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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.
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?