Home brewing kombucha is a super fun and tasty hobby, but when you’re first starting out all the ingredients and techniques you need to make it can feel a little overwhelming. One common ingredient that first time kombucha makers get confused about is starter tea. For example, do you even need starter tea to brew kombucha?
If a kombucha brewer has not saved kombucha from a previous brew to use as starter tea for a new one, they can substitute a bottle of unflavored kombucha or a few cups of distilled white vinegar. If it’s the brewers first time making kombucha and they bought their SCOBY online, it should come packaged in starter tea.
If you’re trying to make kombucha, don’t have any starter tea from a previous brew, and need a little help on what to do, this article is for you! I’ll walk you through the basics of kombucha starter tea, whether or not you need starter tea at all, and then give you some starter tea alternatives you can use if you don’t have any available. Let’s get started!
Do you Need Starter Tea to Make Kombucha?
Every recipe for kombucha you find online will tell you that you need to add 2ish cups of starter tea to your sweet tea base at the beginning of each brew. This “starter tea” is just a little kombucha from your last brew that is supposed to kickstart the beginning of the new one.
But what exactly does starter tea do? And do you even need to use it in your kombucha?
Adding starter tea to a new brew of kombucha actually does serve a purpose. Mainly it increases the acidity of the brew early to help protect against mold growth and other contamination.
How does it do this? Well later in the brewing cycle the kombucha will be pretty acidic and that acidity will fight off foreign bacteria and mold, but early on when it’s just sweet tea the brew is extremely vulnerable to contamination, so the starter tea helps to give it some initial acidity to protect it.
In addition, the starter tea has a lot of the living bacteria and yeast that ferment kombucha and give it its probiotic benefits. Even though most people assume that these bacteria and yeast, known as the SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) are just the jelly like disc (called the pellicle) that floats on top of the kombucha, that disc is actually just a circle of sugars created by the SCOBY. Much of the SCOBY is actually floating throughout the kombucha, kind of like soup.
If all of the bacteria and yeast were just in the pellicle, you wouldn’t get any of the probiotic benefits when you drink the kombucha.
So now that you know that starter tea is important, what if you didn’t save any from a previous brew? Or it’s your first time making kombucha and you don’t have any?
How to Make Kombucha Without Starter Tea
So ideally every time you finish a gallon of kombucha you save 2 cups of it to use as starter for the next brew. But if you didn’t save any or it’s your first time making booch, there are starter tea substitutions you can use that will do the same thing.
If you’re a first time brewer and you bought your SCOBY online, it should come packaged in liquid. That liquid is starter tea. So if you bought your SCOBY and it’s packaged in a starter, you don’t need to add anything else. Just pour the SCOBY and liquid in together and you’re good to go.
If you’ve been home brewing kombucha and you don’t want to buy another SCOBY just for its starter tea, your next best option is to purchase a bottle of unflavored kombucha from the store and use that instead.
You don’t want to use any flavored kombucha because if you flavor you’re 1st ferment every batch afterwards will likely have some of the flavoring in it, since every batch comes from that same SCOBY and starter tea. We really only want to flavor our kombucha in the 2nd fermentation, where it’s completely independent of the mother SCOBY and main brewing vessel.
I personally can never find unflavored kombucha at the store, so what I had to do when I forgot to save starter tea was use distilled white vinegar instead. Vinegar will serve the same purpose as the kombucha, lowering the acidity of the brew. I recommend only using half a cup per gallon of kombucha.
You probably shouldn’t use apple cider vinegar since it’s not only flavored, but also has its own probiotic bacteria that may not interact well with the SCOBY in the kombucha.
There you have it. Starter tea is an important and necessary part of the beginning of every kombucha brew that will not only give it an acidic environment to protect against mold growth but will also add necessary bacteria and yeast that will help the kombucha ferment and give it its probiotic benefits. If by chance you forgot to save starter tea or don’t have any for some reason, you can use unflavored kombucha or distilled white vinegar as a substitute.
I hope this article was helpful! If you’d like to learn more about brewing kombucha be sure to check out the rest of my website! Have a good one!