When will I know my kombucha is ready to drink/bottle?

A frequently asked question:

  • When will I know my kombucha is ready to drink/bottle?

There are many indicators of kombucha progress, among them: time, taste, effervescence, appearance, mother formation, and pH reading.

Time: as you let your kombucha brew, it will start out as a sweet tea, then become delicious fizzy kombucha, and one it is past due will turn into a flat vinegar. Kombucha brewed at lower temperatures will take longer to brew, and kombucha made with more starter will generally finish early. For more information, see this post on brew duration.

Taste and effervescence: taste your kombucha with a straw so as not to disturb the SCOBY, bottle when the kombucha is slightly too sweet if you're going to let it carbonate sit and carbonate, and don't let your kombucha sit so long as to become disagreeably sour. For more information, see this post on taste-testing brews.

Appearance: When made with black tea, a brew will start off as a reddish-orange hue and take on a pale amber tint when it approaches maturity. Simiarly, green tea takes on a frosty yellow appearance when made into kombucha. Once you get used to gauging the progress of a brew by color, it is a quick was to quickly survey progress.

Variation in kombucha color. From left to right: fresh black tea; kombucha made from black tea ready to be bottled; kombucha made from green tea ready to be bottled.

Mother Formation: In an ideal brew, a new mother will have fully formed on the surface of a brew by the time the liquid has reached peak effervescence and choice flavor. In reality, a fully-formed mother may sometimes appear early; other times, growing a mature mother -- that is, one which is consistently greater than a half-inch in thickness with minimal translucency -- can occasionally take more than one brew cycle to achieve. So it is best to acknowledge mother formation as a reliable indicator of progress, but also keep in mind that it may not be entirely reliable.

pH reading: Since kombucha becomes gradually more acidic as it brews, some people take pH readings of their kombucha to track its progress. There are various resources concerning this practice available, at both HappyHerbalist.com and Organic-Kombucha.com. The general consensus seems to be that sweet tea starts with a pH around 4.0-5.0, and finished kombucha should clock in at just under a pH of 3.0. Personally I don't use this technique because I find it does not account for the sweetness of the brew, but it is a very good way of keeping track of things in a controlled setting.

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