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The Slimy Secret Behind Homemade Kombucha

This popular fermented drink relies on a slippery, slimy "mother" to make its magic.

There was a time when the idea of drinking fermented tea with a decidedly vinegary bite would have seemed as odd as downing motor oil, but if you’ve been to a grocery store lately, you know things have definitely changed. Today, it’s not uncommon to see shelves lined with dozens of kombucha flavors. 

Formerly relegated to niche health food markets and crunchy co-ops, this fizzy, slightly sour beverage (made by fermenting sweetened black tea) has become a staple everywhere from chain grocery stores to coffee joints. My kids love it—particularly varieties infused with fruit—and I’m happy to indulge them. In addition to its thirst-quenching tang, the drink contains vitamins and probiotics, which are known to be beneficial for overall gut health. Plus it is much lower in sugar than soda. But at more than $4 a pop, it’s a pretty pricey habit.

The good news is that it’s incredibly easy—and inexpensive—to make kombucha at home. One caveat: In order to ferment the tea, you need something called a SCOBY. (It stands for Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast.) You can get one by mail here—but be prepared for what you’ll see. The cloudy, jelly-like disc looks for all the world like a giant ball of snot—which means it’s just the kind of thing kids will go wild for.

And that gross-looking circle is a powerful natural activator! It feeds on sugar, turning black or green tea into a drink full of antioxidants and probiotics. Some SCOBYs come with starter liquid so you can add it to the first brew, much like you add yogurt to a batch of homemade yogurt to jump-start the cultures. But a commercial bottle of plain kombucha works, too.

Once you get your SCOBY and secure a large glass container (at least one gallon) with a wide, open top, you’re good to go. Call the kids over and get ready to hear “Eww, gross!” just in time for Halloween.

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Get the full recipe here.

Homemade Kombucha

Tired of shelling out almost $5 for a bottle of fizzy, tart kombucha? You can make it at home for much less. You’ll need something called a SCOBY. (It stands for Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast.) You can get one by mail here—but be prepared: The jelly-like disc is a bit slimy—which means kids will love it.

  • Yield: 1 gallon


  • 8 tea bags (unflavored)
  • 1 cup white table sugar
  • 1 SCOBY
  • 1 ½ cups starter liquid
  • 1 gallon glass jar


  1. Step 1

    In a large pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil.

  2. Step 2

    Turn off the heat and add the tea bags. Steep for 7 to 10 minutes, then remove the bags and add the sugar, stirring until it’s completely dissolved.

  3. Step 3

    Pour the tea into the glass container, then add water until the liquid is a few inches from the top. Let cool to room temperature.

  4. Step 4

    Add the SCOBY to the top of the liquid (kids will have fun with this part) and then pour the starter liquid over the SCOBY.

  5. Step 5

    Cover the glass container with a breathable cloth and secure with a rubber band. The kombucha will be ready in 7-15 days (test occasionally with a straw to see when it reaches your desired level of fizz and tartness). Bottle in tightly sealed bottles, adding fresh fruit (cherries or pomegranates are great choices) or ginger, if desired. Store bottled kombucha in the refrigerator. (You can re-use kombucha bottles from the store if they’ve been cleaned thoroughly.)

  6. Step 6

    To make another batch, just reserve a cup of starter liquid and place it in a clean bowl along with the SCOBY. You’ll notice your original SCOBY (“the mother”) probably has a new layer (“the baby”). They can be separated—give the second one to a friend to try their own batch.