Kombucha Series Part 6 - Troubleshooting (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

This giveaway is closed.  Thanks for the entries!
Well, we have reached the end of the weekly kombucha series and I hope you all have enjoyed it. Kombucha is my favorite thing to ferment so I’ve loved writing this up for you.  Plus, I am SO EXCITED about the giveaway!  Details are at the end of this post.  You do NOT want to miss this one!
If you’re just joining me for the first time, here is what you missed:
1. Make your own SCOBY
2. Choosing the right tea
3. Choosing the right type of sugar
4. Equipment
5. Make kombucha – woo woo!
Throughout the last six weeks I have gotten a few questions about what is normal SCOBY behavior, what the tea should look like or smell like, etc.  Here are a few answers to some FAQs about your ‘buch.
1. Cloudy tea and/or brown bits in kombucha – This is good!  When you initially combine your sweetened room-temperature tea, the SCOBY, and starter tea, it is all mostly clear.  Sure, it’s retained the color of the tea that you brewed, but it isn’t cloudy.  As the SCOBY gets to work and the bacteria and yeasts do their job the tea will turn cloudy.  You may also start to see brown stringy bits floating off of your SCOBY and in your tea.  This is just yeast growth and you want it in there.  Fear not!

Kombucha Closeup

(Look at the stringy bits hanging off of this SCOBY.  It’s growing yeast!  WOO!)

2. SCOBY storage – The most important thing to know about properly storing your SCOBY is that is must be kept in liquid at all times.  If it won’t be hard at work fermenting any tea for a month or two, a SCOBY needs to be stored in tea and kept wet especially if they are going to be used again in the future.  If you are taking a fermentation break or find yourself with extra SCOBYs simply keep them in a small jar covered in sweetened room temperature tea.  Cover loosely with a light cloth or handkerchief secured with a rubber band.  Store at room temperature.
SCOBYs can be refrigerated or dehydrated for longer term storage, but there is not guarantee that they’ll come back to life when you’re ready to use them again.  This is why I don’t wholly recommend refrigeration or dehydration.  It isn’t a terrible idea, but nothing is guaranteed.  To dehydrate, simply put the SCOBY on a Pyrex plate or on a piece of all-natural parchment paper and allow it to dry at 90 to 100 degrees in the oven for several hours, or until it has the same texture as gummy candy or beef jerky.  For instructions on rehydrating your SCOBY, check out this video from Cultures for Health.
IMG_6636
3. SCOBY looks and feel – A healthy SCOBY will be whitish/ivory colored.  Sometimes it will have brownish tea-colored stains on it (especially if you use black tea to ferment your kombucha), but it will never ever be black, red, green, or blue.  If you see any colors beyond white/ivory/beige and brown, this is most likely a sign of mold growth and the whole batch (SCOBY included) must be discarded.  Do not take chances, and please use your best judgement.  If you are in doubt at all over your SCOBY’s health, toss it and start over.
A healthy SCOBY should also feel like a handful of dense gelatin.  It’s wiggly and jiggly and feel kind of squishy in your hand.  It shouldn’t be dry at all.
IMG_6660
4. SCOBY size – They say size doesn’t matter, and with SCOBYs at least, that’s true.  My very first SCOBY given to me by my buddy Liz was about three or four inches across and a quarter inch thick.  She gave it to me in a little jar with a cup of starter tea.  From that wee SCOBY I brewed a gallon of kombucha and have been making batch after batch ever since.  Plus, that original mother has given birth to dozens of new SCOBYs that I’ve gifted all over the place.
5. SCOBY placement – When I started my first batch of kombucha, I dumped my SCOBY and starter tea into my gallon of sweetened room temperature tea and it promptly sunk to the bottom. I (stupidly) stuck my hand in the jar and tried to get it to float on the surface.  It didn’t work.  I had a minor freakout.  It turns out, it doesn’t matter one whit where the SCOBY is in the jar.  It will still do its job nicely.  A new SCOBY will grow on the surface of your tea (you might notice it starting to grow when you see a cloudy film start to appear.) no matter where your original mother decides to settle.
6. Metal – Kombucha, SCOBYs, and metal do not mix.  As previously mentioned in the equipment installment of this series, you should not ever ferment tea in a metal container.  Period.  Some kombucha makers say that a SCOBY should not ever ever ever come in contact with anything metal.  While I agree, I don’t happen to think that very brief encounters with metal will not hurt your brew or your SCOBY.  I brew my gallon of tea in a metal pot and I have cut sections off of SCOBYs with metal knives or kitchen shears with no ill affects yet.  Technically speaking, molecules of metal are left behind when you do these things and over time can affect fermentation.  My rule is this: Never ever ferment tea in a metal container.  Avoid using metal tools when you can. Anything that will come in prolonged contact with your SCOBY or kombucha should NOT be made of metal.  Otherwise, if you want to use a knife or kitchen scissors to snip off a bit of a SCOBY to give to a friend, just do it quickly.
7. Kombucha storage – After I flavor and bottle my ‘buch, it doesn’t tend to last very long in my house.  Honestly I haven’t ever had a bottle sitting in my refrigerator for longer than a couple of weeks.  However, as long as it is kept cold, bottled kombucha will last for a very long time.  Note, however that fermentation does not stop just because it’s in the refrigerator.  It is slowed down to an almost near halt, but not quite turned off.  Over time your kombucha will continue to ferment very slowly.  Consider this an aging process much similar to what wine goes through.  The taste of a bottle that is two weeks old will be slightly different than one that is 6 months old.  It’s up to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  It’s a matter of taste.
Also note that a little wee miniature SCOBY may start to grow on the surface of you bottled ‘buch.  That’s just further proof that the little bacteria and yeast friends in the bottle are still fermenting away.  This mini SCOBY can be strained out and discarded or even consumed if you want.  It definitely won’t hurt you.
8. How much to drink – Like any fermented product, kombucha is alive and can do a lot of wonderful things for our bodies.  However, if a little is good, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a lot is better.  When I first started making kombucha I was guzzling several bottles of it a day.  It tastes wonderful, plus it’s fizzy. I haven’t had a pop in YEARS so it was nice to drink something cold and fizzy!  While this might have tasted good at the time, it started to negatively affect my body.  Fermented foods are meant to be enjoyed regularly, but in small quantity.  Eight ounces of kombucha a day is plenty to keep your gut populated with beneficial bacteria.  It may be difficult to resist those wonderful little bottles of ‘buch in your fridge, but overdoing it with kombucha or any fermented food will take its toll.
Kombucha Mixed Berry
So, there you have it!  I know that there may be many more questions and concerns about your ‘buch that will crop up as you go through the process.  Please let me know!  I am always more than happy to help you troubleshoot and answer questions.  As always, leave me a comment, send me an email, drop me a line on Facebook, Tweet me, or even give me a little shout out on Instagram.  I’m never far from my technology!
NOW!! On to the giveaway!!!
Although in the last six installments of this series I have given you all the info you need to make your own kombucha, I thought I’d make it super simple and easy for one of you to get started.  My friends at Kombucha Brooklyn are going to send one lucky winner a half-gallon kombucha starter kit!
kbbk_logo
Can I just tell you how awesome this kit is?!?!?!  It comes with a glass jar, a large tea bag (enough for one batch), enough organic cane sugar to get you started AND your very own SCOBY!!!  They even throw in a thermometer and a light cloth to cover the jar with.  You guys, this is EVERYTHING you need to get started brewing your own kombucha all in one cute box!  When I got mine in the mail, I nearly fainted from excitement.  This kit is SNAZZY!
kit
 
whats in the kit
So, here is how this is going to work.  As usual, you’ll have several chances to win.
1. Leave me a comment telling me what your favorite kombucha flavor is.
2. Facebook – 1 entry each for liking First Comes Health and Kombucha Brooklyn on Facebook. (Already like us? Tell me that in your comment below!)
3. Twitter – 1 entry each for following First Comes Health and Kombucha Brooklyn on Twitter. (Already follow us?  Tell me that in your comment below!)
4. Instagram – 1 entry for following First Comes Health on Instagram. (Already follow me? Tell me that in your comment below!)
5. Newsletter – 1 entry for subscribing to the First Comes Health newsletter. (Already subscribed?  Tell me that in your comment below!)
Bonus entry: Did you pre-order my book Fermented yet?  If so, forward me the order confirmation and you’ll earn another chance to win.

kokmbucha lives(It says this right on the kit’s box! I love it so much.)

I wish every single one of you could win this one because this kit is simply fantastic.  You can earn up to eight chances to win this one!!  And because the giveaway is so awesome, I’m going to give you until noon EDT on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 to enter.
Good luck to all!  One of you lucky folks is going to be super excited when this baby arrives at your house!
 

40 Comments

  1. Janelle Lee
    May 24, 2013 7:00 pm

    My favorite flavor kombucha is a medley of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. My “trifecta”!
    I already “liked” your first comes health Facebook page and I just “liked” kombucha Brooklyn. Thanks!

  2. Annette McCollum
    May 25, 2013 1:01 am

    Great posts, wonderful on formation. My fav is hibiscus
    With chia seeds!

  3. Yvonne
    May 25, 2013 10:37 am

    My favorite flavor without question is pomegranate ginger!! Yum!!!

  4. Yvonne
    May 25, 2013 10:42 am

    I already follow you in twitter!

  5. Yvonne
    May 25, 2013 10:44 am

    And just followed first cones health on Instagram as well

  6. AdronsCatherine
    May 25, 2013 11:28 pm

    I have a SCOBY that is growing sooooooooo slowly (we keep our house quite chilly). It had been moved a few times, so the SCOBY is actually several thin layers instead of a thicker one. Is it ok to progress to the next phase of brewing, or do I need to wait?

  7. AdronsCatherine
    May 25, 2013 11:30 pm

    And I forgot to say that my favorite flavor is raspberry ginger lemon, and I hope to recreate that at home soon!!!!

  8. Amy Ayers
    May 27, 2013 9:36 am

    There are quite a few flavors that I like. My favorite has got to be the cosmic cranberry from GT’s. Would love to give that a homemade try!! And I already follow you and Kombucha Brooklyn on Facebook, Twitter, Istagram, and get your newsletter.

  9. Priscilla Marie
    May 28, 2013 11:32 am

    My favorite kombucha flavor is strawberry. I follow you and Kombucha BK on twitter. 🙂

  10. Anthony
    May 28, 2013 11:56 am

    Anything with ginger!
    …and I’ve been a “long-time like” on the Facebook…

  11. Anthony
    May 28, 2013 1:07 pm

    Hi! I already “liked” the KBBK page on Fb, (that’s how I heard about your blog). But I “liked” the FCH page on Fb, subscribed to the newsletter, and I’m now following you on Instagram! I feel like a total stalker. 😀
    I’ve been playing around with different flavors, adding different fruits, combining with ginger etc. and haven’t found a “favorite” yet. I have to say, I tried brewing with 2 black, 2 green, & 2 bags of Bengal Spice tea from Celestial Seasonings, and that had great potential! I think I tend to like Ginger in any ‘buch I make though.
    Except I can’t get a good fizz. Any advise to add fizz? Mine is almost always flat no matter how long I let the second fermentation sit for before refrigerating.

    • Jill
      May 28, 2013 1:14 pm

      The best way to add fizz is to add sugar for the 2nd ferment. If you add fruit, it often has enough sugar in it to make it fizzy. There are times when I have to add a quarter teaspoon or half teaspoon of sugar to my ‘buch before I bottle for the 2nd ferment to get any fizz. Give that a try! The digestion of sugar by your bacteria and yeast is what produces carbon dioxide, and keeping the carbon dioxide bottled up is what creates fizz. Good luck! Let me know what happens!

    • Shay
      July 26, 2014 1:07 pm

      Just a note on the Celestial Seasonings tea. I work at a world class health spa, and we have just pulled all our Celestial Seasoning teas off the shelf of our detox program, as it has been recently reported that under newer management, the cleanliness and purity of their teas has been found to be extremely comprimised. A recent test of the teas (as reported) showed Bengal Spice specifically to have huge amounts of trace residual chemical that is shown to be detrimental. Possibly from not being cleaned off well enough? Anywho, we were all bummed, my family is sad as that is one of our favourites too.. but just check into it. Do your own research and find out. Wouldn’t want to have such a healthy thing like ‘buch be comprimised by pure chemicals from your tea. (also I doubt it is actually “tea” as Jill describes ‘herbal teas’ in the “choosing your tea” section of this article). Good luck!

  12. Vicki
    May 28, 2013 3:22 pm

    I have to tell you, I adore brewing my Kombucha and have been for almost a year. I have used all kinds of flavored teas. My SCOBYs are beautiful and healthy and grow and multiply.

  13. Austin
    May 29, 2013 1:51 am

    Gingerade!

  14. michele
    May 29, 2013 10:32 am

    Favorite flavor is something KB calls Red Ginger. I made it for the first time recently and it was….no words. Yummm

  15. Alysia
    May 29, 2013 12:06 pm

    My favorite Kombucha flavor is definitely gingerade. I am officially liking and following all of the pages mentioned in this post. Would be great to win this, I tried growing my own SCOBY at the same time I was moving and it didn’t like that very much. I’ll have to try again soon.

  16. Kendra
    August 22, 2013 5:31 pm

    I am sort of a newbie when it comes to kombucha, but decided that making it would be the best option for my family’s growing addiction 😉
    My husband and I agree that GT’s Strawberry is our favorite flavor right now (but Mango comes in a close second for me).

  17. Kendra
    August 22, 2013 5:32 pm

    I ‘liked’ First Comes Health and Kombucha Brooklyn on FB (though it’s under my other email address: kendrabenson at gmail dot com)

  18. Kendra
    August 22, 2013 5:33 pm

    I’m following First Comes Health and Kombucha Brooklyn on Twitter (under the @ourpaleo handle)

  19. Kendra
    August 22, 2013 5:34 pm

    I’m following ‘First Comes Health’ (under my ourpaloelife account).

  20. Kendra
    August 22, 2013 5:36 pm

    I subscribed to your newsletter using this email (kendrabenson at gmail dot com)

  21. Ralph
    July 17, 2014 3:03 pm

    I’m a little confused… You write:
    “Metal – Kombucha, SCOBYs, and metal do not mix . . . you should not ever ferment tea in a metal container. Period. . . I brew my gallon of tea in a metal pot . . . My rule is this: Never ever ferment tea in a metal container.”
    Am I missing something? Thanks!

    • Jill
      August 27, 2014 2:59 pm

      It’s long term exposure you have to be concerned about. Heating the water and steeping tea is very short exposure. Don’t ferment in a metal container.

      • Sandy
        October 17, 2014 9:39 pm

        Since that confused me, too, I opted to brew my tea in my gallon jar by pouring hot water over the tea bags and letting them steep. My tea bags don’t even have staples! I’m really new at this and don’t want to take chances.

  22. Shay
    July 26, 2014 1:14 pm

    Hey Jill,
    In regards to troubleshooting, my mothers both have developed an air pocket in them. My first happy momma is over an inch thick now and loving life. But in the last batch I flipped, I noticed she had a little air bubble in the bottom side of her develop. The thinner and not as developed scoby in my other batch has a huge air bubble on one side. The air pocket prevents her from sinking. Instead the part with the bubble sits just a touch above the tea and she is vertical. I am dying to pop it so she can sink, but don’t want to mess with nature either. Is there a good explanation for this? or should I pop it?
    Cheers.
    Have never tried flavouring my ‘buch, but am stoked to try!

  23. Jonah
    September 4, 2014 10:09 am

    Awesome post, thank you for all the information!! Quick question, I just bottled a gallon of new buch into four bottlea and I want to flavor it,but didn’t have time. What is the best way of flavoring, add unsweetened juices, flavored syrup, sauce? No matter what I put into it, it will be foraged, and home-made. I want to make a sumac aid, and blend it with the bucha, I know I’ll have to experiment, but just thought some advice from an expert could help my confidence… Thanks Again, good health!

  24. Sandy
    October 17, 2014 9:36 pm

    I made my first batch from Kombucha Brooklyn. I have to say that the heating device is the best thing ever invented. If you don’t have one, get one. I’m in Missouri and even in September the weather was in the 40s-50s at night. Too cold to keep the scoby happy without extra help. But my Kombucha did great, and the second batch is well on the way. It’s looking cloudy after a week, which is why I stopped by. But I think it is trying to form a new scoby and will be ok.

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