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SCOBYS: HOW TO START AND MAINTAIN A KOMBUCHA SCOBY “HOTEL”

An easy method to store Kombucha SCOBYs for short and long term breaks

 

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by Jody Gowans in Kombucha
March 5, 2018

 

WHAT IS A SCOBY AND WHY IS IT FORMED?

First let’s begin by learning about the mysterious SCOBY.   If you’ve been making kombucha, you will have noticed that each batch produces a new SCOBY, a jelly-like layer on the surface of the brew.  SCOBY is an acronym and stands for “Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast”. These beneficial yeast and bacteria can be found throughout the kombucha brew and also in the SCOBY itself.  The SCOBY is actually a biofilm made of cellulose and is produced by the bacteria found in the kombucha culture.  Since the yeast and bacteria require oxygen to thrive, the bacteria create this biofilm in order to be closer to a source of oxygen.  This is why SCOBYs form on the surface of the brew, and not the bottom.   

Kombucha SCOBY

 

SCOBY PRODUCTION : IS THE BABY OK?

With every successful kombucha brew, a “baby” SCOBY will form and either attach to the original mother SCOBY or remain separate on the surface of the brew.  This baby SCOBY starts out as a very thin, cloudy membrane, sometimes with strands descending towards or attaching to the Mother SCOBY.   

Day 3- Scoby Forming on the surface (note the opaque, jelly-like strands)

As it develops, it might look slightly mottled or bumpy, which is perfectly normal.   What you need to look out for are fuzzy white, green or black spots on the SCOBY or brew surface as it is indicative of mold.  If mold is found to be present, the entire batch, including the SCOBY must be discarded.  Here are some easy way to avoid mold contamination:

  1. Always include an adequate amount of starter tea to the sweetened tea along with the SCOBY. 
  2. Keep the kombucha brew away from other fermentation projects to avoid microbial cross-contamination.
  3. Keep the kombucha brew cozy!  A temperature range of 25-29°C (75-85°F) will keep the kombucha culture adequately active.  Dipping below this range can cause the culture to become sluggish, creating a less acidity that would ward off pathogens.
  4. Use clean containers and utensils. 
  5. Use a live SCOBY and starter liquid.  Dehydrated or refrigerated SCOBYs are harder to reanimate.

STORING EXTRA SCOBYS: THE SCOBY HOTEL

Having extra SCOBYs is a good thing.  It’s always good to have a backup or two in case you lose a brew to mold or the culture ceases to be active.  Extra SCOBYs are also useful for experimenting with different teas and/or sugar blends.  I always advise beginners to start with black tea as the kombucha culture responds well to it.  Green tea can also be used, as well as some other blends and herbal teas. Avoid Earl Grey which contains bergamot and can be harmful to the kombucha culture.

STARTING THE SCOBY HOTEL

After many successful brews, you may become overrun with these ambitious SCOBYs.  You might also need to take a brewing break. An easy way to store them safely is to make a SCOBY HOTEL.  This term was originally coined by Hannah Crum of Kombucha Kamp.  Her book, The Big Book of Kombucha is an excellent resource should you wish learn more in-depth kombucha techniques and facts.  To make a hotel, you basically follow the steps you would normally take to make kombucha (this recipe is for a gallon jar, adjust if necessary for different sized containers) :

  1. Bring a gallon of water to a boil.
  2. Add 4-5 black tea bags (or the equivalent in loose tea)
  3. Let steep for 5-10 minutes
  4. Remove tea, add ¾ cup of white sugar or sucanet. Stir to dissolve.
  5. Let cool to room temperature.  Pour it glass container (Hotel).
  6. Add SCOBY (s)
  7. Add 1 cup starter tea (reserved kombucha from a previous brew)
  8. Cover with a cloth or coffee filter.  Secure with a rubber band

Click here for the full tutorial on how to make kombucha.  

Lots of SCOBYS in one of my large hotels (glass cookie jar)

HOTEL TIPS:

  1. Use a large, clean glass jar. Any size will do, depending on the number of SCOBYs you wish to store.
  2. Keep the jar covered with a tightly woven cloth, secured with a rubber band, or mason jar ring.
  3. If possible, try and store the Hotel in a slightly cooler temperature to slow down the activity of the kombucha culture.
  4. The liquid will slowly evaporate over time.  To keep the kombucha culture fed and submerged, top off the hotel with sweet tea every month or two (or when needed).  You can also drain off the older kombucha in the hotel and use it as a strong starter tea for new batches of kombucha or as  kombucha vinegar .
  5. A SCOBY will form at the top and might seal up the jar.  Make sure to push the SCOBY down to allow oxygen flow throughout the Hotel.

And that’s it!  Properly maintained, your SCOBYs can hang out in the hotel for months!  I have used SCOBYs that have rested in one of my hotels for over a year.   Don’t forget to include at least 1 cup of starter liquid with the SCOBY when you start a new brew.

 

 

4 Comments
  1. Meena says:

    Hi Jody,
    I sopped by your website looking for a tip to how preserve my kombucha scopy, my question is same as Emma, but mine was in a sealed jar on kitchen counter for more that a month, it looks so old ( brownish) and there are layers .. however, I started brewing it again hoping to get a brewed kombucha,

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Meena- thanks for your interest and question. Your SCOBYs and starter tea should be fine. You can separate the layers, and use one to start a new brew, along with 1-2 cups of starter tea (the liquid from the hotel) leaving the rest in the jar. Don’t worry about the brown colour in the kombucha culture-it is excess yeast and is harmless. It is advisable to occasionally strain the kombucha liquid in the hotel to filter out the yeast to ensure it is not the dominant player in the culture (to maintain the symbiosis). You can also pat down the SCOBYs with paper towels to remove excess yeast (ensuring that all utensils and hands are very clean!). It is better to not seal the jar when you are storing the cultures to ensure airflow to the culture. A coffee filter or cloth secured with an elastic band is adequate (don’t use cheesecloth- fruit flies can penetrate the tiny holes!)

  2. Emma says:

    Hi Jody,
    Love all of the info. I have a question for you. A few months ago I stopped making my kumbucha and put my SCOBY and baby SCOBYs in a container with the left over kumbucha in the fridge. Would it still be good if I wanted to restart making kumbucha? How do I know if it’s bad?

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Emma, thanks for you interest and question. Although I have heard success stories with refrigerating SCOBY culture, it is not advisable. Refrigeration renders the bacterial component in the SCOBY too sluggish (slow to produce acetic acid) to adequately acidify the kombucha resulting in a moldy batch of kombucha. According to Kombucha Kamp’s “The Big Book of Kombucha”, “When the new batch is started, the bacteria are sluggish and cannot protect the brew, often leading to mold within the first couple of cycles”. At this point, the best you can do is try with your refrigerated culture and cross your fingers. You will know it is bad if you see mold. If you are successful, it is best to start a hotel with extra SCOBY s and starter tea. Also try to rotate the SCOBYs so as to not overtax the culture (approximately every 10 batches)

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