I make kombucha but I still pronounce it incorrectly.
“Kom-Boo-ka” I say. Kombucha enthusiasts are quick to say, “Ohhh, that’s great. We love “kom-boosh-a.”
Since it hit the mass market, we’ve enjoyed drinking kombucha but felt too intimidated to make it. This all changed when my cousin offered to send me a scoby.
“Sure!” I replied, thinking that if I actually had a real life scoby, I would get over my fear of kombucha-making out of obligation.
This was true.
The little scoby my cousin sent me from Ohio arrived in a glass jar. We promptly named it “Sue.” I stashed her in my cupboard for a week. Whenever someone tells me their name is Sue, I try not to exclaim, “My scoby’s name is Sue!”
“Don’t forget to replace the lid with something like cheesecloth so that the scoby can breathe,” my cousin advised me. “Also, you’ll need to feed her sweet tea soon.”
“OH MY GOD SUE NEEDS TO EAT AND BREATHE!” I exclaimed, as I rescued her from the cupboard and tore off the metal lid.
Jake looked at the jiggly scoby and made a face.
I read this kombucha tutorial my cousin sent me and got to work: How to Make Kombucha: Recipe & Tutorial by Wellness Mama. Another resource she connected me to that I’ve found very helpful is a giant kombucha-making Facebook group. I’m sure you’ll find it if you search for it.
I get a lot of my kombucha comedy material from that mega Facebook group. It’s a helpful resource for flavor ideas, general how-to’s, and “Help is this mold or yeast?” types of questions. Other topics can really take you down the rabbit hole to recipes for scoby stir fry, scoby leather-making, and health inquiries like “My kombucha smells really bad and every time I drink it I have severe stomach pains and nightmares. Should I keep drinking it?” questions.
In a nutshell, the way that I make kombucha is not precise. I make it with filtered water, but I don’t use organic sugar or organic tea; I use the cheap Lipton’s stuff. Sometimes I flavor it with organic fruit and sometimes I don’t. I don’t measure the pH, nor its alcohol content, and I don’t use fancy sanitizer to clean out my bottles. I do name my scobies, but I refuse to eat or cook with them. I don’t surround my kombucha jars with salt lamps and crystals but do explode them to the latest episode of This American Life. We don’t guzzle the drink by the gallon, we enjoy it in moderation.
Even so, I’ve never had a scoby or batch get infected with mold and it’s never made us sick! So there ya go. My unofficial very loosey goosey philosophy to making kombucha.
You may be wondering what exactly is a scoby?
You will find that autocorrect likes to change the word scoby to scabies or scabby.
A scoby literally means a “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” This jiggly, slippery opaque, internal organ-like mass is the thing that ferments the sweet tea into tart kombucha.
As if that isn’t freaky enough, the scoby’s often referred to as the kombucha “mother,” and she reproduces! See the layer forming at the surface in the photo below? That’s her baby!
The brown stringy reside (yeast) that builds up around the scobies is called a “beard.” Isn’t the terminology fun?
Eventually you are supposed to throw the old scobies away after so many batches. With the new ones, you are supposed to make new batches with or give them away to friends. You are never ever supposed to sell the scoby babies, though, as this supposedly brings bad karma. If you have too many scoby babies, you can store them in a “scoby hotel.”
For something really freaky, Google “vinegar eels.” These only seem to form in batches of kombucha made with raw apple cider vinegar. People who suspect their batch may be contaminated with vinegar eels are instructed to take the bottle into a dark room and shine a flashlight into one side of the jar. If wriggly things swarm towards the light, you’ve got vinegar eels.
Once I ran across a “Do I have vinegar eels?” thread. Someone replied, “They’re just nematodes. Just. . .
There are many blog posts with ideas for using excess scobies. I’ve seen everything from chopping them up and adding them to sorbet, using them as a substitute for fish in sushi, and dehydrating them into fruit leather.
“What’s blueberry and strawberry scoby fruit leather taste like,” someone asked in a forum.
“It tastes like strawberries and blueberries with a hint of scoby,” the poster replied.
One day curiosity got the best of me and I tried taking a bite out of one of my old scobies. It tasted bad and felt horrible between my teeth so I threw it into the woods. I hurl my old scobies into the woods, where they fly through the air like undulating, jiggly frisbees.
Wiggly scobies, weird terminology, risks of exploding bottles and all, I love making kombucha. I’m going to leave you with some tips I’ve learned so far:
My kombucha gear
- 2 Gallon-sized glass jars (bought on Amazon)
- Glass bottles (Ordered from Amazon, old GT’s bottles & jars)
- An extra, wider glass jar to store an extra scoby.
- Baby bottle brush to scrub out bottles with narrow necks.
- Wire mesh strainer (to strain yeasty stuff from kombucha before 2nd fermentation & final storage in fridge).
- Plastic funnel
- Do some research, but use common sense. Have a good idea of what mold vs. yeast looks like. Know that different types of tea and sugar work less well than others and can actually cause mold. If it smells bad or looks moldy, don’t take risks! When in doubt, throw it out. If you are experiencing a health condition, consult with your physician about whether or not you should drink kombucha.
- Make sure you save plenty of liquid from your kombucha batch to store your scoby.
- Burp your kombucha after you put it into bottles for the second fermentation! The tutorial I recommend above doesn’t mention burping. If too much pressure builds up in your bottles, they can explode or erupt like a volcano when you open them. I’ve found kombucha splatters in the farthest reaches of my kitchen walls and ceiling. If you use the glass bottles with the hinge stoppers, open with caution. The stoppers can pop open with so a loud pop.
- Warm summer weather causes the kombucha to ferment faster. For less sour kombucha, I ferment for less than a week.
Feel free to share your thoughts on kombucha below. I’m always looking for favorite flavor combinations!