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What You Need to Know for DIY Kombucha

DIY Kombucha Making Kit $39.95

Making kombucha is an art and a science. With this FAQ we are accumulating your questions and attempting to provide answers. If you have anything you’d like to add please join the discussion on our discussion boards.

Q. What is kombucha?

A. Kombucha is a fermented tea made with a kombucha starter culture (a.k.a mushroom, mother, scoby, etc.), tea prepared with sugar, and tea from a previous batch (starter tea). The mixture is allowed to ferment at room temperature for 5 to 25 days. It can be consumed plain or with added flavoring such as fruit or juice. Kombucha contains a number of vitamins (particularly B vitamins) and may have a number of health benefits due to the probiotics contained in kombucha.

Q: What does SCOBY stand for?
A: SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s a combination of microorganisms that feed on tea and sugar, and whose by-products of metabolism make up kombucha.

Q. What does kombucha taste like?

A. It’s a unique and distinctive taste which is unlike almost any other beverage. That said it is like a combination of beer, wine and tea without alcohol. It is an acquired taste as their can be a slight vinegar aftertaste. Fruit or juice can be added to the brew to give it another flavor profile. Another key factor is how it is brewed, both the length of time and the amount of sugar used. It’s a good idea to taste your kombucha as it brews to determine if it needs more time.

If you have never tried kombucha we would recommend purchasing a bottle of kombucha from your local grocery or health food store to sample. Kombucha is generally located in the health food section or in the cold case with the other bottled ready-to-go drinks.

Q. I really like the bottles of kombucha I find at the grocery store? Can I make my homemade kombucha taste like that?

A. It will take some experimentation and practice to get the kombucha which you love, but it’s a great feeling when you have found your own distinctive combination.

Q. Why is the kombucha tea starter culture known by so many names (i.e., mushroom, mother, scoby, etc.)?

A. Kombucha tea is a very old beverage and over time a number of names have been assigned to the culture. The term kombucha mushroom likely refers to the appearance of the culture — flat, round, white-grayish, disk-shaped — as a kombucha culture is not actually a mushroom. The term mother is a more appropriate term as kombucha is fermented in a manner similar to making vinegar where the cultures are also known as mothers. Finally, the term SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast (making scoby perhaps the most accurate term).

Q. What ingredients go into making kombucha cultures?

A. Typically filtered water, organic sugar, organic black tea and the scoby.

Q. Do kombucha cultures contain gluten, dairy, or animal products?

A. Kombucha cultures only contain organic black tea, organic sugar, and filtered water.

Q. Are kombucha cultures reusable? How long will the culture last?

A. Yes, they reproduce and the next generation can be used to make more kombucha. Somewhat like sourdough starter, you can just keep using the scoby and it’s children scobies indefinitely.

Q. What is the process to make kombucha?

A: Tea is made and then the sugar is dissolved in the tea. When the tea is at room temperature the scoby is added. A breathable cloth is then placed over the brewing batch to allow breathing. The batch then brews for 5-25 days as the fermentation process proceeds. When the fermentation process is complete and you are happy with you kombucha, the scoby can be removed and reused. It can then be bottled and refrigerated. After a few days carbonation will build up to give the brew a good finish.

Q. Will kombucha tea starters multiply?

A: Yes, the cultures multiply. The new, smaller scoby are ‘babies’ and will either separate and float by themselves or attach to the mother. You can separate the babies and start new batches. If you mother scoby becomes dark or seems to be dead, remove and dispose of it (compost).

Q: Should I filter my kombucha before I drink it?

A: This depends on personal preference. Some people find that filtering with a fine filter gives a ‘cleaner’ kombucha, but it might not be as flavorful. Experiment to determine what your personal preferences are.

Q. What supplies will I need for making kombucha tea?

A. Tea, Sugar, Scoby, Water. Optionally you can include dried fruit or juice and other natural foods for additional flavors.

Q. How long should I brew my kombucha?

A: Typically between 5 and 25 days is how long your brew. Be sure to taste your kombucha with a straw to see if it’s to your liking. This assumes that you have a consistent temperature in the brewing environment, ideally between 70 and 75 F. Wait until the fermentation process is over before adding juice or fruit additives.

Q. How can I reduce the amount of sugar in the finished kombucha tea?

A: If you allow your fermentation to go for the full 25 days, most of the sugar should have been absorbed. It’s a good idea to start off with the full amount of the recipe to ensure that your scoby is fully nourished during fermentation.

Q. Can I use less sugar or otherwise play around with the basic ingredients used to make kombucha?

A: The first time, we recommend playing it safe and following the standard instructions. After you have successfully brewed a batch or two, then you should begin to create variations. Be sure to measure your pH regularly to prevent spoiling the batch or killing your scoby.

Q. Can I use a plastic container to brew kombucha and plastic bottles to store it?

A. Theoretically food-grade plastic shouldn’t cause any damage to the culture but we always recommend glass when working with starter cultures or food due to the potential of plastic to leach undesirable chemicals. Additionally, plastic is more easily damaged (often without your knowledge) and can result in hidden bacteria which can grow and not only disrupt the culturing process but also potentially cause food-borne illness.

Q. How can I flavor my kombucha tea?

A. Once the fermentation period is complete and the culture has been removed you can ferment the kombucha a second time by adding juice (most common), fruit, and/or ginger to flavor the kombucha tea. After adding the flavorings, allow the kombucha to sit for an additional few days with an airtight lid. This process also allows carbonation to build so be careful when removing the lid! While most air tight jars or containers will work, bottling your kombucha in re-sealable style bottle works particularly well. Click here to view our flip-top bottles. Flip-top bottles are also generally available at your local beer- and wine-making supply store. Our customers also report success bottling kombucha using old wine bottles with new corks.

Q. What ratio of juice to kombucha should I use for the second fermentation (to add flavor)?

A. Generally speaking a ratio of 20% juice and 80% kombucha works well. We’ve also had customers report good luck adding fresh fruit (peaches are a favorite) to the kombucha. But adding fruit and juice is one place you can certainly experiment to find your preferred flavors. When using fresh fruit, be sure to limit the amount of time the mixture is allowed to sit (24 to 48 hours).

Q. How do I increase the carbonation of my kombucha tea?

A. Once the fermentation period is complete and the culture has been removed you can ferment the kombucha a second time by adding juice (most common), fruit, and/or ginger to flavor the kombucha tea. After adding the flavorings, allow the kombucha to sit for an additional few days with an air tight lid. This process also allows carbonation to build so be careful when removing the lid! While most air tight jars or containers will work, bottling your kombucha in flip-top style bottles works particularly well. Click here to view our flip-top bottles. Flip-top bottles are generally available at local beer- and wine-making supply stores. We’ve also had customers report success bottling kombucha in old wine bottles with new corks.

Q. Is there any danger of the glass container exploding under the carbonation pressure when bottling kombucha?

A. It is possible for bottles to explode, although it is more common that lids occasionally fly off, particularly when being opened. We recommend keeping your whole hand over the lid of the container as you open it to prevent being hit by a flying lid. We also recommend opening the container over a sink in case the carbonation causes the kombucha to bubble over. Be sure to refrigerate your kombucha after bottling.

Q. What type of sugar should I use to make kombucha? Can I use honey?

A. We recommend fine, raw sugar. Honey will not be absorbed by the scoby in the way sugar will dissolve.

Q. What type of tea should I use to make kombucha?

A. We recommend roobios

Q. What type of water should I use to make kombucha?

A.  Purified water

Q. Can I make kombucha without starter tea?

A: Yes, you can use distilled white vinegar or purchase a non flavored kombucha from a store as your tea base.

Q. Can I culture my kombucha tea in a cupboard, on a window sill, etc.?

A. It is best to keep fermenting kombucha in an unlit room and away from excessive heat or cold. (Heat can speed the fermentation process and/or damage the culture; cold can slow the fermentation process significantly.) Kombucha does do best if allowed to breathe during the process but both those locations allow for some air to enter.

Q. Does finished kombucha contain alcohol?

A. Yes, a trace amount of alcohol is a by-product of the fermentation process. This is not enough to be noticeable alcohol effect from drinking the kombucha.

Q. What signs should I look for to determine the kombucha is culturing properly?

A. A few good signs the kombucha fermentation process is proceeding normally include the formation of a new kombucha culture over the opening of the brewing container, development of brown stringy yeast particles, and the liquid becoming less sweet and more vinegar-like.

The development of mold (generally green but not always) is a bad sign. If your batch of kombucha develops mold, you will need to throw out the batch and the culture (see below). The most common reason for mold development is improper ingredient ratios. (Forgetting to add the sugar or starter tea are the most common reasons.) Click here for a comprehensive discussion of normal variations in a batch and signs of a problem (including mold).

Keep in mind that for the initial batch using a dehydrated culture, it can take up to 30 days at room temperature (70° to 80°F) for signs of a new forming kombucha culture. If you are making your initial rehydration batch and need specific troubleshooting information, click here.

Q. Why would I need to strain the finished kombucha?

A. Some people prefer to strain their kombucha tea prior to drinking it to filter out the yeast particles (brown and stringy) as well as any baby kombucha cultures which may be forming (often the consistency of a jelly blob). Click here to view our plastic mesh strainers which are perfect for this task.

Q. My kombucha has been fermenting for a period of time and is developing a cloudy layer on top. Is this normal?

A. Yes. The cloudy white layer is the beginning of a new baby kombucha culture. The formation of a new culture is a sign that your batch of kombucha is fermenting properly.

Q. My kombucha has been fermenting for a period of time and is developing brown stringy particles. Is this normal?

A. The brown stringy particles are yeast particles and are harmless. They are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. You can strain them out of the finished kefir if desired.

Q. My kombucha culture sank to the bottom of my container, is floating sideways, rose to the top of the liquid, etc. Is this normal?

A. Depending on a number of factors (including humidity), the culture may sink, float or sit sideways. Any of these is normal and will not effect the brewing process.

Q. The new baby kombucha culture seems to have detached from the container opening. Will this mess up the fermentation process?

A. Having the baby culture detach from the container opening is common if the jar is bumped or moved. It does not affect the fermentation process. If you continue the culturing process, a new baby culture will begin to form on top of the liquid but again, does not affect the culturing process itself (i.e., no additional fermentation time is required unless you are specifically trying to grow a new scoby of a certain size).

Q. I’ve been storing a batch of finished kombucha for a few days and it seems to be developing a jelly-like mass on top. Is this normal? What is it?

A. The jelly-like mass is the beginning of a new baby kombucha culture. Even after the main kombucha culture is removed, the kombucha remains full of living yeast and bacteria which continue to ferment slowly on their own. Consequently idle kombucha will eventually form a new baby culture. These cultures start out as a jelly-like mass and eventually form a full-blown culture. If you leave a batch of finished kombucha long enough, it will eventually form a full scoby on the top just as it did during the initial fermentation process. You can remove and use this culture just like any other culture. If you accidently consume the culture (easy to do when it’s still in a jelly-like mass) it is not harmful.

Q. One of my kombucha cultures has a hole in it or is only a piece because I had to separate it from mother culture after they fused. Can I still use it?

A. Kombucha cultures will work just fine even with holes or if they have been torn in half.

Q. Does the size of the kombucha culture matter in relation to how much kombucha I will be brewing?

A. No, even a small kombucha culture will effectively ferment a full gallon of kombucha. We do recommend using a culture or piece of a culture which is equivelent to at least a 3″ diameter circle.

Q. My batch of kombucha has developed mold. What can I do?

A. The most common reason for mold development is improper ingredient ratios. (The most common reasons we hear about are forgetting to add the sugar or starter tea.) Contamination can also be a factor (could be as simple as a bit of food or soap residue the dishwasher missed). Once mold has developed, it is very important to toss the whole batch, including the kombucha scoby. Normally we are all for trying to save cultures but in this case, it could be dangerous to do so.

Q. My kombucha culture has turned black. What should I do?

A. A black scoby is a sign that the kombucha culture has been contaminated or is worn out (takes a long time and many batches to do this). If your kombucha culture turns black, it should be retired to the compost bin. Turning black is not to be confused with developing brown or slightly discolored patches. Yeast build-up will result in brown spots or stringy particles attaching to the scoby and is a normal byproduct of the fermentation process.

Q. I’ve been brewing kombucha for awhile and am overrun with kombucha scobys. What can I do with them?

A. Because a new culture is usually created with each batch, you may quickly find that you have too many cultures! If at some point you find yourself with more kombucha scobys please give them away to friends and family who could benefit from brewing their own kombucha. (Please note: because maintaining proper ingredient ratios is critically important to successfully creating a kombucha that is safe to drink, please be sure to give them a copy of the instructions or refer them to this website to download the instructions so they have all the appropriate information). If at some point you run out of good homes to send extra scobys too, click here for some creative ideas for using the extra scobys.

Q. What signs should I look for to determine the kombucha is culturing properly?

A. Signs the kombucha fermentation process is proceeding normally include the formation of a new kombucha culture over the opening of the brewing container, the development or brown stringy yeast particles and the liquid becoming less sweet and more vinegar tasting. Click here for a comprehensive discussion of the signs that your kombucha is brewing normally.

While a wayward batch of kombucha is relatively rare, problems can creep up from time to time. Click here for a list of normal variations versus potential problems that may come up with brewing kombucha.

Q. Why would I need to strain the finished kombucha?

A. Most people will strain their kombucha tea prior to drinking it to filter out the yeast particles (brown and stringy) as well as any baby kombucha cultures that may be forming (often the consistency of a jelly blob). Click here to view our plastic mesh strainers which are perfect for this task.

Q. My kombucha has been fermenting for a period of time and is developing a cloudy layer on top. Is this normal?

A. Yes. The cloudy white layer is the beginning of a new baby kombucha culture. The formation of a new culture is a sign that your batch of kombucha is fermenting properly.

Q. My kombucha has been fermenting for a period of time and is developing brown stringy particles. Is this normal?

A. The brown stringy particles are yeast particles and are harmless. hey are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. You can strain them out of the finished kefir if desired.

Q. My kombucha culture sank to the bottom of my container, is floating sideways, rose to the top of the liquid, etc. Is this normal?

A. Depending on a number of factors (including humidity), the culture may sink, float, or sit sideways. Any of these is normal and will not effect the brewing process.

Q. The new baby kombucha culture seems to have detached from the container opening. Will this mess up the fermentation process?

A. Having the baby culture detach from the container opening is common if the jar is bumped or moved. It does not effect the fermentation process. If you continue the culturing process, a new baby culture will begin to form on top of the liquid but again, does not affect the culturing process itself (i.e., a longer culturing process isn’t necessary unless you are specifically trying to grow a new culture of a certain size).

Q. I’ve been storing a batch of finished kombucha for a few days and it seems to be developing a jelly-type mass on top. Is this normal? What is it?

A. The jelly-type mass is the beginning of a new baby kombucha culture. Even after the main kombucha culture is removed, the kombucha remains full of living yeast and bacteria which continue to ferment slowly on their own. Consequently idle kombucha will eventually form a new baby culture. These cultures start out as a jelly-type mass and eventually form a full-blown culture. If you leave a batch of finished kombucha long enough, it will eventually form a full scoby on the top just as it did during the initial fermentation process. You can remove and use this culture just like any other culture. If you accidentally consume the culture (easy to do when it’s still in the jelly-type mass state) it is not harmful.

Q. One of my kombucha cultures has a hole in it or is only a piece because I had to separate it from the mother culture after they fused. Can I still use it?

A. Kombucha cultures will work just fine even with holes or if they have been torn in half.

Q. Does the size of the kombucha culture matter in relation to how much kombucha I will be brewing?

A. No, even a small kombucha culture will effectively ferment a full gallon of kombucha. We do recommend using a culture that is at least 3 inches in diameter.

Q. My batch of kombucha has developed mold. What can I do?

A. The most common reason for mold development is improper ingredient ratios (the most common reasons we hear about are forgetting to add the sugar or starter tea) although contamination can also be a factor (could be as simple as a bit of food or soap residue the dishwasher missed). Once mold has developed, it is very important to toss the whole batch, including the kombucha scoby. Normally we are all for trying to save cultures but in this case, it would be potentially dangerous to do so.

Q. My kombucha culture has turned black. What should I do?

A. A black scoby is a sign of a kombucha culture that has been contaminated or is worn out (takes a long time and many batches to do this). If your kombucha culture turns black, it should be retired to the compost bin. Turning black is not to be confused with developing brown or slightly discolored patches. Yeast build-up will result in brown spots or stringy particles attaching to the scoby and is a normal byproduct of the fermentation process.

Q. I’ve been brewing kombucha for awhile and am overrun with kombucha scobys. What can I do with them?

A. Because a new culture is created with each batch, you may quickly find that you have too many cultures! If at some point you find yourself with more kombucha scobys please give them away to friends and family who could benefit from brewing their own kombucha. (Please note: because maintaining proper ingredient ratios is critically important to successfully creating a kombucha that is safe to drink, please be sure to give them a copy of the instructions or refer them to this website to download the instructions so they have all the appropriate information). If at some point you run out of good homes to send extra scobys too, click here for some creative ideas for using the extra scobys.

Q:What type of container should I use to grow my SCOBY?

A: Kombucha Fermentation Jar. In brewing your own home-made kombucha, there are a few 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 plastic. Glass provides an inactive surface for fermentation to proceed, and will not allow the leaching of chemicals into your brew. If brewing with ceramic, be sure it is 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 quick acidification of the tea. This results in a healthy culture. The wider the area for the culture to exchange gases, the more numerous are 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 available 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.

Q: How can I store SCOBYs for later use?

A:While it is easy to “store” a SCOBY at room temperature, it requires somewhat regular maintenance, in the form of adding more tea and 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 best 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 extensive 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 or chemicals are passed on to the tea or SCOBY.

Q: What kind of tea is best to use in making kombucha?

Q: An important note before we start: the 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. The tea and sweetener you use is also, of course, an important factor in the final flavor of your kombucha.

Tea Types:

Black Oolong Green White Pu-Erh
Black Kombucha Tea Oolong Kombucha Tea Green Kombucha Tea White Tea Kombucha Pu-Erh Kombucha Tea

Black tea is high in nitrogen and tannins giving your SCOBY a strong, nutrient-dense frame to work within, they will give you deep woodsy, honey sweet, nutty flavors.
Oolong Tea produces a robust SCOBY. Smells range from fruit, honey, wood and roasted aromas to green mountainside gardens.
Green tea makes both a wonderful, mineral-rich final brew and a great addition when combined with others in a brew blend SCOBYs are thinner but healthy.
White Tea is simple, and delicate. It is one 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. Take maple syrup, for example. Start with mostly pure cane sugar and a bit of maple syrup, and increase the maple syrup with each batch, at a rate at which the SCOBY seems to be reacting best. Think of it as “training” your SCOBY to survive on maple syrup 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.

Q 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?

A: Use a dishwasher on hot water setting to clean and sterilize your equipment

Q: (From Grow and Make Customer Katy) Hi I just made my first jar of kombucha and I have a couple questions first one bag the rooibos tea blend has 4 bags of tea do I use all four bags in one gallon? Also can I substitute honey for sugar? If so what amount would I use for one gallon?

A: Yes, use all the tea bags. We recommend using sugar and not honey, because it will fully dissolve.

Q: Do I need to keep my Kombucha cold?

A: It’s a good idea. Letting your kombucha rest at room temperature can cause excess CO2 and create problems with the yeast.

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