Bringing My (1.5 year old) Kombucha SCOBY Back to Life


I had a SCOBY sitting in some old kombucha on my counter top for about a year and a half. I know, that’s crazy, right? Next to that jar sat a jar of fermented squash pickles just as old which I did, in fact, throw to the chickens.

But they looked perfectly viable, minus the fact that they were mushy. So I decided to take a closer look at that SCOBY. The jar smelled quite tangy upon opening and I wouldn’t have even attempted this SCOBY CPR if I saw any funky mold or smelled anything questionable.

And since we were all clear, I decided to go ahead and see if I could salvage the thing. Here’s how it went…


Any time I’ve neglected a mother starter, I try to give it a little TLC to see if it will forgive me for the neglect I put upon it. So, while I might usually make a gallon or two of kombucha from on SCOBY, this time I decided to start out with just a quart.

I added 1/4 cup of white sugar and two oolong tea bags to about 1.5 cups of boiling water, let it steep, and topped it up with cool water after removing the tea bags.

I inspected the SCOBY closely for any signs of distress. Like I said above, I wouldn’t go through with it if it seemed to have gone bad in any way. I decided to remove the upper part of this fairly thick SCOBY and just use the “baby” portion, figuring it might be at least a little less old than the original mother.

I added this to the room temperature sweet tea, threw on a coffee filter and canning ring, and let it sit for about 1.5 weeks. It was now time to test out the SCOBY’s viability.

At this point I just wanted to see if the SCOBY would actually culture the sweet tea into kombucha. My first litmus test for the health of any ferment is the smell. If any ferment – beverage, vegetable, dairy, sourdough, etc. – smells “off” then I’m very cautious. Sour, tangy, and alcoholic are all acceptable smells, to some degree. I have never had a ferment go off and not known as soon as I’ve smelled it.


This quart of sweet tea had a thin layer of SCOBY growing at the top and was now smelling like kombucha! So I poured a bit off and took a sip. Still barely sweet, but definitely with the tang of kombucha. Yay! So I decanted about a pint and then saved the rest for a new batch.

I like to make around two gallons at a time, at least, but since I am still babying this SCOBY I don’t want to stretch its limits. So, in order to ensure that it is getting fed adequate amounts of sugar before asking too much, I moved on to a half-gallon jar. After this half-gallon batch I will move to one gallon and then two gallons.

I thought this was a really good reminder of just how resilient these cultures can be. While it’s important to take good care of them if you want them to last, much like a pet, you might also be surprised by their resiliency when we ask a lot of them.

Have you ever brought a culture back from the brink?


Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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  1. Marie says

    I neglected mine for a year! I am reviving mine ! Mine is about 5 inches thick! Taking baby off and giving away scoby’s thanks for the reassurance !

  2. Marion says

    My kombucha scoby has been in a sealed fruit juice bottle filled with old ‘mother’ tea for 20 years.
    It was given to me whilst I was breastfeeding my daughter who is now 20 years old.
    I could never throw the kombucha away and just left it for when I’m ready.
    Well..after 20 years I’m ready and have opened the glass bottle. The scoby has made about twenty layers and smells like vinegar but looks clear, smooth and still a nice Amber color.
    I’ve boiled up the tea with the sugar and am about to introduce 4 of the top scobys ( appr. 8 cm circles across) from the bottle with 100 ml of the ‘mother vinegar’ . It all smells like it will continue living.
    Who would have thought after 20 years it is still alive without having added new tea brew?! Shall let you know how it ferments over the next 10 days.

  3. Eppy LeCroy says

    Curious to know if you used a small amount of distilled white vinegar or store bought unflavored kombucha as your starter liquid in addition to your water, sugar, & tea? Thanks! I am attempting to revive an old scoby as well & not sure if I should include some of the old kombucha from the jar which the scoby has been stored in or if I should use store bough kombucha or vinegar.

    • says

      Eppy – I did not use white vinegar to start it because the kombucha it was sitting in was very acidic. That said, it might not be a bad idea to go ahead and use the vinegar to be absolutely sure the pH is low enough. Hope you ‘bucha revival works!

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