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Monday, May 21, 2012

Making Kombucha Diary: Day 2,3 and 4 - What is Kombucha? Terminology explained

Okay, so I mentioned on Friday that a friend of mine kindly brought me a Kombucha mushroom (aka, Kombucha Diary: Day 1).  I promptly went home and researched what to do with the funny looking, vinager-y smelling thing.  So I'm going to break down the Kombucha terminology, as I've come to understand it, and my process.

Now please forgive me if I make any errors here, and feel free to correct me if needed, as I'm really a super novice with this and am working my way through it.  If you have experience brewing your own Kombucha please share your stories!!  I've skimmed through quite a few sites and will post a list of some that I found helpful, although most of my information is an amalgamation of a few sites. 

So here are some of the terms I've learned:

Kombucha: a type of fermented, sweetened tea that has been fermented with what is commonly called a mushroom, Scoby or "mother" (because it's what starts the fermentation process and sort of gives birth to other "scobies").  This scoby is, in fact, a solid mass of yeast and bacteria that looks like a pancake.  (See photo)

Kombucha Scoby, or "mother"
Kombucha tea is believed (and seems to be supported by some studies) to have detoxifying qualities and aid in the prevention and break down of cancer cells.  See my last post  for more info on the reported health properties of Kombucha.  Also, wikipedia actually has a pretty good article on Kombucha and a bit of an analysis of the research on the health benefits here.

Scoby: I know, it kind of looks like it should be Scooby (like Scooby Do!), but this is the acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, or the culture that grows and helps with the fermentation process.  You put this in your big batch of tea and it grows and creates "babies," more layers that can be peeled off and removed to become a new "mother" that you can use for later batches, or share with your friends!

I'm not sure if this looks any different if you buy the culture online or elsewhere, but this is what my friend passed on to me.  It feels a lot less gross than it looks, so don't be scared of it! I thought it would be slimy and squishy, but it's not at all.  It's pretty tough and rubbery, but flexible, or as wikipedia puts it, like kalamari.

When you want to store one of these babies, or mammas, you store it in some of the leftover tea, and use it later for more batches. 

As you can see from the top photo, the Scoby is smaller than the inside of my jar, but I'm assuming it will eventually grow and spread to cover the top of the tea. 

So what do you need to brew Kombucha?
Here's what I got to begin brewing my own Kombucha.

1 large glass jar - should be able to hold at least 1 gallon of water, or 4 litres, or about 16 cups of water.

   *note, you really want glass for this.  Everything that I've read says that metal, plastic or other containers will kill or alter the bacteria and it won't taste right.  I got my jar in White Rock, BC, at a store on 152nd called Deals.  It was about $8, and it huge, as you can see.  I think it was supposed to be a flower vase.  Other places in North America to find such things include IKEA, Rona, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, etc.

about 4-5 tea bags - now from what I understand, this can be green, black, or white tea, or even a blend.  I used a green and black blend (called the Library Blend) because that's what I had in the cupboard.  I got it in the Christmas stocking that my fiance's family gave me this past Christmas :)

about 1 cup of sugar - again, from what I've seen, this really needs to be refined sugar, not agave, or honey or another sugar alternative.  This is not for you, but for the culture.  The Scoby needs this to feed (although it's not really as ominous or body-snatcher reminiscent as it sounds!)  Don't get me wrong, if you've read any of my recipes you will see that I'm not a fan of refined sugar at all, but in this case it really does seem to be absolutely necessary.  If you use another sweetener, it can really put the flavour off, or the Scoby won't grow well because it's not getting the nourishment it needs from the sugar. 

Scoby and starter tea in a yogurt container
A Scoby, of course!  You'll need a scoby or culture to get this going, so if you aren't lucky enough to have trendy friends who dabble in brewing, fermenting and probiotics, search around online, it seems that there are tons of online suppliers. 

1/2- 2 cups "starter" tea - this is some of the leftovers from the last batch of tea, or what your Scoby has been hanging out it once it's done brewing your big pot.  If you order your Scoby online, it should come with this.  If your friend gives it to you, they should have the scoby in sitting in a bit of leftover tea - mine came in a very large tub of organic yogurt :)

Cheesecloth or tea towel - you'll want this to set over your jar once it begins brewing.  The tea needs to "breath" but you don't want flies, children, or cats sticking their noses, fingers and paws in there.  For persistent cats and flies, you'll also want a rubber band to wrap around the top to keep the towel in place.  A rubber band alone will not stop a curious child...

OK, now run off and assemble your ingredients and in the next day or so I'll post my brewing process and a bit of progress.  At present, my Kombucha has been brewing since Friday night (yeah, I'm a huge nerd and was actually excited to spend Friday night brewing up a big batch of fungus...), and it looks as if it is beginning to spread a bit.  Fingers crossed all turns out well.  I'll be away from the jar for a day or two, but should be able to take some photos of it's progress on Tuesday night.

In the meantime, here's a list of sites I found useful in preparing myself for this venture.

The Food Renegade
Happy Herbalist
Kombucha Kamp

Again, if you want to add something here, or want me to add something, please let me know!  I'm a little sleep deprived today so if you think I've missed something, or you want me to do some more research, please comment below!  And don't forget to check back to see my process and progress. 

For the rest of the Kombucha diaries, check out:

This post has been shared on the following great sites:
Made from Scratch Mondays

*OAS Information: If you have Oral Allergy Syndrome, you *should* be ok with this one.  In fact, an article from the Toronto NOW Magazine refers to Japanese research that suggests green tea may help ease allergy symptoms (unfortunately I can't find the exact source for this study, but here's the article).


  1. Wow! I have just learned a wealth of information!! Thank you so very much for sharing this in my recipe hop. I have never even heard of this, and unfortunately for me, no one around here probably has either. So, I'll have to be hunting the on line suppliers in order to give this a try. Great post and my apologies for taking so long to pay you a visit ☺

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Mary! If you're interested in getting some kombucha culture, Kombucha kamp seems to have a good reputation - Hope that helps! (Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, too! Blogger has been having some issues.. :(

  3. I filled my gallon jar pretty full with not much room left for liquid and my scoby was already large and it covers the opening pretty much. Do you think it will still make a batch like this? Is there a certain amount of space you have to leave in the jar?

    1. Hi Shawn, I don't think you need to have much extra space on top, you just don't want your towel or cheesecloth to be touching your scoby and possibly contaminating it or hindering its growth. If you really don't think there's enough space, you can always scoop out a cup or two of the tea. You can still make the kombucha with less liquid. Good luck and let me know how it turns out!

  4. Kombucha has been consumed for centuries in various parts of the world for its purported health benefits, which include improving gut health, boosting the immune system, and detoxifying the body. However, the scientific evidence for these claims is limited, and more research is needed to determine the true health effects of kombucha.


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