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We always emphasize that brewing kombucha at home is fun and easy. Anyone with a small amount of cooking experience can successfully brew kombucha. And since kombucha is a delicious and healthy beverage, why wouldn’t you?
Or course, you can buy kombucha in more and more grocery stores, but it is expensive compared to other non-alcoholic beverages. If you brew it at home it costs pennies a glass.
Don’t Let This Hold You Back
Many folks want to brew kombucha at home, but one thing is holding them back. That “one thing” is a bizarre looking organism called a SCOBY. They just don’t understand what a SCOBY is, how it works, and more importantly, where can they find one!
A SCOBY is What?
SCOBY is an acronym that stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. In plain English, it is an organism composed of specific kinds of yeast and specific kinds of bacteria. These are bound together in what looks a little like a mushroom cap.
How Does a SCOBY Work?
The SCOBY is the organism that is responsible for turning sweetened tea into a delicious probiotic beverage called kombucha. It does this by fermenting the mixture of tea and sugar and changing its chemical composition.
Why Do I Need a SCOBY to Brew Kombucha at Home?
Even though we say that we brew kombucha…we don’t…not really. The SCOBY is doing the brewing. What we do is create the proper environment for the SCOBY to do what comes naturally. So, to be clear, kombucha cannot be brewed without a SCOBY. It is essential.
How do I find a SCOBY?
So, now that you know what a SCOBY is and what it does, all you need to know is how to get your hands on one. Fortunately, there are a few different ways to do that, depending on how quickly you want to get a SCOBY and how comfortable you are asking for the help of others.
5 Ways to Get Your First SCOBY
Before we explain where to get your first SCOBY, we have some good news. You only need to get a SCOBY once! That’s right. Once you have one (as long as you take care of it), it will last for as long as you want to brew kombucha. Or, at least, its babies will.
You see, each time you brew kombucha, the SCOBY makes a new “baby” SCOBY at the top of the brewing jar. Usually, the baby stays attached to the “mother”, but sometimes, it separates. In either case, the more you brew kombucha, the more SCOBYs you will have–they keep multiplying!
Get Your First SCOBY From:
Someone Who is Brewing Kombucha at Home
The first place to get a SCOBY is from someone who is home brewing kombucha. Folks who brew kombucha are usually friendly and willing to pass on a SCOBY. Remember, brewing continually makes new SCOBYs, so all brewers have extra ones.
If you don’t have any friends who are brewing kombucha at home, you will have to ask for help from friends of friends. We have traveled to Australia, Canada and Mexico and in each of these foreign countries, we have found someone who was willing to give us or sell us, a SCOBY! Meeting these fellow kombucha brewers was really fun too!
So, reach out to your online community. We usually join a local community group for trading and selling items, then write a post on Facebook that we are looking for a SCOBY, and are surprised by how quickly someone responds. Usually, you can get a SCOBY for free, but sometimes you may be charged a few dollars.
Facebook Kombucha Brewing Groups
There are several Facebook Groups where kombucha home brewers communicate with one another. Some groups are hosted for the purpose of helping new brewers obtain a SCOBY. Again, in some cases you may have to pay something and sometimes you just have to pay for shipping. Most often these are closed groups so you have to join first. Here are two: Kombucha Brewers and Kombucha Life & Ferments.
We have been to farmers markets in quite a few places where there was someone selling kombucha. Many of these folks were also willing to sell a SCOBY.
You will want to be a bit careful though. Satisfy yourself that the SCOBYs for sale are good quality. They should look moist, be at least 3 inches wide, 1/2 inch thick, and come with starter liquid (more on that below). Also, don’t pay too much.
Amazon.com represents many third party sellers who sell SCOBYs. We got our first SCOBY from one of them and it was lively, came with plenty of starter liquid, and arrived in a couple of days. You can tell quite easily which sellers are highly rated with lots of good feedback.
These sellers that have proved themselves to be honest and competent.
This Kombucha SCOBY from Poseymom is a large one and comes with almost a cup of strong starter tea–enough to make your first 1 gallon batch of kombucha. Rating: 4½ stars
This kombucha SCOBY and starter tea by Joshua Tree Kombucha has no vinegar or artifical flavors and comes with 1 cup of starter. Perfect to begin a 1 gallon kombucha brew. It is made from organic tea and sugar. Rating: 4½ stars
Buying a SCOBY online is probably the fastest way to get one and the prices are very reasonable. Some of the online sellers provide a guarantee.
Important Tips for Getting a First Class SCOBY
If you procure a SCOBY from a home brewer who you know and trust, you will be all set. That person is also sure to give you some helpful tips if you ask them to.
If you have reached out to a friend of a friend or a stranger, here are some ways to be sure your SCOBY will begin immediately to make you delicious kombucha.
1. Make sure to get at least a cup (2 cups is better) of starter liquid. The starter liquid is simply raw kombucha. Its job is to immediately lower the pH of the sweetened tea. This protects the SCOBY from infiltration by foreign organisms and kicks off the brewing process.
2. Larger SCOBYs brew faster. Your SCOBY should be a minimum of 3 inches across and at least ½ inch thick. There is really no limit on how large it can be, but if it is over one inch thick, the bottom layer is likely to be composed of largely inert material. That is not really a problem. After your first batch of brew, you can always slice off some of the bottom, older part of the SCOBY (it won’t mind).
3. Get your SCOBY into sweetened tea as soon as possible. Before your SCOBY arrives, be sure to have tea and sugar on hand as well as a brewing jar. Have a nice warm place set aside for your first brew. You can read more about how temperature effects your brewing here.
One More Way to Get Your First SCOBY
There is one more way to obtain your first SCOBY, but it requires quite a lot of patience. We think it should be used only as a last resort because it takes so long and is not a sure thing.
You can grow your own SCOBY from a bottle of raw kombucha! Here Are The Basic Steps on How to Grow Your Own SCOBY:
Step 1. Buy a bottle of raw (not pasteurized), unflavored kombucha at a grocery store. Many folks say that GTs brand works well.
Step 2. Pour the bottle into a larger bottle with a fabric cover and let it sit at room temperature for a week or two until you see that a tiny SCOBY has started to form inside the liquid.
Step 3. Brew the sweetened tea (here is the recipe). Pour the bottle of raw kombucha with the tiny SCOBY into the sweetened tea and set aside to brew.
Step 4. Wait a long time for the SCOBY to grow larger as it begins to turn the sweetened tea into kombucha.
Step 5. You will usually have to make more sweetened tea and transfer the SCOBY and some of the brewed kombucha into that, before you have a beverage that you can bottle and drink.
In this YouTube video, Steph explains the process pretty well (and is entertaining).
Note though, that you should never cover your jar with cheesecloth. It is too pourous and fruit flies can get through it and lay eggs in the brew (yuck!)
A SCOBY is the essential ingredient to brewing kombucha at home. As you can see, there are many ways to obtain one and start your own home brewing adventure. Happy Brewing!