* 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!