Wide World of 'Buch
The 3 rules for making perfect kombucha every brew are:
- Fresh healthy SCOBY and starter liquid every brew. Start with the best SCOBY and starter you can get your hands on (the SCOBY that come from our lab are the best of the best). Then when you are going to start your next batch use ONLY the new SCOBY that has formed on the surface and 1 cup of starter from the top of the vessel before you bottle. That’s the first cup of kombucha not the last. By doing these two things you are keeping your microbial colony diverse and in balance. If you are keeping old SCOBY in your brew Acetobacter (most dominant bacteria in the SCOBY and the one responsible for making acetic acid which is the acid that taste like strong vinegar) takes over and starts to make you tea vinegar. If you use yeasty starter you will over populate the yeast colony and get an unpleasantly boozy brew. This rule is very important for people looking to start a “continuous brew.” You are sure to end up with vinegar if you do. See more about the reasons why you should never continuously brew here. If you are looking to take a break from brewing store your SCOBY in a tightly sealed container IN THE FRIDGE along with enough fresh starter liquid to start another brew. A SCOBY can remain unchanged in the fridge for up to 3 months.
- Use whole pure ingredients (nutrients) for fermentation. That’s straight tea (white, green, black, oolong, pu-erh, matcha) and processed cane sugar ONLY. Herbs and non-camellia sinensis tea will only create flavor for you not nutrients for the SCOBY. If you use them they will not feed the microbes in the SCOBY, which will intern kill off many of the lesser dominant species. Pure tea is what the SCOBY is looking for so is what it should get. If you want to ferment herbs use a SCOBY from your hotel, not your main mother SCOBY. Processed cane sugar is the only sugar to be used for fermentation. Raw sugar is covered in minerals which although good for us gets in the way of the SCOBY when its trying to break down the compounds of sugar (fructose, glucose, and sucrose). If the SCOBY cant get to the sugar it will have the same affect as above and weaken the colony. Organic is always better for the SCOBY and for but not necessary.
- Keep your temperature at a good level and keep it as steady as possible. The temperature range for brewing is 68-86F (20-30C) but the ideal is 78-82F (25-27C). The closer you can come to that sweet spot the better your brew will be. If your temperature is below 68F your brew will not be actively fermenting and can let it unwanted microbes like wild yeast or mold. If temperature is a problem to keep steady grab a heat mat to heat year round.
Do these three things and you’ll be brewing like a Kombrewmaster in no time.
We receive quite a few emails regarding SCOBY health, and as a result an immense number of images and stories about home brews all over the world. The most common message we receive is on the topic of mold speculation and brew failure.
After digging a little deeper, it's frequently revealed that the brewer has started their brew with a dehydrated SCOBY. We did some of our own investigating using a very commonly procured dehydrated SCOBY and wrote about our results here.
Our customers have made some adjustments after realizing the difficulty of brewing with a dehydrated culture, much like our customer Jonny:
Just wanted to say thank you. Wow the batch of buch that you gave me is exponentially better than the dehydrated scoby I got from the other company! Its even a little fizzy just like the stuff off the shelves and looks like its coming along fantastically . Thanks a million. -Jonny
After starting a brew with a freshly-grown SCOBY, things will move along swimmingly.
Photos of brews from a dehydrated SCOBY
Content below may not be suitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.
So, start your kombucha brews with fresh SCOBY every time and save yourself the ignominy of a moldy brew and the pain of losing what once was a mother with a bright, wet future!
A Common Problem :
My Kombucha tastes like vinegar.
My kombucha ferments so fast I can't control it.
Time and time again, it is because they were trying the continuous brew method. Sometimes they only continuous brewed for a few weeks before noticing a dip in quality. When they attempted to revert to batch brewing with the same culture, they discovered they had fundamentally changed the culture and could not get it back to its former glory. Here is our educated assumption of what is happening....
Succession is the observed process of change in the species structure of an ecological community over time. Many multi-species ferments are successive in their microbial activity meaning that in the beginning of the fermentation process, a certain species or set of species is active. As their activity changes the composition of the substrate (making it more acidic, for example), the conditions become unfavorable to those first pioneering species. They grow sluggish and eventually halt their activity while the new conditions they created are prime real estate for the next wave of species to succeed. And this can happen several times throughout a fermentation process.
The succession process in fermentation is highly studied and documented in sauerkraut. In the beginning of sauerkraut fermentation, Leuconostoc mesenteroides is the pioneering species that gets going first. As this bacteria proliferates and its acid-producing activity lowers the pH in the crock, the conditions become intolerable for it. It’s kind of like if you keep setting up more and more kombucha brews in your kitchen, eventually it will become so overwhelmingly acidic smelling in there you won’t be able to go in without a respirator. (Believe me, we know). So, once Leuconostoc mesenteroides has chopped its nose off despite its face, other species in the crock that love lower pH conditions, like Lactobacillus plantarum and Luteimonas cucumeris, wake up and shine! They get active digesting stuff, transforming stuff, creating their own styles of acids that then lower the pH even more. They have their time in the limelight and then the conditions become intolerable to them (again by their own activity!) and they stagnate. But those low low pH conditions are perfect for the next round of fermenting bacteria to set up shop and Lactobacillus brevis begin their heyday creating their own signature acids.
With each wave of microbial activity, a new set of compounds is created and it is the layering of these compounds in succession that creates the complex health attributes and delicious characteristics of finely made sauerkraut. One would not throw a cabbage into a crock with only the last round of bacteria and expect it to yield the same delightful results as a ferment that has gone through all of the natural stages of complex fermentation . No no no.
And this explains why we don’t advocate continuously brewing kombucha. In our years of experience in home fermenting and commercially brewing kombucha, we have never tasted a kombucha made using the continuous brewing method that meets our standards for a robust, complex and delightful 'buch. Continuous brewed kombucha results in a profile that skews toward too much acetic acid. You can tell because it tastes like vinegar.
Not only that, but kombucha cultures that have at some point in the their history gone through a period of continuous brewing seem to lose the ability to ferment at the earlier stages altogether – the cultures seem to have lost the pioneering species and have become concentrated with the microbial species typical of later stages of fermentation. You can always tell a SCOBY has a continuous brew heritage by the immediate formation of the “vinegar” flavor that is characteristic of acetic acid just hours after a new batch is inoculated. This is not the kombucha that we like to drink and we think it may not have the same nutritive characteristics as those that are allowed to go through all stages of fermentation in batch brewing. We have also never seen a SCOBY recover their pioneering abilities.
If you are in the market for a new SCOBY, we highly recommend you start with a SCOBY guaranteed to have never been used to continuously brew kombucha. Your crock, palette and belly will thank you.
Most kombucha brewers are aware, to an extent, of the prevalence of hearsay and unfounded rhetoric surrounding every facet of the kombucha experience. The ongoing conversations are what fuels, to a great extent, the content of this particular blog, while also contributing to a modern kombucha mythos.
Power of direct experience
To be absolutely honest, though, so much content must be experiential due to the simple fact that obtaining actual research on the subject of kombucha can be difficult. The small amount of research that has been done can be difficult or expensive to access. The things we discover in our own experiences, or those of others, are excellent sources. Experiential data holds great weight for home brewers.
Sure, it can be useful to cite x or y article that references the 'buch. These impressions will always exist, and the weight we contribute to them is of course a matter of our own willingness to accept or reject these and other sometimes unfounded suppositions. As with any data on the internet, though, check your sources.
Reports that hold salt
There is some excellent data we can all point towards, either to support or helpfully reject some facets of our experiential understanding. Excellent sources include a number of books and scientific papers.
One great source we've recently discovered, though, is a portal to all sorts of scientific knowledge previously accessible only to those willing to pay for it. However, we see that the idealization of the free flow of information has issued into a vast majority of science literature being made freely available. An article about the woman behind this democratizing action, and a link to her eye-opening project can be found here. A simple search for "kombucha" on her hub yields quite a number of papers that point to scientifically-tested aspects of our favorite beverage.
The ever-useful Reddit also has a section titled Scholar - and, doing a quick search for "kombucha" here can bring up a good amount of scientifically-verified data on the 'buch!
Kombucha cohorts over at the Happy Herbalist have compiled a useful page as well, citing some of these studies, which can be found here. Referenced is one of the major studies about kombucha, performed by Michael Roussin, for example. In his research, one of many things he revealed is that caffeine content of teas is not affected by fermentation. It is notable that this research runs contrary to the popular belief that kombucha fermentation helps to mitigate caffeine from the tea's infusion - good information for those with caffeine allergies to know before embarking on a brewing project, but also a great example of the potential of science to debunk a common bit of kombucha mythology.
As with many things in our own lives, the phrase "you decide your own level of involvement" rings loud and clear when we attempt to build up our knowledge base with regards to kombucha. Our own direct experience can be incredibly powerful, but when bolstered by scientific findings, we can come much closer to a full-circle understanding that enriches our brewing experience and propels our lives towards vitality and happiness. Happy brewing!
Sinking, Floating, and Fusing
To the un-initiated, the orientation of the kombucha SCOBY can be a mystifying ponderance. Shouldn't it float at the top? If it sinks, will the brew fail? The answers really are much more of an indifference to chaos than a culture control regimen.
The mother SCOBY you used to start your new brew should be considered different from the resulting, new SCOBY that grows on the surface of your new brew. Let's call that original the mother, and the new one (that will begin to form on the surface) the baby. When you start your brew, adding the mother to the sweet tea, that original culture may float, at the surface, it may sink, or it may just hover in the middle. Any of these orientations is 100% okay and should not be considered indicative of viability. The mother will potentially fuse together with the baby, too, and that's fine. The SCOBY doesn't have a mind of its own, it's not drowning if it sinks and it's not dangerous if it floats before the baby has a chance to start growing. Much more indicative of brew health is the level of sweetness, which should decrease with time, and acidity, which should increase.
Most of the time, when I hear that someone's SCOBY has disappeared, the issue is very simple. Just bumping your fermentation vessel while it is brewing is enough to cause the SCOBY to sink below the surface of the tea. So, whereas previously there was a thin baby growing on the surface, it will now have "disappeared." It's very often likely that a little disturbance caused the culture to sink, potentially not being visible in the tea below. But remember, taste your brew throughout the fermentation process so you can tell if it is progressing or not. Nearly 100% of the time it is, and any speculation or fear of failure is unfounded.
Your SCOBY after the First Brew
After your first brew, you'll likely have 2 types of culture you will deal with. One will be the original, or mother, culture - this will obviously not always be a single, coherent piece - maybe you picked up 2 pieces of culture from a friend, or got one of our 3-gallon ceramic deluxe kits with 3 SCOBYs, or just used shards of SCOBY from another brew - this culture can all be considered the mother.
So, you will have the mother and the baby, which will be the new culture that will have formed. Please note as well - new culture will always grow on the surface, and you can't grow kombucha SCOBY underneath the surface of the tea. Yeast tendrils may form in the liquid, but you won't see new SCOBY forming in the liquid.
Tendrils, Dark Spots, Bubbles, Oh My!
These are all things that cause trepidation on the part of new brewers, but once you get used to the strange things you'll see, that initial skepticism will turn to awe every time you brew!
And below, the classic and spine-tingling Brown Visitor. Be careful when peeking at your brew before bedtime.
Below, also, are some common brown visitors. The specks on the surface (left) are often yeast granules that are at times tough and grainy, but are totally normal. On the right are just bits of tea that didn't get strained out during steeping.
And finally, the giant SCOBY. Simply the result of a long fermentation time, there's nothing to fear here. The kombucha below this one will likely be pretty sour, but both parts can be used as normal. The kombucha as vinegar or starter, and the culture as a mother, backup or foodstuff.
Don't Freak Out!
So, next time your brew is weirding you out, remember that SCOBY lead lives of their own and don't bow to our expectations of understanding. If any of the above troubles you, let it be laid to rest. Remember that the ultimate test of a successful brew is good fun and great taste. Happy brewing!
Check out this blog post if you think your kombucha SCOBY may be performing in less savory fashions, i.e. growing mold
Getting nervous about how late you can order from KBBK and still have it under the tree for Christmas morning? Our carriers have declared that if you order by the dates on this map, they will be able to get your package to these locations before Dec 25th. If you're looking for last minute gifts after these dates, we have expedited shipping options.
We will be shipping orders until Dec 23rd. Give us a call if you need help getting an order together.
Happy holiday brewing!
We're always trying to see just how far we can go in playing with our primary ferments. This recipe is a great example of treading in unknown territory and coming out with a positive result.
Generally we don't advise using non-tea or whole spices in primary fermentation, as this can interfere with the metabolism of the culture and won't guarantee a successful brew. But with plenty of culture to go around, and some ambitious spirit, we've found we can take our brews to places unfathomed. Enter Melange, the ultimate holiday kombucha.
Some of our favorite spices are prevalent around the holiday season, so we decided to take two of the tastiest - clove and cinnamon - for a ride in this brew. This recipe gets bonus points for its simplicity!
Makes 1 gallon
- 4 grams each black, green, and white tea (or 1 bag KBBK Signature Tea Blend)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 8 whole cloves
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup brewed kombucha (for starter)
Boil water as you would normally, and steep the tea blend along with the cloves and cinnamon. Once you've allowed this mix to steep for at least 20 minutes, just remove the tea bag (leave the clove and cinnamon in!), add sugar, top off with cool water, and add your SCOBY and starter. Unique to this brew, we're leaving the cloves and cinnamon in with the culture for the primary fermentation process - we didn't notice any adverse effects to the SCOBY at all!
As with any brew, allow to ferment until a balance of sweetness and acidity is achieved. Let sit at room temperature for 2-3 weeks to allow carbonation to develop, if you want effervescence. Serve this on cold winter mornings with breakfast for a warming pick-me-up!
We are not responsible for any inadvertent prescience or trance-like states imparted by the consumption of Melange.
Like a cool glass of kombucha after a big Thanksgiving meal, #GivingTuesday is a great way to cleanse the palette of consumerism after the big shop-off that happens every year on Black Friday - Cyber Monday weekend. As a kombucha brewer, you have special fermentation skills that can bring health and vitality to so many people in your community. Today, on this Giving Tuesday, put your skills to work for the people and spread the kombucha health.
Kombuchmaster's Guide To Giving Tuesday
Donate ‘buch Your favorite local charity, club, civic group, NGO, spiritual center, not-for-profit, school group, and many others, would love to have fresh and healthy ‘buch to serve to those in need as well as to help fuel their own work in their quest to do good. As a kombucha brewer, you know that making a straight up batch of ‘buch is as easy as brewing a cup of tea. So next time you brew up a batch, reach into that SCOBY HOTEL and put on a second or even a third batch to donate to a local organization.
Throw a ‘buch party Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll live forever. Same goes with the ‘buch! As a kombrewer, the most valuable thing you have is knowledge. So spread it! Invite members of your community to your home to learn the skill of kombucha brewing or perhaps your local community center, school, library, or YMCA will host your event. And we want to help out! Get in touch with us for group discounts on KBBK brewing supplies to help your neighbors get started.
Secret Santa some SCOBY Rancher's Snacks! Guerilla ‘buching has never been as fun as it is in the holidays. It’s a great time to use up some of those SCOBYs you’ve been stashing in your SCOBY hotel. Make up a big batch of SCOBY Rancher's Snacks, package them in small, sneakable packages, and leave them on your co-workers’ desk, drop them into the holiday stockings of friends that you visit, or drop them in a bowl and take them to your holiday potluck!
From us here at KBBK, thank you for joining us in giving on #GivingTuesday and every day of the year! Continue reading
It can be tough to know just what to get for your BFF (best fermenting friend). Let us help you with some tried-and-true gifts that are sure to add some joy to this holiday season. Selected based on ordering history, here is our Kombucha Holiday Gift Guide 2015:
For the Kombrewster just starting out:
This combo will gift the new brewer with everything they need to brew, bottle and start experimenting with flavors. A 1 gallon ceramic crock with its organic cloth cover will not only look great, but it will fit in a kitchen of any size. Enough ingredients for 4 rounds of ‘buch will get them through until Valentine’s Day. Share the wealth of kombucha with your loved ones.
For the Kombrewmaster already established in their practice:
Kombucha is wonderful. Did you know it is also the base for a sophisticated, sulfite-free wine? This season, give your favorite kombuchasseur the gift of a Kombucha Wine Kit and bring in the new year with added style! Comes with everything some one who is already brewing ‘buch will need to complete the wine ferment.
For the Fermentation Enthusiast:
This is the ultimate setup for the home fermenter. Use it with the organic cotton cover to brew fabulous ‘buch. In between batches of kombucha, fill it with cabbage and salt or ingredients for your favorite kimchi recipe, weigh them down with the weights, cover it with the lid and put your crock to work overtime!
It's the best time of the year...
Now through Monday at midnight take advantage of our Kombucha Black Friday & Cyber Monday Sale and give the gift of fermentation.
15% off everything in the entire store 20% off if you spend $150 or more 25% off if you spend $250 or more
Discount applied at checkout.