Kombucha Brewing FAQ
What is a SCOBY ?
SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s essentially a cooperative of microorganisms that feed on tea and sugar, and whose products of metabolism create kombucha.
What type of container should I use to grow my SCOBY?
In brewing your own home-made Kombucha, there are a few key characteristics of your brewing vessel that you should look for.
- The vessel should be glass or ceramic. While many will say that food-grade plastic can be used, undesirable flavors often result from continued use of plastics. Glass provides an inactive surface for fermentation to proceed, and will not allow the leaching of chemicals into your brew. If brewing with ceramic always check if it is lead-free (FYI the crocks we carry are lead-free).
- The vessel should be wide-mouthed. The Kombucha SCOBY requires that air be constantly exchanged with the outside environment, as it is constantly taking in oxygen and expelling CO2. A wide surface area ensures fast growth, as well as acidification of the liquid. This results in a healthy culture. The wider the area for the culture to exchange gases, the more numerous the antibacterial byproducts of SCOBY metabolism. Keep in mind that although your SCOBY will grow in tall, narrow-mouthed vessels, it will do so less vigorously.
- The size of the vessel is important, though not quite so much as the liquid’s surface area. Similar to the surface area, however, the more shallow the depth of liquid in the fermentation vessel, the faster the SCOBY grows and processes the tea into delicious kombucha.
- The shape of the vessel is a matter of personal preference, and the culture will take the shape of the container at the level of the liquid’s surface.
How can I store SCOBYs for later use?
While it is easy to “store” a SCOBY at room temperature, it requires somewhat regular maintenance, in the form of adding more tea/sugar (even a small amount) to keep it from drying out and dying from malnutrition. At room temperature, it will process the nutrients in the starter much, much more quickly than it will in the fridge. As such, a SCOBY is most regularly stored in the refrigerator. Keep it submerged in kombucha in a covered container where it will go into a dormant state and will be viable for quite a long time. A glass or ceramic container is recommended, but plastic will work just fine, especially since it's not really undergoing any metabolic processes, to any great extent, while inside your refrigerator. Many shy away from using plastic to store or brew any kombucha ingredients, just to be sure no unwanted flavors or leached chemicals develop in the tea or in the SCOBY.
What kind of tea is best to use in making kombucha?
An important note before we start: tea used in kombucha fermentation is as much for the 'buch drinker as it is for the SCOBY. Tea and sugar are the necessary metabolic foods that the culture needs to grow and thrive, so we must brew it to their fullest potency. It is also an equally important for factor in kombucha flavor.
Black Oolong Green White Pu-Erh
- Black tea produces the most virulent kombucha culture, as this tea contains many important substances the culture uses to metabolize.
- Oolong Tea produces a robust SCOBY. Smells range from fruit, honey, wood and roasted aromas to green mountainside gardens.
- Green tea is not as ideal for the culture, since it lacks many of the products the SCOBY requires to live and grow; powerful, clean punch in flavor.
- White Tea is not ideal for the culture, best to blend for brewing. They are some of the most innocuous but alluring teas, and they often astound those unfamiliar with the style.
- Pu-Erh Tea produces a giant and healthy SCOBY. Smells of sweet notes of earth, tree bark and mushrooms - complex, highly medicinal and refreshing kombuchas are made with Pu-Erhs.
Things to consider
Oil content of teas
Teas that are flavored, or that have high volatile oil content should *ideally be avoided when brewing kombucha. Oil inhibits the SCOBY’s ability to form a semi-permeable membrane on top of the tea, and while your culture may process your strawberry leaf, or blackberry leaf tea into a tasty beverage, such a constitution is simply not enough to maintain the virility of the culture for an extended period of time, as is black tea. You are encouraged to experiment with your own mixtures, but adding a portion of black or green tea to your brew is a good idea to maintain the health of your SCOBY.
Sugar - Can I use honey as my sugar ingredient instead of white or cane sugar?
When introducing new ingredients to your kombucha it is best to do in small increments and build up. Start with mostly pure cane sugar and a bit of honey and build up per batch or whatever rate the SCOBY seems to be reacting to best. Think of it as "training" your SCOBY to survive on honey and tea as opposed to sugar and tea. You may find some obstacles along the way so to be safe you may also want to have a regular sugar-brew going in another jar to keep a definite healthy culture.
Sanitation - I’ve read in some places that it’s not necessary to sanitize kombucha brewing equipment, how far should I go in my kombucha sanitization?
With kombucha, there is a great number and variety of microorganisms that contribute to the final product. These are various bacteria and yeast that all metabolize the nutrients in the tea, sugar, and oxygen. Keeping all of your utensils and surfaces generally clean is a good idea. However, as far as sanitizing to the T everything involved in your home brew, it's not necessary. The acidity of your brew (which is contributed to by adding starter liquid) as well as making sure the temperature is warm, adding plenty of nutritive tea/sugar mix to your culture, and keeping the top of your brew jar covered are all things to be sure of when you are brewing kombucha. A healthy kombucha culture will naturally fend off or accept air-borne yeasts, should they make their way to the culture. As such, a brew started on the East Coast of the US will be different from one on the West Coast, based on the ambiance of the surrounding environment. The main thing is to maintain a healthy culture, and be sure to watch for mold (though it is rare) on top of your culture. In my experience, I've very rarely seen a batch of kombucha go bad (and never my own) - but always have I actively cleaned with dish soap and hot water, and used either white vinegar or kombucha to rinse all of my instruments before getting to the nitty-gritty of handling a SCOBY, transferring kombucha, between vessels, etc. Before bottling, I always let my bottles soak in very hot soapy dish water and use a bottle-brush to get rid of any remaining deposits from previous brews. So, to answer your question, it's up to you as a home-brewer. As kombucha is usually consumed only after an initial ferment, and drinks like wine and beer undergo a secondary fermentation, I would say there is less of a chance of contaminating a batch of kombucha than there is in having your alcoholic beverage go bad, simply due to the time the brew is undergoing fermentation.
Troubleshooting and Brewing Problems
Is this Mold? (More Coming Soon!)
Yeast Yeast Yeast Yeast MOLD!
98% of the time what may cause alarm when it comes to brewing kombucha is the yeast. This will range from black to brown to green in color, drop drifting tentacles down inside your kombucha, and most probably will freak you out due to its odd appearance. Yeast grows on the side, or the underside to your culture. Mold, on the other hand, will grow ontop of your SCOBY, is Always dry, usually fuzzy. This will only develop if your kombucha is not acidic enough (starting acidity was too low for too long, allowing spores to thrive) or your culture has risen high enough that the surface is no longer wet to the touch. (why if you have alot of CO2 buildup underneath your culture, you should push it back down.)
Please email us a photo before throwing your kombucha away! It may only be yeast.