How to Grow a Kombucha Scoby- From Store Bought Kombucha

Raw materials

Raw materials

I do enjoy the occasional kombucha…but at about $4.00 a pop, they’re not exactly cheap.  Combine a financial incentive like that with the fact that I like to do things myself, and you can see why I’ve wanted to try my hand at making kombucha for a while.  I only needed to decide was how to go about it- should I purchase a kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), or should I try to grow one from a bottle of store-bought kombucha?

I recently did a search on where to buy real kefir grains- after having come to the realization that the kefir starter from the healthfood store did not, in fact contain them- and came across the website of a woman who calls herself ‘the kefir lady’. This woman sells both kefir grains and kombucha scobies. I’m considering buying kefir grains from her, even though her preferred means of accepting payment is rather bizarre. In any case, if I were to order grains it would make sense to order a scoby at the same time- but if I were to succeed in growing my own, that would, naturally, be unnecessary.

Baby Scoby

Floating in the Bottle

The first thing I did was pick up a bottle of kombucha, which I made certain contained a little baby scoby (about the size of a dime).  A quick google search enabled me to find some instructions on growing it, on a blog called Paprika. I also, however, came across another post on a blog called Food Renegade, which stated that growing a scoby from a store-bought bottle of kombucha was no longer possible, due to the way commercial brands of kombucha in the US had been reformulated in 2010.

Making Sweet Tea

Making Sweet Tea

Luckily, I don’t live in the US, nor have I seen any brands of kombucha from the US for sale here, in Montreal. So, I decided to go ahead with my experiment.  The process is fairly simple.  One must simply make a sweetened tea (using 1 cup of water, 2 TBSPs of sugar, and 1 TBSP of black tea), allow it to cool, then add about half the bottle of kombucha (making sure to include the baby!).  This should be stored in a glass jar, and covered with cheesecloth, some other type of mesh, or a kitchen towel, to keep out flies.  Cover the jar with another kitchen towel to keep the baby warm, and protect it from the light. Within a few days, you should be able to see some growth. After about two weeks, your scoby will likely have extended itself to the edges of the jar, and will be growing thicker.

Day 1

Day 1

Baby Scoby

Day 5

After 2 weeks

After 2 weeks

Scoby After 7 Days

Scoby After 7 Days

At this point, the scoby has likely used all (or most) of the food you have provided it with.  It’s time to make a new, larger batch of sweetened tea for it.  Use 4 cups of water, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 TBSP black tea, again waiting for the mixture to cool to room temperature before immersing the scoby in it. Store it the same way as before, in a bigger jar, if necessary.

Scoby in new home

Scoby in new home

After 3 Weeks

After 3 Weeks

After about a week, the scoby had grown quite thick, and I decided to try brewing my first batch of Kombucha.  The process is very much the same, though the sugar/water/tea proportions are a bit different.  I followed the recipe given in Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation (p.123), which calls for 1/4 cup sugar, 1 TBSP black tea, and 1/2 a cup of kombucha liquid (the scoby-growing liquid, or some liquid from your last batch of kombucha) per liter of water.  I was quite pleased with the result, which was ready in a little under a week (to determine whether it’s ready, just taste it).  I decided to try using 1/2 jasmine tea, and 1/2 black tea for the next batch (one can use only green tea, but according to the Cultures for Health website, which is a great source of kombucha info, it isn’t the best thing for the scoby), and that was quite nice as well.  The jasmine gave it some interesting floral notes.

Jasmine Kombucha

Jasmine Kombucha

Jasmine Kombucha

Jasmine Kombucha

The brewing process is quite painless, and it’s easy to simply strain the finished product into bottles, and start a new batch.  I look forward to experimenting with different flavours…but first I’ll have to do a bit more research on what I should and shouldn’t use (for example, it is possible to use Earl Grey tea to make Kombucha, but using it often is not recommended due to the bergamot oil it is flavoured with).

Well, ’til next time, happy fermenting!

Please note: I have discovered a source for Kefir grains in Montreal!  See this post for details.

Also note:  If you’d like to skip growing your own scoby, and get right to brewing, I may be able help you out (if you’re in the area) by providing you with a nice, thick scoby.  I also have some worms for vermicomposting, if that’s your thing.  Donations will be accepted.

14 comments

  1. Dear Sarah and the Caring Kitchen!
    Thanks for this post!!!
    I followed your instructions step by step and I now have some Kombucha ready to try in my fridge. Do you have anymore advice since your first effort?
    James

    1. Hi, James. That’s great! Thanks for your feedback! In response to your question, I am planning to write a follow-up post on perfecting your kombucha brewing. However, one tip I’ll share with you right now is, in order to increase the carbonation of your finished product, add some syrup to it after bottling, and leave it at room temp for up to a week before refrigeration. This is also an easy way to flavour your kombucha.

      1. Fantastic, I look forward to seeing that. So far, I have pretty much zero carbonation…..I assume that you are talking about maple syrup? After a few brewings, I have reduced the tartness of my kombucha. Thanks for the tips! They are appreciated. James

      2. Hey James! In order to have carbonation, you have to make sure the vessels you are using to store your brewed, flavoured kombucha seal tightly. We are using Grolsch beer bottles, the ones with the swing tops. I have used maple syrup to flavour and add sugar to the brewed kombucha, but I have also used ginger syrup, hibiscus syrup, and other syrups. No worries, and good luck!

  2. Where to buy Kombucha in Montreal?

    1. Hi, Lana. You can buy Kombucha at most health food stores. It is also available at some restaurants, such as Crudessence and La Panthere Verte.

  3. Hi Sarah,
    I am looking for a scoby to start brewing kombucha (my last experience failed). Do you provide it? 🙂 Thanks!

    1. Hi,
      Yes, I can provide you with a scoby. Just send me an email letting me know when and where you’d like to meet.

  4. Hi Sarah!
    I live in Montreal and I am also looking to adopt a little Kombucha baby. Do you have a scoby to spare?
    Thanks,
    Laura

  5. Hi Sarah.

    Thanks for the very informative post. My aunt makes batches of kamboucha tea and although she gives me some whenever I ask, I’m embarrassed to keep asking. I don’t know if you are still making the tea and the pads–I would happily pay you for pads. Can you email me please ?

    Best regards,
    Ted.

    1. Hi, Ted. Why don’t you just ask your aunt for a scoby? Actually, I have not been making kombucha since I’ve been abroad.

      1. She has a need to be needed so she insists on making it herself. Haha!!

        Anyhow, I went to that site you recommended and that’s super nice lady is sending me a scoby as we speak.

        Thank you so much!

        Ted. 🙂

  6. Alec Tilly · · Reply

    Hi Sarah, I’m wondering if you’ve grown any new scobys yet? New to making kombucha here in Montreal and I’d love to get one from you 🙂
    Thanks!

    Ps, which brand do you use to grow it?

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