Where to Get FREE Kombucha SCOBYs
Are wondering where you might be able to get a free kombucha SCOBY? In this post we take a look at different places you might be able to scout out a freebie culture.
The first thing you need if you are getting into kombucha brewing at home, is a SCOBY. The term SCOBY stands for symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria. And this SCOBY is the culture which transforms plain old tea, into fizzy and probiotic kombucha.
There are quite a few places online where you can purchase cultures. However before making a purchase, you can always scout around to see if you can get hold of a free culture. Around kombucha and home fermentation there is usually an attitude of sharing and passing on. And if someone has been making kombucha for a while, chances are that they have quite a overflow of extra SCOBYs!
So, first place to enquire about a SCOBY is with other brewers.
Other Kombucha Brewers in Your Area
Most kombucha brewers have more SCOBYs than they need. If you approach someone who is not making a business out of selling cultures it is not unlikely that they might be happy to gift you one for free.
Here are some possible places where you might find someone who has an overabundance of kombucha cultures on their hands:
Friends and Family
The first place to check is in your friends and family circle. Cast your mind around and try to remember if any of your friends or acquaintances have been talking about making kombucha.
If you do not know anyone directly who makes their own kombucha, then you can have a look around for brewers. The following places are good spots to perhaps find someone selling and brewing kombucha:
- Farmers market
- Health stores
- Other supermarkets specialising in organic and healthy foodstuffs
At a farmers market, you will probably be able to ask the brewer directly whether or not they have spare SCOBYs they are willing to give away. At a health shop or organic food store, you will need to ask the manager or shop assistant for the contact details of the brewer who is marketing their kombucha there. You can then get into contact and ask them about SCOBYs.
If a kombucha maker begins to make it their business to distribute SCOBYs, then it is likely that they will charge for their cultures. Providing good quality, fresh cultures consistently, being available for contact, and the responsibility and cost of packaging and posting ultimately requires compensation. So don’t ask someone who is already selling cultures to gift one. That is not fair!
In a Bottle
You probably won’t find a fully developed SCOBY in a bottle of store bought kombucha. Unless the bottle has been sitting at room temperature for awhile. Even then, you will struggle to get it out of the bottle!
However, you can use a bottle of store bought kombucha to grow your own SCOBY.
How to Make a SCOBY from a Bottle of Store Bought Kombucha:
Buy a Bottle of Live Kombucha
The first thing you will need is a bottle of plain/unflavored and live kombucha. It must not be pasteurized, because this kills the live bacteria floating in the kombucha. Here is an article listing different brands which sell unpasteurized kombucha, in case you are unsure. Most kombucha from farmer’s markets and health stores will also be unpasteurized.
Grow Your SCOBY
Once you have gotten a bottle of raw kombucha, it is time to grow your SCOBY. Simply decant the bottle into a glass jar. Cover the top with a piece of cloth and a rubber band and let it sit at room temperature. After a few days or weeks (depending on the temperature and level of bacteria within the kombucha) you should start to see a baby SCOBY forming!
Allow this SCOBY to grow until about 1/4 inch thick and start your first batch of kombucha with it. For detailed instructions on making your first batch of kombucha, have a look at our guide How to Make Kombucha.
Besides getting a culture from a friend or fellow brewer in your locality – you can also sometimes get a contact online for a free culture. There are a few places you can try, such as the following:
A great place to ask for a SCOBY is on places such as Facebook and whatsapp groups. You might be surprised at what comes back to you if you put your request out.
Craigslist is a good place to check for free cultures. If there are none advertised, you can post a request.
Freecycle.org is another site which you can check for free cultures. The concept behind freecycle is ‘entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods’. So, great place to check for SCOBYs!
Reddit is another good place to check for people offering spare SCOBYs. Some of the threads can be outdated – however new ones also come up which are more current.
HomeBrewTalk is a general brewing forum, which included threads on kombucha brewing. The community sense of HomeBrewTalk makes it a great place to ask for a free SCOBY.
Kombucha Exchange Worldwide
This website has been distributing SCOBYs for over 9 years! Take note, while their cultures are free, they do charge for postage. Which is fair considering that they do worldwide delivery!
Other Online Classifieds
If there is a smaller online classifieds for your particular locality, this can also be a good place to put in a request for a SCOBY donation. The great thing about these sites is that they are locality specific, so no posting involved!
Paying the Postage
Keep in mind that if you source a free SCOBY from someone who does not live in your area, they will have to post it to you. In this case it is a good idea to offer to pay for the postage after chatting to the person about the culture.
Free is Not Always Better
While it is pretty cool to be able to pick up a free culture for starting your kombucha brewing, free is not always better. The reason for this is that kombucha cultures are living and changeable. Their bacteria and yeast compositions can change over time, and occasionally can also become contaminated by mold, vinegar fly eggs, and vinegar eels.
Usually you should be fine going with a gifted SCOBY. Just because it is free does not mean it is guaranteed to be infested with fly eggs! However, it is good to keep in mind the source of your SCOBY, and that it might be slightly old or dormant if gifted. If you ask someone for a SCOBY, they will probably take one out for you from their SCOBY hotel. Which means that it is not super fresh, and could be a little dormant from storage.
If you are someone who would prefer to get a clinically controlled 100% guaranteed pure culture, then go check out Kombucha Brooklyn. They grow their cultures in a climate-controlled culture lab to assure you a top quality SCOBY which is full of brewing power.
On the other hand you might still want to save a penny and take part in the sharing spirit of kombucha brewers. If so, then here are some tips to keep in mind when receiving a gifted SCOBY.
What to Look at in Free SCOBYs
As mentioned above, if you are receiving a gifted culture, it can be a good idea to inspect it before setting up your first brew. Taking a close look will reveal what condition it is in, and whether it is a good culture to start brewing with.
Is it Active?
Dehydrated and Frozen Cultures
The best kind of SCOBY to start brewing with is one which is active and not in a state of dormancy. Some people preserve their SCOBYS by drying, freezing or refrigerating them. These methods of preservation can make cultures so dormant that they struggle to ever revive, or develop mold during the first brewing cycle. Not fun!
Cultures Out of a SCOBY Hotel
If you get a SCOBY out of someone’s SCOBY hotel, then it will usually merely be in a slight state of dormancy. If the kombucha maker looks after their SCOBY hotel and feeds the cultures in it on time, then you should be able to brew right away with no problems. If the culture is a little bit starved or has simply been stored for a long time and is old, you first few batches of kombucha might be slow going.
However, do not distress. If you make a batch or two of kombucha successfully, even from an old or sleepy culture – you will probably see a new baby SCOBY forming on top. You can then use this for your successive batches.
When getting a SCOBY from someone check to make sure that it comes with enough starter liquid. You will use the starter liquid to drop the ph of your first batch of kombucha. While it is possible to use spirit vinegar for this purpose – any company or individual which is trying to give you a SCOBY with very little starter liquid might not know what they are talking about when it comes to kombucha brewing. The quality of their cultures could then also be questioned!
Does it Have Mold?
Very important to check for is, does your gifted culture show signs of mold. This is an unusual occurrence, but very possible if the culture has been left to sit out of its tea. Mold will show itself as tiny furry spots on the culture. They will be dry looking. For a detailed guide on inspecting for mold check out this post. Before you get the heeby jeebies, mold is not something to expect. It does not happen often to cultures, it is merely something to keep a look out for.
If a culture does in fact contract mold, then the whole thing needs to be thrown away, and a new one sourced.
Does it Have Vinegar Fly Eggs?
Another uncommon yet freaky occurrence with SCOBYs is that fruit/vinegar flies love them and kombucha. So much so that they will lay their eggs on a SCOBY if they get a chance. While that happens very rarely (as most brewers keep their kombucha sealed under a cloth cover) it is always good to check.
Unfortunately the only way you will know is to start your first kombucha brew, and check inside the glass daily. If fruit flies appear, then you will have to chuck the culture.
Does it Have Vinegar Eels?
Vinegar eels are strange little ‘eels’ which can develop in vinegar. It is also possible for them to make their way into kombucha. This happens if vinegar has been used to lower the ph in place of starter liquid. Fortunately they are uncommon in kombucha, and completely harmless to humans (they pass straight though). However the idea of them is very gross, and most people would prefer to brew without them.
Vinegar eels are very hard to see, so you might not notice them by simple glancing at your kombucha. To way to check for them is to shine a flashlight into your bottles of kombucha. And if you see any tiny little lines wiggling around, then those are vinegar eels. If not, you are golden.
For thousands of years people have been sharing kombucha cultures with each other. Today in some ways it is even easier because we have the internet! Don’t be shy to put yourself out there and source a free SCOBY. There might be SCOBYs out there that need homes.
However, do consider the person who is gifting it to you. Do they have to pay postage? If so, perhaps you should send the money to them for this. Also, don’t ask someone for a free culture who is already selling cultures.
Lastly, if you successfully source a culture, it is good to check its state properly before beginning to brew with it. While you should be able to get a healthy SCOBY, take note that it might be in a slight state of dormancy. Also, check for things such as mold, vinegar eels etc. It never hurts to double check, especially now that you know what to look out for and how to do it.
Good luck with your SCOBY hunt and happy brewing! If you have any questions in the future, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments. We love hearing from you. : )