* Please note that this blog remains up as a resource. However, this blog is currently on hiatus until further notice. For more information, please read this blog post. Thank you and happy kombucha brewing, drinking, and SCOBY trading! Lots of love. ~Annabelle *

Monday, October 8, 2012

How to Grow a Kombucha Mushroom and Alternative Methods of Fermenting Tea (Updated Oct. 15, 2012)

* Update Oct. 15, 2012: Please note the two addendums listed towards the bottom of this post. Thank you. *

Interested in brewing kombucha, but you don't have a kombucha culture? Or maybe you had a kombucha mushroom, but then forgot about it! Even if you do not have a kombucha SCOBY, it is very easy to grow your own! Here's how:

Introductory Note:
  • This recipe is for a quart-sized mason jar because they are easily accessible. If desired, feel free to brew a larger batch in a larger glass container to grow your SCOBY (up to a gallon sized jar. Jars with wider surface areas are ideal). If you are brewing a larger batch, just keep the recipe ingredients proportional. In addition, leave about 1.5 inches of air space at the top to allow the new kombucha culture room to grow.
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 organic black or green tea bag (or 1/2 tsp loose leaf tea)
  • 1.5 tbsp organic sugar
  • Glass quart-sized jar
  • 1.5 cups raw, unflavored kombucha
  • Breathable cloth that allows airflow, to cover the surface of the container (if using cheesecloth, layer it multiple times so fruit flies cannot get in! Coffee filters and paper towels also work well).
  • Something to secure the cloth well so that fruit flies do not sneak in (such as a thick rubber band)
  • Clean wooden spoon
  • Stainless steel or glass pot
  • Distilled white vinegar to clean brewing materials
  1. Because kombucha is made with a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts), clean the materials to be used for kombucha with boiled/filtered water and distilled white vinegar (some soaps contain antibacterial agents, and you do not want to kill the cultures).
  2. Boil the water in the pot. When the water comes to a boil, take it off the heat.
  3. Add the tea in, and let it steep for 15 min. After 15 min., remove the tea bag(s) or strain out the tea leaves.
  4. Add the sugar to the tea and mix until it dissolves.
  5. Pour the sweet tea into the quart jar.
  6. Cover the jar with the breathable cloth and secure it well, so that fruit flies won't get in. Let the tea cool down for 24 hours, to allow it to get to room temperature, and to give it enough time for the chlorine to evaporate off. (Chlorinated water is not good for ferments, and hot temperatures kill the kombucha cultures).
  7. After 24 hours, remove the cloth and add the kombucha
  8. Cover the container with the cloth and secure it well, again to prevent unwanted organisms from getting inside the container. Leave the brewing container in a warm, undisturbed spot- around 75-85 F is ideal. For example, a cupboard. Avoid putting the container in an area where there is smoke (such as kitchen smoke), and avoid windowsills and direct sunlight. Do not move the container around as it ferments, because this disturbs the growth of the new kombucha mushroom.
  9. After a week or several weeks, a new baby SCOBY should form! The tea can be used as starter tea, drunk if it is not too acidic, used similar to apple cider vinegar if it is too sour, and more
Growing a kombucha culture after 1 day
Growing a kombucha culture after 14 days

Kombucha SCOBY grown for 20 days
For more information and photos on SCOBY development from the first time I grew a kombucha culture, check out these blog posts (to see the final results, click on "Newer Posts" at the bottom. Blog posts are in reverse chronological order).

Addendum 1:

-Alex Kombucha kindly reminded me that the kombucha reformulations will negatively affect growing a SCOBY made with reformulated kombucha: kombucha that is sold in stores is now typically under 0.5% alcohol. If you are able to grow a kombucha mushroom with kombucha that is >.5% alcohol, that is recommended (mostly likely you will not be able to find this in stores). Growing a SCOBY with reformulated kombucha may potentially produce a weaker SCOBY and weaker kombucha, which may not be good for long-term brewing. If you are serious about brewing kombucha, you may want to consider these other methods of acquiring a SCOBY. I first began brewing kombucha with a SCOBY from Happy Herbalist. Back then, I had not even heard of growing a kombucha SCOBY!

-Is all hope lost if you cannot acquire a SCOBY, or kombucha that is >.5% alcohol? Not necessarily. The reformulated kombucha in stores still have the benefits of live cultures. Even with a decreased chance of success of growing a SCOBY and brewing with reformulated kombucha, I think that it is still worth trying, even if it's just for the fun of it! Over the next few months I will attempt to grow a SCOBY and brew kombucha, starting with store-bought, reformulated kombucha, and I will report back on my findings. Read another blogger's experiences here.

-Another method that you may want to consider, is that I do know some individuals who, instead of continuously brewing kombucha, purchase a bottle of kombucha every now and then, and pour it into a glass gallon jar that has sweet tea or even juice (leaving at least 1.5 inches of headspace at the top, and covering it appropriately to allow airflow but to prevent outside organisms from coming in). After a week or more of allowing the beverage to ferment in a warm and undisturbed spot, the beverage becomes fermented with the kombucha cultures. The SCOBY that forms may not be useful for the long-term if it is made with reformulated kombucha (if one gets produced at all). However, this way, you get a gallons worth of kombucha or fermented juice, started from just one 16 oz kombucha bottle. Here, the aim is to produce kombucha/a fermented beverage to drink, rather than focusing on producing a SCOBY. If a SCOBY forms, even if it does not last in the long-term, it may be useful for several batches. Thus, you are still getting more bang for your buck. This method may be useful if you have a busy schedule, if you do not want to worry about long-term SCOBY maintenance, and if you are thinking about brewing kombucha, but are not sure if you want a long-term commitment yet.
You will find different recipes for growing a kombucha SCOBY and brewing kombucha online. One recipe I found for growing a kombucha culture included pouring a jar of raw, unflavored kombucha in a glass jar (leaving some airspace at the top), covering it with a breathable cloth, and letting it sit in a quiet, undisturbed spot for a few weeks. Very simple! However, I think that adding some sweet tea to the mix, as in this recipe, is helpful for the cultures and helps them to be more active, as the the sugars provide food for the yeasts. Of course, things have gotten more complicated since the reformulation.

Good luck, and happy growing and brewing!


Anonymous said...

Hi Annabelle, if you start with vinegar and no Kombucha at all, wouldn't that be a MOV, not a Kombucha SCOBY? How is that Kombucha then? That seems very strange. I can understand substituting a little vinegar for liquid Kombucha IF you have a SCOBY, but without the SCOBY there is no introduction of the actual Kombucha or gluconic acid making bacteria?

Also I don't see anything in here about using reformulated kombucha to grow one which is a no no as well. Only full strength, raw kombucha makes a SCOBY that is worth anything long term. The reformulated ones make a jellyfish type scoby like the one this blogger made: http://www.picklesnhoney.com/2012/06/15/homemade-kombucha-giveaway/

-Alex Kombucha

Sarah said...

Hi, I just found your blog and found it to be very useful! I started my tea with a store bought drink and mixed it with sweetened tea (1 cup sugar per gallon of water). It worked well but the first batch was too acidic to drink!

Annabelle Ho said...

-Alex, thanks for bringing up some good points that I neglected to mention. I was forgetting about the reformulation- it has been awhile since I have purchased kombucha in stores! I will update my blog post accordingly to address these topics.

-Sarah, thank you, and I'm glad that you find my blog useful! Happy brewing and let me know if you have any questions along the way. :)

zeechian said...

Hi Everyone. This is a great drink i believe. However i hear some rumor that somebody had the kombucha culture grow inside his stomach after drink it. Is that true ?

Hope there are true answer to rule out this rumor. :)

Cheers and Happy drinking. :)

Jane said...

I used to brew my own Kombucha about 20 years ago. I didn't even know it had a name. My friend's grandmother in Russia would brew it.....her Scoby was huge, several inches thick, she never peeled off her babies. She brewed her tea in a clear glass container with a spigot at the bottom. She called it Greep(sp?) & served it like an American Grandmother would serve lemonade. Only it was healthier.

I made my own apple cider vinegar a few months ago. When I strained off the apples there was something that looked & felt like a baby Kombucha. It was loose & formless, I wasn't sure....wish now I would have saved it b/c surely, that's what it was.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this! I starved my SCOBY while I was on vacation this summer (sorry, scoby!) and I'm getting tired of waiting for a friend to donate their baby! Will definitely be trying this!

Annabelle Ho said...

Thanks everyone for the comments.

@zeechian- I have never heard of anyone who has had a kombucha SCOBY grow inside their stomach. I wouldn't worry about it! I know people who eat the kombucha cultures, and people who have fed the cultures to their pets. Eating the culture is considered healthy.

@Jane Thanks for sharing. That is great to hear about how your friend's grandmother in Russia brewed the tea. That's too bad that you discarded the apple cider vinegar culture. Now you know for the next time!

@Amanda Good luck with trying to grow a culture, and have fun! :)

Em said...

Do you know any more information about this rumor? After a disastrous experience with someone's homebrewed kombucha, I'm pretty convinced I've got one growing in me--now waiting for an appt with a naturopath, since my western doctors have never heard of kombucha. I know it loves acid, so don't see any reason why it couldn't grow in a stomach. I'd love to know more if you heard any specifics. Thanks!

Annabelle Ho said...

@Em How was the visit with the naturopath? I hope that everything turned out ok!

Basya said...

what do you think about combining reformulated kombucha with apple cider vinegar and growing a hybrid scoby? then maybe the scoby would be both strong enough for continuous brewing AND have the health benefits of kombucha? I think I am going to try it this week. Any thoughts on what proportions to use?

Annabelle Ho said...

Hi Basya,

I think that sounds like a great idea! :) Right now I am growing a new SCOBY using a kombucha culture and apple cider vinegar, and it's looking good to me. You could try a bottle of kombucha (16 oz) with an equal amount of sweet tea (16 oz), and ~1/2 tbsp of raw apple cider vinegar. Keep us posted on how it goes!