Whether leading busy lives or just not wanting to deal with the process of fermenting their own, most kombucha drinkers are satisfied with buying commercially available bottled kombucha. That's perfectly fine. Most of them taste great, come in a variety of flavors, and aren't too difficult to find in urban stores that cater to food enthusiasts and the health conscious. For those that live in the country, or simply enjoy the cost savings and satisfaction of creation, making your own kombucha from a SCOBY is the way to go. But where do you start?
If you’re lucky enough to know someone who makes their own kombucha, getting a baby SCOBY and a bit of starter from a person you trust is ideal. There are a few internet resources available for purchasing a SCOBY or finding someone in your area that will give you one for free as long as you can pick it up. Of course, hardcore do-it-yourselfers will want to start from scratch and grow a culture from a bottle of raw kombucha.
Growing a mother SCOBY from commercial kombucha is simple.
Purchase two 16 ounce bottles of plain kombucha and a fermenting vessel: Make sure you are buying raw, unpasteurized, plain kombucha. You should be able to see small strands of the culture in the bottle. Dry kombucha tea, kombucha essence and products like Carpe Diem kombucha drink do not have the live yeasts and bacteria that will form a SCOBY.
Though raw kombucha flavored with fruit juices or other ingredients will probably form a SCOBY, you should still start with a plain, unflavored kombucha just so you need not worry that any added ingredient might inhibit you’re culture from growing.
Why two bottles? First, you’ll be assured that there is enough acid to discourage mold growth in your starter. Second, if for some reason the cultures in the bottles that you bought are weak or unhealthy, you have a better chance of getting a SCOBY started. If you don’t see the beginnings of a SCOBY within one week you may even want to add another bottle to the starter.
Your fermenting vessel should be glass, about a gallon in size with a wide mouth. If you drink a lot of kombucha you might want to buy a larger container but use the measurements in the following instructions to grow your SCOBY
Make a starter tea: Brew three cups of quality loose-leaf tea. I like oolong best for flavor. A lot of people will tell you to allow the tea to steep for 15 minutes to extract all the nutrients. If you don’t normally drink tea that’s steeped for that long why would you put it in your kombucha?
If you don’t do loose-leaf tea use a quality bagged tea instead. Do not use flavored teas or tea with added ingredients. Check the labels. Four bags for three cups of water brewed at the recommended time should be sufficient.
Add sugar to the tea: Dissolve one cup of plain, white sugar in the hot tea. Even if you have to make a special purchase, start with plain, white sugar. Its composition makes it easier for the little kombucha bugs to feed on. You can experiment with less refined sugars once your SCOBY is healthy and making babies with each batch you brew.
Add everything to the fermenting vessel: Add the hot tea to the fermenting container and then 6 cups of cold water. We use delicious Detroit tap water without any problems. If you think you might have problems with your tap water, use distilled water or boil your tap water for five minutes.
Whatever water you use, make sure it is cool enough to get the water and brewed tea mixture below 100 degrees F. Never put a kombucha culture into hot water as the heat can kill the yeasts and bacteria.
Wait: In about a week you should see a thin, white film growing on the surface of the tea. Congratulations! You have a kombucha SCOBY. The film will probably be spotty and weird and you’ll be wondering if everything went bad. This is normal. The sign of kombucha going off is fuzzy mold. If there is no mold you should be okay.
The warmer your fermentation area is, the quicker your SCOBY will grow. It may take four to six weeks to grow a SCOBY thick enough to make a proper batch of kombucha. Be patient. If it does take this long for your SCOBY to develop the tea you used probably has too much acetic acid to be enjoyable for drinking. It’s quite alright to sacrifice this batch of kombucha to grow your SCOBY.