This is a unique post. I am making my first kombucha -right now-, and I want to share this adventure. Instead of one post per step, I’ll just update this single post. Hope you have fun with me here!
24 December – Opened a gift from an out-of-state cousin. She sent a mother! Begin serious kombucha research. I decided to give continuous brewing a try. Why? Because I want to sip four ounces each morning, and I don’t want to have a ton of ferments around the house. We placed the mother in the pantry, it was triple-bagged to prevent leaking.
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29 December, five days later – Bought what I need to feed this mother and make a serious first batch. I went to a big box store for a two gallon glass dispenser (like the one linked, with a plastic spigot), and organic turbinado sugar. Car battery died in parking lot. After rescue, I went to my favorite grocery store for starter tea (commercial-made-organic-blueberry-ginger kombucha).
My research led me to make a 50/50 tea for the mother. Half black tea (I chose Tetley Ginger) and half green tea (Yogi Pure Green). I have an electric kettle that made the measuring process very easy for the quantity I wanted. I learned that green tea makes prettier whiter scobys, but the scoby loves the tannins in black tea, so I figured that half and half would be a good start. This is the recipe I used:
- 2 cups starter tea
- 1.5 liters water brewed with four bags black tea (about 6 cups -tea boiled over)
- 1.7 liters water brewed with four bags green tea (about 7 cups)
- 1 cup turbinado sugar
Why did I measure in liters? Because that’s how my tea kettle measures volume. I’m sure that others measure in cups and quarts, but not mine!
I rinsed the new dispenser before adding tea, just with hot water, no soap…and forgot the optional vinegar rinse. Poured sugar in jar, and cleaned up black tea that boiled over. I poured the remaining black tea in the jar, and swirled the sugar to dissolve while the green tea batch started brewing. Afterwards I poured the green tea into sweet black tea, and waited for tea blend to cool down.
It needed to come down to room temperature before adding the mother, because we don’t want to burn her. A gallon of freshly brewed tea takes a long time to cool. I expedited this by making a ice bath (in a skillet) for the jar, and letting it rest until about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
When tea was finally cool enough, I poured in the cold starter tea, then plopped in the mother. She sank. I wanted to unfold her and have her as flat as possible (to increase the surface area that could eat the sweet tea)…but I didn’t get the chance. I was being as hands-off as possible to avoid cross contamination. Besides, it’s normal for starter cultures to sink because there’s no carbonation underneath to prop up the culture.
I unfolded a napkin and tied it around the jar opening. Some use coffee filters, others use paper towels or kitchen linens. The goal here is to allow air, but no other particles or bugs. Then I labelled the jar here and there. I marked the starting liquid level, and determined a “feed me” threshold to avoid going below. I need to mark a max level also, because I want to always have a minimum of 1/3 kombucha at all times (not just for drinking, but for scoby maintenance).
We found a good spot for our brew. It’s on an open shelf in the corner of the kitchen. The jar has over three inches of headspace, that should be good. This spot receives indirect and artificial light. I read that SCOBYs don’t like full sun, so that’s easy. Also, that air circulation is more important than dark/light conditions, so we’re keeping it out of closets or the pantry.
I decided that we’ll do a 10 day brew for this first batch.
1 January, three days since last update – I noticed that the starting liquid level dropped a little bit. It is winter and I suddenly worried about the humidity. So I made a low-tech humidifier just for the kombucha. Not sure if Mister Jupiter has seen it. If he has, he probably thinks that I have lost my mind.
- Related: D.I.Y. Winter Humidifier
3 January, two days since last update – Huzzah! A new SCOBY is forming on the top of the tea blend. Proof that the starter mother is loving her tea. Right now it’s a thin translucent layer with two small white spots…not mold. So far we’re on track and will sample in five short days. Note, only search for bad SCOBYs if you want to gross yourself out. Ugh.
5 January, four days since last update – Sad news folks. The two white spots turned to mold. Kombucha Home shows photos of some cultures that look like mold, but he says were not…but he didn’t have close-up shots, and I’m no expert. Kombucha Kamp shows a clear photo of obvious molds, one is fuzzy green spots. Guess what I have? Fuzzy green spots, just like the kind that ruins bread. Both sites say that kombucha mold is rare. Guess I should go buy some lottery tickets.
While I’m out, I might as well swing by the grocery store for a raw, unflavored commercial ‘booch. My new plan: I’m going to grow a SCOBY from a store-bought bottle.
Food Renegade said that after 2010 growing from commercial sources changed, and that Dave’s GT began adding non-native probiotics (that have hindered using their kombucha as a starter). But in this 2017 article from TheKitchn, Emma uses a raw commercial brew to make a new SCOBY, and gives it fresh sweet tea to eat. This sounds like the winner to me.
I am going to scale down the recipe to fit a one-quart jar, and if it goes well, I will divide the scoby so I can start a continuous brew in my 2 gallon jar -and- begin a SCOBY hotel. Mister Jupiter and I are moving in six months, and I would rather travel with a good SCOBY hotel than try to move with a gallon (minimum) of ready-to-drink kombucha. Besides, having several backup SCOBYs will give us room to experiment in the future, like Kombucha Brooklyn points out, and yes I do want to make kombucha coffee.
25 January, twenty days since last update – Sorry for the long delay! Winter got serious and driving on ice isn’t safe. Then I became a super homebody. By the time that I got out for kombucha shopping I couldn’t find kombucha that was organic, raw, and unflavored. *sigh* But I bought two different commercial ‘booches, both are flavored because Leavenworth, Kansas doesn’t believe in unflavored kombucha (at least I couldn’t find any in the dead of winter).
Brew Dr. Kombucha -Lemon Ginger Cayenne. This one is organic and raw, but the last ingredient on the label is live probiotic culture. I can see a little dust at the bottom of the bottle, but no baby SCOBY. This one is super fizzy!
KeVita Master Brew Kombucha -Ginger. This one is organic, but not raw and contains stevia. I bought this because the second ingredient is ‘kombucha culture (bacillus coagulans LactoSpore MTCC 5856, Lactobacillus rhamnosus).’ This one doesn’t have a visible baby SCOBY either, but it’s more uniformly cloudy. This has that spicy ginger taste that I love.
I am going to try to make SCOBYs from both kombuchas at the same time. In addition to the two commercial brews, I will be using these wide mouth pint jars, sticky flags (for labeling), and sweet tea. I made the tea in the standard seven cup batch but I won’t be using all of it for this experiment…I’ll just drink the leftover sweet tea.
So here is what I did:
- Clean two wide mouth pint jars
- Rinse each jar with vinegar
- Label jars so I know who is who
- Pour 100ml sweet tea in each jar
- Pour 200ml store bought kombucha in each jar
- Cover jars and place my Official Kombucha Corner
And now we wait. For the sake of scientific method adherence, here’s the exact brew that I used to feed these booches: 1.6 liters water, two bags black ginger tea one bag green tea one bag jasmine green tea (steeped three minutes in just-boiled water), 1/2 cup organic turbinado sugar. This water : tea : sugar ratio is standard and I didn’t feel like scaling it down, so I made one regular batch in correct proportion and only used what I needed.
2 February, eight days since last update – Finally I have -good- kombucha news!
My Brew Dr. Kombucha jar (2/3 ‘booch + 1/3 sweet tea) is growing a SCOBY! Three days ago I was convinced that it was only growing Kahm yeast, because the surface looked like large thin flakes. Kind of hard to describe otherwise, but it looked like a young version of this Reddit user’s Kahm. But instead of dumping or skimming, I decided to let it keep going…and also buy an affordable SCOBY from Fermentaholics. Thankfully that was a good call. So now while the commercial SCOBY slowly grows, I am already working on our continuous brew.
So I began again. I brewed tea according to Fermentaholic’s directions (two cups water with six tea bags, sweetened, then diluted with 12 cups cool water), and while the tea concentrate steeped, I re-washed my two gallon dispenser, replaced the spigot with this stainless steel model, and adhered an adhesive thermometer strip.
When the tea was room temperature I added the new SCOBY and secured the napkin lid. I placed the big dispenser and little commercial SCOBY on the designated Kombucha Corner in the kitchen, then discarded the KeVita attempt because zero growth was observed and I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.
5 February, three days since last update – Snow fell again, and even though the kombuchas are in the kitchen they still got cold.
The adhesive thermometer strip read 64-66º Fahrenheit which is just below the lowest brewing range according to culturesforhealth.com (they recommend 68-78°F). Then I cross checked with Fermentaholics (via the original SCOBY package) and they recommend brewing at 75-80º (F) and specifically warn that “Cold Equals Mold!” If that’s the case (cold = mold) then that would explain what happened to my first try that began this whole saga. Snow was on the ground during that brew, but I didn’t have a thermometer strip and didn’t give the ‘booch my heating pad. *Sorry lil’ guy*
My plan now is this:
- Bring kombucha up to ~75º F (the heating pad under vessels is on medium)
- Maintain 72º-78º F (only using heating pad when supervised)
- Unplug heating pad at night
- Warm up kombucha first thing in the morning and maintain 72º-78º F
I hope this batch makes it! I didn’t think that I needed to use the heating pad. For some reason I thought that a Kansas brewer wouldn’t need it, but snow is snow, and our warm house still has chilly corners…even in the kitchen. Oh, by the way, I am seeing progress in both vessels! The dispenser has a good film growing, and the small jar is showing a thicker young SCOBY than a few days ago.
Now, with fingers crossed, I am going to finish menu planning so I can bundle up and buy groceries before more snow comes down.
12 February, seven days since last update – listening to the Top Gun Soundtrack
Purchased SCOBY – This is a very happy culture. Maintaining 70-80º degrees has been excellent for its growth. The new SCOBY got thick quickly and sunken yeast floated up. Each day I would see several new bubbles, and I watched the liquid level decrease as the SCOBY gobbled up the sweet tea.
D.I.Y. SCOBY from Commercial – Also a happy culture…I think. Growth is certainly slower. It was really thin before the heating pad was used, but it loved the heat too. Almost right away the liquid level dropped and the SCOBY appeared to tilt. I realized today that it was tilted because part of the SCOBY was clinging to the glass. As a result a new-new SCOBY is forming on the new surface. So if you look at it at the right angle the accidentally-divided SCOBY looks like a “y” laying on its side.
Tasting – I waited for Mister Jupiter to get home so we could try it together. We poured samples and sipped, it’s a good brew! We already enjoy kombucha, so we were ready for the the fizzy vinegar, and we love it. I’m so happy we finally have a success even though I had to purchase it.
Bottling & flavoring – I bought these 8.5oz swing top bottles (just the four pack because we move a lot and don’t need more glass). Besides, we don’t require flavored ‘booch, we just wanted to experiment a little. So I filled all four bottles:
- Just under 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp Pappy’s sassafras tea concentrate
- Just under 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 Tbsp Pappy’s
- Just under 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp masala tea powder (that I can’t find online, I bought from an Indian grocer. Ingredients are: ginger, mace, pepper, nutmeg, green cardamom, cinnamon.)
- Small squeeze honey, dried hibiscus
I had the bottles in the pantry, but then I remembered that our house is too cold for happy kombucha, so I added them to the heating pad too! We’ll sample them in a few days and see what we like. I can’t wait to try more combinations; we have an impressive spice cabinet and I like using it.
After filling the four bottles, I made a small batch of sweet tea (seven cups water, three tea bags, 1/2 cup sugar) to add to the dispenser. I’m all about continuous brewing, and I just need to find our rhythm.
Also, I added to the commercial jar: ~100ml kombucha plus ~100ml sweet tea. I will make a tiny SCOBY hotel to move with. *shakes fist at struggling SCOBY, then releases fist to blow it a kiss*
24 February, 12 days since last update – writing quickly so I can watch more Altered Carbon on Netflix
All good news today, plus I found our continuous brew rhythm!
First, the commercial jar SCOBY is much happier with my kombucha added. The original thin commercial SCOBY is resting at the bottom of the jar and a happier SCOBY is on top. Tonight when I feed the ‘booches I’ll take a photo for you.
Second, little flavored batches are too much fun. I thought that we wanted plain kombucha, but I was wrong. So far we still only have the four swing-top bottles, but I need a fifth. Enjoying flavored kombucha helped me find our continuous brew rhythm, and here is how I do it:
- Saturday- Sample ~4oz kombucha, continue if fizzy and vinegary (if not, wait a few days)
- Determine four fun flavor combinations
- Place each fun combination in a clean bottle (four total)
- Fill each bottle with kombucha, secure lid and place in a warm location
- Feed continuous brew fresh tea (seven cups water, three teabags, 1/2 cup sugar)
- Sunday- don’t drink any kombucha
- Monday- drink flavored bottle #1
- Tuesday- drink flavored bottle #2
- Wednesday- drink flavored bottle #3
- Thursday- drink flavored bottle #4
- Friday- make sure bottles are clean and ready for tomorrow
- (Repeat weekly sequence)
This is perfect for us, because we get to enjoy kombucha almost every day of the week. Plus we’re taking and replenishing the same seven cups of liquid, while maintaining a happy SCOBY. To be clear, when we pour finished kombucha into the bottles, we’re only removing 1/3 of the kombucha, which is recommended for a young continuous brew.
Meanwhile I’m going to look around town for a similar 8.5oz swing-top bottle so we can have a Friday kombucha. Oh, and for the record I strain the daily flavored ‘booch as I pour it into two cups. I use a pour-over tea strainer to quickly get the job done. Why strain? Besides catching the big stuff like rehydrated hibiscus petals, it also catches invisible baby SCOBYs. We learned this lesson with the Pappy’s batches. Pappy’s by the way, resulted in flavor, but no fizz (even with a pinch of sugar).
I have a fun method of flavoring the small bottles, at least, we think it’s fun. I write recipes that I want to try on Post-it markers, and adhere them to the front of my copy of The Big Book of Kombucha. If a recipe is from the book, I’ll note the page number.
When I choose the next batch of flavors I place the Post-it on the clean bottle, record the date, then fill the bottle like normal, and let the secondary ferment do its thing until we drink it. When we drink it, I move the Post-it to my weekly calendar for reference.
So far we have learned that our favorite additives are berries, and hibiscus. (I’m really excited about the Blackberry Hibiscus ‘booch that I bottled today.) Also, that a pinch of sugar produces more fizz than honey, but honey is good with gentle flavors like chamomile. Oh, and ginger = fizz.
Next week I’m going to bottle savory flavors like tomato and pepper. I can’t wait for the weekend!
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