Grow a SCOBY From Scratch

So your love for kombucha is getting pretty serious and your ready to take your relationship to the next level. You may be thinking, I can’t afford to drink this delicious beverage everyday but I’ve got to find a way … because kombucha is my life now. Don’t worry, I’ve been there. Lucky for you I’ve found a solution … make your own kombucha! You can make your own kombucha three ways: nicely ask a friend for one of their SCOBYs, buy a fresh SCOBY online, or make your own SCOBY from scratch. This article is going to be all about the last option—making a SCOBY from scratch. If you are on a time crunch or you don’t mind spending a little extra money, then you should read this article about how to make kombucha using a store-bought SCOBY.




What is a SCOBY?

Let’s get started with the basics. The word SCOBY stands for a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY is the gelatinous looking pancake that sits on top of kombucha. If you’re buying a bottle of kombucha in the store you can sometimes see sediment or a light film floating in the kombucha. These floating objects are the beginnings of a new SCOBY. The SCOBY is the heart of the kombucha. You cannot make kombucha without a SCOBY.



You may be wondering why the SCOBY is so important to making kombucha. Well, the SCOBY is so important because it creates the delicious flavor you expect from your kombucha. The SCOBY eats the sugar in the tea and converts your sweet tea into the fizzy, tangy drink you recognize as kombucha. The SCOBY is also essential to protecting your kombucha from foreign, potentially bad bacteria during the fermentation process. You can read more about the SCOBY here.




What to Expect?

If you are interested in growing your own kombucha SCOBY from scratch, here’s what you can expect:


  1. Time: Growing a SCOBY from scratch takes some time. You can expect the process to take 2 to 4 weeks depending on the temperature of your room. The ideal temperature for growing a SCOBY is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. At 70 degrees Fahrenheit you can expect to have a fully developed SCOBY in 2 weeks. Keep your SCOBY vessel in a shady spot, away from direct sunlight to keep your kombucha from getting too hot. Once you’ve given 2 to 4 weeks for your homemade SCOBY to grow from scratch, it takes another 7-21 days to make your kombucha.

  2. Safety: Safety is a legitimate concern when growing your own SCOBY. The riskiest part of making kombucha is the period before the SCOBY has covered the sweet tea, or the period when the contents of your vessel aren’t sealed from the air. It’s during this risky period that your kombucha is vulnerable to foreign, potentially bad bacteria. So, during this period you need to be extra careful and critical of your SCOBY’s development.

    As your SCOBY begins to develop you will know if it’s healthy based on its color and smell. The color of your SCOBY should be a clear to brownish color and the texture should be a jelly-like substance. Fuzz, green or black spots, or anything that looks like mold is not a good sign. If your developing SCOBY shows any signs of contamination don’t take a chance—toss your SCOBY and start over. A healthy smelling SCOBY is sweet, tart, or slightly vinegary. Smells you want to avoid are cheesy or rancid smells. It should be easy to notice the difference between a healthy and unhealthy SCOBY. If you are at all unsure, email me a description and picture at logan@howtomakekombuchatea.com. To see pictures of a healthy SCOBY at different stages go here. Despite these warnings, I’ve never had a problem growing my own SCOBYs. As long as you practice caution and stay observant you shouldn’t have any problems.

    The best way to prevent contamination is to use super clean utensils and equipment when growing a SCOBY or making kombucha. Boil all utensils and jars, wash your hands, and keep your kombucha covered with a tight-knit cloth cover.

  3. The Strategy: The easiest way to grow a SCOBY is to go to your local grocery or health food store and buy a bottle of unflavored, unpasteurized kombucha. Look for a bottle with the most floating sediment inside. The floating sediment is bacteria and yeast and will be the foundation of your new SCOBY. Basically, you are going to fill a vessel with sweet tea and the contents of your store-bought bottle. The sweet tea will feed the bacteria and yeast in the starter kombucha, and the starter kombucha will grow into a gelatinous SCOBY over a period 2 to 4 weeks.

    This newly formed SCOBY will then be used to make kombucha in a very similar process, only with different proportions of water, sugar, and tea. Go here to read about how to make kombucha with your newly formed SCOBY. Every time you create a new batch of kombucha you will have two SCOBYs, because with every batch a new SCOBY is formed. This means that once you grow one SCOBY from a store-bought bottle of kombucha, you will never have to buy another bottle of kombucha to make SCOBYs. Every new SCOBY can work just as well as the original SCOBY.



How to Make a SCOBY

printer friendly directions

Ingredients:
7 cups of purified water
1/2 cup of sugar
4 teabags of (green, black, or a combo) tea or 3 tsp of loose leaf tea
1 cup of unflavored, unpasteurized kombucha you bought from the store

Supplies:
tea kettle or saucepan
long spoon
2 quart or larger glass vessel
piece of cloth with a tight weave
rubber band or string

Instructions:

  1. Brew the the sweet tea. Heat 7 cups of purified water in a tea kettle or saucepan. Just as the water starts to boil, turn off heat & let cool 1-2 minutes, then add to your (sanitized) glass vessel (avoid metal and plastic). If your tea kettle or saucepan isn’t very large, it’s ok to heat the water in portions. Once all 7 cups of purified water are added to the vessel, add 4 tea bags (green, black, or a combo). Steep 5-10 minutes. Remove the tea bags and stir in 1/2 cup of sugar until dissolved. Let the tea cool to room temperature.

  2. Add the store-bought kombucha. Pour the whole bottle of store-bought kombucha into the sweet tea. Be sure to add any floating sediment that you see in the kombucha bottle. If your kombucha bottle has no floating sediment it’s ok … a SCOBY will still form. Stir the kombucha until it’s mixed with the sweet tea.

  3. Store for up to 4 weeks. Cover container with a tightly woven cloth and rubber band—handkerchiefs and t-shirt fabric work great. The cloth keeps pesky fruit flies out. Place the container in a dark, warm, ventilated area for up to 4 weeks. The SCOBY will grow optimally in a room with a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid direct sunlight as this may interfere with the SCOBY’s development.

  4. Watch the SCOBY grow. After the first few days of inactivity you will begin to see bubbles in your vessel. These bubbles will eventually collect and form a thin film on the surface of your liquid. The thin layer will continue to grow as the contents ferment. The layer should look gelatinous and become more opaque with time. Once your SCOBY is 1/4” thick it is ready to use in your first batch of kombucha.

  5. Your new SCOBY. It is not unusual for your SCOBY to look ugly once you’ve finished. As you use your SCOBY to make different batches of kombucha it will smooth out and become a more consistent color. I wouldn’t recommend drinking the leftover tea. Although it is technically kombucha, it will be very fermented and more vinegary than you may prefer. I like to start a fresh batch with my newly formed SCOBY, so that I can get the taste just how I like it.


Note: Holes, lumps, and bumps in your SCOBY are ok! Start over if your SCOBY grows fuzz or green and black mold. You should also start over if your SCOBY doesn’t smell slightly vinegary or tart, and instead smells more rancid or cheesy.




What Now

Now that you have your newly formed SCOBY you’re going to want to make your first batch of kombucha! To learn how to make kombucha click on the link below. There you’ll learn how to make and flavor kombucha. Feel free to share a picture or story of your new SCOBY on our Twitter or Facebook.

Additional Resources:
What is Kombucha - How to Make Kombucha Website
Making a SCOBY Slideshow - The Kitchn
Kombucha Resource - Kombucha Kamp