Do-it-yourself Kombucha

Kombucha, the energy drink made from fermenting sugary tea, has been gaining a following in Ashland over the past few years, mainly by word of mouth.

The Ashland Food Co-op sells five brands of commercial kombucha and a fresh version at their café made by a co-op employee. The store regularly runs out of the fresh variety, and they have increased shelf space to keep pace with the 200 bottles the store sells daily, Assistant Manager Tyler Barron said.

Although kombucha seems to be flying off the shelves, there are some people who would prefer to brew their own rather than stomach the $3 a bottle for the commercial variety.

Josh Hersk is one of those people. He caught the trend almost five years ago, and now he sells his Living Tea Kombucha at the co-op in addition to making his own personal brews.

For Hersk’s basic homemade version, all that is required is three quarts of water, a cup of sugar, five or six tea bags and a “mother” kombucha culture, purchased from the Internet or borrowed from a friend. Once the tea has steeped and cooled, he pours it into a gallon jug along with the mother strain, covers it with a towel and lets it sit for a week or two to ferment.

“You make it, put it on a shelf, watch it and taste it periodically,” Hersk said.

After each batch, a second culture, called the “baby,” is produced, providing a constant supply of the yeast and bacteria needed to produce kombucha.

It seems simple, but Hersk said neglect can cause problems.

Once, when he went out of town, he let the culture grow too big, resulting in a very vinegary drink.

“You could have made a salad dressing out of it,” he said.

Hersk’s friend Arika gave up on her kombucha after it was infested with fruit flies, and he said extreme heat or exposure to metal can also kill kombucha.

Justin Wismar, another kombucha devotee, used to make his own too, but when he lost all of his cultures to mold, he decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

“I think the stuff I buy is tastier than the stuff I’ve made,” he said. But he still recommends “crafty people and do-it-yourselfers” give homemade kombucha a try.

The FDA has not approved the health claims made by commercial kombucha bottlers and has issued warnings about the safety of homemade brews in the past.

Hersk said he is not worried about the safety of the kombucha in his own kitchen and cannot remember being sick since he began drinking kombucha every day.

“I work full time and have been starting this business. I think it gives me a lot of energy. I think it’s a really healthy drink,” he said.

He does take precautions to always wash his hands or wear gloves when working with kombucha, and he insists that flavorings only be added after the fermentation process is complete.

Back at the co-op, Barron said, “Anytime you make anything at home you have the potential for bacteria that’s not supposed to be there.” And as with most food, if it’s black or blue, it shouldn’t be used.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227


Current Comments:

Watch out for Kombucha . Some people can drink kombucha and get away with it , but I have known others that it really messed up their livers . Consumer beware !!

Michael – Ashland , Or – July 14th, 3:40 PM

I don’t quite get it when people say something gives them energy. We get energy from the calories in what we eat and drink. When people “get energy” from energy drinks, they’re getting calories (as from the sugar in Hersk’s concoction) and stimulation from caffeine or other stimulants. Stimulants don’t really give you energy, and they have a rebound effect that makes you tired, so you seek more stimulation. A more healthful approach when you’re tired is to take a nap.

Ron Elterman – Ashland OR – July 14th, 7:36 PM

This was a good, well written article, thanks. I even like the picture.

josh hersk – ashland, OR – July 14th, 10:45 PM

Check out the research on kombucha, including Paul Stamet’s experience at

Craig K. Comstock ([email protected]) – Ashland, OR – July 14th, 10:50 PM

Regarding the “consumer beware” criticism, and the deconstruction of the idea of a drink giving you energy: Yes, thanks for that. Indeed, calories give you energy. And coffee and tea and yerba mate and kombucha aren’t necessary for healthful living. But then as an alternative to other vices, and perhaps even to coffee, kombucha has something to offer, something relatively healthful. As with any diuretic, drink water and your liver will be just fine.

Talenter – Talent, OT – July 15th, 11:01 AM

I recommend taking a look at the research done by Gunther W. Frank, a German scientist who researched Kombucha extensively and who references the mountain of research done in Russia. The B vitamins and organic acids present in Kombucha as well as the probiotic/digestive effect of the cultures contribute to a feeling of well-being which some people refer to as “energy”. Theres a little more to it than just sugar and caffeine, which is mostly eaten up by the yeasts during the fermentation proces

Josh Hersk – Ashland, OR – July 15th, 1:13 PM

Ron, It seems that you should spend more time napping and less time trying to make yourself look smarter than everyone else. Have you tried Kombucha compared to other “energy” drinks? Please don’t knock everything you know nothing about, it only makes you look ingnorant.

Jason – ashland – July 15th, 4:52 PM

Thanks Ron. Its an Ashland thing. The worse it taste the dirtier it is the more the FDA is is positively involved, means it will sell to the upside downers and organic pretenders in this town. The newest is “urine therapy” Drink it and you will be more energetic and healthier. YEAH right. Smells like Kombucha so the CO-OPERS will by it. They love pretending in this town. Pee in a bottle and market it and you will be rich.

Jerri – talent – July 15th, 5:54 PM

It’s always nice to meet the man behind the label. This is a wonderful drink and I personally get a wonderful feeling after drinking it. Not necessarily a feeling energy, but more like a feeling of rejuvenation. Thanks Josh….you are providing Ashland with a wonderful beverage. Cute dog by the way!

Amanda McNaughton – Ashland, Or – July 15th, 8:39 PM

Nice article and great photo too! I just wish we could get some up here in Eugene. When kombucha is properly prepared such as is Living Tea, it is quite refreshing and healthfull! Thanks!

Amy Godard – Eugene – July 15th, 10:28 PM

Jason, the lack of civility in the Tidings posts is amazing. Please don’t make assumptions about my motivations. If you read my previous post carefully, you’ll see that I was talking both about kombucha and about energy drinks in general. As Mr. Hersk pointed out, people equate a feeling of well-being with “energy.” As a result of his response to mine, we have more clarity. Instead of saying that I knock everything I know nothing about, how about sticking to polite discourse about facts?

Ron Elterman – Ashland OR – July 16th, 10:48 AM

Why the arguments? Can’t we just appreciate the fact that someone is taking a local approach to something that many appreciate? Who cares what you think about it…this man is working hard for what he loves and I don’t think anyone should take that away from him. Josh you ROCK and we all love you and your Kombucha! It’s the best Kombucha I’ve ever had, and the best deal at that. It’s all about the local products anyway right? Thanks Josh for all your hard work, and the article is GREAT!

Marie – Ashland, OR – July 16th, 11:18 AM

Ron, yes lets stick with facts. The one that is most apparent is your admission “I don’t quite get it” Indeed.

Stephen – Ashland – July 16th, 9:49 PM

Josh, as a non-commercial fellow brewer I enjoyed reading your article very much. Got a real sense of happy community spirit there. I’m going to try your particular recipe and see what happens, especially regarding the sugar. I usually use 1 1/3 cup instead of the 1 you use for the quantity of 3 quarts (3 1/2 litres). Thanks, you have inspired me. Most kombuchaly, Margret

Margret Pegg ([email protected]) – Derby in the UK – July 17th, 12:36 AM

Here are some facts. Kombucha is safer than aspirin. Aspirin related deaths number over 1000 yearly. Millions of people drink Kombucha daily without any ill side effects. It is now being widely sold in stores without protest from the F.D.A. People have been brewing Kombucha Tea for over 2000 years, if there were no health benefits seen from drinking this remarkable tea it would have disappeared long ago… don’t you think! Instead it popularity continues to grow!

Ray (July.07.scottcap@spamgourmet) – Vancouver, BC – July 17th, 7:19 PM

Let’s all support Josh in his beverage making so that he will be able to start bottling some of his other flavors. It’s all about the ginger… Best ginger beverage available.(period)

grayson – ashland, OR – July 18th, 2:27 PM
Does anyone know how to contact Josh? I am brewing Kombucha and would like to ask him some questions on adding flavorings.

Neil ([email protected]) – Carlsbad, Ca. – August 31st, 6:19 AM

great comment, marie – i so agree

mary – ashland – September 3rd, 9:30 AM


Lauren Beaman – Arcata, Ca – September 8th, 7:47 PM

My Reiki teacher and mentor gave me a culture way back in 1992. It was wonderful and my intuition tells me it may have kept me from a serious illness. I was under a great deal of stress at the time from a major life transformation.

Eventually, the culture died, but it was great stuff.

I would love to be gifted with another culture, but would not feel right buying one from someone.

becca – bradenton – September 17th, 1:24 PM

I am in the process of starting my own Kombucha brew. It has been fermenting only 2 days. Will a new scoby form on top of the mother within 14 days and do i use the mother and new scoby in the second fermenting.Merrin

merrin – kyogle – September 22nd, 11:46 PM
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