Flavoring homemade kombucha
There are endless ways you can flavor your homemade
kombucha during 2nd fermentation (F2).
That’s probably one of my favorite parts of home brewing!
I’m able to create and tweak flavor combos and recipes that
are much, much better than anything I can buy at the store.
Ever try a clementine-rosemary kombucha? A blackberry-
blood orange-mint one? What about pineapple-
passionfruit? No? Those are just a few of my personal
favorites, but they’re probably not readily available at your
average (or specialty!) supermarket. Trust me, I’ve looked.
But no matter. You can make them and so much more
right in your own kitchen.
You can click through these topics to jump to that section on the page, or just keep scrolling!
What can I flavor with?
Pretty much anything. Flavor with what you like! There’s no set recipe when it comes to flavoring, you’ll have to rely on trial and error based on what your personal preferences are.
How much flavoring do I use?
Again, it depends on you. In general, I like to flavor with fresh fruit purees and fruit juices. I use about 1/4 - 1/3 cup per 16 oz. bottle. But that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. If you have a juice concentrate or if you want a more subtle fruit flavor, you should use less. This part isn’t going to throw off your kombucha fermentation process much, so this is really entirely dependent on personal preference.
Can I only flavor during second fermentation (F2)?
For our purposes, I’m going to say yes. It is possible to experiment with kombucha by adding flavorings or using flavored tea during the first fermentation stage in your brew vessel with your SCOBY. But I can only recommend that for experienced home brewers who are willing to take on the risks of experimentation and have plenty of backup SCOBYs and starter tea on hand.
Flavorings (even natural fruit ones) can weaken and kill your SCOBY over time. Dead SCOBY = weak kombucha and risk for mold. This is why I don’t recommend using flavored teas or letting flavorings come into contact with your SCOBY.
So for the purposes of this site and these recommendations on flavorings, these only pertain to flavors you add in the F2 phase.
Does sugar content affect carbonation?
Yes! So this is a key tenet of flavoring that’s pretty important. If you haven’t already read my Guide to Second Fermentation (F2), that’s a good place to start. But when you put your kombucha into a bottle, I’m assuming you’re doing so because you want to infuse it with some yummy fruit or herb flavorings and because you want to make it a carbonated beverage.
Not all people want their kombucha to be bubbly. And not all people want their kombucha to be flavored. There are plenty of people who don’t F2 in the bottle for bubbliness and there are also people who don’t flavor their kombucha before drinking. Both are fine.
But if you’re looking to boost carbonation, you should flavor with something with at least a bit of sugar (most fruit has at least some natural sugar in it). This is essentially bottle conditioning your kombucha. You give the yeasts in the bottle something to eat (sugar from the fruit). The yeasts eat sugar and produce carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is trapped in the liquid since it’s in an airtight container. Voila! Bubbles.
In general, the sweeter the flavoring, the more potential you have for great carbonation. So below, you’ll find different ways you can flavor your kombucha and some notes about how each type tends to affect the final end product. You can also read my guide to carbonation here.
So what are my options?
Fresh fruit purees or juices
This is my favorite way to flavor kombucha, and that’s because I like my kombucha to be well-carbonated and bursting with fruit flavor. A big key to letting the yeasts access their food source (a.k.a. sugar) is breaking down the molecules of fruit to be as easily digestible as possible for the yeasts. When you take fresh fruit and use a juicer or blender to make a puree, you’re breaking down those fruit molecules and making it easy for the yeast to feed on the sugar once you put it in a bottle.
Whenever I use fresh fruit purees and juice, my kombucha never turns out flat. I always get a lot of fizz. The freshness and the pulp often results in a baby SCOBY to form in the bottle, which I don’t mind at all. I strain it or gulp it down, but to me, it’s well-worth the taste and consistent carbonation I get when I use fresh fruit puree.
Fresh/frozen fruit pieces
Many home brewers use a few fresh or frozen fruit slices or chunks in their kombucha. This is a great option if you want more subtle fruit flavor in your kombucha and you want the flavor of the tea itself to shine. This is certainly fine, but I’ve found that home brewers who prefer this method can run into the problem of not having enough carbonation. If the yeasts can’t access the sugar, they can’t eat the sugar and turn it into carbon dioxide. So if you like to use fresh fruit pieces (or don’t like fresh fruit puree) but find that you aren’t getting the fizz you want, try adding a tsp. of sugar to your bottle in addition to your fruit before sealing it. Sometimes the yeast just needs a bit more food to eat to create fizz.
Fresh or dried herbs
Herbs are a great addition to kombucha. I love partnering them when fresh fruit flavors. I prefer fresh herbs when possible or using very good quality dried herbs (make sure it’s still fragrant!) and that it just hasn’t been sitting in your pantry for half a decade accumulating dust. Old dried herbs can impart a musty smell on your kombucha, so fresh is best. Also, be sure to use them sparingly since herb flavors can intensify over time as they steep in the liquid.
Store-bought juices/purees or canned fruit
Lots of home brewers like to use store-bought juices, and I went through a phase where I experimented with all kinds: from the juice aisle, from the refrigerator section, frozen concentrate...you name it. I’ve found that my results were a mixed bag. Depending on the brand and depending on how the fruit was processed, some yielded great results and some yielded really bad results.
In general, I’ve found that juices that are shelf-stable (whether it admits to being pasteurized or not) have been hit or miss. Sometimes they’ve made my kombucha taste really funky. Sometimes they’ve made my kombucha completely flat no matter how long I ferment in the bottle. Juices from the refrigerator section (like orange juice) can often leave a weird metallic aftertaste. Store-bought frozen or canned fruit can lead to weird funkiness/aftertaste.
I’ve had some instances of success, when some of my bottles were perfectly fizzy and tasted great, and others were flat or tasted off. So success here really depends on finding brands that work well with your particular SCOBY and suit your taste.
This is a great option if you don’t have fresh fruit handy. Some potential cons: You might run into the same issues as using fresh fruit pieces, but even more so. Kombucha might have a hard time extracting sugar from the dried fruit piece. And depending on what chemicals/ingredients were used to preserve the fruit, it could lead to off-flavors in your finished product.
There’s a common tip circulating online about adding a raisin to each of your bottles to help promote fizziness. The theory is that since raisins are sweet, it’ll help give the yeast more sugar to feed on without necessarily affecting the flavor of the brew. With that logic, I’d just recommend using more of whatever fruit flavor you were using in the first place or just adding a tsp. of sugar. I also haven’t found this “raisin method” to be any more effective than using fresh fruit. But hey, everyone’s kombucha-brewing variables are different, and if it works for you, I won’t knock it! Do what you’ve gotta do for your bucha.
Fruit jams or preserves
Lots of home brewers have success with using jams or preserves. I greatly prefer the flavor of fresh fruit, but if you have an awesome jam you want to try out in your brew, do it! Just use about a tablespoon or two per 16 oz. bottle since the flavor will be pretty concentrated.
I know I frowned upon using herbal or flavored teas during first fermentation, but you can certainly use flavored teas or herbal infusions as flavorings during second fermentation! Just make sure that you’re adding at least a bit of sugar (around a tsp. per bottle) to stimulate carbonation if your tea isn’t sweetened with real sugar.
Essential oils or extracts
Some brewers like to use extracts or oils (like vanilla extract, almond extract, lavender oil). Full-disclosure, I’ve personally never tried it, but I’ll be sure to update this post once I do! My main tip here would just be to make sure you’re using extracts/oils that are food-safe. The more chemicals you introduce to your brew (even just in the bottle), the more you could throw off your yeast-bacteria balance. Certain essential oils and alcohols in extracts can also potentially have anti-microbial properties, so you also run the risk of killing the good bacteria in your beverage. But in small amounts, this is unlikely.
What if I want to flavor but don’t want carbonation?
After first fermentation, remove your SCOBY from the vessel (or transfer your kombucha tea into another vessel, like a pitcher) and add your fruit to the kombucha that you want to flavor. Adjust the flavoring to your preference (by adding more fruit if needed or letting it steep for a while if you’re using herbs). It’s ready to drink whenever it tastes great to you. No need to second ferment in a bottle or any closed vessel! You can put it in whatever container you want.
What if I want carbonation but don’t want to add flavorings?
After first fermentation, go ahead and put your unflavored kombucha into airtight bottles with around 1/2 - 1 tsp. of plain sugar. That'll give the yeast something to eat and convert into carbon dioxide to make it fizzy. Make sure the bottles are sealed tightly, and let them second ferment for around 2-4 days to build carbonation. Read my bottle recommendations here. And read more about carbonation here.
What if I want to adjust the sweetness levels?
If you want your kombucha to be less sweet, bottle it when it’s a little more acidic than you’d like, knowing that you’ll be adding some sugar through the fruits that you’re adding. Or just add a bit less of the fruit flavoring. Less fruit = less sugar in the end product you’ll drink.
If you want it to be more sweet, you can add more sugar by literally just adding more cane sugar to your fruit flavoring or adding it to the bottle right before you seal it up.
You should by all means play around with different flavor combos and experiment. Aside from drinking it, this is my favorite part of home brewing. So find out what works best for you based on your taste preferences. Happy flavoring!