Sunday, May 30, 2010

a kombucha experiment - growing a scoby

in the beginning

We found out that my maternal grandmother had cancer in 1994. At that time, Kombucha's popularity in America was rapidly growing, so much so that it was considered by many to be the living "pet rock of the 90's." Kombucha, a fermented tea, has been touted as a miracle cure for everything from indigestion to cancer, which brings me back to my grandmother.

When my mom's friend, Uncle Rohn, found out about my grandmother, he insisted on giving my mom a "baby" SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) so that she could start brewing the tea to give to my grandmother. Unfortunately, my grandmother wasn't interested in drinking it.

Intrigued by the long list of the benefits attributed to kombucha, my parents decided to drink it themselves. Of course, they let me and my siblings try it but none of us could stand the vinegary taste. My mom successfully brewed it for a few months, the sour smell permeating throughout our house, but then reports of two women dying from kombucha hit the news and she decided the risk* wasn't worth the potential benefits. I'm not too worried because I found this report by the CDC  stating that investigators never established a link between the two women's illnesses/deaths and their consumption of kombucha.

Fast forward 16 years to a couple of weeks ago when Danielle called me to tell me how excited she was about a bottle of Synergy Kombucha she recently tried. The next time I was over at her house, she offered to share some with me. My distant childhood memory had me feeling apprehensive so I was pleasantly surprised when it tasted nothing like what I remembered it to be. Some of this may be due to my changed taste buds but some of it may also be attributed to the 5% juice they added to the tea. Whatever it was, I was instantly hooked, however, at $3.50 per 16 oz bottle, a daily addiction would be rather expensive so I knew I'd have to start making my own.

I didn't know anyone who was currently making kombucha so that meant I would need to grow my own other words, the gelatinous blob that sits on the surface of the tea.

I spent hours researching it on the internet, gathered up the ingredients, and got to work.
What you'll need:
  1. A bottle of raw, organic kombucha (I used Katalyst Kombucha)
  2. Black tea
  3. Sugar (refined and granulated...the white stuff)
  4. A gallon-sized glass jar or bowl (use one with as large an opening as you can find - the more surface area you have, the more oxygen the SCOBY will have access to and the better your fermentation will be)
  5. A clean tea towel or paper towel to cover your jar
  6. A rubber band to secure the towel and prevent bugs from getting in (if you use an especially large bowl, you may want to also put two pieces of tape, criss-crossed) across the opening of the bowl so the towel doesn't dip down into the tea)
What you do:
  1. Sanitize everything that is going to come into contact with the kombucha. It is a living culture and you don't want to risk contaminating it. I put all of my tools/containers into the dishwasher and set it to run the sanitizing cycle. I also ran a super hot iron over my clean tea towel.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water in your stainless steel pot.
  3. Add 1 tea bag and steep for 15 minutes.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon sugar.
  5. Cover and let cool down to room temperature.
  6. Pour into your glass jar and add the bottle of raw, organic kombucha.
  7. Cover with your towel and secure with a rubber band.
  8. Put in a warm place (68°F - 85°F / 20° - 29° C), not in direct sunlight, where it won't be disturbed. Moving it at this stage could be detrimental to the growth of your SCOBY.
  9. Wait for what seems like an eternity! Approximately 1 1/2 to 3 weeks until the scoby is between 1/4 and 1/3 inch thick.

I'm still waiting and will post an update next week!

Here is my glass jar, covered with a tea towel.

*Home-brewed kombucha tea can become contaminated with mold that can make you sick so if you ever see signs of mold (green, pink or black circles that may also be fuzzy) on your SCOBY throw it (and any tea your scoby came into contact with) out.  Kombucha can also be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria  but I read here that, "Kombucha is unlikely to become contaminated with bacteria if the tea broth has a sufficiently high sucrose content (approximately 10+ percent sugar), making it a naturally inhospitable environment. Furthermore, the tea—with its high acidity, alcohol content and antibiotics—makes bacterial contamination even less probable." As with all food preparation, if you follow sanitary procedures and have hygienic brewing conditions you will significantly minimize any chances of contamination.


  1. I had never heard of kombucha until this year so I find it cool that your family was making it over a decade ago. You guys were way ahead of the curve.

    I would be slightly worried about making my own kombucha because it can so easily be contaminated.

  2. Great post! I'm so glad that you gently corrected my low-temperature fermentation practice; as you found in your research, a warm room temperature further inhibits pathogen growth because the environment is very hospitable to the SCOBY, the growth of which "crowds out" other microbes.

    My SCOBY (I call her "Scooby") is quietly growing in a dark corner of the basement. Not so quietly, the money is still falling out of my pocket as I continue to drink GT's Kombucha until my own brew is ready!