Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Making Kombucha (Including Grow Your Own SCOBY!)

With a little patience, you can make your own kombucha. It's easier than keeping a sourdough culture.

In order to make kombucha, you need a starter (also known as a mother or a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast), you need some black and/or green tea, and you need some sugar.

If you can get a starter from a friend or from craigslist, then follow these straightforward instructions to make your own batch of kombucha. Later, if you want to get fancy, you can try some of these other methods.

If you can't get a starter, but you can buy some raw, plain kombucha at a store, you can probably grow your own starter, and proceed from there. See this excellent series of posts on kombuchafuel. I've meant to run this experiment myself, and I still may try it, but I'm glad that kombuchafuel has done it.

In fact, the kombuchafuel site may answer all of your questions about kombucha, even the ones you didn't know you had. Awesome website!

A few more thoughts:
  • Save the empty bottles from whatever kombucha you buy. You can use them for bottling your own home-made kombucha.
  • If you want to try using things other than black and/or green tea as a base, I'd recommend setting aside some of your original starter, in case things go awry.
  • If you want reproducibility, take notes on amounts of tea, water, and sugar, ambient temperature, etc. Then when you make that "perfect batch", you'll have a better chance of repeating it.


Christopher Pepe said...

So glad you posted this. I've been working on growing a scoby for a bit now without much luck. My starter culture is made up of 1/2doz clear goo pucks that are always in my store bought raw kombucha bottles as well as about a full bottle of raw kombucha.

My tea ferments but I don't think I have a healthy acetobacter population. My kombucha isn't very tart or 'vinegary' and I'm fairly certain is a bit alcoholic. I have been experimenting with allowing it to ferment longer since I have a large amount of tea compared to my scoby's size.

My issue may stem from using too much sugar. I originally thought that would help but I now recall that acetobacter have a very low tolerance to alcohol (that's why we make beer, its a preservative).

If I ever work out my issues I'll send you what worked for me. If only Whole Foods would continue to sell it I could support the hard working kombucha brewers out there instead of having to grow it in my closet.

Rachel said...

I have extra scobys to give away if someone wants one. Chris, are you using unflavored store bought kombucha? That makes a difference. Black tea seems to keep the scoby alive a bit better in the long run, but I use green also. Finally, the food renegade blog has a good recipe as well. Annabelles blog, kombucha fuel, is awesome. Great post, Alex!

Annabelle Ho said...

Nice post, and thanks for the shout outs! You can also grow your own SCOBY just by pouring a bottle of store-bought, raw, traditional kombucha in a glass container, covering it with a breathable cloth, and leaving it in an undisturbed spot for a few weeks. (Versus in my blog posts, in which I brewed some sweet tea and added kombucha/starter tea to it to grow a SCOBY). This is another thing on my to-do list...

Happy brewing everyone! :)

Alex Lewin said...

Thanks Annabelle. Happy to shout out to you! Grow-your-own is SO on my to-do list also. Now is the time...the weather is right...

Rachel, thanks for offering the SCOBYs. I bet there will be takers. I wonder if anyone has done any intentional selective breeding, combining, and selecting of SCOBYs. Hmm. (Annabelle?)

Christopher, good luck! Stick with it.

The ratios I use are 1 liter water, 15g loose tea or tea bags (mix of green and black, organic, unflavored), 70g-100g sugar, 100ml starter liquid, and a big chunk of SCOBY. This works pretty well for me.

Annabelle Ho said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annabelle Ho said...

@Christopher Kombucha Balance is a good source with information on balancing yeast and bacteria ratios.

@Rachel Feel free to post your SCOBY offer at Kombucha Fuel on Facebook! And thanks for the compliment!

@Alex I know people have done individual analyses on their kombucha, but I've never heard of anyone doing intentional selective breeding, although I also wouldn't be surprised if it's been done. Here is Happy Herbalist's analysis of a kombucha ferment if anyone is interested, and I'll let you know if I hear of anything else!

My recipe is a bit low on the sugar side. My ratios are 1 quart (4 cups) water, 5 g (~1 tsp) tea leaves, 50 g (~1/4 cup) sugar, 1/2 cup starter tea (I use a bit more starter tea in the colder months), and a SCOBY. Every brewer tends to have his or her own favorite recipe.

Unknown said...

Hi! I've got my kombucha brewing - it's been about a week and it's doing really well. BUT, this morning I lifted the towel that's been covering my crock to see a couple of FRUIT FLIES on my SCOBY!! What do I do? Is there any way to salvage it? Is it ruined? Might the alcohol kill the flies and/or the eggs? Or do I need to start over? It's my own fault - I left the compost bucket uncovered right outside the door to the kitchen, so a few of the boogers got in... Grr... Thanks for any help!

Alex Lewin said...

I wouldn't worry too much about fruit flies...I think the acid will probably take care of the eggs. If you're worried about it, you can take the SCOBY out and rinse it off in raw apple cider vinegar.

But I would offer some advice for the future...

1) Make sure whatever cloth or towel you use is tight-fitting. Put a rubber-band around the outside, if that works. You really don't want flies or foreign objects getting in your kombucha, if you can help it!

2) Keep your kombucha as far as you can from any (other) possible sources of yeast and mold. That includes compost, potted plants, and even fruit bowls. At the beginning of the fermentation cycle, you have a big vat of sugary liquid, and that will tend to attract all sorts of things.

If you must make kombucha under adverse conditions, consider doing a "continuous kombucha" rather than an episodic one. See, for example,

Unknown said...

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it - my neighbor has plenty of kombucha to share (she's who gave me the SCOBY), but I'd hate to let mine die!

I will move her far away from the contamination sources.

Thank you again!


Brett M Judd said...

Unfortunately, I just had to get rid of a beautiful SCOBY that had fly larvae. I was so disappointed. I would caution you to get them out and watch carefully. Better yet, start fresh. I am now waiting for a new SCOBY.

Brett M Judd said...

Unfortunately, I just had to get rid of a beautiful SCOBY that had fly larvae. I was so disappointed. I would caution you to get them out and watch carefully. Better yet, start fresh. I am now waiting for a new SCOBY.

Unknown said...

I have my SCOBY in a jar covered with a paper towel and sealed with a rubber band. I discovered that it is attracting fruit flies. I have two questions:

1. What do I do about the flies? I moved the jar to my patio outside, but I live in South Florida so I am afraid the hot, humid weather is bad.

2. How can I tell if the larvae got inside the jar?

Thank you!

Alex Lewin said...

Dear Unknown:

If I were you I would start anew.

I haven't used paper towels. I've had good luck with handkerchiefs.

I'm not sure keeping it outside is a good idea. Seems like it's asking for critters to mess with it. Also 90+ heat is not idea. If I were you I'd keep it inside, somewhere warm but not hot, away from potential sources of mold or bugs (fruit, shoes, etc.).

Good luck!