Knowing your brew is doing well is vital. That’s why we are here to diagnose any concern you might have. We see hundreds of pictures every week from home brewers all over the world. In order for us to make a sound diagnosis there is a certain set of questions and pictures that will tell us what is going on. Here is a brew diagnosis checklist for you to complete before submitting a query.
In making sure there is not a problem with a brew we need to see pictures. Luckily, taking and sending pictures is an easy every day activity. The ideal set consists of three images:
3. Profile shot of entire brew
The more pictures the merrier. Don’t feel like these are the only shots you should send if you have the will to send more. In the event that there are still questions after viewing the photos we may request a couple more shots of any area of concern.
With most inquiries we will ask the same set of questions. The answers will give us a reason for an issue if there is one and will help us guide you to make the necessary changes to your brew set up.
- What is the average temperature of the brew while it is fermenting?
- How long has it been fermenting?
- Where did the original SCOBY (mother, mushroom, culture) come from?
- How much starter liquid was used?
- What tea/blend and sweetener was used, and what quantity?
We can almost know everything we need to know just from these five questions. As with pictures though, if there is something specific we need more information on, we will ask.
As you can see diagnosing a brew is just as easy as brewing. With only a few simple steps we will gladly tell you what’s going on. In 95% of the cases we see, when using a proper set up there is nothing actually going on, just a new brewer needing some confirmation on their brew.
In making kombucha, starting from a commercial bottle of kombucha was not a bad idea 5 years ago but the industry has changed. The day of the small micro-kombucha brewery making unfiltered, raw kombucha is coming to an end.
These days, many breweries are using additives and filtration processes to help control the fermentation process - a standard practice in the commercial brewing world for established industries like beer and wine. Sure, it can be a relatively inexpensive way to get going, but you may be propagating something you didn't intend. For this reason, it is best to start a batch of kombucha using a fresh, straight-from-the-fermenter SCOBY.
Think about it like this. A town of 5,000 trying to build a new meeting hall will have a hard time not building more than a room with four walls.
A town of 5,000,000 will be able to not just build a room with four walls but a whole structure full of rooms, passageways and fun things to do (definitely an amazing kitchen).
The same can be said for a colony of kombucha microbes coming from a commercial bottle of kombucha (town of 5,000) and a fresh kombucha SCOBY and starter (town of 5,000,000). There is really no comparison. The fresh SCOBY will brew a potent delicious kombucha the first round, in the normal 10-14 days, where as the commercial brew starter may not even form a new SCOBY let alone ferment a perfect batch in 10 days.
We get photos all the time of peoples brews that have molded after trying to start a batch with a bottle of the popular brands of kombucha.
Don’t waste your time or ingredients trying to build a colony from a subpar SCOBY. Start with a lab-grown, fermenter-fresh SCOBY and get perfect brews right away. Because let's get real, who wants to wait more than 10 days for their ‘buch?
Stay tuned for Starting from a Commercial Bottle, pt. 2!
We get quite a few photos sent to us from brewers across the globe, inquiring about kombucha SCOBYs - "Is this mold?" It's usually pretty simple to tell mold from healthy, or just bizarre, brews. Bizarre brews can result from extreme temperature fluctuation, the use of highly unrefined sugars, oily or flavored teas, or too much or too little of any ingredient; however, they won't usually create dry, fuzzy formations on the surface of the brew. Mold will always be dry and fuzzy, and form on top of the liquid in your brew jar. Read this blog post for more thoughts on kombucha and mold.
The photos below indicate healthy brews in various stages of growth - some may be 3 days of growth, indicated usually by thin, papery culture growing on the surface, to thick cultures with lots of yeast involved. You'll see strands of yeast growing below the surface of the tea, like tendrils, reaching down into the brew - this is completely normal. The opaque, greenish/brownish blobs are yeast too. Often, yeast will collect on one side of your brew jar, just under the SCOBY.
As always, please keep sending photographs of your home brews! We're always happy to receive and assess the brews for you. Happy brewing!
There are a few tantalizing aspects of home brewing kombucha that keep us coming back for more, aside from (obviously) drinking kombucha on the regular. Sure, it's the way it makes us feel - cleanly energized, refreshed, and awakened. It's economical - anyone who began their kombucha regimen with store-bought bottles knows that it's an expensive thing to love ready-to-drink kombucha. It's a healthy beverage, an easy way to dose oneself with probiotics, b-vitamins, amino acids and enzymes - and it can be very low in sugar.
But one of the major facets of home-brewing crusades is simply that it's fun! Brewing kombucha is intellectually stimulating. Just as any scientist hones his work through trial and error and learns as much from failure as from success, we as home brewers are taunted by that 'buch event horizon, the unknown territory beyond the edge of the abyss.
Not to discount the would-be brewers of the classics - but there's always space for that new brew that leaves our taste buds whirling in an ecstasy of confusion, surprise and delight.
Just as any brewer knows, there will always be home runs and strike outs. In kombucha brewing, a failure could potentially lead to the loss of your beloved mother (SCOBY, kombucha culture, mushroom etc.). If you have only maintained one culture throughout your brewing escapades, you're walking on thin ice!
Enter the SCOBY hotel. A comfortable, safe home for the SCOBY on the down-and-out. A cage for potential future meals. A reservoir of dreams for the adventurous brewer. Really, all it has to be is a lidded jar in your refrigerator.
Consider this - each time you harvest your 'buch, you will have grown another SCOBY in your brew jar. As always, you'll use the newest culture for your next brew, and either discard or save the original mother. But what do you do with the mothers you've saved?
Eat them, share them with friends, sure. But you've got an additional use for those mothers. They are your brewer's insurance. Every brewer remembers their first failed batch, causing you to source another SCOBY. But if you've been brewing for any amount of time, you could already have 5 mothers saved up in your hotel, keeping you from having to source another culture.
Another great thing about saving your SCOBYs in a hotel is the experimentation it allows. Have you ever wondered what will happen to a SCOBY in grape juice? Coffee? Beer?
Or what if you want to try out some tantalizing new herb blends that you're not sure will ferment properly. It's always rewarding, even if you fail, to try out something new. Even a few of the blends we've put up on our website, like Buffalo Soldier or Red Chai we were unsure about, at the start. But they turned out to be some of our favorite, out-of-the-box flavors, and both are completely unconventional, as far as 'buch brewing is concerned.
So - are you sitting on a load of thyme, or wild-harvested lilac? Have a bunch of old Earl Grey tea bags you want to get rid of? Or did you devise that ideal, mouth-watering kombucha that you think only has a slight chance of being successful? With the security of a load of backup SCOBYs, comfortable in your refrigerator, a moldy brew or SCOBY that doesn't make a baby will be no matter to you. Dream on, 'buchies! Let's do some exploring.
If you're brewing 'buch these days, you might notice that higher summer temperatures can lead to proliferation of yeast in your brew. These useful microorganisms, if overactive, can result in some unwanted consequences.
The consumption of sugar by yeast leads to the creation of alcohol as well as CO2. These can be friends and foes in kombucha brewing for a few reasons. Read this blog for more information on sugar, alcohol and kombucha.
Alcohol is an absolutely necessary facet of brewing kombucha. But much like the initial sugar you put in your brew, alcohol serves the SCOBY, not you, the end consumer. When yeast creates alcohol, bacteria consume it and create the various acids that make up the classic kombucha profile - acetic, glucoronic, hyaluronic, butyric, succinic, usnic etc. Excess alcohol that is not consumed by the bacteria does end up in your belly, but not to any great extent.
Overactive yeast can increase alcohol production and CO2, especially in secondary fermentation. So, it can be good to get rid of as much yeast as possible if you want to try to bottle up your kombucha.
But, alcohol isn't the only reason one would want to mitigate the passage of yeast into your bottle for secondary fermentation. Lots of people are averse to what many call the "stringy," or "floaty things" in kombucha - brown strands of yeast are very common in 'buch, however. Just the sight of them, can elicit cringes from the most discerning would-be 'buch drinkers. And if you're trying to get skeptics to drink your home brew, the aesthetic can be a making or breaking factor.
And while most of us enjoy the simple, wholesome flavor of yeast (this can be biscuity, bready etc.), it's not necessarily everyone's favorite aspect.
Highly yeasty 'buch in secondary fermentation can also make for faster production of CO2, which, while producing the lovable effervescence home brewers strive for, can make for higher volatility - most seasoned home brewers have experienced at least a bottle explosion or two as a result of this effect.
It is for these reasons that we choose to strain our 'buch before we bottle it up. Greater consistency comes in secondary fermentation when you strain your 'buch the same way every time, all while keeps skeptics relatively appeased.
We love to use a simple, sturdy strainer - the yeast / tea strainer. Not only does it get the yeasties out of our brew, but it also catches any leftover tea particulate that may have made it in from your steep.
Here's a look at what is left in the strainer:
You can use the strainer in combination with a nylon mesh filter bag to maximize your filtration:
So, if your 'buch has been overactive in carbonation, aesthetically coarse, or a little too boozy for your liking, consider simply straining it! It's the combination of these small steps that will turn you into a master 'buch brewer. Happy brewing!
But there's one avenue we haven't covered yet, and that's the use of the glorious herb that is hops in flavoring your kombucha. We've found that the combination of hops and kombucha makes an exceptional spicy, dry and floral kombucha whose thirst-quenching ability is second to none. For a couple of years we've gotten our hops from Wrobel Farms, in Bridgewater, NY and have been very pleased to use their whole cone and pellet cascade hops in our keg program's 'buch.
The approach we've taken with hops and kombucha is to "dry hop" it - that means that the hops are added to the kombucha after we've steeped the tea. Unlike our love for using herbs in the tea infusion, we've been leaving the hops out of this stage.
Generally, in beer brewing, it's common to add hops during the boiling process to contribute a bitter aspect - this can be early on in the boil, or at the end of the boil, depending on the amount of bitterness desired in the final brew. This does reduce the amount of volatile hop oils in your brew, but the addition of hops after the boil has become commonplace as well, and it is this practice we label "dry hopping." The end result is that the hops contribute an intensely hoppy essence to your brew, with a deeply floral aspect that is incomparable to boiled hops, which will have lost much of the volatile oil originally present in the herb.
On the whole, hop with low alpha-acid ratings are chosen for dry-hopping, since they will have less of a bittering effect on the brew, and will contribute more highly floral and aromatic notes.
When we're dry-hopping our kombucha, we simply add the hops to a vessel containing kombucha for secondary fermentation. For a 32-oz growler, adding 3 grams of whole cone hops gives your brew a nice, strong flavor.
Consider this approach: add 12 grams whole cone hops, per gallon, to kombucha that is finished with primary fermentation. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least a week. After a week, strain out the hops, distribute into bottles, and allow to undergo secondary fermentation.
Remember, though that you should monitor your secondary fermentations with a plastic bottle so you can observe the carbonation taking place in all of your glass bottles. Read more on this simple process here.
So - get some 'buch going, and spice it up with some hops!
We get so many questions on how to make kombucha, when sometimes all you need is a delicious recipe! We hope you tried Ruby Daydream - but here are a few more kombucha recipes to whet your appetite for killer 'buch.
All recipes below are for a 1-gallon brew.
This is an old school blend that saw its heyday at the New Amsterdam Market at Manhattan's South Street Seaport. We made it only a few small batches in a collaboration with our friends at Runa, a company that distributes the delicious Amazonian energizing herb guayusa. We've done lots of brewing with yerba mate, and guayusa is its cousin. The result tasted reminiscent of grapes and flowers, which is where this tasty brew got its name.
- 7 grams gunpowder green tea (though any unflavored green tea will do)
- 6 grams guayusa
- 1 gram lavender
Allow to ferment until it's reached a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. You likely won't see incredible SCOBY growth from this blend, but of course that isn't necessary to make great 'buch ;-).
We got the idea for this one when making a Motley Brü. The Motley Brü is pretty much as it sounds - leftover, unlabeled and orphaned tea is steeped and brewed into a kombucha that can usually never be recreated. One particular blend of this variety contained some Lapsang Souchong, resulting in an incredibly smokey 'buch. Thinking we could balance it out, Velvet Smoke was born. By pulling back on the amount of the smoked tea and supplanting it simply with English breakfast tea, and softening the whole number with some soothing chamomile we were able to create one of the most pleasant small batch brews ever.
- 8 grams English Breakfast tea
- 4 grams Lapsang Souchong
- 2 grams chamomile
Like any brew, ferment until balance is achieved. Allow to undergo secondary fermentation to impart refreshing effervescence, chill and serve. Strange but fantastic, this will be a classic in your 'buch repertoire.
This brew is a real crowd pleaser. If you've ever tasted pineapple tepache, popular in Mexico and Central America, you have an idea of what this recipe will turn out like. Fermented with black tea and herbal chai, it's finished in secondary fermentation with pineapple juice. The result is a citrus-fruity, spicy 'buch that cuts through the summer heat.
- 12 grams English Breakfast tea
- 3 grams herbal chai tea (use regular chai if you don't have herbal)
With this brew, you will be able to let it ferment a little bit longer than normal - maybe a bit past the sweet/acid balance.
Add 3 oz of pineapple juice to a 16 ounce bottle, and fill the rest with the fermented English Breakfast / chai mix. Use the same ratio for other bottle sizes. Allow to become effervescent, but fill the exact same mix into a plastic bottle so you can use it as a model for the carbonation being built up in your glass bottles. Once carbonated, refrigerate and enjoy.
This one is a throwback to a bygone era when information on 'buch was few and far between. I was fermenting with way too much tea per gallon (48g!), but my did the linen closet 'buch flow like wine. Big into secondary fermentation flavoring, but not into the relatively plain flavors available at the store, I used two ingredients that were seasonal and readily available - strawberries and rosemary. Language can often give you hints at flavors to try, and these two words fit together so well I had to make it. I'm glad I did.
Honestly, steep whatever you've got. I'd recommend a blend of black, green and white tea, because strawberry is relatively overpowering and a nice backbone of black tea will maintain more of a tea flavor at the end of this brew. This one is all about secondary fermentation.
Here's where it gets fun. You're going to make a decoction of strawberries and rosemary. For one gallon, you'll want 1-2 cups of this mixture for flavoring your bottles. Dice up a handful of strawberries and add them to 24 oz boiling water, and a tablespoon of dried rosemary. Allow to simmer on low until the mixture has reduced by about half. Taste it periodically in case you need to add more rosemary. Be sure to bottle into plastic as well so you can tell when you've built up a good amount of carbonation. This is another hot day masterpiece that will turn the heads of your BBQ patrons!
The recipes here have been developed with a spirit of fun and experimentation, as outlined in the blog Home Brewing Kombucha: Think Outside the Box. Our tea blends Buffalo Soldier, Red Chai, Holy Diver, Easy Rider and Sunbather have been made in the same spirit.
Great kombucha can come from a bottle at the store, or on tap at a bar or restaurant, but the most satisfying 'buch in the world comes from your home, the product of chaos, courage, and enthusiasm. You're highly encouraged to try these recipes, but really we hope they are springboards for you to develop your own truly unique kombucha!
We receive a lot of questions on the use of loose-leaf teas in kombucha brewing. This is a good thing - loose-leaf teas provide the most flavor and the most bang for your buck, as compared to commercial teas packaged in bags.
That's not to say tea bags aren't practical - they make it very easy to steep your tea, and what's in the bag is usually the remains of the processing of loose-leaf tea - this can include dust and fannings, or broken pieces of leaf - and is intended to be able to be steeped relatively quickly.
Loose-leaf tea, however, requires more effort than simple dunking to elicit the flavors and nuances of the tea. And, you're actually steeping the whole leaf - ideally, no broken pieces are part of the infusion.
Since the whole leaf is used, it poses an issue for many people used to volumetric measurements common in baking. Twelve grams of one tea will comprise a different volume than another tea. See below an example of 12 grams of 3 different types of tea:
Consistency is important
For any brewer who wants to consistently reproduce brews and generally improve technique and the quality of your brew, it helps to be accurate with your measurements. This couldn't be more important than with the steeped ingredients for your kombucha brew; you could be steeping all one tea, or using a multitude of different teas and herbs in a blend. We can easily make suggestions and approximations of the volume of teas, using tablespoons etc., but the most accurate way to measure tea is by weight. This can be simple, but expensive with a digital scale; it can be inexpensive and simple, too.
Using a pocket scale
For starters, you'll need something in which to weigh your tea. One of the easiest things to use is a nylon mesh bag that you may be steeping your loose-leaf tea in, or any zip or sandwich bag you have handy. You'll need to put your tea into the bag, and add or subtract some based on the weight you're looking for.
In this example, our nylon mesh bag weighs 4 grams:
So, we can "tare" the scale at 4 grams - meaning that after we weigh the tea in the bag, we'll subtract the 4 grams that represents the weight of the bag.
Once you know how much your bag weights, you can then begin to add your tea:
Once you've added the correct amount of tea for one gallon, you should see this - a 16 gram reading on the scale:
Simple, effective, economical
A pocket scale is an excellent, inexpensive way to make your recipes accurate, and therefore consistent and easily replicable. This is one of those must-have items for any kombucha brewer (in addition to the regal auto-siphon). Pick one up and you'll be on the way to 'buch brewing perfection in no time!
You've got your best friend (the auto-siphon). You know how to take care of it. But really, the auto-siphon is a much needier friend than to rely simply on you. That's where the auto-siphon clip comes in.
I thought I had single-handed siphon operation down, but when I discovered the clip I started to wonder what I was doing without it. Not only is it great for stabilizing the down tube, it makes it so I can make the siphon hover in the fermentation vessel just above sediment-level. That way I get less sediment in my bottles when I'm filling them, and I can be active with both hands just in case anything goes awry in bottling (when doesn't it...).
After my contentment subsided in just using the clip, I realized another part of my routine that was about to receive an upgrade - drying my auto-siphon. Just laying it in the drying rack doesn't do much for it, you really need to hang it. So, I simply clipped it to my metro rack and voila! It's now an essential part of my 'buch brewing procedure.
It's good to take care of your friends. Here are some general guidelines on cleaning an auto-siphon:
1. As soon as you're done using it, rinse it - pull out the inner tube, run water through it, and remove the end cap for the outer tube, and rinse water through it.
2. It can be tough to get SCOBY out of your auto siphon. Let the setup soak in soapy water to break down any residual culture.
3. Vigorously pump soapy water through it, until any residue or culture is dislodged. Don't be shy, either - shake it or strike it against the palm of your hand so you can make sure to get all of the SCOBY out of it. If you want to get really intense, use some PBW (powdered brewery wash) as a soaking agent.
4. Importantly, the loose plastic piece that is lodged inside your outer tube (not the end cap - that is removable) is meant to stay there - don't try to remove it! You'll hear it shaking around, but it is lodged there for a reason - it restricts some flow so you can get a good amount of pressure going easily so the flow can begin.