Kombucha is fermented tea, but how does it get fermented in the first place? Like all fermentation, it requires the presence of sugar, yeast and/or bacteria. Wine gets sugar from the grapes. Beer gets sugar from the malt. Kombucha gets sugar from, well, sugar.
While brewers and vintners once relied on wild yeast floating through the air to do its “magic”, these days they have quantities and types of yeast down to a science (called zymurgy). For Kombucha, the fermentation is still a wild one, but we encourage the right type of bacteria and yeast by starting with a SCOBY.
Zoiks! No, this isn’t the same as Scooby Doo (though some people pronounce it that way) but rather an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. The SCOBY is like a mother ship that transports the right bacteria and yeast from batch to batch. Along with the starter tea, it is the inoculant that converts the sweet tea solution into healthy Kombucha tea.
So how do you get a SCOBY? The easiest way is to get one from a friend. If you don’t have any friends who are brewing Kombucha, you can also purchase one from a reputable source. Avoid cultures from ebay or craigslist that are cheap but don’t list what type of ingredients are used to grow their culture. Many have also reported poor results from using dehydrated cultures or tiny cultures. Since the SCOBY will reproduce, it will give you a lifetime supply, so its best to start out with a quality culture.
You can sometimes grow a culture from a bottle of Kombucha, however there are three criteria for potential success: Make sure it is 1) raw (unpasteurized), unflavored and most importantly unreformulated (more info on that topic). Growing one from scratch can take 1-4 weeks and may or may not produce delicious Kombucha.
Got questions about brewing Kombucha, fermented foods or traditional diets? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org