Make or Buy? Kombucha

We are avid fans of this fizzy, sour, fermented tea. It hits the spot when the afternoon doldrums set in, and it makes a surprisingly good non-alcoholic option for dinner parties. But at $3 or more a pop for a 16-ounce bottle, we've been pondering the merits of making our own. Any thoughts?For purposes of comparison, we'll use GT's Synergy Kombucha, which is sold at Whole Foods and many other gourmet grocery stores. For the homemade version, we'll follow Cambria's directions for homemade kombucha, using Peapod and Kombucha Brooklyn for prices on the ingredients and Amazon and Kombucha Brooklyn for the equipment.

How to Brew Your Own Kombucha on Re-Nest
Kombucha Brooklyn - A great source for both local New York kombucha and DIY kits

COST BREAKDOWN

GT's Synergy Kombucha (16-oz bottle):
TOTAL: $2.99 (at our local Bay Area Whole Foods)
PER SERVING (8 oz): $1.50

Homemade Kombucha (1 gallon batches)

UPFRONT COSTS:
BRITA pitcher and filter: $21.99
1 gallon glass brewing jar: $15.00
cheesecloth to cover the jar: $3.95
A rubber band to secure the cloth: $0.00
Some bottles to store the finished tea: $10.99 (12 pint-sized canning jars)
1.2 cups kombucha from a previous batch as an acid starter: $2.99 (Synergy Kombucha)
1 kombucha culture, or scoby: $15

RECURRING COSTS:
Kombucha and the culture from previous batches can be used to make the next batch.
4 liters filtered water: $0.00
8 tea bags: $1.39 (Yogi Green Tea from Amazon used for reference here)
1.5 cups white sugar: $0.55

TOTAL UPFRONT: $69.92
TOTAL RECURRING: $1.94
COMBINED TOTAL: $71.86
INITIAL COST PER SERVING: $4.49
PER SERVING AFTER RECOUPING UPFRONT COSTS: $0.12

TIME BREAKDOWN

Much of the time needed to make a batch of kombucha is passive waiting time. The initial steps involve boiling water, steeping the tea for about 20 minutes, and then dissolving the sugar in the warm tea. The kombucha and scoby are added and the covered jar is left in a dark place for about two weeks. After this time, you remove the new scoby and a little kombucha for your next batch and transfer what you're going to drink into jars or bottles. These are left for another few days to carbonate, and you're done!

Once you get the hang of it and see how quickly you drink your way through a gallon batch, we think it would be easy to develop a routine so you always had some kombucha in the fridge and some more brewing in the closet. This would make the wait time seem like, well...not really waiting. So the total time spent on making kombucha would generally be about 30 minutes every few weeks.

CONVENIENCE

Once you got into a routine, brewing your own kombucha definitely seems like it would be easy enough. Pulling a bottle from the fridge is even more convenient than stopping by the store!

The only caveat here is the difficulty factor. Brewing kombucha sounds easy enough when we read about it, but we've also heard from friends that it took several not-so-great (or even failed) batches before they really figured things out. Again, it sounds like there's an upfront time commitment to learning the process and working through a few batches before settling into a regular routine.

TASTINESS AND HEALTHFULNESS

Store-bought kombucha and homemade are probably pretty even in this category. Commercial and artisan kombucha are nearly always made with natural, organic ingredients and can be found in a range of very tasty flavors.

MAKE OR BUY?

If you're a fan of kombucha and drink it with any frequency, we definitely think making your own is a worthwhile endeavor. The upfront costs are relatively minimal for a project like this (and let's be honest, most of us already use water filters and have canning jars sitting around). After that, the savings are clear. The brewing process seems relatively easy, especially once you get the hang of it, and the whole idea just seems very fun to us.

On the other hand, if you only enjoy kombucha on occasion as a special treat, then obviously brewing your own isn't likely to feel as satisfying or significant to you.

OUR VERDICT: Make!

Do you brew your own kombucha? What do you think?

Related: Beer Review: Lambrucha from Vanberg & DeWulf

(Images: GT's and Cambria Bold)

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