A kombucha scoby (also known as a starter culture, mother, mushroom, etc.) is a necessary component if you wish to make kombucha tea. There are generally three ways to obtain a scoby:
- Get one from an acquaintance,
- Purchase one from a reputable source or
- Grow a scoby from a bottle of raw kombucha tea.
If you know someone who makes their own kombucha at home, odds are good they will have an extra kombucha scoby to share as each batch of Kombucha made will generally yield a new extra Scoby. When picking up your new scoby, be sure to have them send the scoby home in a glass jar, covered in at least a half cup of kombucha tea. (It’s important the scoby does not dry out and the tea is useful for making your first batch.) If the jar has a metal lid, be sure to put a piece of plastic wrap or something similar between the scoby and the lid so there is no danger of the scoby coming in contact with the metal which can be detrimental to the health of the scoby. Once you get the scoby home, we recommend making your first batch of kombucha immediately. If you must delay a day, be sure the scoby is completely submerged in kombucha tea and is kept in a spot that is reasonably cool and dry. Do not refrigerate the scoby. Click here to view a video and detailed instructions for making Kombucha tea at home.
We offer high quality kombucha scobys here on our website. Our cultures are grown in a licensed commercial food processing facility using only organic black tea, organic sugar, and filtered water. We ship our kombucha scobys in a dehydrated state for safe transit. Dehydration preserves the vital yeast and bacteria while also limiting the risk of spoilage and potential food poisoning. (We value your safety!)
If you have access to bottled raw kombucha from your local health food store, it is possible to grow a kombucha scoby. The process is relatively simple: essentially you will be taking a bottle of kombucha and allowing it to ferment further which will result in a new kombucha scoby.
Why it works: Once a batch of kombucha is finished brewing, the scoby used to make the brew is removed and the kombucha is either consumed or, in the case of commercial brands, bottled for sale. Even without the scoby, the yeast and bacteria that comprise the kombucha culture continue to work, fermenting what tea and sugar remain in the brew. A new scoby is a by-product of this fermentation process. Removal of the original scoby and air-tight bottling do slow the process down significantly, but it does not stop the process completely. In fact, it is quite common to see a gelatinous blob in your bottled kombucha. That blob is actually an immature baby scoby and is good evidence that the yeast and bacteria are hard at work even under less-than-ideal conditions. The process detailed below for growing your own scoby essentially improves the conditions for the kombucha so it can more effectively work to continue fermenting the brew and produce a new scoby for you to use.
Instructions for Growing a Kombucha Scoby
- Purchase a bottle of kombucha from your local store. Be sure the kombucha is raw (not pasteurized). This is important because even after a culture has been removed from a batch of kombucha, the active yeast and bacteria in the brew can continue to work to create a new culture. Pasteurization kills the necessary yeast and bacteria. Ideally, choose a bottle of raw kombucha that is unflavored so no other ingredients interfere with your scoby-growing process.
- Optional Step: Make about a cup of black or green tea. While the water is hot, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of regular white sugar. (More is better than less.) Mix until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved, then allow the sugared tea to cool completely to room temperature. While not critical to the process, adding a cup of sugared tea to the bottle of ready-made Kombucha gives the yeast and bacteria additional food to eat during the process of growing a new culture. Essentially the cup of sugared tea offers increases the odds of successfully growing a new Scoby. Click here to learn more about choosing the best teas and sugars to use when brewing Kombucha.
- Find a clean glass container (pint or quart size canning jars work well). Ideally the size of the jar will allow the liquid a fairly limited surface area (no more than about 3 inches in diameter) and allow for several inches or more of depth. A larger surface area will cause the mixture to ferment too quickly and not leave time for a new scoby to develop properly. Be sure the jar is free of any soap or food residue the dishwasher may have missed. If in doubt, give it a good rinse. Do not use plastic, metal or ceramic as they can be detrimental to the process. Pour the bottle of kombucha and the cup of sugared tea into the clean glass jar. Please note: there may already be a floating jelly-like blob or brown blobs or stringy particles in the liquid. These are good things! The jelly-like blob is actually the very beginning of an immature scoby and a good sign your kombucha contains the active yeast and bacteria necessary to complete this process.
- Cover the jar with a tight-weave dish towel, multi-layered tight-weave cheese cloth (such as butter muslin), a paper towel or a paper coffee filter. Secure the covering with a tight rubber band. This type of covering system allows gas created during the fermentation process to escape while keeping out bugs and most foreign yeasts and bacteria.
- Allow the jar to sit in a safe location, out of direct sunlight and away from any direct heat sources. Ideally, place the jar where the ambient temperature is between 70° and 80°F (keeping in mind potential temperature shifts at night). Too cool a temperature will slow down the process significantly. Too warm a temperature can cause the brew to ferment too quickly not leaving enough time for the new scoby to develop. It is also important not to move or otherwise disturb the jar during the process.
- Wait about a week before taking a peek. While the timeline can be influenced by a number of factors, the most important of which is temperature, after a week it is common to see a baby scoby developing across the surface of the liquid. Please note, new scobys start off as a clear film or blob and then slowly become less translucent, more white, and thicker as the time goes on. If you don’t see any signs of scoby development after 3 weeks, discard the batch and start over. We recommend waiting until the Scoby is at least 1/4-inch thick before using it to brew your first batch of kombucha tea. Reaching that thickness will generally take 14 to 30 days. Be sure to retain the kombucha tea used to grow your scoby for use in your first batch of kombucha.
- While growing your new scoby, watch out for signs of mold (black, green, orange spots). Brown spots, brown blobs, or brown stringy particles are byproducts of the yeast and are not a concern. If mold does develop, discard the entire batch, clean the container thoroughly with pure vinegar, and try again with a new bottle of kombucha.
Regardless of which method you use to obtain a Kombucha Scoby, be sure to check out our extensive information on brewing your own Kombucha Tea. Click here for our complete collection of articles, how-to videos, and recipes.