[NOTE: The following is for successfully brewing kombucha starting with a dehydrated, mail-order scoby. It’s challenging and it takes a while, but it can be done. I have also ordered a fresh scoby from KombuchaKamp.com, which comes in a cup of strong starter tea, because I think it’s a good idea to have a backup plus I’d like to see how the two SCOBYs do brewing different kinds of batches at the same time. Once I have the culture from KK, I will post about it here.]
I think it was way back in 2012 when I first tried brewing kombucha. In spite of following the directions exactly as they were included with the scoby* I ordered, the fermentation just never took off. Instead, I ended up a month and a half later with a scoby that was nearly as flat as it had been when it arrived in my mailbox and a moldy-looking tea. At least it looked moldy to me.
* scoby - symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.
Now, I don’t know if it was just a bad scoby, or if what I thought was mold was actually a “baby” scoby, but I knew next to nothing about any of it, except I did know that at some point it should start bubbling… but it didn’t, so ultimately, I decided it was too much trouble so I pitched all of it.
Fast forward seven years…
My starter scoby this time around came from Cultures for Heath, a company based right here in North Carolina, and they have cultures for all kinds of fermented foods, from kombucha to kefir, from sourdough to sour cream, and more.
The instructions to activate the little dried out scoby that arrived in my mailbox were fairly straightforward. A thumbnail version is this: brew sweet tea and allow to come to room temperature. Add 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar, then pour tea and vinegar in quart-sized jar and drop in scoby. Cover with a cloth or coffee filter fastened with a rubber band and dampen cover with with the white vinegar to keep out the yucky stuff.
In the past, my instructions didn’t include anything about using white vinegar to get things started, and at this point in my previous journey I had pitiful tea that wasn’t bubbling and definitely didn’t look like it was planning to anytime soon. This time, however, I have bubbles.
Look at this… 😍
So what made the difference this time?
I have no doubt the white distilled vinegar made a difference.
The instructions the first time around didn’t mention anything about adding white vinegar. Also, the old directions didn’t mention keeping the cover damp with white vinegar each day — something I did by filling a little spray bottle with white vinegar and spraying the handkerchief I had fastened with a rubber band over the top of the jar.
Now I’ve completed the first 30 days and I’ve brewed a new batch of tea, according to the instructions, and added one more 1/4 cup of white vinegar and a 1/4 cup of what I had been brewing the last 30 days, to keep the brew acidic and healthy until the baby scoby forms at which point I’ll be able to begin brewing with just a reserved amount from the previous batch.
And after just two days, the new batch is bubbling just as nicely. (The January batch took nearly three weeks before it produced the bubbling in the video above.)
Is it better to use vinegar or a bottle of raw kombucha to activate a new scoby?
I don’t know. I do know some kombucha purists will say that using vinegar is a mistake, and I agree that it’s a mistake to use apple cider vinegar to acidify the liquid until your kombucha scoby is healthy and doing her job. Apparently there’s this thing called vinegar eels that can get into your brew if you use ACV. They say they’re not harmful to humans, but they’re bad for the scoby.
And anyway. Gross. Vinegar eels? According to this article, they’re a type of non-parasitic round worm. ROUND WORM. And yet they’re commonly found in Raw ACV “with the mother.”
I don’t know that I’ll ever look at my bottle of Bragg’s ACV ever the same way again… although I know they assure us that they aren’t harmful to humans. But again, they’re bad for the scoby.
Anyway, I’ll report back once a baby scoby has formed and I’ve moved on to the next stage in the process. In the meantime, I’ve ordered a lovely crock and a stainless steel spigot for making continuous brew. Once I’ve moved my kombucha from the quart jar to the crock, I’ll order the bottles for second fermentation.
Stay tuned for more in my continuing adventures in fermentation. 🙂