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If you’ve landed here you’ve probably made the same (totally awesome) mistake I did. You bought a bottle of kombucha at the store, drank it, loved it and then did it again. Eventually you were buying a bottle for everyday of the week. That was until you realized your booch habit was wreaking havoc on your wallet.
So, you started researching how to make your own. Maybe you’ve already made your own. Maybe you’re like me and go google crazy to make sure you know everything only to become more confused. In my quest for brewing my own kombucha I came across words like Heirloom and Tibetan and had no idea how they related kombucha. Heirloom? I assumed it meant you got your kombucha from your grandma. It turns out there are different types of kombucha SCOBY strains (like Heirloom and Tibetan!) that can yield different results in your finished kombucha.
What the heck is a SCOBY anyway?
SCOBY isn’t just a nickname for the slimey looking creature in your kombucha. It’s an acronym: Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast. Basically, it’s a home for bacteria and yeast. A SCOBY is what turns your sweetened tea into kombucha. The SCOBY feeds on sugar during the fermentation process. Once finished, you have a tart and slightly bubbly beverage.
“Kombucha Tea-2” (CC BY 2.0) by zeevveez
A SCOBY is often referred to as a mother. Most healthy mothers produce a baby SCOBY during the fermentation process. Baby SCOBYs can be left in your kombucha brew for several fermentation cycles. Once they’re big and healthy enough, they can be separated from the mother and put into a SCOBY hotel or passed on to friends. Essentially your baby SCOBY can turn into someone else’s mother SCOBY. Now that we’ve had the birds and bees talk, let’s discuss the different types of kombucha SCOBY strains.
There are four main types of kombucha SCOBYs
Homegrown SCOBY from a store-bought bottle
Yes, you can grow your own SCOBY from a bottle of store-bought kombucha. I have not tried it but Brandon from the FermUp Podcast explains the process on his blog. A common problem with this strain of SCOBY is store-bought kombucha can contain yeast inhibitors or additives. You need to look for a kombucha that is raw, unpasteurized and unflavored. Otherwise you may be waiting forever for the SCOBY to grow in order to begin using it. These type of SCOBYs tend to have the shortest fermentation time and you can use them with any tea from the Camellia sinensis family. The most popular teas are green, black and oolong. Avoid flavored teas or anything with an oil in it. Earl Grey tea is good example of this as it is flavored with bergamot oil. The oil can weaken your SCOBY and you’ll eventually kill your mother. You don’t want to do that. 😉
Vintage or Heirloom SCOBY
Basically, any SCOBY that is not grown from a bottle is a vintage or heirloom SCOBY. As I mentioned earlier, a mother SCOBY produces a baby SCOBY and the baby can be passed on to someone else. Ta-da, an Heirloom SCOBY! Just like the ones grown from a bottle, Vintage or Heirloom SCOBYs can be used with any tea from the Camellia sinensis family. Once you have extra SCOBYs you can begin to experiment with different teas or a combination of teas to discover what flavor you like most.
A Tibetan SCOBY is said to have originated in Tibet. It’s traditionally brewed using pu-erh tea. Pu-erh tea generally has an earthy taste and when used produces a mild tasting kombucha. I’ve read it’s the best option for turning kids on to the taste of kombucha but have not tested that hypothesis personally. It also tends to be the least likely to turn to vinegar which allows for a longer ferment time resulting is more of the good stuff that kombucha is known for.
Island Girl SCOBY
Oh, the island girl. She sounds pretty, right? Well, don’t let the name fool you. She looks just like all the others. The Island Girl SCOBY strain was originally grown from kombucha bought on tap in Sanibel Island, Florida. The story is a lady bought it on tap, grew some SCOBY babies and started selling them to others. An Island Girl SCOBY is most often used with oolong tea and the result is generally described as smooth and well-balanced. They also tend to ferment the slowest of all the strains so be prepared to wait longer if you choose this strain.
You certainly do not have to use specific teas with specific SCOBYs. Part of the fun of brewing at home is that you can experiment to your hearts content. It should also be pointed out that an Island Girl or Tibetan should be considered a Heirloom/Vintage SCOBY too. For example, you received a Tibetan SCOBY from a friend, this SCOBY is both a Tibetan and an Heirloom because it has been passed on to you.
How do I know what kind of SCOBY I have?
Well, that’s a great question. Unfortunately, no two SCOBYs will look the same and it’s impossible to know what you have by looking at it. A tell-tale sign that you have a SCOBY grown from a bottle is if your brew tends to ferment quickly and turn vinegary within 7-10 days. Other than that, you need to rely on the information given to you when you received the SCOBY. Have faith!
Where can I get a SCOBY?
In my opinion, it’s best if you can obtain a SCOBY from a trusted friend or family member; an heirloom or vintage SCOBY. This way you will know how the SCOBY was grown, what type of tea was used, etc. When I started brewing kombucha I didn’t know anyone with extra SCOBYs so I turned to the internet. There is a wonderful community of people willing to pass on SCOBYs online (you’ll pay a shipping and handling fee, usually $10). You can also purchase SCOBYs on Etsy for a similar cost. This seller is reputable and throws in some extras. Be sure to check the reviews to make sure the seller is selling healthy SCOBYs and provides you with at least 2 cups of starter liquid. You’ll need both a SCOBY and starter to begin your first batch. My first SCOBY was an Heirloom Island Girl that a lady I met through one of the many fermentation groups on Facebook mailed to me. I sent her $10 through Paypal and a few days later I had a healthy SCOBY and plenty of starter tea to make a gallon of kombucha. The rest is history! 😉
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What kombucha SCOBY strain is your favorite?
Somehow I think I have a balsamic vinegar Scoby… Have you heard of them.
Hi Shannon- I am not super familiar with vinegar mothers but yes, it is definitely possible!
I don’t know if you are considering making kombucha with it or not, but I don’t recommend it. In fact, I don’t recommend introducing vinegar into your kombucha at all. Some websites will tell you it’s ok, but my experience is that it tends to speed up your brewing process and you kombucha tends to taste vinegary sooner in the brewing cycle which means you won’t be able let your brew fully mature.
i have made some kombucha and made it with some plain black tea. How and when would i flavour it, i have peach tea bags to use.
hey Reagan, my process for making flavor combinations is to start with whatever flavor tea in the first brew and a cup of sugar per gallon. then if you want to add further flavor you remove the scoby and a few cups of liquid for the next batch. now you can mix in a few cups of juice (100% fruit juice and not from concentrate, you want only the natural fruit sugars for best results). you can stop there if you want, or after mixing in the juice you can bottle up the kombucha into sealed glass jars. bottles from store bought kombucha and beer growlers work really well. you want it to be completely sealed and over the next few days the new sugar will send the remaining bacteria into a short-lived industrial revolution. this new fuel will be broken down and the released gases will be trapped in the mixture due to the sealed jar. after a few days refrigerate your batch and that will stop any further fermentation. now you can enjoy your cold, refreshing, carbonated, and flavored kombucha cocktail whenever you like. in a recipe i made i use some kind of unmarked sleepytime tea that is very flowery, then when it is ready for the second fermentation/bottling i add in organic white grape juice. when its ready it tastes like a floral champagne of sorts and feels really relaxing. try to experiment with different combinations of tea+fruit juices and you’ll be a master brewer in no time!
For our flavoring we use a second fermentation (2F) which occurs after the initial ferment and in a separate bottle from the original vessel. We use real fruit, fruit juice, and/or herbs in a 2F; a couple of our favorites are http://thewildgut.com/citrus-rosemary-kombucha/ and http://thewildgut.com/homemade-ginger-kombucha/
The 2F also adds additional carbonation, but be careful to not allow the bottles to gain too much carbonation without ‘burping’ them to avoid any explosion. We tend to use plain tea and flavor with fruit, juice, etc., rather than using flavored tea. Flavored tea can sometimes include oils that may damage the SCOBY.
Which Scoby heals the skin?
Hi Dell- I don’t know the answer to that question. Sorry!
Please do not grow your own from store bought bottles. First off it’s not even kombucha!!!!. It is a man made synthetic probiotic strain. And never use acv! You can go to kefirhood.com and find someone to give you starter tea and a scoby. Which is not even necessary to brew booch 🙂
Yes, we do not recommend using store bought SCOBYs for brewing, rather find a friend or another option online to obtain starter tea and a SCOBY. We’re right there with you! 🙂
Will a baby SCOBY from a Mother SCOBY created from a store bought bottle develop into an ok Heirloom SCOBY?
Essentially, yes! We don’t recommend growing a SCOBY from a store bought bottle of kombucha though. Consider Amazon or Etsy.
Hey guys awesome article, very informative! Do you know a good reputable place to purchase a Tibetan or Island Girl scoby in the USA? Thanks!
Hi Sam- Unfortunately, I don’t have a recommendation. Have you checked Craigslist or Facebook marketplace in your area? You may have some luck there.
what is mushroom scoby?
Hi Sherri – Mushroom is simply another word people use to describe a SCOBY. Don’t let the name fool you, no fungi here!
I opened a jat of beetroot kimchi, refrigerated. It has a beautiful pink scoby on top, just wondering if anybody has experienced this & if it can be used for kombucha?
Hi Sue, sorry we have never experienced this. Let us know if you decided to try it!
This happens occasionally, I grew a mother on apple scraps I turned to vinegar; the kimchi mother likely wasn’t a booch scoby, but it’s possible to grow scobies/mothers in a variety of acidic foods.
Can you use a jun Scooby with a normal Scooby
Was wondering if it would be best to keep individual hotels for each strain (i.e. Tibetan, Heirloom and Japanese, respectively), or could I have multiple strains of scoby, each in their individual decanters, and deposit the diverse collective scoby overstock in the same hotel vessel without damaging or adulterating the mothers? Thank you
Matt & Alana
Hi Bryon, you can definitely put them all into one hotel but at the point I would considered them cross-cultured and not true strains of any specific type of SCOBY. You would still have your mothers in separate containers to work with but at some point you will want to replace your brewing SCOBY and then wouldn’t have that true specific strain. If you aren’t a “purest” it won’t matter too much, just don’t include a JUN SCOBY in your mix as it needs a much different food source (honey vs sugar).
“It should also be pointed out that an Island Girl or Tibetan should be considered a Heirloom/Vintage SCOBY too.”
This quote leads me to believe you do not fully understand the meaning of Heirloom.
Heirloom is like the original. Think Heirloom tomato.
Other wise thank you for the info.
People on YouTube are saying that no one can make kombucha from scrap.
Am from Africa we have kombucha too but if one has no SCOBY you can get the fermented kombucha tea from a friend and keep it in a clean tightly closed glass jar for about 2-3weeks and as copy developes then you begin to brewing your own kombucha.
Am wondering if whether anyone has heard of it as Healthy kombucha. The recipe of making friends the tea is the Same as the other (sugar, boiled water and tea) but M wondering whether it’s just different type or it’s a wrong one since one can get ascoby from the tea yet you can not get ascoby from other kombucha tea.
When can you call a scoby a pu-ehr scoby,
or should it be really from china?