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The Kombucha SCOBY Demystified

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.

 

KBBK sunken SCOBY SCOBY has sunken to the bottom of the brew vessel

 

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.

 

Kombucha Brooklyn fused cultures Two original SCOBYs have fused with the new baby, this is normal. No need to call Ellen Ripley.

 

Disappearing SCOBY

 

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.

 

KBBK SCOBY Bumped jar scenario; you can see the older SCOBY below a newer layer on the surface; when this happens with a much thinner surface layer, often it can fold up and be imperceptible under the surface

 

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.

 

Kombucha Brooklyn fused cultures Cultures have fused together, mother and baby together in one

 

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!

 

Kombucha Brooklyn SCOBY Yeast strands, totally normal; think of them as SCOBY hair

 

KBBK SCOBY SCOBY yeast can often look slimy and even green - this is fine

 

And below, the classic and spine-tingling Brown Visitor. Be careful when peeking at your brew before bedtime.

 

KBBK Brown Visitor The Brown Visitor is just a conglomeration of yeast, and your SCOBY will probably grow around it. Bubbles are usually involved around the glob, too.

 

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.

 

KBBK SCOBY specks Specks in the SCOBY

 

Giant SCOBY

 

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.

 

KBBK thick SCOBY Thick SCOBY is the result of vigorous metabolism and usually a long ferment

 

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

 


 

 

9 thoughts on “The Kombucha SCOBY Demystified”

  • Dulcie

    Great article!

    Reply
  • Jay

    I've been brewing kombucha for about 9 months. I brew 4 half gallon jars at a time. The scobys are getting pretty big and thick. Is there anything I need to be concerned with? Am I correct to assume the size of the scoby can affect the rate of fermentation?

    Reply
    • Chris

      Jay, having a huge SCOBY in your jar will eventually begin to slow the fermentation process. Consider breaking it up, and use the newest parts for successive brews. Idealize a chunk of culture about the size of a pack of playing cards for a 1-gallon batch. Happy brewing!

      Reply
  • Rosa Flores

    I love the taste of this Kombucha. I'm just learning about this Kombucha.

    Reply
  • Cassandra

    I am looking to perhaps purchase a new SCOBY from you guys.

    I bought a scoby on amazon-- organic scoby allegedly.
    I followed the directions but mostly only added 1 cup of starter (I now see 2 cups) for one gallon. I had been brewing for about 7 months or so going almost a week and a half brewing time.

    My ratios:
    1 gallon filtered water.
    8 bags of tea (green/black or both),
    1 o 1/2 cups sugar, and filtered water.

    All of a sudden I developed a rash under my armpit that i had never had. There were times it was painful and so red it actually hurt.
    I eat mostly clean, no processed, sugar/GF foods.
    Needless to say I had to stop. Low and behold the rash starts dissappearing.

    My question is: Could it be that "that scoby" wasn't great? It wasn't "as clean" as yours it was more of a beige/brownish color when I got it.

    Again, I'd like to find out if I am somehow allergic? Was it the die off and if it was, how come it didn't go away with the booch?
    Also, would a Tibetian be better?
    WK grains instead?

    I'd love your input so I can resume my booch. I can't find answers anywhere.

    Thanks in advance
    Love your vids and info

    xox

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hi Cassandra, I'm guessing that you regularly consume store-bought or otherwise kombucha that doesn't cause the reaction? It's possible that it's just a reaction to kombucha in general - but that's not to say that all cultures are the same. Try using 1 cup of sugar per gallon and 6 tea bags, and of course grab a culture from us if you like to see if the issue persists. The "Jun" culture is an excellent choice and makes amazing kombucha. The sweetener used is honey instead of sugar. Let us know how it goes!

      Reply
  • John

    Currently using a black tea and the KB scoby I purchased and now interested in branching out into other teas. Can a scoby that was used for with black tea be used for green or are there tea specific scobys I should buy instead?

    Reply
  • Johanna

    Okay, so I’ve made a few batches now and the SCOBYs have been multiplying like crazy. In an interim between batches, I put them in a plastic container with some kombucha juice and the lid on. I think this is where things went wrong. Things solidified a bit and I separated them and started some fresh brews. The next batches however, just don’t taste nearly as great and almost bland. I also might have gotten them too warm, I put them in our furnace room. They are also not forming SCOBYs as well, only thin sheets. :( Any help would be appreciated!!

    Reply
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