How to Make a Kombucha SCOBY From Scratch at Home

A kombucha SCOBY.

A SCOBY with kombucha tea. (Image: Kreangkrai Indarodom via Dreamstime)

Interest in homemade healthy beverages has increased, and more people are ditching store-bought drinks. As a result, kombucha is quite popular among the health-conscious. This sweet-and-sour beverage is made with tea and a process that involves fermentation. It is said to have numerous health benefits.

The beverage has been around for almost 2,000 years. The drink can be traced to China, which later spread to countries such as Japan and Russia. In Europe, it became popular in the 20th century. 

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The main ingredients in kombucha are black tea, yeast, and sugar. This mixture is set aside for nearly a week and becomes fermented over time. As a result, some bacteria form in the drink and become laden with alcohol.

The method is not very different from turning milk into yogurt. These bacteria and acids develop a layer on the top called SCOBY, short for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The SCOBY can be used to ferment more kombucha.

A kombucha starter kit.
A kombucha starter kit. (Image: via Amazon)

The health benefits of kombucha

The proponents of kombucha say the drink is ideal for enhancing digestion. It is also said to detox the body and help shed excess weight. Probiotics in these drinks may be helpful for people coping with chronic digestive disorders. If the glass is made using green tea, one receives the additional advantages of polyphenols, which are robust antioxidants.

Making kombucha at home

While you can buy kombucha, it is best to make it home. There are several advantages to this. Making your own will ensure the beverage does not contain any artificial ingredients or preservatives. You can also experiment with different flavors. An added bonus is it is much cheaper than purchasing commercial products.

The health benefits of kombucha can largely be attributed to the SCOBY. You can ask a friend who makes the drink at home for some SCOBY, or you can also grow your own at home.

Recipe

  • 7 cups (1.6 liters) of clean water
  • ½ cup (100 g) white sugar
  • 4 bags of black or green tea (or 1 tbsp of loose tea)
  • 1 cup (235 ml) unpasteurized, unflavored store-bought kombucha
  • A large glass container that holds at least 1 gallon (3.7 liters or a glass jug with a built-in spigot.
  • Tightly woven coffee filters, paper towels, napkins, or cheesecloth
  • Rubberbands

Making a SCOBY:

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a clean pot. Remove from the heat and dissolve the sugar into it.
  2. Add the tea and let it steep as the water cools to room temperature (may take several hours). It’s ready to work with when it reaches room temperature.
  3. Pour the sweetened tea into your jar, then add store-bought kombucha — include the material at the bottom.
  4. Cover with layers of tightly woven cloth to keep out bugs and debris, and secure with a rubber band.
  5. Keep the jar still for at least two weeks in a location that is warm (70-75°F, 21-24°C), but untouched by sunlight, like a cupboard, for 1 to 4 weeks until a ¼ inch (½ cm) SCOBY has formed.
  6. When the SCOBY starts to form, you will see bubbles and a brown-colored residue as the drink becomes fermented. Keep the SCOBY in the original tea until you’re ready to brew your first batch. The SCOBY can live and grow for years if treated properly. The tea used to make the SCOBY should be tossed as it’s like vinegar. Don’t use to start your first fermentation!
Homemade fermented raw ginger and lemon kombucha tea.
Homemade fermented raw ginger and lemon kombucha tea. (Image: Svitlana Tereshchenko via Dreamstime)

The way the SCOBY looks and smells says a lot about the quality. After a week or so, the jar will smell like vinegar. However, a rancid smell is not okay, and the mixture should be discarded. If the SCOBY has green or black spots, this indicates mold formation and this should also be discarded. The SCOBY will become a thick, spongy jelly layer atop the drink, and its thickness will grow with time.

Additional tips

It is better not to use decaf tea for making kombucha. It is also better not to use honey; you should use plain sugar. Also, do not use metal spoons when making it. Instead, wooden spoons should be used. Finally, to ensure the SCOBY lasts a long time, use the ingredients in the proper amounts. 

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