Every batch of Kombucha needs a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, most commonly referred to as a SCOBY. It may look like a science fiction monster trapped in a kombucha jar, but this flattened jellyfish is what gets your fermentation going and your kombucha brewing.
What Is A SCOBY?
If you can get past the ick-factor, a healthy SCOBY is the catalyst for brewing bottling your own Kombucha. It’s a perfectly balanced, self-supporting organism made up of bacteria and yeast living in harmony. Once you add it to your sweetened tea, the yeast will begin to devour all the sugar and convert it into alcohol. The bacteria in the SCOBY will then convert that alcohol into beneficial acids like acetic, glucoronic, and gluconic acid. This entire process produces even more SCOBY matter. A healthy SCOBY is a growing SCOBY.
Where To Get A SCOBY?
As a SCOBY grows, it may turn into a ‘mother SCOBY’ that produces a ‘baby SCOBY.’ If some of your friends are brewing Kombucha they may offer to give you a slice or a ‘baby SCOBY’ from their own batch. These SCOBY aren’t always in the best condition and may require special attention in order to brew the kind of kombucha you desire. Often times they have been used with flavored tea or various sugars that can lead to inconsistencies between the yeast and bacteria ratio. Searching for high quality and dependable SCOBY can be difficult. We partner with a crew of small-batch Kombucha brewers to source the freshest, most robust SCOBYs possible. They are grown in a neutral environment that eliminates exposure to flavor tainting and consist of the ideal proportion of yeast to bacteria. They also come with supply of Kombucha starter liquid, and are sealed in a protective pouch that prevents contamination.
How should SCOBY look and behave?
When you receive your SCOBY, it will look like a flat, rubbery disc or segment, floating in rich Kombucha starter liquid.
Once you add it to your sweetened tea, it may sink or float or stand on end. And, depending on the temperature, within 7-10 days, your tea should develop a transparent film on the surface…that’s the “baby” SCOBY, which may or may not attach itself to the original, or “mother.”
As your Kombucha brews, your SCOBY may turn dark, mottled, stringy, hairy, bumpy, bubbly, smooth or lumpy. All of this is normal. You may even see some brown blobs or spots developing. Still normal. On very rare occasion, mold may show up. But if it does, you’ll know it when you see it because it will look very different from your SCOBY: furry, black or blue, and growing in concentric circles. If you spot it, it’s time to toss both the SCOBY and the Kombucha and start fresh.
Mother SCOBY and Baby SCOBY
First off, Congrats! If your mother SCOBY is healthy, it should produce a brand-new, bouncing baby SCOBY with each batch. That’s a lot of offspring. Here’s how to keep your SCOBY happy and healthy.
Typically, the baby SCOBY forms on the surface of your Kombucha tea, eventually covering it and merging with the mother. You can continue to use this melded mother-baby SCOBY in subsequent batches. But once it grows thicker than 1.5-2 inches thick (somewhere between 2-6 months), you need to separate them in order to keep the proper balance of yeast and bacteria.
To do this, first wash and rinse your hands well. You can even wet them down with a little vinegar or Kombucha starter liquid to keep your SCOBYs extra safe. Then gently peel your SCOBY layers apart. Place your divided SCOBYs in 1 cup of Kombucha starter liquid each. Now you can brew a new batch with both (TWICE as much booch, yay!) or use one to start building your SCOBY Hotel.
What is a SCOBY Hotel?
The more Kombucha you brew, the more layers of SCOBY you’ll produce. Giving SCOBY away to friends is a great way to create Kombucha converts. But what if you don’t have a booch-curious friend standing by?
That’s where the SCOBY Hotel comes in handy. It’s a safe, healthy place to store your spare SCOBY layers until you need them. Think of it as an exclusive spa retreat where your SCOBY go to rest up and recharge! Plus, it acts as booch brewing insurance. No matter what happens to your current batch – mold, fruit flies, or just old age -- you’ll have a hotel filled with backups ready to go.
Building your Hotel is simple. We recommend using a clean 1-gallon jar. Just add your separated SCOBY layer, along with a cup of reserved, fermented Kombucha from your last batch. Then cover it with cheesecloth and a rubber band or a plastic lid. Find an out-of-the-way spot where you can check on it easily and then let it sit until you need it.
If you use cheesecloth, keep in mind that the liquid will need replacing as it evaporates…and don’t be surprised if you see a new SCOBY forming on the surface. It’s all good! Just push the new baby down beneath the surface of the liquid and let the Circle of Kombucha continue.
You can add more divided SCOBY layers to your hotel as needed. Just remember to keep about two times as much Kombucha starter liquid in the jar than SCOBYs to maintain the proper balance of yeast, bacteria and nutrients.
When to throw away a SCOBY?
With proper care, SCOBYs can last many generations. But when you see excessive, dark yeast growth on a SCOBY layer, or if it starts producing Kombucha that tastes bad or overly acidic, it’s time to get a new one. New kombucha recipes can be made.