When I originally published my Kombucha Tea Questions & Answers post, I believed I’d definitively answered all the most frequently asked questions about kombucha tea. But then YOU happened.
You commented with even more questions. Today, I’ve invited Hannah Crum from Kombucha Kamp to answer these new questions. The fine folks over there are my Kombucha experts, the people I ask whenever I need kombucha answers. Thank you, Hannah, for lending us your wisdom!
SCOBY Hotel & Storage
“There is a lot of confusion over how to store SCOBYs between batches; can you clarify?”
KKamp: Absolutely, this is one of the most commonly passed-down misconceptions about Kombucha. The SCOBY and starter liquid for future batches should never be refrigerated as there is no advantage and storing the cultures at such a low temperature for extended time puts the culture into a deep sleep, which leads to inferior tasting Kombucha and oftentimes, mold.
If they’ve only been in the fridge for a few days, they should do much better than those stored for weeks or months but, even if the brew does not mold, the Kombucha that brews may not taste great and it is still susceptible to mold in the second or third batch after being revived.
As such, we always recommend starting a SCOBY Hotel with your extra cultures and mature Kombucha, then storing it at room temperature. A SCOBY Hotel is a way to safely store all your extra SCOBYs so that if something goes wrong, you will always have a back up, and therefore a lifetime supply. For long term storage of a SCOBY Hotel, add sweet tea from time to time to compensate for evaporation. The Hotel may also act as a source of extra strong starter liquid.
Too Sour Kombucha
“Anyone who brews Kombucha has had a batch go too long and get too sour. Has it then spoiled and become unsafe to drink? Can that be salvaged or used in any way? And if the Kombucha is turning sour quickly, how do we combat that? Seems like a waste not to drink it.”
KKamp: Well of course the first use for overly sour Kombucha is to make that SCOBY Hotel! But keep in mind, pure Kombucha will never spoil; the low pH provides protection against invasion from harmful microorganisms. Once flavorings have been added, there is a chance for off flavors to develop in the bottle, and of course it can become too sour to enjoy over time depending on your personal preference. But unless you see mold, it is not spoiled.
If you find the flavor of your KT to be too sharp or sour, you can try a few simple ways to adjust the flavor.
- Dilute your KT with water or juice. — This will shift the pH and smooth out the flavor but will still give you all the benefits; think of it like lemon in your water.
- Shorten your brewing cycle. — If it is getting too sour to drink, then start tasting it earlier in the cycle.
- Flavor your booch. — Hibiscus and Elderflower may increase the tartness slightly so bottle age them longer before drinking (a few weeks). Chamomile imparts an apply flavor and when paired with lavender is quite nice. Using fruit juice or fruit pieces can also add a nice flavor to your KT and help increase the fizz. Try a variety of flavors until you find ones you like.
If the flavor is still too intense, overly sour Kombucha has literally 100’s of uses around the house and in a variety of cooking and beauty recipes.
“What about heating the Kombucha brew during fermentation, overheating the brew or even re-heating the finished Kombucha to enjoy as a hot drink: What’s the best temperature for Kombucha?”
KKamp: The right conditions are always important when fermenting. Traditional Kombucha is an acetic acid ferment, with gluconacetobacter as the dominant bacteria, and therefore prefers temperatures of 75-85F (with 78 – 80F being the “sweet spot”), which is a warmer brewing temperature than many of our lactobacillus-dominant friends like kefir and jun.
However, the Kombucha SCOBY is a hardy organism that can withstand brief exposures to extreme temperatures – of a few hours to a day or two, both hot and cold. Sustained temperatures of over 108 degrees are required to do damage to the culture and while we certainly do not advise freezing the Kombucha culture, if it arrives cold or frozen due to shipping conditions, it will revive with a brief rest period of 24-36 hours at room temperature.
What happens if the one brews at lower temperatures? Generally temperatures between 65 – 75 produce a safe, drinkable beverage over time, though it may lack the apple-y sour bite from higher temperature fermenting or it may take on a flatter, more earthy flavor. Most importantly, brewing time lengthens considerably. Attempting to ferment at lower than 64 degrees may produce a weaker beverage or may be susceptible to mold as the bacteria get “sleepy” and have a difficult time protecting themselves at the low temperature.
Where and how that heat is applied is also important to consider. Because the yeast desire a rest period after consuming the sugar early on and do so by falling to the bottom of the brew, heating from the bottom can cause overstimulation, resulting in weak bacteria or off flavors.
Finding a warmer spot in the kitchen, wrapping the brew in a towel or blanket or placing next to a working appliance are some ways to increase the temperature. If additional warmth is needed, consider a heating element designed to work from the sides for optimum brewing conditions.
As for heating Kombucha to consume warm, the healthy acids will remain but some of the probiotic effect will be compromised, though warming gently to 100-105F will retain more beneficial parts of the Kombucha, and is made more delicious with the addition of a cinnamon stick or spoon of honey.
No Baby SCOBY Growing
“If you’re brewing batch after batch, and it seems to be fermenting, and maybe even getting carbonated, but no new SCOBY is growing, what does that mean?”
KKamp: If making Kombucha at home but no new SCOBY is forming, it probably does not have the proper bacteria balance to be considered real Kombucha (note: as long as you did not see mold, which would have been fuzzy and dry and sitting right on top of the brew, looking like bread mold, it was safe to consume).
The most common types of SCOBYs that fail to produce babies are dehydrated SCOBYs and refrigerated SCOBYs, as bacterial activity has essentially been reduced to near nothing by these unfriendly “preservation” methods, leaving behind essentially a yeast drink.
Just like any food one prepares at home, the ingredients make all the difference in the final product. Full strength Kombucha cultures and starter liquid are critical to the power of the brew, and when combined with proper temperature creates the signature sweet/sour flavor of well-brewed, balanced Kombucha. Many people become disillusioned and never know that their starter culture is to blame, instead blaming themselves for “failing at Kombucha.”
SCOBY Growing In The Bottle
“I’ve heard from readers who are freaked out when they find a small SCOBY growing in their flavored Kombucha that they intend to drink. That’s totally normal, right?”
KKamp: Here’s the opposite problem, right? Absolutely, those are the beginnings of new SCOBY growth and are totally normal. When flavorings are added in the second ferment stage, the sugars reactivate the yeast and bacteria into production mode, though because there is not as much sugar the cycle is shorter. This also produces the carbonation that occurs in the second ferment stage, as the yeast make CO2, carbon dioxide, as a byproduct of consuming the sugar. You can choose to strain out the little SOCBYs or drink them down for a small dose of bacterial cellulose. We call them oyster shooters.
Herbal or Decaffeinated Kombucha
“We get a lot of comments from people interested in making decaf or herbal Kombucha. Is this possible and how?”
KKamp: First, in regards to caffeine and Kombucha, it should be noted that only a few tea bags are used to make a gallon of sweet tea, the base for Kombucha, meaning the caffeine concentration is already lower than a typical cup of tea. Second, the caffeine in tea is not the same as the caffeine in coffee, owing partially to the presence of L-theanine, which provides a relaxing effect for the organism.
During the fermentation process, Kombucha does consume some of the caffeine from the tea (there is debate over this), but more importantly the amount varies greatly based on your tea recipe, steeping time and brewing time, among many other factors. Many concerned about caffeine intake report no issue with consuming Kombucha, even with dinner. That said, every body is different; only you can decide if Kombucha agrees with your organism.
Still want to make 100% caffeine free Kombucha? No problem! It will require a little extra work but it can be done. Kombucha needs real tea (camellia sinensis) to survive over time, that is a requirement. However, we can substitute herbals successfully for a limited time to make Decaf Kombucha. Similarly, using flavored teas or tisanes is an option as long as that SCOBY does not go back into your primary SCOBY Hotel, keeping your backups safe from issues.
The easiest way to get started brewing 100% herbal Kombucha is to alternate batches between real tea (camelia sinensis) and herbal tisanes while using liquid from the SCOBY Hotel for the next batch instead of using the herbal Kombucha as starter. In most cases, this method is enough to prevent contaminating the SCOBY Hotel with oils or anything to compromise the pH.
However, long term the best method is to create a separate “Herbal Hotel” that hosts the SCOBYs used to make Herbal Kombucha so that if they go bad you can use another from your main SCOBY Hotel to start with herbal Kombucha again. Just make sure to always feed the Hotels real tea and sugar to keep the SCOBYs healthy, then use the herbal tisane mix you like to make the batch.
Another option is to blend herbals with real tea to create a lower caffeine tea/tisane mix, naturally lowering overall content but nutrifying the culture at the same time. Experiment to find a method that works for you.
Metal or Plastic Contact with Kombucha
“There is also confusion over what kind of metal and plastic can touch Kombucha, or even when it is safe to use these materials. Do we need to be worried about this?”
KKamp: As with most things, yes and no. Nearly every commercial Kombucha available at the store is fermented in either 304 or higher grade stainless steel or commercially brew safe plastic, so in some ways these concerns are overblown. Most homebrewers are choosing ceramic (really just a thin layer of glass on an opaque material), stainless steel, or glass for neutral flavor while oak barrels offer a unique brewing/flavor experience.
However, let’s draw a bright line here between a brewing vessel, which must be vetted completely, and casual contact with strainers, spoons, etc., which is not a major cause for concern. Also not a cause for concern are the pot used to make the hot tea and sugar mix prior to combining with the SCOBY or starter liquid: this can be made of any material as it does not touch the Kombucha. It is only constant contact with unsafe materials, for days or weeks at a time, that can cause an unsafe brew.
That said, we hear nearly every day from new homebrewers who are inadvertently using unsafe vessels for making Continuous Brew Kombucha, often because of low grade plastic or plastic coated spigots, or sometimes brass or other unapproved metal, that cannot withstand the high acidity of Kombucha. Specifically, these Consumer-Grade spigots are usually semi-hard plastic, sometimes with a “metallic” paint or fired coating that can erode slowly over time, seeping into or even chipping off into the brew. Even without a coating, most of these spigots are not made for such brewing conditions and should be avoided. The exception are approved plastic spigots such as the high quality American made Tomlinson spigots.
New Homebrewer Detox
“What if you’re getting headaches or stomach trouble from the Kombucha? As a homebrewer, should we be concerned?”
KKamp: Of course we are not doctors and cannot provide medical advice which should be obtained from your healthcare provider. That said, nothing you are describing sounds particularly unusual for some new homebrewers. Without knowing the source of the SCOBY culture, seeing pictures or hearing anything else strange about the brew, as long as it tastes fine and there are no signs of mold, which would be dry and fuzzy, sitting on top of the culture and look just like bread mold, it should be safe to drink.
Most likely is that a Herxheimer Reaction or “healing crisis” may be occurring, which just means that the toxins are leaving the body and putting up a fight as they go. Here are a couple of videos on the subject that may help.
Herxheimer Reaction Example – Detoxification of Poison Oak Rash through contact with Kombucha Cultures
How Much Kombucha Should I Drink?
And finally, a follow up question many people have: Is It Possible To Drink Too Much Kombucha?
Want to know where to buy kombucha brewing supplies and a SCOBY?
Check out the Kombucha Kamp Store. Hannah sources the absolute BEST of everything you need to make a reliable, consistently tasty kombucha brew.
Kombucha Kamp is the #1 kombucha site in the world (true by the numbers and reputation). The site is run by Hannah Crum, the beautiful and intelligent woman who answered all of today’s questions!
She calls herself the Kombucha Mamma, and for good reason. Kombucha Kamp has the best and most complete repository of Kombucha information I’ve ever seen. I signed up for her free kombucha tips and learned quite a bit I didn’t already know, even after years of brewing kombucha at home.
Want to know more about kombucha tea?
Check out these other articles on kombucha tea I’ve written:
- Kombucha Tea: How to Make Kombucha
- Kombucha Tea Questions & Answers Part One
- Kombucha Health Benefits
- How to Grow a Kombucha SCOBY
- Kombucha SCOBY Experiment
- Why Choose the Continuous Brew Method of Making Kombucha
- Is Kombucha Safe When Pregnant or Nursing?
(photo credit: top photo by sal de mar)