The Secondary Fermentation: Hippie Jargon for “Put Kombucha in a Bottle”

Updated 09/19/17

During my fermentation workshops, I give students samples of my various kombucha flavors before I put them to work. They always ask for the recipes so I thought I better get to it and post a bunch.

Before you can flavor kombucha, you must first brew a batch and wait for it to ferment. You can find kombucha instructions here for the initial fermentation. The only secret to brewing kombucha is hunting down a mother or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which transforms your tea into a delicious, effervescent and probiotic drink. If you have trouble finding a mother, join the very active Wild Fermentation group on Facebook and ask around. The way kombucha mothers reproduce (they have no shame), you may find someone desperate to unload a few layers of SCOBY on you.

runaway mother
My mother, Etheldreda, trying to make a run for it

After your tea has undergone its initial fermentation, you have several choices for your next step:

  • Drink it. First reserve some to inoculate your next batch!
  • Do nothing. Let your kombucha and mother sit for up to six weeks in their kombucha hotel and go on an extended vacation yourself (week one begins on brewing day). Bon voyage! When you return, start a new batch of kombucha as usual and transfer the mother to it. You now have very strong vinegar which you can use for cleaning, cooking and personal care.
  • Flavor and bottle it.
  • Bottle it plain.

The equipment

I find flip-top bottles result in the most carbonation. Last week, a friend bought me two at a yard sale. What a find! If you don’t own any flip-top bottles, reuse old screw-top kombucha bottles you may still have back from the days when you shelled out $5 a bottle for this stuff. I also sometimes fill a half-gallon carboy (fancy lingo for “jug”). If you flavor your kombucha with fresh strawberry, which tends to fizz more than anything, even a non-flip-top bottle should render respectable carbonation.

I love my stainless-steel funnel. You shouldn’t brew or bottle acidic kombucha in metal vessels, which can cause an undesirable reaction. But the few seconds the kombucha comes into contact with the funnel doesn’t harm mine. I live a plastic-free life and so don’t use a plastic funnel.

berry flavors
These flip-top and screw-top bottles contain watermelon, blueberry, strawberry and cherry flavors
A half-gallon carboy of watermelon flavored kombucha for an addict or a family

Bottling, storing and opening directions

Sometimes I brew kombucha with oolong tea, sometimes green tea. I adore pu-erh. You must use tea from the camellia sinensis plant for your initial brew: black, white, green, oolong or pu-erh. All of the flavors I have made taste good with the tea varieties I have tried.

Choose your desired flavorings, add them to a clean bottle and fill it with kombucha. I find my kombucha produces more fizz with two to three inches of head space remaining in the bottle (see the pic below). Other bloggers have written they get more fizz with less head space. Experiment and take notes on equipment, flavors and results, good and bad.

Seal your bottles and set aside for about two days maximum. The addition of fruit (or sugar) will kickstart the secondary fermentation, which produces carbon dioxide in your bottles—and that highly sought-after fizz. A warmer environment will speed up the fermentation. I like to store my bottles in a cupboard during the secondary fermentation as the buildup of carbon dioxide can cause bottles to explode. I have never experienced it and hope I never do. A cupboard will (somewhat) contain such disasters.

At the end of the secondary fermentation, refrigerate your bottles a couple of hours before drinking (unless you prefer kombucha warm). Chilling your kombucha will calm down an overly carbonated bottle quite a bit. Refrigeration will also slow down the fermentation but not stop it completely, so your drink will continue to slowly ferment and become more vinegary. Drink it within a couple of weeks for optimal flavor. Unlike soda, this living food does have a limited shelf-life. If yours turns very vinegary, mix it with fresh, sweeter kombucha. I do this to avoid wasting an overabundance of kombucha and it tastes delicious.

When opening, take one (preferably all) of the precautions below, especially when you flavor kombucha for the first few times.

  • Put a towel over your bottle when opening
  • Place your bottle in a bowl so that if it does spew, kombucha lands in the bowl and you can drink it
  • Open it outside

I wish I had a pic of one of the first bottles of strawberry I made, which sprayed all over my kitchen when I opened it. I was so horrified, I didn’t think to take a picture of the kombucha and strawberry chunks all over me, my walls, ceiling, floor and even my laptop sitting six feet away. I don’t want to scare you, just warn you. My bottles usually open with nice pop only, not a messy geyser.

booch on the wall
Left to right: strawberry; rose-cardamom; elderberry-lavender

The flavors

All instructions below fill one 16-ounce bottle. The added sugar in some of these flavors is optional and I’d recommend bottling your first batch without added sugar. If you find you don’t get much carbonation, consider adding a small amount of sugar to the next bottles.

1. Elderberry-lavender
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp dried elderberries
  • 1/2 tsp dried lavender
  • 2 cups kombucha
2. Rose-cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dried rose petals
  • 3 whole cardamom pods
  • 2 cups kombucha
3. Strawberry
  • 1 large strawberry, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cups kombucha

Strawberries result in seriously fizzy kombucha. Open your first bottle outside.

4. Watermelon
  • 2 ounces puréed watermelon
  • 2 cups kombucha
5. Candied ginger

I use Alton Brown’s recipe for candied ginger.

  • 5 or 6 pieces candied ginger
  • 2 cups kombucha
6. Lemon-lavender
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp dried lavender
  • 2 cups kombucha
7. Hibiscus
  • 1 tablespoon dried hibiscus flowers
  • 2 cups kombucha
8. Other flavors

We have also made delicious mango, nectarine, peach-jalapeño, chai, blueberry, cherry, raisin flavors and more. As a rule of thumb, combine 10 or 20 percent fruit with 90 or 80 percent kombucha. I find I need less dried fruit that fresh.

Of course, you can bottle plain kombucha. Just add a bit of sugar to the bottle, fill it and proceed as usual.


18 Replies to “The Secondary Fermentation: Hippie Jargon for “Put Kombucha in a Bottle””

    1. Me too! I thought it was strange the first time my daughter brought a bottle home. Never dreamt I would start making it!

  1. I’ve been using Tazo iced teas for my Kombucha and they come out amazing! My favorite is Iced Passion Herbal Tea (caffeine free) with hibiscus, herbs, & tropical fruit essence. I wasn’t sure if it would work but it does and it tastes amazing. I’ve played with some of the others with equally tasty results: Iced Lemongrass Green, Organic Bramblewine, and Bushberry. I have done a second fermentation using both fresh berries and pure berry juice. It’s so much fun and I love my glass of Kombucha at the end of each day. I find it curbs my desire for sweets after dinner too. Thanks for getting me hooked Anne Marie!

    1. Thanks for this great info Karen. I didn’t think it would work with herbal. That’s great! Have a fantastic weekend 🙂

  2. Those flavours are so inviting. I must get me a scoby one of these days. I know I would love making and drinking it.

    1. They are delicious and refreshing Hilda. You would forage all sorts of stuff to put into yours and come up with fantastic flavors 🙂

  3. Elderberry-lavender sounds amazing!! You could open up a whole natural soda store with these delights 🙂 xx

    1. Maybe I should Trudi… The elderberry-lavender is so easy. You just plop in some dry berries and dry lavender. I like easy 🙂

  4. I have’t tried this yet but you have answered many of my questions surrounding the process. I’m just getting started on kvass, and this is helpful with that process I think also.

    1. Great! Yes, I think some of the issues are similar. Both are so fun to make 🙂

  5. […] Amazing recipes for flavoured Kombucha. […]

  6. Reblogged this on Fermented Food Freak and commented:
    You can find the instructions how to make the different flavoured Kombuchas in this post by one of my favourite bloggers.
    I am reblogging this because I would never ever come out with an idea like elderberry-lavender or rose-cardamon Kombucha myself.

    1. Thanks so much for the reblog 🙂

  7. These flavor combos sound delish! The sugar isn’t necessary if using fruit and could lead to excessive carbonation especially during the summer months. Monitor bottles for excess bubbles and burp to prevent explosions.

    1. Thanks for the tip Kombucha Mamma. I have been afraid to burp my bottles, thinking they will turn out flat. That’s okay though? ps. I love your site 🙂

  8. What do you do with the fruit/flavorings after the second ferment? I’ve eaten or put in smoothies or oatmeal etc, but is it ok to use for a second or third secondary ferment.. or does this produce sub par results? I figure the zero waste chef would be the person to ask! 😉

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Jade. I just eat the chunks of fruit. They taste either slightly effervescent or slightly boozy. I do only a secondary fermentation so I’m not an expert on a third but I would use fresh fruit for any subsequent fermentations because when the fruit sits in the bottle its flavor and sugar is sucked out of it. There might be some left but I don’t think it would add much to your drink, especially not carbonation. ~ Anne Marie

  9. Hello! Thank you for the info on second ferments. How did you make a Chair flavoured Kombucha? Chai is oneasy of my favourite types of flavor. Do you just add in whole dried spices?
    Thanks again!

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