Kombucha Tastes Like Vinegar – What’s Wrong?
Kombucha is famous for its purported health benefits and is consumed by many people around the world. It provides a balance between sweet and sour flavors and can be an extremely refreshing alternative to sweet tea.
But what if kombucha tastes like vinegar? Kombucha only starts to taste acidic or vinegar-like when it has been fermenting for too long or when the required fermentation conditions are not met. Even though the tea will still be drinkable, it may not provide the same great flavor as regular kombucha.
Read below to learn more about this “living” tea, how it is made, how to keep it from turning acidic, and more!
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a type of fermented tea that is made using a mixture of black tea, sugar, and SCOBY.
The SCOBY is the real hero of this story because it is what transforms regular sweet tea into kombucha!
SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast and is an almost gelatinous film of microorganisms that forms on top of the tea.
This is why, by all definitions, kombucha is a drink that is “alive” because it is teeming with good bacteria and yeast.
But aren’t bacteria bad for you? Well, yes and no! Bacteria are all around us and can easily outnumber humans. However, just like humans, there are two types of bacteria: good and bad.
The bad bacteria are what cause diseases and ailments, while the good bacteria fight these ailments and allow us to ferment food. In fact, there are numerous “good” bacteria living on your skin and inside your body as well.
In the context of kombucha, the SCOBY is a growth of microbial cellulose (gelatin-like film) that collects at the top of the bottle.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the SCOBY is that it can replicate itself and is completely reusable!
Meaning that, like a sourdough starter, a batch of kombucha created using one SCOBY will automatically grow another right above it, which can further be used to make more kombucha!
You can think of the SCOBY as a city for yeast and bacteria – and within this city, both populations (yeast and bacteria) have important jobs.
The yeast in this equation plays a very important role because it breaks down the sugars in the tea into alcohol.
But before you raise an eyebrow, please note that kombucha is technically not an alcoholic drink because it only has an average ABV of 0.5% – while beer can have 20x more alcohol.
This is a good thing, since, you know, too much ethanol kills microorganisms.
Meanwhile, the bacteria further break down the alcohol to create acetic acid – or vinegar. You might be tempted to say “Aha! As always, bacteria is to blame!” However, that wouldn’t be accurate.
While bacteria in the SCOBY does turn ethanol into vinegar, it is not the only cause for kombucha to taste acidic.
The thing is, to successfully ferment sweet tea into kombucha, you need to take care of the fermenting batch of tea, just as you would take care of a pet.
But before we begin explaining the fixes required for overly tangy kombucha, we must first learn how to make it the right way and how to “care” for it!
How To Make Kombucha
Here is how you make kombucha at home:
- Get a starter! You can either get a SCOBY from someone who already brews kombucha at home or you can just purchase store-bought kombucha tea. The tea won’t have a SCOBY but you can make one from scratch!
- In a pot, heat 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn off the flame and add your favorite black or green tea.
- Let the tea bags steep for about 10 minutes.
- Remove the tea bags from the pot and then add 1/3rd cup of sugar and mix until all of the sugar has dissolved.
- Make sure the water is warm enough for the sugar to dissolve completely in the water. Let the mixture sit for about 3-4 hours or until it is at room temperature.
- Move the tea mixture into a sterilized container and then mix 2 cups of store-bought kombucha tea into it.
- Now cover the top using a tea towel or cloth. The tea needs to be exposed to the air for fermentation to occur. This will also allow the excess carbon gas to escape and the cloth will keep pests away too.
- Leave the container for 7-10 days in a cool and dry place. After about a week, you should be able to see an opaque film over the container. This will be your new SCOBY!
- Taste the kombucha (you can leave in the SCOBY) and see how it tastes. Kombucha is naturally a bit sweet with just a hint of vinegar.
The simplest starter kombucha recipe for beginners!
- 2 cups store-bought kombucha (for creating your starter SCOBY)
- 4 cups water
- Tea bags of choice
- 1/3 cup sugar
In a pot, heat 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn off the flame and add your favorite black or green tea.
Let the tea bags steep for about 10 minutes.
Remove the tea bags from the pot and then add 1/3rd cup of sugar and mix until all of the sugar has dissolved.
Make sure the water is warm enough for the sugar to dissolve completely in the water. Let the mixture sit for about 3-4 hours or until it is at room temperature.
Move the tea mixture into a sterilized container and then mix 2 cups of store-bought kombucha tea into it.
Now cover the top using a tea towel or cloth. The tea needs to be exposed to the air for fermentation to occur. This will also allow the excess carbon gas to escape and the cloth will keep pests away too.
Leave the container for 7-10 days in a cool and dry place.
After about a week, you should be able to see an opaque film over the container. This will be your new SCOBY! Your kombucha should be ready to drink.
So, if it is too sweet then you may have to ferment it for longer. But if it is too vinegary, then you can proceed with the steps below.
Causes For Vinegar-Like Kombucha
Here are a few common reasons why your kombucha turned out tasting like vinegar:
This is the most common reason why kombucha turns acidic. Most people forget about the kombucha after storing it, which can turn it into vinegar.
Although kombucha will not go bad during this stage (due to the acidic environment) it can be quite strong to consume.
The best way to avoid this problem is to keep a note of when you start the fermentation process.
Keep in mind that kombucha can take about a week or 10 days to fully ferment so you should generally try to monitor it after day 5-7 after starting the fermentation process.
If you live in a warm climate, then there is a good chance that your kombucha may turn out to be vinegary.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t properly ferment the beverage! Just bring down the fermentation time from 7-10 days to 5-7 days in hotter climates.
Warmth can speed up the fermentation process and since bacteria and yeast thrive in warm conditions, they can do their “jobs” much more efficiently and effectively – which automatically leads to a more vinegary-tasting beverage.
Adulterations And Incorrect Ratio
Not properly cleaning the fermentation vessel or the container the tea is stored in can also result in a tangy beverage. However, a far more common culprit for this is the incorrect ratio of tea, water, sugar, and starter culture.
Remember, bacteria and yeast only have one job: to process the sugars in the tea. This means that if you add less sugar then the SCOBY will run out of “fuel” or “food” and fermentation will stop.
On the other hand, too much sugar can lead to an overload of ethanol and then eventually, acetic acid.
Since kombucha is based on the presence of living organisms, you need to make sure that you provide the SCOBY with just the right balance of ingredients.
For the best experience, we recommend following our recipe and the ratios provided above.
Easy Tips And Fixes For Vinegary Kombucha
Please keep in mind that it is very little you can do to reverse the vinegary kombucha. However, instead of discarding it, you can use a few clever strategies to make it work!
Diluting And Making A New Batch
If you are unhappy with how your kombucha has turned out, don’t worry! Everyone gets it wrong at some point.
But luckily, you can go ahead with the second stage of fermentation using the same vinegary kombucha!
Just dilute the acidic kombucha in water and add a bit more sugar to balance the flavor and then let it ferment for a few days.
This time, we recommend that you keep a close eye on the beverage and take out the SCOBY as soon as the kombucha is ready!
Fill a separate container with pre-brewed kombucha tea and keep all your SCOBYs in it.
Use It As A Concentrated Ingredient
If you don’t want to go through the troubles of fermenting the kombucha again then you can still use the acidic kombucha to make a range of different beverages.
For example, you can make syrup-based drinks and flavor them with a bit of the strong kombucha to elevate the overall flavor of the beverage.
Similarly, you can also dilute the kombucha and pair it with fruits, sugar, or any other ingredient of your choice!
Use It As Vinegar
If all else fails, then the best use of kombucha is to just use it as a direct replacement for vinegar. Yes, this means that you can use it for cooking, drinking, and even cosmetic purposes too.
If you want to fully commit, then you can allow the kombucha to continue fermenting the already acidic beverage until it turns into “pure” vinegar!
How To Maintain A Scoby
If you’re just too lost when it comes to maintaining your kombucha SCOBY, here’s a great tutorial from You Brew Kombucha all about the basics of SCOBY care.
Kombucha is a remarkable beverage that many people claim has a lot of health benefits. However, a strong acidic kombucha can be very unappetizing. Luckily you can use our above-mentioned tips to remedy this issue!
Now that you know how to make kombucha and how to fix it, here are some related questions:
Does Kombucha go bad?
Generally speaking, properly fermented kombucha should not go bad because of the acidic environment in the vessel and the lower pH of the liquid.
However, if the container is compromised via adulterations or disturbances, then the kombucha can easily go bad in a matter of days.
What are the signs of spoilage for kombucha?
The first sign of spoilage will be when the culture stops growing. Remember, the SCOBY replicates itself by growing alongside the original SCOBY.
So, when you notice a stop in its growth, it may indicate that the kombucha has spoiled.
Another clear sign alongside the halt in growth is when there is a clear foul odor or a clear growth of mold or bacteria around the vessel! In this case, it’s best to discard everything and sanitize the container.
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