It’s possible to make kombucha without a SCOBY? Yup! I’ve done it many times and I’ll show you how!
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fizzy fermented tea drink. It is sweetened tea that is combined with starter liquid that ferments over time.
While it ferments, a SCOBY forms on top to protect the tea from bad bacteria and contaminates. SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture/colony of bacteria and yeast.
The bacteria and yeast eat the sugar in the tea and ferment it, giving it a sharper taste, but filling it with beneficial bacteria and yeast that are SUPER good for your gut health.
UCLA Health states that 70% of your immune system is found in the gut. So taking care to make sure your gut is full of good bacteria will help you to fight off the nasty ones when they show up!
Why should you bottle your own kombucha?
Most people start bottling their own kombucha because it is so expensive to buy at the store. Not only is it pricy (around $4/bottle), but drinking it on a daily basis creates excess packaging that isn’t necessary.
Bottling kombucha at home allows you to have your whole family drink it affordably, while also being earth friendly!
How do you make kombucha without a SCOBY?
It’s easy to make kombucha without a SCOBY. Technically, the starter tea is the main thing you need when starting to brew kombucha at home. The starter tea is full of the beneficial bacteria and yeast that will multiply as they eat the sugar in your sweet tea.
However, most people think a SCOBY is needed to get started. Nope! Making your first batch of kombucha at home with starter tea will create a SCOBY that you can use on subsequent batches.
The addition of the SCOBY in future batches will help your kombucha ferment quicker, as well as protect it while it does!
How to make a SCOBY:
1. Purchase raw, unflavored kombucha
The first thing you’ll need to make your own SCOBY is 2 bottles of starter tea. You can get this from a friend if you’d like, but most people who have friends who brew kombucha could just get starter tea, and a SCOBY from them!
The other way to make a SCOBY is to purchase starter tea. Whenever I have done this, I’ve always used GT’s Original Raw Kombucha. (This is not a sponsored post. It’s just what I’ve used in the past and it has worked well).
You just need to make sure it’s raw and unflavored. That is important! You don’t want the flavoring they used in making that bottle of kombucha to contaminate your new batch. So unflavored or original is a must.
What is raw kombucha?
Like any other product – raw milk, raw honey, etc… – raw means that it has not been heated to kill bacteria.
Honestly, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to pasteurize kombucha, because the biggest reason to drink it is to ingest the beneficial bacteria! However, I’m assuming that there are kombucha companies that heat it to kill the bad bacteria that may be present. That would also kill the good ones and make terrible starter tea for you!
So make sure your kombucha says it’s raw.
2. Clean your kombucha jar and hands with soap, water, and a vinegar rinse
Remember when I said that the SCOBY protects the kombucha from contamination, and from bad bacteria getting in? Since yours won’t have that protective layer, you need to be extra cautious that you’re not introducing any harmful bacteria to the mix.
So wash your kombucha jar, pot for tea, and hands with soap and water, and then rinse it all with vinegar. Then you’re clean and ready to go!
Best kombucha jar to use
There are so many kombucha jars you could choose from! I have a friend who brews hers in a 1 gallon mason jar. That worked great for her!
But I find that if I’m going to do that much work, I’d like to get double the amount for the same time invested. So I used this 2 gallon jar for the first few years I brewed.
Then I switched to this jar for ease of use. It’s so much simpler to bottle the kombucha when there’s a spigot. However, it’s important that there’s no plastic on the inside of the spigot to interact with the kombucha. I bought this pack of stainless steel spigots from Amazon and just swapped them out to make sure I had a safe, all metal spout.
No matter which jar you choose, try to make the SCOBY in the jar you’ll be using later to brew your kombucha. The SCOBY will form to the width of the jar, so you’ll want to use the jar you will use later in order to have the SCOBY be the correct size.
3. Brew your sweet tea
I use a 2 gallon jar, so I begin my process with one gallon of sweet tea, plus a jar of raw, original kombucha. Bring 2 quarts of filtered water to a boil. Then add 1c. sugar and 6 tea bags (I use cheap black tea). Let it steep for 30 minutes.
After it has steeped, remove the tea bags. At this point, you can add 2 more quarts of filtered water to the pot to help it cool faster, or to the jar. In these pictures, I put mine in the jar.
4. IMPORTANT Let your tea cool to room temperature!
This step is SO important. Do not skip it! You must let your tea cool to room temperature. Think back to when we were talking about raw kombucha. The reason you don’t want it heated is because it kills the beneficial bacteria and yeast. So if you pour hot tea in with the starter tea, you’ll kill the bacteria and yeast in that starter and have to begin all over again.
5. Pour cooled sweet tea, and bottle of starter Buch in your kombucha jar and cover to make your SCOBY
Now, just combine the two together! You’ll add a cover to the top of the jar. I always use a piece of fabric that has a tighter weave, or for ease I recently have used a cotton tea towel. Just make sure it’s not terry cloth. You don’t want little pills or fuzzes to get into the tea. Then I tie it on with bakers twine and let it sit!
6. Allow the kombucha to sit for 1-2 weeks
Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, this part can take 1-2 weeks. When I did this, my kitchen was around 70 degrees because it was springtime. But, the warmer it is, the faster the bacteria and yeast reproduce.
Now that it’s summer, we don’t have air conditioning and this would probably have only taken about a week to get a good SCOBY started. So just keep an eye on it and move to the next step after it looks like the week 2 SCOBY.
SCOBY Week 1 (Day 7)
SCOBY Week 2 (Day 14)
At first, you’ll notice bubbles and a little film over the surface of the tea. That’s your SCOBY beginning to form! The bubbles are totally normal. When the yeast and bacteria eat the tea, they release gasses. That’s what you see in these SCOBYs.
Over time, that layer begins to get thicker. I also included a week 2 side view so you can see the SCOBY beginning to form from the side.
7. Add another gallon of sweet tea
At this point, I make another gallon of sweet tea the same way I did it before to add additional sugar for the yeasties and bacteria to munch on. I let it cool to room temperature and pour it in. I try to gently pour it down the inside of the jar so it doesn’t move the SCOBY off the top. However, if it does, just wash your hands and rinse them with vinegar. Then you can stick your hand in and grab the SCOBY and lay it back on the top of the tea.
8. Let it sit for 1-2 more weeks
Again, you’ll give the bacteria and yeast time to do their thing. Depending not the temperature of your kitchen, you’ll let it sit for another 1 to 2 weeks. Once it looks like my week 4 SCOBY, you’re done!
SCOBY Week 3 (Day 21)
SCOBY Week 4 (Day 28)
These last 2 photos are a fully mature SCOBY that is ready to use! I wanted to make sure to show you the side view on this one as well. When I added my tea at the end of week 2, my SCOBY sunk to the bottom of the jar. I did what I recommended and pulled it back to the top but it never sat perfectly on the top. So now there’s a little flap that hangs down.
That is TOTALLY fine! It doesn’t look perfect, but it will work just the same!
How to make kombucha without a SCOBY
Now that you’ve made your SCOBY, it’s time to finally brew your kombucha! I never use the tea that I made the SCOBY with. It just doesn’t taste like normal kombucha. So I get rid of it and start from scratch.
Every batch of kombucha needs starter tea (you’ll use a second jar of raw kombucha) and a SCOBY.
Remove all the spent tea from the kombucha jar, but keep the SCOBY in the jar. Now brew 2 gallons of sweet tea.
I do this by boiling 1 gallon of filtered water, adding 12 tea bags and 2 cups of sugar and allowing it to steep for 30 min. Then I remove the tea bags and let the tea cool to room temperature. It’s just like you did before, but doubled.
Pour the cooled gallon of sweet tea into the kombucha jar, along with another gallon of filtered water. Then pour one more bottle of GT’s original raw kombucha into the jar. You can wash and rinse your hands with vinegar and then gently lift the SCOBY to the top of the jar. Then just let it sit in a spot without direct sunlight for about 10-14 days and you’ve got kombucha!
And that’s how you make kombucha without a SCOBY! You start with sweet tea and starter kombucha and make your own SCOBY. Then just use another jar of starter kombucha, with your homemade SCOBY and start brewing! If you have any questions, I’d love to answer them so ask in the comments!