Brewing a tasty kombucha tea relies heavily on the health of the scoby. The good news is, that keeping a healthy scoby is reasonably easy if you follow a few simple brewing instructions. Starting with a healthy starter-tea, keeping your brew at the proper temperature, and using quality ingredients will ensure sweet and tangy kombucha success!
What Is A SCOBY?
The fermentation process that turns tea into kombucha comes from a live bacteria called a SCOBY – Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. The scoby looks like a beige or white jelly-like membrane and is a culture that when added to sweet tea, feeds off of the caffeine and sugar, starting the fermentation process. As the scoby digests the sugar and caffeine, it produces all the healthy acids, vitamins and enzymes that make it a delicious nutritional powerhouse.
If you’ve found this post and are new to brewing kombucha, then welcome to the Keg Outlet Blog! We love to write about kombucha almost as much as we love brewing and drinking kombucha. Take a moment to check out a few of our top kombucha articles that are designed to help both the novice and expert kombucha homebrewer.
- Harvesting A Kombucha Scoby From A Bottle Of GTs Kombucha
- 3 Common Mistakes Kombucha Homebrewers Make
- How To Increase The Alcohol Levels In Your Homebrewed Kombucha
Signs The SCOBY Is Not Healthy
When you start brewing your first batches of kombucha, there will be a lot of new experiences and that probably means you’ll have a few questions. A scoby can come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and even colors. Because a healthy scoby can take on different characteristics, there may be moments within the brewing process that you worry if it’s doing ok. There are signs that you can observe to let you know the scoby is not healthy and you will need to start another batch.
My Kombucha Smells Bad
A healthy kombucha scoby will have the sweet-sour smell you’re accustomed too when fermenting tea. Just remember that this healthy odor will not be prominent until the scoby has been established, so give it a few days. Sometimes the tea will be heavy on the vinegar side. Not to worry, that is not uncommon through the fermentation stages.
But if your scoby begins to put off a bad odor, it’s a sure sign that the scoby is not healthy. A bad, putrid odor indicates bad bacteria and should be thrown out. It’s not worth the risk and is just as easy to start a new batch.
Mold Is Growing On My Scoby
It can be scary to think of mold growing in my kombucha tea! During the brewing process, miniature scoby’s can start to form on the top of your brew, giving it the appearance of having mold spots. This is normal, and eventually, these baby scoby’s will connect to form a single scoby.
Mold will have a green, black or blue color and will never be found inside or under the scoby. Mold always wants contact with air, so the mold will float on top of the brew and be covered with disgusting fuzz. A moldy scoby will also put off a bad odor.
To help prevent mold spores from ending up in your kombucha, don’t store the brewing vessel near open containers of trash. Cross contamination is usually the culprit of a moldy scoby, so make sure to use clean utensils when stirring or preparing your brew. Also, be sure to maintain a constant temperature between 68F and 82F. Temperature and high humidity levels can contribute to mold growth. If you do find mold growing on the surface of the brew, you’ll need to throw it out and start over with a new scoby.
My Scoby Isn’t Growing
If your scoby seems to stop growing it could be a sign that something is off with your brew. Healthy Scoby’s will continue to grow until they cover the surface of the brewing container. During the fermentation process, a healthy scoby will add layers. These “baby” Scoby’s will appear as layers of bacteria and yeast on the surface of the brew. You can take the newly formed scoby and use it to begin brewing a new batch of tea. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
There are a number of things that can influence the growth of the scoby. Temperature can often be a factor. We’ve already mentioned that the ideal brewing temperature is between 68F and 82F. Warmer temperatures will influence faster growth, and cooler temperatures will slow things down. If you’re not able to place your kombucha brewing vessel in a temperature controlled environment, it will be difficult to maintain a consistent brew.
Another thing to consider if your scoby stops growing is the temperature of the tea when you added it to the scoby and starter liquid. If it was too hot, it probably damaged or even killed the scoby. You’ll need to start over with a new scoby and starter liquid.
My Scoby Is Changing Colors
Changing colors in the kombucha brewing process is not uncommon. Both the scoby and the tea will tend to change from a darker to lighter color the longer you brew. This is because of the tannins in the tea. Tannins give the tea its color. Green teas will always produce a lighter kombucha brew than using a dark tea. As the sugars are converted by the scoby, the tannins are also converted, changing the color of the tea.
If you check on your scoby and see that it’s turned black, then the scoby has died. The best practice is to throw it away and any batch of tea that was made using it. A dead scoby does not necessarily mean that you did something wrong. Remember, it’s a living organism and has a lifespan. If it was an older scoby, it may have just run its natural course.
My Scoby pH Level Is Very High
The pH is a scale ranging from 0 to 14, used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a liquid. O-7 represents the levels of acid, and 7-14 represents the levels of alkaline. A healthy scoby needs to have a consistent pH level between 4 and 2. The high acidity is important for keeping other harmful microorganisms from growing and damaging the scoby.
An easy way to know that the pH level for your kombucha is below 2, is a taste test. Low pH will produce a more vinegary brew but will not likely harm the scoby. However, if the pH levels rise above 7, it can cause the scoby to spoil.
The best tip we could ever give in maintaining the health of your scoby is to get into a habit of checking your kombucha on a regular basis. A quick smell and taste test will go a long way to ensure your scoby has a long and healthy life!
Getting Your First Scoby
Are you ready to get started brewing kombucha tea? As you have been reading, a healthy scoby is the key to kombucha brewing success. Here are a number of choices you can make when looking for that first scoby.
Brewing Supply Shops – Brewing supply shops can be a great resource for purchasing your first scoby. A helpful tip is to make sure they have someone on staff who is an experienced kombucha brewer and can answer questions about getting started with your first scoby.
Get Social – There are a number of kombucha brewing groups on a variety of social networks. Find one or two and reach out to an active member, letting them know you’re interested in brewing kombucha for the first time and are looking for a scoby. They may be willing to share! This is a great way to tap into a wealth of kombucha brewing experience.
Find A Friend – You may have a friend or family member who would be willing to share extra scoby with you and help you get started.
Grow Your Own – If you just want to do it yourself, you can always grow your own scoby. It’s a lengthy process, but the experience will be invaluable. If this is the route you choose to take, follow this quick guide to help get you started.
Guide To Growing Your Own Scoby
- Purchase a bottle of raw, unflavored kombucha tea from a local grocer.
- Brew a cup of black or green tea. Be sure to stir in 1-2 tablespoons of white sugar while the water is hot. This will give the yeast and bacteria of the kombucha additional food to help it grow.
- Once the tea has cooled, mix the kombucha and tea together in a jar.
- Cover the jar with a towel or paper filter and secure with a rubber band or string.
- Place the tea mix in a warm spot (68°-85°F) for one week. Make sure the area you choose is out of direct sunlight. This will start the fermentation process.
- After 1 week, you should see a small (baby) SCOBY forming on the surface of the tea. Wait until the scoby is a ¼ inch thick before using it to brew your first batch of kombucha. This should take about 30 days. If you don’t see a SCOBY forming after 3 weeks, throw the batch out and start over.
Start Brewing Kombucha!
Now that you’ve got the 411 on a healthy kombucha scoby, it’s time to brew your first batch of kombucha tea. Lucky for you, Keg Outlet has all your brewing needs covered.
Check out our Kombucha Brewing & Kegging Kits to find the perfect system for you. We have brewing and fermenting kits, burners, kegerators, kegs, kegging, and draft kits. You’ll also find a number of helpful videos for brewing large batches of kombucha, adding flavors to your batch, and even how to serve kombucha on draft.
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