5 Things I Learned About Kombucha from Visiting a Kombucha Brewery

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

Who: Happy Leaf Kombucha
What: Organic, small-batch kombucha and taproom
Where: Denver, Colorado’s River North Art District
Read the series → Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Last week I visited Happy Leaf Kombucha, a small-batch kombucha brewery in Denver. Over the course of my visit I learned a few things about kombucha that I hadn’t known before, including the fact that you can eat scobys! (Say what? Yes, it’s true.) Here’s what I learned from visiting the pros.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

1. Making kombucha is not as scary as you think.

I have actually avoided making kombucha for years because I killed the first scoby I was given. A dear friend gifted me with a starter scoby, and I stored it in the back of my too-cold refrigerator, thus killing it. (I never told her.) After watching the brewing process at Happy Leaf, I have a lot more confidence to give it a go again. With the right sterilization, temperatures, and patience, kombucha naturally develops on its own.

See our tutorial → How to Make Kombucha Tea at Home

2. Kombucha is made from tea.

Kombucha actually begins its transformation as tea — the same sweetened, refreshing beverage we enjoy on a sunny afternoon. Happy Leaf uses a blend of organic black and green tea, although white tea can also be used. Herbal teas are infrequently used because the culture doesn’t work as well with herbal teas.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

3. A new scoby is “born” each fermentation.

A scoby, or “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” is the machine of kombucha production. As we observed from this week’s tour of Happy Leaf’s brewery, the scoby transforms tea into the tart, bubbly beverage many of us crave. The scoby reproduces every round of fermentation. When the scoby layer grows too thick, just pull some away and give the baby starter scoby to a friend who wants to brew kombucha.

4. A scoby is not a mushroom.

The first time I heard about kombucha, someone described it to me as “mushroom tea.” I was a little tentative about trying it. In fact, it is not made from a mushroom at all. As a scoby grows over the course of the fermentation process, it spreads across the surface of the tea, forming a protective covering that can resemble the cap of a mushroom. Sorry, you won’t find any Morels or Chanterelles in your kombucha.

5. A scoby can be repurposed — even eaten!

This was the most interesting thing I learned when touring Happy Leaf Kombucha’s brewing facility: A scoby is completely edible and can be repurposed! Ariel mentioned earlier this year that you can actually make clothing out of a scoby. Kind of creepy but kind of completely cool. When Jenni and Mike need to get rid of extra scoby matter, people actually come knocking to obtain that nutrient-rich culture. A scoby is a wonderful amendment to soil and is a potent additive to compost. Goats and other livestock enjoy the taste, and it gives them a probiotic boost.

But I simply have to try the next use for leftover scoby: eating one! Affectionately named Scoby Snacks, Jenni mixes slices of scoby, tosses them with baking spices, and bakes them in the oven. The resulting flavor and texture resemble apple pie.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

What do you think, home brewers? Are you into Scoby Snacks? What do you do with any excess scoby?

Thanks again for the tour and tips, Mike and Jenni!