessel, tea making items, starter liquid etc.
- Make your batch of sweet tea, assuming you are not replacing tea with a juice. If you want to use spices, herbs, or flowers as your flavoring, you can add these into the hot tea. This way they will draw out flavor from the spices, and you might not have to use as much.
- Let the tea cool to room temperature.
- Combine all ingredients into your brewing vessel. Make sure that you are maintaining a starter liquid to tea ratio of 1:2.
- The Flavorings
- If you are wanting to add in fruit for the flavoring agent, you should chop them up finely. This will help the fruit to release as much flavor as possible. Make sure to brew a STRONGER tea than usual to help keep the end tea result balanced. I recommend adding in double the usual amount of tea if using fruit or fruit juice in replacement of tea.
- If using an alternative sugar source like molasses or maple syrup, make sure you are using the right ratios given (i.e. how much in place of a cup of sugar to use per gallon).
- If you are adding something like dry hops, you can add them in at the same time you add in the sugar
- Securely cover the top of the fermentation vessel with a piece of cloth and a piece of string or a rubber band.
- Keep a CLOSE eye on the fermentation process. When adding in additional flavorings or changing the sugar source, the fermentation may occur quicker OR slower than usual, depending. I recommend looking and tasting the ferment after 4 or 5 days to gauge how the process is going. You should be able to tell at this point if things are coming along or not. In some cases (such as using fruit in the primary ferment), the fermentation may be done quicker and the Kombucha will turn sour before a week is done.
- Leave to ferment, but keep an eye on things and check the surface of the SCOBY for mold.
A Note About Increased Risk of Mold with Primary Ferment Flavoring
Messing around with alternative sugar sources, replacing tea with juice (or mixing tea with juice), or replacing teas with herbal teas can and WILL affect your SCOBY health and the ratio of yeast to bacteria in your brew. This increases the risk of a mold infestation in your brew. SO keep this in mind. Many of these techniques are experimental and I don’t recommend you start off trying them until you are well seasoned in brewing regular Kombucha.
How to Tell If Mold Forms?
Mold shows itself via small furry looking dry spots on the top of the culture. Mold will not be able to grow under the surface of the tea. If you see spots that are submerged, then they are probably not mold. SCOBYs are capable of a lot of different appearances, and can sometimes take on the weirdest looking effects, such as lumps, bumps, spot and holes.
Most often these are nothing to worry about and are just the SCOBY doing its thing. But if you are adding in fruit or other flavorings to the ferment, it is a good thing to keep checking and making sure that there is no mold in your brew. For some assistance on identifying what is actually mold, read this post The Ultimate Guide to Figuring Out if Your Kombucha SCOBY Has Mold (or NOT)
Fermenting a New Beverage
How to Do it:
If you are feeling the urge to try out fermenting a totally new beverage such tea, a certain fruit juice or juice blend, or coconut water, then follow these guidelines:
- Assemble your brewing items as usual – brewing vessel, juice or beverage of choice, starter liquid etc.
- Combine all ingredients into your brewing vessel. Make sure that you are maintaining a starter liquid to juice/herbal tea/coconut water ration of 1:2. Also make sure that the starter liquid which you are using is of adequate strength. What can happen to brewers who prefer their kombucha on the sweet side and harvest early to prevent batches from getting too sour is that the starter liquid which they then set aside and use is not strong enough to get their new batch to the right level of acidity.
- Securely cover the top of the fermentation vessel with a piece of cloth with a piece of string or a rubber band.
Now leave your new exciting fermentation to do its thing. But as I said above, keep on checking it to make sure that fermentation is on the go and that no mold has jumped in. Don’t let the mold thing keep you up at night, the reason why I am emphasizing it is because one would rather want to spot it at the word go. Although mold is a possibility when doing primary ferment flavoring, is does not mean that it will definitely occur, especially if you add in enough starter liquid and have a strong culture to begin with.
To further keep away and chances of mold or foreign bacteria, following the SCOBY care guidelines outlined earlier, and you should be golden!
How to Brew a First Ferment Flavored Kombucha While Still Keep Your SCOBY
Once you have enough SCOBYs, and want to try primary ferment flavoring, there are ways that you can keep up the health of the culture with which you want to do the brewing. There is always the chance that you might lose a culture, or its vitality might drop and you do not feel like reviving it. Just be sure to have other SCOBYs on hand, and if this does happen it’s not a problem.
You may not want to toss away your experimental SCOBY used for first ferment flavorings, especially if you don’t have too many extra SCOBYs to spare. If this is the case, you can save it. Here are two ways to do so without impacting your regular SCOBYs.
1. Have a Designated Experimental SCOBY Hotel
When experimenting and carrying out primary fermentations, it is a good idea to have a designated SCOBY Hotel for the cultures which are being exposed to the alternative ingredients and the additional flavorings. This way any flavors or substances which they absorb will not be passed on to the regular SCOBY Hotel, its tea (which you can use as potent starter liquid!) or the cultures in it.
2. Alternate Brews
Otherwise, if you want to alternate your first ferment flavored brews with ordinary ones in black tea, then this is also a good time for the SCOBY to recuperate and perhaps see how the SCOBY recovers after your experiment.
You might find that a one-on one-off system where you are alternating a first ferment batch with a regular batch does not give the culture enough time to normalize and boost its vitality. If this is the case, then you will need to either swap out SCOBYs from your SCOBY Hotel, or do more than one regular brew with black tea in between the ones where you are flavoring in the initial ferment. Be prepared however that the regular brew might have some fermentation niggles because of the culture being low in vitality. There is also a possibility that the brew might yield a hint of the taste of the previous flavored brew.
Either way, a good habit, especially when doing a first ferment flavoring or experimenting with fermenting different teas and beverages, is too inspect your SCOBY regularly. This way you can keep tabs on any changes in the culture, its appearance and its brewing power.
Can you Still Do a Second Ferment
If you still want to do a second ferment of your flavored primary ferment, you still can. The difference here is your Kombucha already has flavoring. To second ferment it, simply remove the SCOBY (placing it into your experimental SCOBY hotel or throwing it away), and pour your finished flavored kombucha into sealed bottles and let sit for 1 to 3 days; they will build up carbonation as normal. For an ‘extra’ boost, you can put a bit of ‘sugar’ into the second ferment bottle, though depending on how much sugar is still in the kombucha, it may not need such.
Again, I can only provide a rule of thumb guide — you’ll have to experiment.
The Final Word
I’ve walked you through the entire process of flavoring the first ferment. At this point, it’s up to you to have fun and experiment.
Experimenting and pushing the fermentation boundaries can be a whole lot of fun, and result in some pretty awesome and unique finished ferments, well worth boasting about! If you are fermenting fruit juice or coconut water, the added benefit is that the fermentation acts as a preserving process which can keep a fresh juice alive and health giving for longer!