When done correctly, continuous brewing can be a game changer. It can reduce the amount of time and effort involved while increasing the control you have over the brew. It works both for the average home brewer as well as larger commercial brewers.
However, continuous brewing isn’t without its controversies. There are many people who try it and give up after the first or second try. They usually complain that they cannot control the brew, or their kombucha becomes too sour.
Continuous brewing, or CB, is actually very simple. You simply make a large batch of kombucha in a vessel with a spigot, ferment to the desired flavor, and then enjoy. Whatever kombucha you remove you top up with sweet tea.
This is the best way to enjoy as much kombucha as you can drink. You’ll be happy to hear that it’s just as easy (or even easier) than batch brewing.
Continuous Brewing vs. Batch Brewing
Batch brewing is the classic way to get started brewing kombucha. As the name suggests, the kombucha is brewed in batches. Meaning you have to start from scratch every time you want more kombucha.
Continuous brewing, on the other hand, is brewed over a period of months (and sometimes even years.) Once you have the rhythm down, the brewing process is much simpler. You will have a continuous supply of kombucha ready for consumption.
I know some brewers who still prefer the batch method, while others swear by CB. It really comes down to your lifestyle, personal preference, and skill at brewing.
Here are some benefits of batch brewing:
- Inexpensive to get started
- Because the brew time is slower, you usually have more control over your brew. It’s also more forgiving to beginner brewers
- Produces a perfect amount for one person
Cons of batch brewing:
- Slower brewing times
- Won’t produce enough kombucha for more than one drink if consumed daily
- Takes more effort to brew
Here are the pros for continuous brewing:
- Produce lots of kombucha quickly. Meaning it’s great for multiple drinkers or for families
- Less maintenance
- Faster brewing cycles
- Brews a healthier kombucha (more on this below)
Cons for continuous brewing:
- Vessels cost more
- Can be challenging to get the right flavor or prevent the kombucha from becoming to vinegary
- Can be difficult to keep up if you are the only kombucha drinker
The Continuous Brew Controversy
While you’ll find many people who swear by CB, you will likely find just as many people who don’t use it. The main reason is the level of control over the brew.
Some people are particularly sensitive to the caffeine, alcohol, and acid levels in their kombucha. If they are inexperienced with CB, they usually find it difficult to produce a kombucha with the same flavors as the batch method.
They typically find their kombucha turns to “kombucha vinegar” instantly (I address this below.) Or they aren’t able to find the right rhythm to reduce the amount of sugar.
Some also complain that the continuous brew is actually more work! They find they are having the maintain the brew daily, instead of once or twice a week with batch brewing.
In the end, it really just comes down to your specific needs and personal preferences.
Is Continuous Brewing For Me?
The only real downside to the CB method is the extra cost. This leads to many people asking the question:
“If I’m just brewing for myself, should I spend the extra money on CB equipment?”
The answer is absolutely!
It takes less time to get more kombucha. Once you find your rhythm and have everything set up there really isn’t much too it. You are free to consume as much kombucha as you want and top up the vessel when required.
If you are the only one consuming your kombucha, you simply bottle around 50% of the vessel at a time. Once you are a few days away from running out, top up the vessel with a new batch of sweet tea. Because the SCOBY is working with a lot of mature kombucha, the brewing time is only a few days (compared to 7-14 days for batch brewing.)
You can even take what you want from the spigot (say, 1 cup) and then top it up with some sweet tea. This way you have a continuous cycle.
The Case For Continuous Brewing
Continuous brewing is described as the easiest, safest, and healthiest way to brew kombucha. Although it’s a good idea for almost every brewer, it’s perfect for anyone looking to make a lot of kombucha.
The smallest vessel size you’ll want to use is 2-gallons with the most common size being around 2.5-gallons. This means you will be able to cycle through roughly 1 gallon of kombucha every few days.
1 gallon of kombucha every few days!
Want even more? Just use a larger vessel. If you are looking to sell some of you kombucha on the side you will want to look for vessels that are 5-gallons or larger.
Once the kombucha has matured, up to 50% can be harvested. I like to only harvest 1/3 until around the 3rd cycle to ensure the SCOBY is mature enough to handle the faster brewing periods.
It’s important to maintain the balance between the yeast and the bacteria. Therefor, harvesting any more than 50% may result in longer brewing cycles.
Because there is no need to handle the SCOBY between brews, the chance for contamination is greatly reduced.
The CB method also produces healthier kombucha! The problem with batch brewing is if you let the brew sit for too long the acids make the buch too sour to enjoy. But with CB, higher levels of healthy acids, such as gluconic and glucuronic acids, are produced after around 30 days.
Because these acids are cut with fresh kombucha from the added sweet tea, they are able to be consumed without the brew becoming too sour.
Starting Your First Continuous Brew
To keep things simple, we’ll base everything off of the most common size of vessel of CB brewing – 2.5 gallons. Here’s a list of everything you’ll need:
- 4 tablespoons of loose-leaf tea (see this post for tea ideas)
- 2 gallons of filtered water
- 2 cups of raw cane sugar
- 2 full-sized SCOBY
- 3-4 cups of mature kombucha
- 2.5-gallon CB vessel with spigot (here’s more info on vessels)
- Heating wrap (optional)
- Cloth cover with elastic band
The initial stages of the CB process is exactly the same as batch brewing. You prepare your sweet tea and then combine everything in the vessel.
1. Brew The Tea
As with every brewing method, the first step is to prepare your tea. For this recipe, I’m going to assume you are using the conventional black tea. Be sure to look up the correct water temperature and steeping times if you decide to use something a little different.
Heat 8 cups of filtered water to between 200°F and 212°F. A thermometer comes in handy here. If you don’t have a thermometer, heat the water until it is just about to boil. Remove from the heat and add the loose-leaf tea. Let the tea steep for 5 minutes.
Once the tea is steeped, remove the tea leaves.
2. Add The Sugar
Add the full 2-cups of raw cane sugar. Stir the tea until the sugar is completely dissolved.
3. Mix The Remaining Water With The Sweet Tea
Pour the rest of the water into the vessel. Next, pour the sweet tea mixture into the vessel. Be sure not to pour the sweet tea mixture into the vessel first – this creates a risk of the glass vessel cracking.
Test the temperature of the mixture. If it is over 100°F then you’ll need to set the mixture aside until it’s cooled. You can stress the SCOBY if you place it into too hot of a mixture.
4. Add The SCOBY and Starter Liquid
Once the mixture is cool enough, place both SCOBY into the mixture. Make sure you are handling the SCOBY with clean hands.
Pour the mature kombucha on top of the SCOBY. This keeps the top layer of the mixture the right pH level for the SCOBY to thrive. It also protects from any pathogens that may want to set up camp in your buch.
5. Cover and Heat Your Vessel
Cover your vessel with a cloth cover and elastic band. Remember, do not seal your vessel with an airtight lid. Kombucha needs plenty of oxygen during the brewing process – let it breath!
At this stage, you have the option to heat your vessel with a heat wrap, or set it some place warm. You will be able to achieve more optimal temperatures using the heap wrap (75-85°F.) Brewing at this temperature will make the brew go much faster.
If you don’t have a heat wrap, it’s fine just to leave your brew somewhere warm. Usually the best place to put it is on top of your fridge. The fridge will put out heat as it cools the interior – making it a perfect place to brew your kombucha.
Another thing to remember is to keep your vessel away from direct sunlight (unless you’re using an opaque brewing vessel.) Sunlight will have an anti-bacterial effect on your kombucha.
6. Let The Brew Sit
Let the brew sit and ferment for at least 7 days. After day 7, sample the brew from the spigot. If the balance between sweet and sour is where you like it you can move onto the next steps. If not, continue to check every couple of days.
The brew time will be slightly different for everyone depending on temperature and your specific SCOBY.
7. Bottle or Drink Your Kombucha
Once you have reached the flavor you’re seeking you have a few options. You can remove up to 50% of the brew into bottles and continue on with the second ferment. Or you can simply begin to drink the kombucha at your own pace.
Bottling the kombucha will allow you to add flavor and carbonation. You can read more here if you’re not familiar with the bottling process.
Make sure you don’t remove more that 50% of the kombucha!
If you’re not concerned with the extra flavoring or carbonation, you can simply begin drinking the kombucha at your leisure. Just remember to top up the vessel with more sweet tea when the level begins to drop.
The Different Types Of Brewing Cycles
There are a number of different brewing cycles you can play with. This is what makes continuous brewing so advantageous. With CB, you are getting both:
- Flexible brewing schedules
- Faster brewing times
However, it may take a few brews for you to find your rhythm. I’ll describe a few of the common brewing patterns that people have been using so you can find one that works for you!
Maturing The Kombucha
One major difference between batch brewing and CB is the maturity of the kombucha. While batch brewing using a couple cups of mature kombucha, CB uses at least half a gallon. This is the main reason CB is faster than batch brewing.
The secret here is to make sure your kombucha is strong enough to kick-start the brewing process. It takes a little practice to find the right balance between sour and sweet, but after a few brews you will get the taste of things.
When first starting the CB it’s important to leave most of the kombucha in the vessel. I like to only remove a maximum of 1/3 of the vessel. This leaves plenty of kombucha to mature over the next cycle.
After about 3 cycles of only removing 1/3 of the kombucha, the brew will be mature enough to really ramp up the brewing time.
Once you have your mature base, you can begin to remove more kombucha with each brew. I recommend you don’t remove more than 50%, but feel free to experiment if you are feeling adventurous.
If you’re worried about things become too sour, just remember that the new tea will water down the mature kombucha. If things are still too sour, feel free to remove some of the mature kombucha and replace with sweet tea to re-balance things.
Bottle And Refill
This is my favorite method to use with CB. Essentially, you decant the kombucha through the spigot directly into to bottles and refill the vessel immediately.
I view this method as the best of both batch and CB brewing. You still get the carbonation and flavoring from the bottles while maintaining the ease and speed of continuous brewing. It’s easy to gauge how much kombucha you will have for multiple drinkers and plan your brewing schedule accordingly.
Remove up to 50% of the batch through the spigot directly into the bottles (only take 1/3 if you’re working with a young brew.) If you expect to go through this supply within 3-5 days, immediately refill the vessel with fresh sweet tea.
Otherwise, wait to refill until you are 3-5 days out!
It’s also perfectly fine to leave the SCOBY hanging out in the vessel for many weeks. Just like in the SCOBY hotel, SCOBY can survive unfed in mature kombucha for months on end. Just try to keep the vessel at least 1/3 full.
When you are ready to start brewing again taste the kombucha to see if it’s become too sour. If this is the case, drain off some of the kombucha and water down the mixture with your sweet tea. Begin your next batch by topping up the vessel with sweet tea!
Add As You Drink
This is another popular method of CB. When you remove your daily dose of kombucha, refill the vessel with an equal amount of sweet tea. It works best if you keep a container of sweet tea on hand in your fridge. You don’t have to worry about warming it up before you put it in.
This method is great for those who only drink around 1-3 cups of kombucha a day.
The only downside to this method is you’re missing out on the flavoring and carbonation of the second ferment. If you’re an experienced brewer, you can try and flavor the entire vessel. Just make sure to have spare SCOBY in the hotel just in case things go wrong.
Drink And Wait
This final cycle is a combination of the other two. Drink from the vessel when you want and refill the vessel with sweet tea when the level reaches 50%. Similar to add as you drink method, you are missing out on the carbonation and flavoring of the second ferment.
This brewing cycle usually results in a 5-7 day cycle.
How To Avoid Making Kombucha Vinegar
If you are finding your brews are becoming too sour too quickly, remove some of the mature kombucha and replace it with more sweet tea.
In other words, if you’ve decanted 50% of the vessel, try decanting 75% and refilling the vessel with sweet tea.
A kombucha that is too sour means your mature kombucha is too strong and needs to be cut down with sweet tea.
You will also want to look at the size and age of your SCOBY in addition to the temperature you are brewing at. It may be time to trim your SCOBY or increase the brewing temperature.
The fact is, it is possible to brew using the continuous brewing method. It may just take a little more tweaking and experimentation on your end.
How To Maintain Your SCOBY In Continuous Brewing
Whenever the top layer of SCOBY is disturbed, another layer of SCOBY will begin to grow. This is because the yeast and bacteria mixture have been exposed to a fresh source of oxygen.
In batch brewing, this disturbance usually occurs when you are harvesting the kombucha. With CB, because you are taking the kombucha directly from the spigot, it doesn’t create the same disturbance. Therefore, the SCOBY growth is usually slower.
However, if you are taking larger batches and bottling, pouring in the sweet tea mixture usually dislodges the SCOBY. Over time, you may find your SCOBY has grown into a thick stack.
If you let this get out of hand, the thick SCOBY will impede the fermentation process. The best way to avoid this is to do a little SCOBY maintenance.
Cleaning And Resetting The Vessel
When your SCOBY growths too thick (5-6 inches,) or your kombucha becomes overrun with yeast, it’s time to reset the vessel. This involves harvesting the kombucha, removing the SCOBY, cleaning the vessel, and starting a fresh batch.
How often do I need to reset the vessel?
Most brewers tend to reset their vessels about 2-3 times per year. However, it really depends on your specific brewing cycle and the taste of the buch that is being produced. I recommend resetting things at least twice a year.
Reset your CB vessel at least twice a year
Keeping Some Starter Liquid
Before you being the cleaning process, you’ll want to decant at least 4 cups of mature kombucha to be used for starter liquid.
Similar to every other brewing method, CB needs a good amount of starter liquid to set the SCOBY on the right track.
Trimming Your SCOBY
When your SCOBY becomes too thick the flavor profile may start to become too vinegary. You’re going to want to trim down your SCOBY every time you reset your vessel to prevent this from happening.
To trim your SCOBY, simply remove it from the vessel and place it on a cutting board. While holding it down with one hand, run a serrated knife through the SCOBY. You only want to keep a small portion of the SCOBY (no more than 1/2 inch.)
Don’t worry, this won’t harm the SCOBY.
You’re going to want to look for the whitest part of the SCOBY. The older layers of SCOBY will appear more brown due to their increased exposure to tannins. The fresh SCOBY will have a better chance of producing a tastier brew!
If the SCOBY is too large to manage, feel free to trim away any older sections with the knife or a pair of scissors.
You don’t even need to maintain the disc shape of the SCOBY if you don’t want to. As long as you are adding in roughly the same amount as a 1/2 inch disc the SCOBY will form a new layer during the brewing process.
What should you do with the old SCOBY?
You can either return it to the SCOBY hotel, or even eat it if you’re feeling adventurous.
Cleaning The Vessel
It’s a perfect time to clean your vessel when your kombucha and SCOBY have been removed. Make sure to disassemble the spigot during cleaning to remove any bits of SCOBY that may be growing inside.
Some people recommend not using anti-bacterial soap for cleaning kombucha equipment. Frankly, I haven’t really found that it makes a difference. Just ensure you are thoroughly rinsing everything before you start up your next brew.
Some people suggest using vinegar to clean their equipment, but I don’t like exposing my equipment to the potential for vinegar eels so I try to avoid this if possible.