If you are new to making kombucha you may have many questions. What does a healthy SCOBY look like? Does this taste right? Is that mold? If you need a little kombucha encouragement, read on. Michelle will help you to see that everyone struggles and struggles do not necessarily mean failure.
When I was a teacher, I often got frustrated with posters that proclaimed, “FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.” I know what they were going for, but for any new learner, failure is most certainly an option, and not always a bad one! Some of my most spectacular fails have led to “aha” moments that I could never have reached without stumbling first. I thought that sharing some of my kombucha missteps may encourage you to laugh, shake your head, and learn through the messes that I inadvertently created for myself.
My first experience with kombucha failure was very early on when I was first learning how the SCOBY worked. Let’s be honest—if you’ve never seen one before, it’s somewhat of a disconcerting sight to see that pale, gelatinous blob floating on the surface! I wasn’t sure how easy it was to recreate it once I had grown one, but I had read that it is useful to have a “SCOBY hotel” ( a backup culture in a separate jar). I faithfully set up an extra chunk of SCOBY in a glass, fed it some sugary tea, and laid it lovingly in a back corner of a cabinet. Where I forgot about it—for weeks.
What’s Wrong with My Kombucha?
Not until I noticed fruit flies did I know something was amiss. I try very hard to have a clean kitchen, so finding a sudden cloud of insects was not a welcome sight! You can imagine where this is headed. I learned in a maggot-infested way that a single layer of cheesecloth is not enough to protect the top of a brewing vessel, and that it’s easy to forget a ferment if you put it in a dark corner of a cabinet.
I haven’t found larvae in my SCOBY after that lesson! So months passed, and I grew more confident with brewing my own kombucha. My husband and I enjoyed dozens of batches throughout that year. At the time, we had just become new parents. As any first-time parent keenly knows, sleep is elusive.
One night in the midst of the newborn months, I had barely laid my head on the pillow after another feeding when I heard an explosive, shattering sound. All my new-found-yet-poorly-managed maternal instincts leaped into blurry, exhausted action. I jumped out of bed, woke my husband, and with horrified conviction, said the only thing that made sense to my hormone-addled brain, “THE BABY EXPLODED.”
Failure is just a process of elimination.
Being no less tired but far more reasonable than his wife, my poor husband blearily looked through the house, assured me that the baby was fine, and suggested that we sleep while we could. At a more humane hour of the morning, a thorough search revealed the source of the sound. One of our second-ferment growlers of kombucha had exploded. Though I had figured out the perfect timing for brewing kombucha in the frigid Ohio winter and cool spring, I had not yet learned that higher temperatures would make for a much faster ferment. As I cleaned up glass shards and sticky walls, I knew I would be paying much closer attention to my summer brewing vessels in the future!
My final story is cautionary. With my growing kombucha prowess, I decided it was time to experiment. I had formerly enjoyed the chia-infused kombucha at the health food store (but not the price tag). It didn’t seem like a complicated process to make it, so I dumped a bunch of chia seeds into my bottle, filled it with kombucha, and set it to ferment its second time.
Failure is ceasing to try!
A few days later, I had a sneaking suspicion that I should have checked on how to do it before doing it…and as a brief Internet search revealed, I should have added far less chia after I was done fermenting. I glanced at the cabinet dubiously, realizing that I had created a time bomb. I gingerly placed the bottle in the fridge to stall any further buildup of pressure, but there was only one way to really fix this.
Once I built up my courage, I grabbed an apron, a towel, and my kombucha pressure cannon, and headed outside. With a far less brave squeak than I would like to admit, I braced myself and opened the lid. It was…spectacular. Kombucha foam and chia seeds sprayed in a glorious geyser across my entire yard, at least eight feet from where I was sitting. The entire bottle emptied itself in two seconds, and as the mist cleared, I mentally promised myself always to research before experimenting with a new technique. Though I was laughing, I could have potentially hurt someone with an exploding bottle!
Each time you fail, you’re one step closer to success!
There is still plenty for me to learn, so the stories are certainly not over. When learning to ferment, it is inevitable that you will eventually have something go wrong. This may come early on, and I hazard a guess that many potential fermenters are stopped in their tracks by a stinky, slimy, failure that threatens to convince them that fermenting is dangerous, difficult, or just not worth the effort. I know I have reached that point before, and most often with my poor kombucha! These failures have only served to teach me, however, and I’m a far more confident brewer because of it. Because of my volatile, wriggling, and unexpected outcomes, I now know what to look out for with the next round!
At Fermentools, we take our kombucha seriously!
Andrew and Michelle are the new owners of a 12-acre homestead in rural America. They are just embarking on this journey that is far removed from their city-life upbringing, so they realize that they have a lot to learn in order to succeed in this new place. Come along with them and read more about what they learn as they make this transition at their blog Simple Life Homestead.