How to Make Kombucha SCOBY from scratch using simple ingredients. Then once you have kombucha mother make your own kombucha at home 30 times cheaper than store-bought.
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What Is a SCOBY?
SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. It is this slimy looking “jellyfish” that I agree looks very unappetizing but it makes the most wonderful fermented tea – homemade kombucha. Without it, no kombucha unless you get one from a friend or these days you can buy SCOBY and starter tea online.
In any case, you need kombucha mother a.k.a kombucha starter a.k.a kombucha mushroom. I’m here to show you how to make kombucha SCOBY from scratch. Once you grow a SCOBY, just follow my kombucha recipe and make your own kombucha at home 30 times cheaper than store-bought. You can also flavor kombucha which makes it just like a store bought plus more chances your kids will like it.
Ingredients to Make Kombucha Mother
- Store bought kombucha: You need to buy a bottle of plain (not flavored) GT’s original kombucha. Why GT’s? Because after “something happened in kombucha resale industry back in 2010” most store-bought kombuchas are too “clear” and “sterile”. You need to pick a bottle with brown and/or clear strands, and preferably even a mini baby “jellyfish” at the bottom of the bottle. Those brownish strands will become your SCOBY.
- Black Tea: To grow a SCOBY, you have to use black tea only! To brew further batches of kombucha, any caffeinated tea like green tea, white tea or black tea works. However, only black tea produces foolproof kombucha mother. Cost, taste and health wise I recommend to buy organic loose leaf tea, however you can use tea bags as well.
- White or Cane Sugar: Coconut sugar, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, stevia etc. do not work. I buy a 10 lb bag of organic cane sugar at Costco for kombucha making purposes. Now, do not worry about consuming large amount of sugar – we are just feeding the kombucha mother to grow and at the end there will be barely any sugar left in your fermented tea.
- Water: I use tap water. I know many other sources recommend filtered water but boiled tap water has worked no problem for me so far.
How to Make Kombucha SCOBY
- Make sweet tea: In a small pot, bring 2 cups of water to boil. Turn off heat and add 1 tsp tea and 3 tbsp sugar, stir and let cool completely (place in a sink filled with cold water to speed things up).
- Combine with GT’s kombucha: In a quart glass jar, pour previously made tea discarding the leaves (use a mesh strainer) and 1 cup of store bought kombucha along with any brownish strands from the bottle.
- Cover and set aside: Cover with paper towel secured with a rubber band and set away from direct sunlight spot (counter or pantry) with temperature above 21C or 70F.
- Let ferment: It takes 2-4 weeks to grow a SCOBY. You can look but try not to disturb the jar as SCOBY disk is forming on top.
SCOBY Disk Growth Progress
Now let’s take a look at how SCOBY disk growth changes day by day (infographic below).
- Day 1: Looks like tea with bubbles and possibly brown blob from store bought kombucha.
- Day 3: No visible changes.
- Day 8: Brown strands start “eating” the sugars in tea, white strands pulling to the top and forming thin white-ish film, more likely with bubbles.
- Day 12: White film thickens into “a jellyfish” at the top of the jar.
- Day 15: That’s your SCOBY aka kombucha starter. Easy peasy. That’s it.
- Day 30: This is SCOBY after the first brew. See how it has thickened in 2 more weeks?!
SCOBY is ready when it is at least 1/4″ thick and white in colour – a jellyfish like mushroom you can take out of the jar and hold in your hands.
How to Store and Feed Kombucha SCOBY
After your kombucha SCOBY is ready, you should be brewing kombucha with it. If you want to hold off for a few weeks, it is fine but you need to store it properly.
To store brand new SCOBY: Store kombucha SCOBY submerged in starter tea, in a glass jar, covered with paper towel and rubber band, in a dark place. As soon as mushroom has finished forming after day 15, you can leave it in the same jar without adding anything extra for up to another 2 weeks. It should thicken even further, which is good. Afterwards, you either have to use it to make kombucha or feed with extra sweet tea.
Do not refrigerate. You want your SCOBY to stay alive and keep growing.
To store a few SCOBies: If you have accumulated a few SCOBies, you can create sort of a small or large hotel for them. Store SCOBies in a jar, submerged fully in kombucha. To avoid fast growth, you can try to find cooler place and place the jar there.
Can it be refrigerated? Many kombucha experts say “no” because of the mold growth and flat fermented tea afterwards. And I agree to a certain extent. However, I refrigerate SCOBY submerged in kombucha for up to a few weeks if I want to go on “a kombucha brewing vacation”. But not longer.
Feeding it: Because kombucha fungus is a live organism, you have to feed it. Whether you leave it in a jar after brewing kombucha or create a SCOBY hotel, always make sure SCOBY is submerged in kombucha. Once a month or as needed, you will have to add a few cups of freshly brewed and cooled off sweet tea to keep the symbiotic organisms alive.
FAQs About Kombucha Mother
Online, or look in the refrigerated produce section or natural foods aisle at your local large chain store, or in any health food store.
Safeway, Fred Meyer, Kroger, Save on Foods, Sobey’s, Thrifty’s, the Real Canadian Superstore, health food stores. It’s pretty much everywhere, it kinda is “a gas station kombucha”.
Yes, as long as it is raw, unpasteurized and you see brown and/or clear strands, and possibly even a mini baby “jellyfish”, at the bottom of the bottle. Many kombuchas will be clear without anything at the bottom, like a bottle of water. Don’t pick that one, won’t work.
No, for best results to avoid reactivity between the cultures and container, and possibly interfering with mother’s growth, please use a glass container. Basic large glass Mason jar for canning will work.
Only black tea. The kombucha fungus doesn’t grow as well with green, white or fruity teas. Feel free to use other caffeinated tea to brew your fermented tea but to make SCOBY big and strong, please stick with black tea.
Kombucha mushroom will take the shape of the mouth of the jar and keep growing in thickness with every new batch. It is time to trim it when SCOBY is too thick and looks like a mothership, has many thin brown layers at the bottom and even holes. Remove weaker bottom layers, peeling them off by hand. You want to keep a few white thick gelatin top layers for next brewing session.
You can also use a pair of clean kitchen scissors to cut down the amount of SCOBY in half and in any direction, to allow room for more kombucha to be brewed and proper airflow. You can trim it every few months or every few brews, up to you.
Yes, technically. I have seen “candy” recipes and have heard some folks feeding SCOBY to their dog. Also a reader suggested to cut it into appropriate size and offer it to your chickens.
Baby SCOBY is new SCOBY that grows on top of old one every batch. Peel top one (new) off and use it for next batch. Compost bottom one (old) or give away with some kombucha in a sandwich bag to spread kombucha love. Or start a SCOBY hotel.
SCOBY hotel is a jar with multiple SCOBies submerged in kombucha and stored in a dry dark place for months and months to come. It is like a parking for extra mushrooms just in case something happens to your existing one, or you want to brew extra kombucha, or give one to a friend.
A healthy SCOBY is white and can have brown or black streaks from tea and brewing process. Your SCOBY has gone bad if it is moldy and there is no mistaking it when you see it. The mold will be white or colorful, fuzzy and dry. It can appear as spots or cover it altogether. A dead scoby will be black.
SCOBY is reusable. You transfer the fungus from batch to batch.
Yes, you can freeze it.
- Kombucha SCOBY is thin. Cooler house temperatures and not enough tannins in a starter tea may result in a thin SCOBY. If your house temperature is below 70 F degrees, chances are SCOBY will end up on a thin side. And it is fine, you can still use it to make fermented tea, it will just take longer. Not using enough starter tea, or using the wrong ingredients or measurements, can also make your brew off. To thicken it, let it sit for another 7 days.
- I have been trying to grow a SCOBY for a week now and it is not forming. Hard to say but more likely it is the temperature issue. Ideal SCOBY growing temperature should be at least 21C or 70F degrees. DO NOT place kombucha in a corner pantry that is by the external wall of the house. I had this pantry in my previous house and it is cooler and not warm enough for bacteria to grow. If it happens to you, move it to warmer place and give it 3-4 more days for changes to occur.
- Kombucha SCOBY with mold. First of all, make sure it is mold. There is no mistaking when you see it – white or colourful, fuzzy, dry, in spots or complete coverage. In this case, you will have to discard the disk and starter and start over. Good news is mold is rare unless you have refrigerated kombucha mother for a very-very long time and moisture has accumulated. So, do not panic and make sure it is mold first.
Now you can follow my kombucha recipe and brew some kombucha as soon as today.
More Healthy Drink Recipes
- Lemon water recipe – another way to boost your immune system, detoxify and improve gut health.
- Kombucha smoothie – easy and loaded with fruit and chia seeds!
- Green smoothie with 4 simple ingredients your kids will actually drink.
- Flavored kombucha – try with raspberries and your kids will call it “pop”.
- Turmeric tea – so healing and good for colds!
How to Make Kombucha SCOBY
- In a small pot, bring 2 cups of water to boil. Turn off heat and add 1 tsp tea and 3 tbsp sugar, stir and let cool completely (place in a sink filled with cold water to speed things up).
- In a quart glass jar, pour previously made tea discarding the leaves (use a mesh strainer) and 1 cup of store-bought kombucha along with any brownish strands from the bottle.
- Cover with paper towel secured with a rubber band and set away from direct sunlight spot(counter or pantry) with temperature above 21C or 70F. It takes 2-4 weeks to grow a SCOBY. You can look but try not to disturb the jar as SCOBY is forming on top. See my post for video and pictures what SCOBY should look like and troubleshooting.
- SCOBY is ready when it is at least 1/4″ thick and white in colour – a jellyfish like mushroom you can take out of the jar and hold in your hands.
- Now you can brew some homemade kombucha.
- Where to buy GT’s kombucha? Online, or look in the refrigerated produce section or natural foods aisle at your local large chain store, or in any health food store.
- Can I use plastic or metal container for making kombucha SCOBY? No, for best results to avoid reactivity between the cultures and container, and possibly interfering with mother’s growth, please use a glass container.
- What is the best tea for making kombucha SCOBY? Only black tea.
- I have been trying to grow a SCOBY for a week now and there are no visible changes. What should I do? Ideal SCOBY growing temperature should be at least 21 C or 70 F. DO NOT place kombucha in a corner pantry that is by the external wall of the house. I have this pantry (newer homes) and it is cooler and not warm enough for bacteria to grow.
- Is the SCOBY reusable or do I need a new one every batch? SCOBY is reusable. You transfer SCOBY from batch to batch. New SCOBY grows on top of old one every batch.