About a year ago I learned how to make kombucha. From the start, I found that flavoring kombucha was really the fun part. Once you make your first batch, you can begin experimenting with kombucha recipes, adding things to enhance the flavor of your brew. By mixing in spices, fruit, syrups, juices, sweeteners and whatever else you like during the second fermentation, you can create seemingly endless varieties of kombucha.
Before you can experiment with flavoring kombucha, you have to make a batch of plain fermented tea. It’s truly an easy process, with just eight necessary items and tools: filtered water, tea leaves, raw sugar, a large pot for warming the water, a spoon for stirring, a strainer to get the tea leaves out, a large brewing vessel (preferably glass or stainless steel) and a SCOBY. This last item is the culture, which will cause your tea to ferment. For complete step-by-step instructions on how to make kombucha at home, check out my previous article on this topic. Once the initial ferment is finished, you have several options.
- You can either drink your kombucha plain and still.
- You can bottle your plain kombucha and let it undergo a second fermentation to get fizzy.
- You can flavor, then bottle your kombucha and enjoy a more interesting and fizzy beverage!
I almost always choose option number three! If you too decide to go this route, I’d like to share with my eight favorite flavor combinations.
Flavoring Kombucha Simply
I’ll start with a simple method because that’s a nice way to begin and often what I come back to when life gets busy. My stepsons love juice, so we often have a bottle of some grape- or cranberry-based juice combination in our fridge. One easy way to give your kombucha a lively splash of color and flavor is to simply pour in a bit of fruit juice. I recommend non-citrus juices like blueberry, cranberry, or grape. Recently I tried a “berry punch” which mixed raspberry, grape, and cranberry juices. I dropped in a few fresh berries and voila … a simple and easy method of flavoring kombucha.
The rest of my favorite flavor combinations really fall into two categories: those that utilize fruit and those based on herbs.
My first fruit combination is a couple of spoons full of blueberries, two tablespoons of maple syrup and a sprinkle of lavender. I use blueberries I picked and froze during the summer so after I let them thaw on the counter for a bit, they are squishy and easily popped with a fork. I mash them up and stir them into the maple syrup. A dash of lavender adds interest to the combination, which I pour through a funnel into my 16-oz brewer’s bottle. Use a chopstick if necessary to push the bigger bits through and into the bottle. Top it off with your plain kombucha, cap it, and set it aside for a few days to go through the second ferment. Use this same method with all the fruit combinations.
Another favorite of mine is several large blackberries and a cinnamon stick. If your blackberries aren’t super sweet, you can add a bit of raw sugar as well. I came up with this idea after once mixing in a bit of my homemade blackberry jam in a pinch. I was in a rush and needed something I could add quickly so I mixed in a couple spoons of the jam that was open in the fridge. I liked the flavor so I came up with this version using less sugar.
My final fruit combo favorite is a mix of berries and mint. I usually go with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries mixed with several leaves of fresh apple mint from the garden. The mint adds dimension to the fruit flavors. Be sure to crush the leaves between your fingers before you drop them into the bottle.
A Note on Using Solids to Flavor
Some people leave their kombucha in the second fermentation for a long time — weeks even — depending on the flavor they enjoy. I would not recommend this if you use solids like whole fruit for flavoring kombucha. I find that three to four days is enough time for the flavors to meld with the kombucha; then I refrigerate mine and drink it within a week or so. I usually use a strainer to remove the solids as I pour my flavored kombucha into a glass before drinking. Often times the fruit has disintegrated quite a bit from being in with the liquid tea, and I find it a more pleasant experience to remove it, but if you enjoy it – drink your kombucha flavorings and all!
I was lucky to move into the former home of a professional herbalist. She had planted a rich and thriving herb garden in our side yard, much of which comes back year after year. Herbs and spices add such dimension to both food and beverages so naturally, I have utilized them in flavoring kombucha.
My first herbal flavor recommendation is lavender, lemon peel, and maple syrup. I planted lavender all across the front of our home because I love the smell of it as you come inside, but I have also found endless lavender uses. I dried loads of the small purple blooms so I have them on hand to add to recipes. For a 16-oz. bottle, I used about a quarter teaspoon. Use a vegetable peeler to slice off a few pieces of lemon peel and finish it with a couple tablespoons of local maple syrup.
Another similar combination that I love is two tablespoons of local honey, a few slices of lemon peel and a couple sprigs of fresh thyme. Somehow this mixture almost tastes like Sprite to me. It’s light and enjoyable on a hot summer day.
A third mix that utilizes fresh herbs is mint, thyme, and sage with a couple slices of lemon peel. I usually use Apple or Spearmint but you can use whatever varieties you have on hand – same with the thyme and sage. Add more mint and thyme than sage because it easily overpowers the others.
Finally, probably my favorite kombucha flavoring of all is simply a cinnamon stick and a couple tablespoons of local honey. I swear it tastes like apple cider after a couple days!
If Want More Bubbles in your Bubbly
The second fermentation is what adds the fizz to your brew. Being locked up in a sealed brewer’s bottle while still fermenting, all the gas is caught and stored so that when you pop the top, you get a natural carbonation. In order to stop the fermentation process, you simply place your bottles in a refrigerator when you’re happy with them.
Natural carbonation will never match what you get in an artificially carbonated soda.
I have, however, learned a few tricks to increase the fizz if that’s what you like. First, fill your bottles to the brim. If there’s no room for the gas to fill at the top of the bottle, it will begin to mix in with your booch from the start. Secondly, if you add flavorings with natural sugar (like very sweet fruit) or additional sweeteners (like honey or maple syrup), you will boost the fermentation by giving the yeasts more to eat. This will result in more bubbles in your bubbly.
Flavoring Adds to the Benefits
Much has been written about kombucha benefits for your health. The drink itself is said to have various wellness boosting effects: aiding digestion, detoxifying the liver, and supporting your immune system, to name a few. Think of all the possibilities that flavorings add to the mix as well!
Cinnamon is high in antioxidants and has been shown to lower triglycerides, which increase your risk for heart disease. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels as well as protecting people who are at risk for diabetes and heart disease. This super spice also improves your brain functioning and may even protect you from Parkinson’s. Read more on health.com.
Lavender, too, contains antioxidants. Health.com claims the purple flowers can aid with digestion, help you relax, and lower your blood pressure.
WebMD lists these possible health benefits of honey: fighting bacteria and pathogens, encouraging healing of skin abrasions and easing a cough.
You could go down the list with each fruit and spice I used, looking at its potential health benefits. Add that to the kombucha benefits already so written about and there’s so much to gain from this delightful drink. So what are you waiting for… get brewing!