The hardest part about brewing kombucha is laying your hands on a SCOBY. If you don’t live on the West Coast, where you can usually find someone giving away free SCOBYs on Craigslist or offering them in exchange for a ride share to Portland, they’re pretty hard to find locally. Of course, you can always import them from elsewhere if you order them online, but you’ll end up spending an average of $25 for a single SCOBY…which you’ll hate in a couple months when you find yourself swimming in a surfeit of free daughter SCOBYs.
It is, however, very easy to find bottles of brewed kombucha in pretty much any health food store in the country, if not the local grocery store. For the low investment of one bottle of unflavored, raw kombucha and two weeks of time, you can grow your own SCOBY.
Items You’ll Need:
- One 12-16 ounce bottle of raw, unpasteurized, 100% kombucha (with no fruit juices or other flavorings).
- One glass container deep enough to accommodate at least 1 quart of liquid but wide enough to have a diameter the exact size (or a little smaller) than what you want your final SCOBY to be. In other words, if your brewing container is 8 inches in diameter, you want a glass bowl (or spare brewing container) that is also 8 inches in diameter.
- One clean dish towel
- One large rubber band
- 2 teabags of green or black unflavored tea (Flavoring oils kill SCOBYs. Yes, Earl Grey is a flavored tea.) Alternately, use about 8 grams of loose leaf tea and strain the leaves out before adding sugar or kombucha.
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 2 cups (1 pint) boiling water (Note: if your city chlorinates your water, dechlorinate it or it may kill the SCOBY.)
Since the goal here isn’t to kill off any yeast or bacteria through temperature shock (which would happen by putting two liquids of the same temperature together), begin your SCOBY growing process by popping your bottle of kombucha on the kitchen counter in order to let it come to room temperature.
Meanwhile, put the sugar and teabags in the glass bowl. Pour two cups of boiling water over the ingredients and stir to combine the sugar. Allow the tea to steep for 10 minutes or so, then remove the teabags and allow the brew to come to room temperature.
When both the kombucha and the sweetened tea are room temperature, pour the entire bottle of kombucha into the bowl of sweetened tea. Taking care not to let the towel touch the brew, cover the bowl with the towel and secure it in place with the rubber band. Set the entire thing in a warm, dry place and forget all about its existence for at least two weeks. Visually check the SCOBY’s growth process at that time. Chances are you’ll have a new, happy SCOBY that’s about a quarter-inch thick, floating on top of the brew. However, if the SCOBY hasn’t quite grown as thick and uniform as you would like, let it continue to grow for another week or so.
At this point, you can brew up a massive batch of sweet tea and start brewing some drinkable kombucha by adding the SCOBY and a bit of the culturing liquid to the sweet tea, or you can put things on pause. If you need to store the SCOBY for a time, you can continue to leave it in the bowl. Just make sure the liquid doesn’t completely evaporate. You may want to look into setting up a “SCOBY Hotel”, which is just a second vessel identical to your brewing vessel that will hold a quantity of very strong kombucha liquid and extra SCOBYs. If you are gifting the SCOBY to a friend, you can put it into a glass mason jar (it folds!). Place the SCOBY into the jar, then strain any solids or strings out of the culturing liquid before adding the culturing liquid to the glass mason jar. If the culturing liquid doesn’t quite cover the SCOBY, add some room temperature sweetened tea to the jar until it does. Seal the jar with a plastic lid. You can use mason jar storage to refrigerate extra SCOBYs if you like. However, keep in mind that refrigerating the SCOBY does have the potential to kill off some of the yeast and bacteria that you want, and the SCOBY will never again lie flat in the brew once it has been folded. Use fridge storage as a last resort.
Keep in mind that there will be a fair bit of variety in the SCOBY that will grow. The first time I grew SCOBYs, I did two side by side using the exact same materials: identical bowls, towels, and culturing tea (I brewed a 4 cup batch and divided it between the bowls). The SCOBY resulting from one GT’s bottle was picture perfect: completely uniform and seriously thick. The SCOBY from the second bottle was kind of thin and the color was splotchy. It almost looked like it didn’t have a middle. The sour culturing liquid from both, however, smelled and tasted just fine. I gave the pretty SCOBY to a friend and used the ugly one myself. Ugly SCOBY and its progeny have been my faithful brewers ever since…and my ticket to any number of Craigslist ride shares to Portland.