Introduction: How to Grow a Kombucha Scoby (mother)

I've been drinking kombucha for about a year now and have gotten a little obsessed. I found some articles on The Kitchn about brewing your own kombucha and growing a scoby (sometimes referred to as the "mother" or a "kombucha mushroom") and decided to go for it!

A SCOBY is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast that is used to brew kombucha. If you've ever had store bought kombucha and found little blobs it in, those are scoby fragments! We can utilize those tiny pieces of scoby to grow our own kombucha mother.

If you're a kombucha fan (or honestly, even if you're not!) I completely recommend giving this a try. It is an absolutely amazing experience to grow your own scoby! I am incredibly proud of it and it's so interesting to watch it grow. It could even be a great science experiment for kids. :D

This process does take a while - I've been doing this for about two months, and I've just now got my first batch of kombucha bottled and carbonating. It sounds time consuming, but it's really not! Most of the time, you've got got to check your kombucha/scoby once a day ad then go back to whatever else you're doing. :)

P.S. Once you've grown a scoby, check out my instructable over how to brew kombucha with it!

Step 1: Supplies + Basic Information

ingredients needed for the scoby building tea:

  • 7 cups water
  • 1/2 cup plain white sugar OR raw cane sugar
  • 4 tea bags OR 1 tablespoon loose leaf black tea (nothing flavored, nothing herbal)
  • 1 cup unflavored unpasteurized kombucha (I used GT's Kombucha!)

Honey, stevia, agave, and other sugar substitutes do not work as well based on everything I've seen. The sugar is the food for the growing scoby, so it's important to give it something it can break down easily. Use the regular stuff first to get used to the process, and then you can start doing crazy experiments. ;)

For this, I just used standard Lipton black tea bags. We really don't need anything fancy - the liquid produced by building this scoby will not be drinkable. We're gonna make kombucha vinegar! YAY

As far as choosing your store bought kombucha, it is REALLY important it is unflavored and unpasteurized. Try to grab a bottle with some little baby scoby blobs floating around.

supplies:

  • 2 quart canning jar (64 oz)
  • large saucepan
  • coffee filters
  • rubber band
  • instant read thermometer

Make sure your jar is rated for canning and also nice and clean - pour boiling water into it to ensure there's nothing funky living on the inside!

However, it's important to not use any antibacterial soaps in the cleaning as it can hinder the scoby growth or stop it completely.

Step 2: Brew the Tea and Let It Come to Room Temperature

Step one! Make sure your sauce pan is large enough to hold 7 cups of water and VERY clean.

Put the saucepan on the stove over high heat and add the water. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and move it to another burner. Add in 1/2 cup of sugar. Stir to dissolve.

Now you'll want to place the tea bags in. Give it a good stir and then let it sit. These tea bags will stay in the water until it's cool.

We need this tea to come down to room temperature - in a range of 68-75 F / 20-23 C. I use a instant read thermometer to check this. If the tea is too hot, it will kill everything in the GT's kombucha when we add that in.

What I like to do is let the tea cool for an hour or so on the stove, and then pour it into the canning jar and pop it in the fridge. This lets it cool down a wee bit faster - otherwise you can be waiting for six hours or more! Just make sure to check it every 45 minutes or so - you don't want it to cool down to below room temp.

Step 3: Add in the Store Bought Kombucha

Once the tea has hit room temperature, we will remove the tea bags. If you used loose leaf tea or one of the bags busted, strain the mixture.

Now you'll need to measure out one cup of your unflavored and unpasteurized kombucha. As I've said before, it's best to get the tiny scoby blobs from that bottle into your tea mixture! These will help the scoby growing process go a little easier. :)

Pour the cup of kombucha in and give the mix a gentle stir.

Step 4: Cover the Canning Jar and Place It in a Dark Warm Location

Once the sweet tea and kombucha have become friends, you'll need to cover the jar and move it to a safe dark location where it won't be jostled.

It's best if this is in a warm place (around 70 F / 21 C) - the colder it is the longer this process will take! I placed mine in a kitchen cabinet.

Place a coffee filter over the mouth of the jar and secure it with a rubber band or a rogue hair tie if you have them all over the house like I do. :P

Step 5: The Waiting Game + What to Expect

At this point, the sweet tea just needs to hang out for a bit. It can take anywhere from 1 week to a month, depending on the kombucha you used and the temperature you're storing it at.

I wrote my progress down on the calendar so I could share it with you guys, so here is what I saw happen chronologically:

  1. Bubbles. The first thing that will happen is tiny bubbles appearing all around the top edge of the sweet tea. These started at day 4 for me.
  2. A shiny/slimy looking film. The bubbles will eventually get an upgrade to a film that covers the top of the sweet tea. This occurred around day 7 for me. This film will begin to look more like a clear jelly as time goes on.
  3. A kombucha-like smell. Another sign that things are going well! This started to get really strong around day 7 for me.
  4. An opaque and very thin scoby. Around day 11, the film over the top of the sweet tea had formed into something slightly opaque and paper thin! Woohoo!
  5. The scoby will continue to grow to 1/4 inch thick. From day 11 on, I just let my scoby grow. You want the scoby to be 1/4 inch thick. At day 20, it had reached that thickness, but I let it hang out until day 25 until I had enough time to make the next batch of sweet tea to brew the actual kombucha. At that point it was almost a 1/2 inch thick! :)

Step 6: How to Tell When the Scoby Is Ready + Other Issues

Pictured above: the original scoby I grew is on the left, the scoby on the right grew on top of the first scoby during my first kombucha brewing! Both are healthy even though they look totally different!

As stated on the previous step, you want the scoby to be 1/4 inch thick and very opaque. You may have a few places that are a little bit transparent, but overall it should be cloudy and thick!

Things that are normal in scoby growth:

  • lot of bubbles
  • shimmery films on the top of the sweet tea
  • bubbles forming in the opaque scoby (it will be very ugly and bumpy until you use it a few times!)
  • strings and particulate coming from the bottom of the scoby in various colors
  • a strong vinegar smell
  • scoby growing in thin layers

Things that are not normal:

  • black or green mold forming on the scoby. Toss it and try again!
  • a cheese-like smell, or a smell like rotting meat.

Now that you have a scoby, go brew some kombucha with it! Click here for my full tutorial.

Comments

author
TaintedxxBright made it! (author)2016-10-12

Day 3. Tiny bubbles!!! Nice yeast smell.

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S189 made it! (author)2016-07-19

This is a great how to! Do you think this would work if I halved it, to only make a quart size version?

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espasa53 made it! (author)espasa532016-07-28

I'm currently trying with a quart canning jar, hope it works!

author
S189 made it! (author)S1892016-09-08

Hmmm, been about a month, how'd it go? Did it work?

author
espasa53 made it! (author)espasa532016-09-08

It worked out perfectly, now i will brew Kombucha.Did you try too?

author
TaintedxxBright made it! (author)TaintedxxBright2016-10-12

I am so excited. I just started mine but I have a huge jar. So I used 14 cups of tea and the whole bottle of GT's Kombucha. My bottle had a huge baby SCOBY in it too. I want to use the Kombucha vinegar for laundry, salad dressing and cleaning vinegar after so I just made a huge jar...plus, I wanted it filled to the top so the Mother is the size of the lid top which is almost palm sized. =)

author
S189 made it! (author)S1892016-09-09

No. chickened out. I'm glad it worked out for you, and thanks for answering!

author
TaintedxxBright made it! (author)2016-10-12

Just started Mother growing this Sunday Oct 9th 2016. I found a bottle of GT's Kombucha that had a huge baby SCOBY in it!! I used the whole bottle and doubled this recipe, using puu-er tea. I will let you all know how it turns out. Now of course after a month, this will be Kombucha vinegar, but don't throw it out!! You can use the Kombucha Vinegar to clean, make salad dressing, and add cups to your laundry to get rid of bad smells!!! Google - "Don't Mess With Mama Kombucha Vinegar Uses"

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DavidS289 made it! (author)2015-10-16

i used to make ginger beer with a scoby called ginger beer plant. i must try this (and get some more GBP to make ginger beer)

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maka made it! (author)maka2015-10-18

I've only heard the ginger beer SCOBYs called a "ginger bug."

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dstone-1 made it! (author)dstone-12015-11-08

maybe there's a difference on our side of the pond. in the U.K., where i bought mine , they call it GBP
http://www.gingerbeerplant.net/Get-GBP.php

author
JeanetteK1 made it! (author)2015-10-27

One thing I didn't notice specifically mentioned.

I was told that the tea must have caffeine as well as sugar because the SCOBY needs both for nourishment.

Maybe a person should do a little research on that if they were planning to use decaffeinated.

author
Patrik made it! (author)2015-10-20

Store bought Kombucha is made with just one or two pure strains of bacteria and yeasts - very different from a natural Kombucha SCOBY. Real Kombucha is hard to commercialize, because (a) it produces a tiny amount of alcohol, and if there's more than 1/2% alcohol you need to deal with all the red tape of selling an alcoholic beverage (sigh), and (b) it tends to continue fermenting to the point where bottles will start exploding on the shelf.

So yeah - store bought is not real kombucha. Find a friend who can give you a starter culture. Or you can buy a real scoby online from a couple different suppliers.

author
JeanetteK1 made it! (author)JeanetteK12015-10-27

You CAN get good kombucha in the markets now-a-days. There are at least 5 brewers that provide good, complex commercially bottled stuff here on the West Coast - from Southern California to Southern Washington.

I have made my own SCOBYs from bottled, gotten SCOBYs from friends and even gotten one or two mail ordered. All of the kombucha I made had the potential for becoming alcoholic if left for the second ferment, not to mention even on the first.

I'm sorry to say Patrik, you just come off sounding like a snob. Even Store Bought is Real.

However, your second to the last comment is truly the best way to get a SCOBY; not only does it come free and was probably more reliably handled, it just adds to that community feel that sharing engenders. I think it also is probably the TRADITIONAL way the use and drinking of kombucha spread.

author
notforfooduse made it! (author)2015-10-16

Not sure if anyone else has mentioned it, but I immediately thought of the Katering Show's 'review' of Kombucha... (profanity alert, but it's funny)

author
jessyratfink made it! (author)jessyratfink2015-10-16

Hahah! I think I had the same response when I tried it years ago. I thought it was apple cider vinegar and was not pleased. :P

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Goodhart made it! (author)Goodhart2015-10-20

Hey Jesse
I know I have been absent for a long time.
This looks good.
Btw, I am no longer in PA. Long story

author
notforfooduse made it! (author)notforfooduse2015-10-16
All the episodes are pure comedy gold!

"You make Kombucha from a starter fungus called a Scoby"
"But you can't buy a Scoby from the shops – you have to be given it, like an STD"

author
mdeblasi1 made it! (author)mdeblasi12015-10-17

20 minutes ago I didn't even know the Katering Show existed, now I've watched three eppisodes!
Yay!

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notforfooduse made it! (author)notforfooduse2015-10-18

I've watched them too many times to count and they're still funny, and there's even a second series coming soon!

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mdeblasi1 made it! (author)mdeblasi12015-10-17

20 minutes ago I didn't even know the Katering Show existed, now I've watched three eppisodes!
Yay!

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Doggai made it! (author)2015-10-20

communication from mother ship - "read the entire article!" Previous question answered.

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lifeinbeats made it! (author)2015-10-18

I've been making Kombucha for a few years now and it's really a lovely process. The Scoby is kind of a weird, boogery thing at first, but you learn to grow very fond of those little bacterial blobs... Anyway, I don't know how important it is, but some of the advice I received when I first started was to try to buy the most natural ingredients. Organic tea, organic sugar, and try to filter your water or buy distilled (not spring) water from the store. Scoby's are supposedly very susceptible, especially in their early stages, and pesticides (non-organics), oils (from flavored teas), and minerals and heavy metals (tap water) can do strange things to them. Or even inhibit their growth entirely. I say supposedly because I've always followed these steps and have never really had any issues, so I assume that they're true but I haven't tested the hypotheses.

If you're looking for a good website from a very knowledgeable 'bucha gent:

http://users.bestweb.net/~om/kombucha_balance/

Especially useful for diagnosing your mother or brew.

And finally, this amazing image that I randomly found on the interwebs.

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author
yellowcatt made it! (author)yellowcatt2015-10-18

I did wonder about possibility of using the scoby as a vegan leather. Not made any kombucha for years, maybe I should start again.

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jhulst1 made it! (author)2015-10-18

Did you know scobies are used as vegan leather for clothing an bags? Just use big flat containers and grow your clothes! You dry the scoby so that it becomes tough and durabele.

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briphagen made it! (author)2015-10-18

Ah man, the top of it looks like a herpes outbreak :/

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impied made it! (author)2015-10-16

ah this is giving me fond memories of being in lab but with far more delicious results

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PitStoP made it! (author)2015-10-16

I never heard of this but I will tell you it looks scary... Almost like it will eat my hands just holding it like in your pics. lol Bacteria hmmm.. You will have to tie me down if you want me to try this? It might not be a bad thing.. haha ;)

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li james made it! (author)2015-10-15

mmmm delicious! Thanks for sharing!

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susiefreckleface made it! (author)2015-10-14

you might want to visit our Yahoo group. original_kombucha. good info and safety tips.

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zephyrfarms made it! (author)2015-10-14

Very interesting. I'm a big fan of your posts because of the variety you cover.
You went way over my head this time. Thanks for broadening my horizon.

author
CorgiCritter made it! (author)2015-10-14

Typo on step three. I think the word is supposed to be "Tea mixture."

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jessyratfink made it! (author)jessyratfink2015-10-14

Ha! Thanks for catching that. That was definitely a weird typo. :P

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ArticAkita made it! (author)2015-10-14

when I was still a teenager my mom was growing & brewing the kombroca tea, it was a real fruitful magnet cheese cloth or a paper towel is a MUST! the tea is amazing naturally fizzy basically sugar free the enzymes or culture digests the sugar, the scoby is guess you can have it dehydrated I couldn't just bite off a piece them things are tough but can be cut with scissors & just swallowed.

author
momoluv made it! (author)2015-10-14

Wow, this is fascinating! I've never heard of nything like this, great job ~Momoluv

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sabu.dawdy made it! (author)2015-10-14

I never tried this tea. But this is unique

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jessyratfink made it! (author)jessyratfink2015-10-14

It's definitely an acquired taste, but it's great once you get past the fact that it smells like apple cider vinegar. :D

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came6920 made it! (author)2015-10-14

So do you eat that blob?

author
jessyratfink made it! (author)jessyratfink2015-10-14

You can if you dehydrate it like jerky, but I'm not planning to. Just using it to brew kombucha. :)

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Bio: part of the Instructables Design Studio by day, stitch witch by night. follow me on instagram @makingjiggy to see what i'm working on! ^_^
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