Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kombucha - Becoming Friends With Your SCOBY

I confess. When I first got the kombucha scoby from my friend a few years ago the living slimey gooey mushroomey thing grossed me out and I asked my husband to make the kombucha for us. I wanted to drink it but didn't want to touch the scoby.

After some time (long time) I got used to the scoby hanging out at our house, got curious about it and became friends with it. I started making kombucha and it is probably my all time favorite ferment to make. Here are my instructions - you'll find several different instructions online, with some variation. It has been a journey. I have learnt a lot. And above all, I have become friends with my scoby.

What is Kombucha?
Basically it is a fermented drink made out of sweetened tea using a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). It has been consumed for thousands of years all over the world. Read more about it here and here.

What do you need to make your own kombucha?

A Kombucha SCOBY also called a kombucha mother or mushroom 
The SCOBY grows and can be cut in pieces so ask from a friend who makes kombucha or order one online (for instance from Cultures for Health, you can find a free ebook about kombucha making from the link as well). You can also grow your own (instructions in the end of this post).

A big glass jar
I use gallon jars. I have several as I have divided the growing scoby. You can order them online or sometimes find in department stores or thrift stores. If you buy food in big glass jars, save them. you don't even need the lids. The jar needs to be big enough for the amount of kombucha you are making, the scoby and some extra room for the growing scoby.

Cheese cloth, kitchen towel or a napkin
Instead of the lid you need something to cover the jar with. The scoby needs air so a cloth works well. It keeps bugs and debris out but let's the air circulate.

A rubber band or a piece of string
Use it to keep the cloth in place.

Black tea is used traditionally and is probably the best choice. Some flavored teas can damage the scoby. If you want you can mix in green tea or white tea. I often use a mix of about 2/3 black tea and 1/3 green or oolong tea. In my experience my scoby didn't like it when I used just green tea so I use mostly black. It is best to use organic tea to avoid pesticides from harming the scoby. I like to use fair trade tea so I know the people picking the tea have been fairly paid. If you want to avoid caffeine, you can try using decaffinated black tea. I use loose tea with reusable cotton tea bags or big stainless steel tea infuser mesh balls.

I use organic fair trade cane sugar. Alternative sugars might not work very well. Unrefined sugar is best as it has minerals and nutrients left. Although some say some really raw unrefined sugars like turbinando might not be best as the scoby has hard time utilizing the nutrients from it. I am not sure but I know my scoby likes the organic cane sugar I use. The amount of sugar used is one cup per gallon. People warn against using less. I have to say though that over the years it seems to me that my scoby seems to prefer slightly less sugar. I have played around with it a little and I keep coming to the conclusion that the usual amount is too much for my scoby friend. I don't know why but listen to your scoby, that's all I am saying.

The water should be clean. If your tap water is clean it works well, filtering it might be even better but not critical. The chlorine in the tap water might not be that great for the scoby but since you boil the water, it is not a problem as the chlorine evaporates.

Other things:
Bottles or jars
Funnel (you might not need it if you pour the ready kombucha in jars)
pH paper (optional)
Fruit juice, ginger etc. for secondary fermentation

The process of making kombucha

1 gallon water
1 cup sugar
About 5 tea bags or 2 tbsp loose tea
Starter liquid that came with the scoby (some kombucha from a previous batch) or vinegar

  1. Bring the water to boil and let it boil for a few minutes to kill any unwanted bacteria and remove chlorine.
  2. Add the sugar and mix until it has dissolved.
  3. Put the tea bags in or the loose tea in reusable bags or mesh balls (or strain the tea later if you put loose tea directly in the water).
  4. Steep for a few minutes and remove the tea bags or strain the tea.
  5. Let cool to room temperature. Keep the lid on to avoid any extras from falling in (I had once a package of gum fall in my pot from the shelf above the stove...)
  6. When it has cooled down, take your jar and add the sweet tea in it. Make sure there is space still for starter liquid and the scoby.
  7. Add the scoby, the starter liquid or if you don't have any, add a splash or two of vinegar. If you bought the scoby dehydrated from online, follow their directions.
  8. Cover with a cloth and rubber band and place in a dark place in room temperature. Dark is better as it discourages the growth of some unwanted organisms as light encourages it.

  9. After a week check in with your scoby. Does it smell sour? Does it taste sour? You can even measure the pH with pH strips you can buy online. Make sure they go low enough (some stop at 7). Your kombucha is ready when the pH is 4 or under.

  10. When you have determined it is ready, pour the kombucha in bottles or jars that close tightly. Close the bottles or jars tightly and leave them to room temperature for secondary fermentation for another day or two to create some carbonation. If you are making plain kombucha, add just a little bit (maybe 1/4 cup) of the sweet new tea to the bottles to give them a boost. You can also add fruit juice, pieces of fruit or ginger (or juiced ginger) to the bottles. After a day or two they are ready to drink or move them to the fridge for later. They keep for a long time.

  11. Remember to leave some of the kombucha with the scoby in the jar for the next batch (1-2 cups should be enough, sometimes I leave more). I don't always even remove the scoby from the jar, I just pour carefully making sure the scoby doesn't fall out or touch anything. You can also lift the scoby out and put it back to the new liquid. If it has grown very big, you can cut it in half or quarters and give out with some of the kombucha as starter liquid to your friends. It is also a good idea to keep a piece as a backup if your scoby would go bad. I cut threw the layers, I don't separate the layers. Sometimes I might remove the bottom layer if it is getting loose or very dark and stringy. The new layer is on the top. But otherwise I leave it untouched. You might want to leave a piece to the fridge with some of the liquid from the batch as a backup.

  12. Fill the jar with the new sweet tea, the starter liquid (kombucha from previous batch or a little bit of vinegar) and the scoby. Cover and repeat the process.

How to grow your own scoby?
  1. Buy a bottle of raw plain kombucha from a health food store.
  2. Pour it (including any bits there are, it is probably the baby scoby! Awww!) in a glass jar, leaving a little bit of space for growth.
  3. Make a sweet tea following the kombucha making instructions above (you'll need less than a gallon now to start with, make let's say a quart with 1/4 cup sugar and one tea bag or half a quart with 2 tablespoons of sugar and a tea bag).
  4. Let the tea cool down and pour it in the jar with the store bought kombucha.
  5. Cover according the regular instructions above. 
  6. Leave in room temperature in a dark place and check weekly. When the scoby on the surface of the liquid has grown to about 1/4 inch it is ready. Make then kombucha using the instructions above. Save the liquid for starter liquid. if you made a quart of tea, you can drink some of it, I know it is exciting to start drinking your own kombucha!

Remember: The scobys can look different. Sometimes they first sink to the bottom. It is ok. People often worry about their scobies. But unless there is hairy black or blue mold growing on it or it smells rotten or all the liquid has dried from it, it probably is ok.

Do you have any questions? I am more than happy to answer - just post your question in the comments below or use the contact form in the right side panel to send me an email. Or email me at info @

Enjoy the kombucha!


PS. Still want to know more about kombucha? Learn more, read, watch videos, browse recipes etc. from here.

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