What is a SCOBY? A guide to growing and storing your Kombucha SCOBY (includes a recipe!)

by Kaitlynn Fenley
a kombucha scoby floats on the top of sweet tea inside of a mason jar.

A Kombucha SCOBY is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts. The gelatinous SCOBY structure comprises polysaccharides produced by bacteria and yeast. In this blog, you’ll learn how to grow your own kombucha SCOBY, the best places to buy a SCOBY, how to make kombucha, and how to store kombucha SCOBYs.

What is a SCOBY?

Kombucha SCOBYs are symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeasts. The gelatinous SCOBY structure is a polysaccharide matrix built by a mixed colony of bacteria and yeast. Mainly, the Acetobacter bacteria in the SCOBY secrete the compounds that build the SCOBY structure. Let’s get into the fine details of what makes up a healthy kombucha SCOBY and what type of microorganisms make up the symbiotic colony.

What Lives in a Kombucha SCOBY?

ealthy kombucha SCOBYs contain Pediococcus, Saccharomyces, and Acetobacter species of microorganisms. Many SCOBYs contain more microbial species in the genera ZygosaccharomycesSchizosaccharomyces, and Komagataeibacter. Some SCOBYs even house Lactococcus, Lecunosctoc, and Lactobacillus bacteria. However, these don’t usually make up much of the population.

Is Kombucha Healthy?

mbucha is packed with vitamins B1, B6, B12, and C. It also contains a lot of polyphenols and healthy acids. Kombucha is not exactly considered “probiotic”. The health benefits of kombucha are attributed to the fermentation postbiotics.

How to Make Kombucha Tea at Home

Making your own kombucha is surprisingly easy and straightforward. As with all things fermented, the process just takes a little patience

  1. Gather your ingredients: You can use green tea or black tea for the best results. I prefer to use organic sencha green tea. You have the option of using loose leaf tea or tea bags. The other main ingredient you need is organic cane sugar. However, you can make kombucha with other types of sugar if you prefer, such as maple syrup or honey. To brew one quart of sweet kombucha tea you need:
    • 50 grams sugar
    • 5 grams tea
    • about 1000 mL water
    • 1 liter glass jar
  2. Brew your sweet tea: Boil your water and dissolve the sugar. Steep the tea in the hot water for 5 minutes. If using tea bags, simply remove them. If using loose leaf tea, strain all the tea leaves from the mixture.
  3. Cool and add your SCOBY: allow the sweet tea mixture to cool completely. It should be room temperature. Once it is cool, add the kombucha SCOBY. Some SCOBYs float, others may sink to the bottom, either way it’s fine. Cover the jar with a cloth lid and rubberband. You must use a cloth lid to allow oxygen flow.
  4. Maintain a good temperature for 7 days: Keep the jar of sweet tea with the SCOBY at moderate room temperature, out of direct sunlight for seven days. Temperature should be between 65-78 degrees F.
  5. Feed SCOBY more sweet tea & Repeat: After 7 days you should see you SCOBY is thicker or another SCOBY is forming on the surface. The fermented tea is now ready for flavoring and bottling. Make a fresh quart of sweet tea as in the previous directions. Remove the SCOBY from fermented liquid and place it in the jar of fresh sweet tea. Add a tablespoon of already fermented tea to the fresh batch.
  6. Bottle the fermented tea and flavor: This is known as secondary fermentation. You need pressure safe glass bottles and fruit juice for flavoring. I typically fill the bottles half way with fermented sweet tea and half way with juice. Once the bottles are sealed, carbonation builds in the bottles. Secondary fermentation can take anywhere from 5 to 12 days.

How to Make a SCOBY Hotel

Every time you brew a fresh batch of kombucha, a new SCOBY will grow. The SCOBY on the bottom is now the ‘mother’ and the one on top is the ‘baby’. You can keep multiple SCOBYs together to ferment the sweet tea. I have 4 layered in my primary fermentation jar right now. Any extra SCOBYs are fun to share with friends. Some people even sell extras on Etsy. You can also store your extras in the fridge.

If you are like me and brew kombucha often, you will have a lot of extra SCOBYs. So you might be wondering how to store SCOBYs. The best way to store extra SCOBYs is to put them in a “SCOBY hotel”. It is very simple to make one. Add all of your extra SCOBYs to a large clean mason jar. Then, brew a fresh batch of sweet tea. Allow the tea to cool, then top the SCOBY’s with the tea. Close the jar with a secure, solid jar lid. Then, place it in the fridge for four weeks at a time. This cuts down on feeding sessions, but you still have to feed the SCOBY fresh sweet tea every four weeks.

Can Kombucha Grow Mold?

Yes, kombucha can grow mold. Kombucha mold can be dangerous, but it is easily avoided. Most mold growth and other fungi contamination of kombucha is simply due to unsanitary conditions. You should always clean your fermentation equipment and utensils thoroughly before making kombucha. SCOBYs should be off-white to a light caramel color. NEVER drink moldy kombucha that has been fermented with a contaminated SCOBY. If contaminated it will be obvious. Fungal contamination looks like fuzzy blue, green, white, black, or grey growth on the surface of the SCOBY or sides of the jar. This growth cannot be scraped off, because mold spores spread throughout the SCOBY and kombucha.

To quality control check the fermentation process, you can test the pH of your primary kombucha fermentation using pH strips. The pH should be between 2.7 – 3.7. The fermented tea should also smell lightly sweet and pleasantly sour.

kombucha scoby floats on top of sweet tea in a ball mason jar.

How to Store Your Kombucha SCOBY

Hibernating your SCOBY is quite easy. This technique is exactly the same as the SCOBY hotel. Just put your SCOBY in a fresh jar of sweet tea with a secure, solid jar lid. Then, place it in the fridge for four weeks at a time. This cuts down on feeding sessions, but you still have to feed the SCOBY fresh sweet tea every four weeks.

Kombucha SCOBY Growth Stages

You can grow a kombucha SCOBY from store-bought kombucha. When buying a kombucha to grow a new baby SCOBY, look for kombucha with a lot of stingy floaties in the bottom of the bottle. You can of course drink most of the kombucha, just reserve 1/4 a cup, and try to reserve the stringy sediment in the bottle. Brew a batch of sweet tea starter liquid, as in the directions below. Once the tea cools to room temperature, you can pour the store-bought kombucha with the sediment you reserved into a clean jar. Fill the jar with sweet tea, cover with a cloth lid and let it sit for 7 to 14 days.

Here’s what you will see:

  1. First, you will notice a clear film forming on the surface of the sweet tea. Do not disturb it, this is the first stage of the SCOBY forming.
  2. Next, you will notice the film get thicker, and less transparent. It will start to look opaque and off white to light brow.
  3. Between 7 and 14 days, you should have a fully formed SCOBY. It may be thin, but it will get bigger the more you make kombucha with it. SCOBYs on average are 1/2 to an inch thick.
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Kombucha Primary Fermentation Recipe

Kombucha SCOBYs are symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeasts. The gelatinous SCOBY structure comprises polysaccharides produced by bacteria and yeast. In this blog, you’ll learn how to grow your own kombucha SCOBY, the best places to buy a SCOBY, how to make kombucha, and how to store kombucha SCOBYs. 

  • Author: Kaitlynn Fenley
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 1 Quart 1x
  • Category: Fermented Foods
  • Method: Fermentation
  • Cuisine: Chinese

Ingredients

Scale
  • 50 grams organic sugar

  • 5 grams organic tea

  • about 1000 mL water

  • 1 liter glass jar

  • 1 kombucha SCOBY

Instructions

  1. Gather your ingredients: You can use green tea or black tea for the best results. I prefer to use organic sencha green tea. You have the option of using loose leaf tea or tea bags. You will also need organic cane sugar. You can make kombucha with other types of sugar if you prefer, such as maple syrup or honey. 
  2. Brew your sweet tea: Boil your water and dissolve the sugar. Steep the tea in the hot water for 5 minutes. If using tea bags, simply remove them. If using loose leaf tea, strain all the tea leaves from the mixture.
  3. Cool and add your SCOBY: allow the sweet tea mixture to cool completely. It should be room temperature. Once it is cool, add the kombucha SCOBY. Some SCOBYs float, others may sink to the bottom, either way it’s fine. Cover the jar with a cloth lid and rubber-band. You must use a cloth lid to allow oxygen flow. 
  4. Maintain a good temperature for 7 days: Keep the jar of sweet tea with the SCOBY at moderate room temperature, out of direct sunlight for seven days. Temperature should be between 65-78 degrees F.
  5. Feed SCOBY more sweet tea & Repeat: After 7 days you should see you SCOBY is thicker or another SCOBY is forming on the surface. The fermented tea is now ready for flavoring and bottling. Make a fresh quart of sweet tea as in the previous directions. Remove the SCOBY from fermented liquid and place it in the jar of fresh sweet tea. Add a tablespoon of already fermented tea to the fresh batch.
  6. Bottle the fermented tea and flavor: This is known as secondary fermentation. You need pressure safe glass bottles and fruit juice for flavoring. I typically fill the bottles half way with fermented sweet tea and half way with juice. Once the bottles are sealed, carbonation builds in the bottles. Secondary fermentation can take anywhere from 5 to 12 days. 

 

Notes

See links below for secondary fermentation and flavoring recipes

Keywords: kombucha, primary fermentation, fermented drinks

Kombucha Second Fermentation, Flavoring, and Bottling


Reference

Microbial Diversity of the Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) and its Impact on the Organoleptic Properties of Kombucha

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12 comments

Lesley York September 4, 2020 - 3:17 am

Hi there
My friend gave me a scoby the only thing is I’d like to know if I can use White tea as opposed to green tea & coconut sugar??as I dont use caffeine tea or use the normal cane sugar please can you advise
Kind regards
Lesley

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley September 4, 2020 - 4:32 pm

Yes! You can use white tea and coconut sugar. Just be sure all your equipment is clean. Brew the tea with the sugar in boiling hot water to sterilize it first.

Reply
Ding June 24, 2021 - 1:28 am

Good day from the Philippines. I haven’t found a source yet of kombucha scoby. Is it possible to use the mother from my pineapple vinegar for my kombucha F1? Thanks a lot.

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley June 25, 2021 - 5:22 pm

It’s sometimes possible for a vinegar mother to be converted into a SCOBY for kombucha, but it doesn’t always work. You can give it a try though! It may take a few F1 batches before you have any success. Is kombucha sold in stores anywhere in the Philippines? you can grow your own SCOBY from store-bought kombucha.

Reply
Sybil Fisher January 19, 2022 - 10:53 pm

How do you grow scoby from store brought kombucha?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 20, 2022 - 11:02 am

just add some store-bought kombucha to a batch of primary fermentation mix

Reply
Terence Goddard July 26, 2021 - 2:43 pm

Fruit flies got into my jar. The ‘baby’ had some blue mold on it, and a couple of tiny maggots crawling happily on the surface. The mold has now disappeared. I’ve removed the maggots. The ‘baby’ looks fine, a nice pale caramel color. If I hadn’t seen the mold and the maggots, I wouldn’t suspect a thing. Can I make a fresh batch with the ‘mother’ or do I need to trash the whole lot?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley July 26, 2021 - 3:14 pm

Hey there,

You need to discard everything and start over. You should be using a tight-weave cloth lid secured with a tight-fitting rubber band to ensure bugs do not get into the jar. The maggots probably ate the mold and that’s why it disappeared… and there’s likely still mold and fruit fly larvae present in the SCOBY and mixture.

Reply
Tara May 3, 2022 - 3:45 pm

Hello, I love your website. Thank you for all the detailed info.
My question is, if we just do primary fermentation and drink that, does it still have the about the same amount of yeasts and bacteria?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley May 5, 2022 - 5:20 pm

Thank you! and you are welcome!

Yes, the primary fermented sweet tea will have about the same amount of yeast and bacteria as kombucha that goes through two fermentations. If you drink it after primary fermentation it will just taste tart and flat. I personally think the texture and flavor are much better after it gets carbonated in secondary fermentation.

Reply
Melissa August 16, 2022 - 8:27 am

Hi! Thanks for all of this detailed info! If I accidentally covered my primary fermentation jar with a regular lid for 6 days (burped twice, but really not much pressure in the jar) before I realized it, but everything looks okay, can I proceed ahead? Is there any concern in using the scoby or tea?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley August 16, 2022 - 10:06 am

it’s probably fine. Just make sure your SCOBY gets oxygen through a cloth lid from now on. It needs oxygen to survive.

Reply

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