October 24, 2023

Homemade Scoby for Making Kombucha

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I’ve seen kombucha, a fermented tea drink originating long, long ago from China, around on health food store shelves for a long time.  Never tried it.  But it has stuck around and I've heard more and more about it.  But it's expensive!  

Recently I realized that it could be made at home.  As our dear readers will already know we've much interest in fermentation and its health benefits - probiotics!  anti-oxidents!  We've been fermenting all sorts of things.  This is our first fermented drink.  

Overall I found that homemade kombucha is pretty easy, but you gotta setup a system first.  I really love, love that I can make a refreshing and healthful homemade fizzy drink that the whole family enjoys!  How cool is that!?

Okay, then, the first essential step to homemade kombucha is to make a ‘SCOBY.'  What is this thing with the cute name, you say?  Well, SCOBY stands for 'symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast'.  In reality it's a gelatinous blob (see photo above) that acts as the central control station of kombucha fermentation.  Let's make a SCOBY!

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A point to note:  the steps to making the scoby are similar but slightly different to making the kombucha.  This was pretty confusing to me at first.  Just remember that the following particular steps are for making a scoby.  You will then use this one scoby to make endless amounts of kombucha!  Our next post will then explain the slightly different steps of making the kombucha.  

It all starts with sugared tea.  In my research on making scoby and kombucha it was strongly suggested to use black tea, which is an oxidized tea.  (Oxidization meaning that the tea leaves are exposed to air to dry and darken, thereby looking 'black'.)  In Chinese black tea is known as 紅茶, literally translated as 'red tea', for the reddish color of the tea that is brewed.  Note that sometimes black tea is labeled as red tea.  They are the same thing.

There are many types of black tea.  Some of the most well known are: Chinese Gongfu Tea 工夫茶, Chinese Lapsang Souchong 立山小種茶,  Chinese Pu-er Tea 普洱茶, Darjeeling Assam, Ceylon and Earl Grey.  As we’re a family of pu-er tea 普洱茶 drinkers I used our stash of bagged pu-er tea for the convenience.  

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Here's the first easy peasy step to scobyland.  Black tea bags, hot water and sugar.  Let the tea steep until cooled to room temperature.   I just bung everything into the mixing bowl, give it a stir, cover and let cool for as long as it takes.

Besides the tea bags, water and sugar, the only other thing you need for a homemade SCOBY is a bit of already fermented kombucha tea to provide the correct bacteria and yeasts to start it all off.  This bit of kombucha 'starts' the fermentation and thus is called the 'starter tea'.  

There are kombucha 'starter teas' available specifically for making of the scoby.  You can also just use a regular bottle of kombucha from the store.  I've read that it's best to use unflavored kombucha.  However, if you can't find unflavored just get a regular one.  For our scoby we used a flavored kombucha and it turned out fine.  

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The cooled sweetened tea, minus the tea bags or tea leaves, are added to a glass jar along with the bit of kombucha from the store.  It's super important that the jar is sterilized so as to not introduce any other bacteria into the mix.  Also don't add the 'starter' kombucha tea until the sugared tea is completely cooled cuz heat will kill the good bacteria and yeast.

You want to make your scoby in the jar that you will use as your kombucha jar because the shape of the scoby conforms to the jar shape.  We used a 1 1/2 liter glass jar.

Cover your jar of scoby mixture with air permeable material (keeps dust out, lets gas out)  and placed in a dark, quiet area to let the scoby grow.  It's time for waiting.

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I let my scoby jar sit in a dark corner for a month.  A month, you say, so long!  Ah, but don't forget that one scoby will power endless kombucha, so a little patience will reap big rewards.  However, I have read that it can take as short as 2 weeks or even longer than a month.

I checked on my scoby jar every couple of days.  Very cool to witness the birth of my first baby scoby.  After 2 days I noticed some brown scum on the bottom of the jar.  By day 4 there where white dots and a film on the surface of the tea with some stalactites hanging down.  First sighting of baby scoby!  After a week the film was thicker and still with some stalactites hanging(see above photo).  

Sometimes the scoby might not be on top.  It might be on the bottom or sideways.  That's all right, it'll all eventually float to the top.

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After a month our scoby was about 1/8" thick, just the loveliest baby scoby blob you've ever seen, and ready to use to make kombucha.  You'll know it's ready when the baby kombucha is thick and sturdy enough to handle without tearing.

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You'll use this scoby each time you make kombucha.  And each time the scoby will grow, basically forming another layer, then another layer, etc.  These layers will float to the top and stick together.  You can see the layers of the scoby in the photo above in our kombucha jar after a couple of months of making kombucha.  You can also see the carbon dioxide bubbles formed during the fermentation.   

Eventually the scoby will grow so thick that you'll actually need to discard some (or give some to a friend to start their own kombucha).  

And that's all there is to making your scoby, your lovely gelatinous blob for making deliciously refreshing and fizzy kombucha.  Pretty cool and alienish, amirite?

Check out our next post where we make the actual kombucha, first fermentation!
Homemade Scoby Recipe
(makes 1 scoby)  Prep time: 5 mins  Fermentation time: 1 month



Buy kombucha 'starter tea' at the store, getting unflavored if possible. 

Use the same 1.5 liter jar that you will make kombucha in, as the scoby shape will then form to fit the size of the jar.  Sterilize the jar.  

Brew the tea by adding tea, boiling water and sugar to a mixing bowl.  Stir until sugar is melted.  Let cool to room temperature. 

Add in the kombucha 'starter tea'.  Mix then pour all into the jar.  Cover jar mouth with paper or cloth towel secured with a rubber band.  

Place in a dark corner and wait for the scoby to form on top of the tea.  This might take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month or so.  The scoby is ready when it is strong enough to handle, about 1/8" thick.

When your scoby's ready it's time to make some kombucha!  Check out our next post on kombucha, first fermentation!



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