Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kombucha, For Real This Time

This SHOULD have been the Kombucha post that I posted last November. This SHOULD have been the only post I ever wrote about Kombucha. But the story took a weird, gross and kind of moldy turn after I so positively wrote about kombucha a few short months ago.

My first batch of kombucha tasted right. It was finished around New Years. But once bottled, my booch never carbonated. Curious.

Then my second batch molded. Fail

Then my third batch looked promising. A slight film developed on top. I waited patiently for this film to turn into a proper scoby. Oh the eager awaiting!!! After a week I noticed two small white spots. S#!t!! I fished out what was probably mold. I held my breath for another 2 weeks. No mold came back. I thought I was in the clear.

Then, after another few days, I saw something I thought looked right, a little pinkish ball forming on the side. It had a little arm that reached down into the tea. Here we go I thought. My first scoby!! The next day I noticed about a dozen small spots forming on the top. More mushrooms? Or mold? I wasn’t sure. I figured all would be revealed to me. After a couple days there was no fuzz growing off the spots so I thought they probably weren’t mold. But the strangest thing happened. The white spots had kind of attracted to one another like little funky magnets. Now instead of spread all over the top they were lined up like some kind of creepy firing line. My first reaction was to shudder a little. But I still wasn’t sure that it was mold. It wasn’t fuzzy. The booch still smelled right, like fruity fermenting sweetness. But I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drink this stuff.

A month or so ago a friend at work who reads the blog was laughing at me about my struggles with my moldy kombucha (in a nice way, you know). She suggested I call M because she said she had gotten her scoby from M. But I had never met M. I didn’t work with M in any capacity. It might be weird to call him out of the blue. So while I filed the suggestion in my brain, I wasn’t sure I would call him.

But I changed my mind when I saw a microscopic army forming in my kombucha. Was this army with me or against me? I picked up the phone and dialed M's desk. “You don’t know me”, I said “But I am C and I work in the New York Office. Someone told me you brew kombucha and I really need help.” He chuckled and told me that he had been brewing booch for over 10 years. I told him my woes, and he told me unequivocally-pitch my batch. It was likely mold. We talked about kombucha and fermentation for over 30 minutes. It was a slow day—I still got all my work done I PROMISE!! Then he kindly said that he would send me a scoby from his batch, which had never had mold. WooHoo! I had hit the jackpot! A few days later he emailed me to say that he had sent the scoby wrapped in plastic baggies and some paper, and then he put it in one of those standard issue yellow envelopes. And he popped that sucker through interoffice mail. Hahaha!

That’s right. My scoby took a trip through the UPS system and wound up on my desk the next afternoon. A healthy scoby should be thick and pinkish-brownish and have a faint vinegary smell. I held the envelope rather than slipping it in my work bag. My whole subway ride home I felt it through the paper. I imagined it warming from my touch. This thing really is alive I thought. I almost felt like I was adopting a pet, this scoby seemed to have its own aura. Perhaps I am over exaggerating. But I was so appreciative that M had taken the time to send it to me. I wanted my relationship with my kombucha to be positive from the get go.

I went home and tenderly unpacked it and washed it (took a picture). It was a half an inch thick, rubbery feeling and almost twice the diameter of the dehydrated scoby that I had bought online. My previous scoby was about 3 inches in diameter, whitish and about the thickness of 4-5 sheets of paper stacked together. I knew looking at my new friend that my days of worrying about my kombucha were over. I slipped it into a gallon of prepared sweet tea. Our relationship had begun. My moldy woes were over.
I get it now. You can’t buy a scoby online from a company. Kombucha is a living thing; it wants to build a relationship with you. And when you are starting out, you will have questions. If you don’t have someone to call you could drink moldy tea or get very sick. This kombucha is about relationships, between you and your scoby and you and your booch-mentor. I am pleased that M is my booch-mentor. He knows the lineage of my batch and he will be helpful should I have any questions. He knows how long this family of scobies takes to brew a batch and also had some helpful tips on prepping the tea.

Here are my OFFICIAL kombucha preparation instructions, as given to me by M.

1) Wash out your vessel with soap and hot water!! Make sure you start out with a clean glass gallon jar, be sure to wash off all the soap. Openings of 3 inches in diameter are good for easily getting your scoby in and out.
2) In a Dutch oven bring a gallon of water up to a boil. Boil at a rolling boil for 10 minutes to kill anything that might be in there.
3) Add one cup of organic sugar and boil until dissolved.
4) Turn off the heat and add 8 organic tea bags. Let stand for 30 minutes.
5) Let the batch cool for 10-12 hours. I poured my sweet tea into my completely clean glass jar to cool while I was at the office. But M said he lets his stand in his pot with the lid on the stove.
6) When it is totally cool and in the glass jar, add about 2-3 cups of prepared kombucha (I used a bottle of GT’s for my first batch), and float your scoby in there.
7) Let it brew, 10 days to 2 weeks. Taste the batch to see when you are happy with the sweet and sour balance.
8) Bottle in glass bottles with either a Grolsh style top, or I plan on using old cleaned out GTs bottle because the caps are sturdy and they close.
9) Come back here in 2 weeks and I will have more experience to talk about the second fermentation….

I am at peace. And finally I trust my booch. Thanks M!


  1. Woooohoooo!!! My dehydrated scoby developed mold too. I was able to get a scoby from my friend, so I'm now in the same boat as you...waiting. Right now I'm on day 9 and there are lots of carbonation bubbles around the side of the jar, but no sign of a scoby, yet! Let's hope we both succeed this time!

    Any chance M wants to write a guest post on your site sharing his 10+ years of kombucha brewing wisdom?

    Wishing you lots of brewing success!

  2. Hi COB,

    Congrats on getting the booch up and going! Kombucha demands experimentation to get it right, just like any good hobby. Stick with it.

    Also, with a 30 minute tea steep time, you may experience thinner, browner SCOBY growth. It will also affect the taste of the tea, making it more "intense" with tannins.

    If you find you want a smoother flavor or whiter SCOBYs, try reducing steep time to between 5-7 minutes.

    I also have a bunch of flavoring ideas in a video if you are looking for inspiration. :)

    Love your goal to get off processed foods in a year. That's a goal we can all aspire to.

    Good luck! :)

    Hannah Crum
    The Kombucha Mamma

  3. As the work friend that "laughed at you in a good way", so glad to know you ditched that moldy brew. You'll have to write how your second fermentation goes -- assuming you want to add some flavoring. Mine got super carbonated at that point ...

  4. Thanks guys! So far I have been brewing for 8 days and my new scoby is almost a quarter inch thick. This is one healthy scoby. And @Hannah Crumb--Your site is very cool!
    Here is to no mold!!

  5. My scoby is growing strong. So exciting! Thank you again for being my booch-mentor!

  6. Haha! Lisa--I am soooooo happy to hear that!

  7. Just found your blog - how goes your brewing? Hopefully it'll be a lot less eventful than your fist attempt. I got a scoby from a friend a couple of years ago and have been brewing ever since.

  8. @ Laurie-Yes, things are going swimmingly. I am brewing up batch number 4 right now and all my bottles have been really delicious. Such a different experience from the first moldy one! I hope you like what you read!