So, you’ve been given a SCOBY or grew a new one from store bought kombucha, now what? You’ve got this giant booger in a jar and want to coax it into making a tasty, probiotic rich treat. Well, easier done than said, unlike usual. SCOBYs really want (NEED) caffeine and sugar. So, how I like to do it, and encourage others, is to brew up some of your favorite, high quality black or green tea, while it’s still hot add sugar, and allow to cool to room temperature. The measurements don’t seem to matter. If you brew stronger tea, it’ll taste stronger, if you brew weaker tea, it’ll taste weaker. Generally, if you intend to do a second ferment with another liquid (like juice) a stronger tea brew would make sense, so the flavor doesn’t become too diluted when you add the secondary liquid. The amount of sugar dictates how long the ferment will take to pucker up. If I add a ton of sugar, it remains sweet for longer, by days or sometimes weeks. If I add less sugar, the ferment get perfect in much less time. And temperature of the fermentation area plays a role, as well. The warmer, the quicker. In the summer, my ferments only take about a week or so before they start puckering up. In the winter, it can take a month before completion.
How can you tell when it’s ‘right’? It tastes like something you can drink. Some people like it lighter and sweeter, some like it deeply flavored with fermentation. There’s no right or wrong. It’s about personal preference.
However, be sure to brew with unflavored teas and don’t second ferment with your SCOBY. A second ferment is when you add flavor and effervescence. If you expose your SCOBY to flavoring, it can sometimes weaken your SCOBY, and will generally flavor and color your SCOBY, meaning future kombucha brews may end up tasting like pomegranate, cranberry, lavender, or whatever else you like to flavor with. Keep it simple for first ferment: tea, water, and sugar (date sugar, coconut sugar, molasses, etc). Once the kombucha is the flavor you enjoy, remove your SCOBY into another cooled batch of sugared tea to start that process again. With your plain kombucha, you can bottle it and place directly into the fridge and just drink that, or you can get all sorts of fancy with it. I know a guy who pureed watermelon and added that to the kombucha, lidded the bottle loosely, and allowed it to ‘second ferment’ for a week. The second ferment gives it flavor and allows it to build bubbles. For people intending to go off of soda, this may be the perfect cure. Flavoring can be added and you can immediately refrigerate to slow fermentation though, if you aren’t a bubble fan. That’s me. I ferment a lighter kombucha, add herbal tea packets, and put into the fridge until I’m ready to drink it.
But be careful! If you leave you bucha out…it’ll grow a new SCOBY! Oh, wait. That’s a good thing. Your SCOBY will continue to grow and get stronger will you continue to feed her sugar. That opaque booger forming above your existing SCOBY? That’s baby SCOBY. They may turn a brownish or tanish or remain clear, but that’s a new baby. Hell, if you are drinking your homemade bucha and leave the glass out overnight with a little kombucha still in it, you’ll start growing a new baby. Give them away. They proliferate quickly and readily. Spread the SCOBY love.