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.
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.
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:
- Always include an adequate amount of starter tea to the sweetened tea along with the SCOBY.
- Keep the kombucha brew away from other fermentation projects to avoid microbial cross-contamination.
- 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.
- Use clean containers and utensils.
- 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) :
- Bring a gallon of water to a boil.
- Add 4-5 black tea bags (or the equivalent in loose tea)
- Let steep for 5-10 minutes
- Remove tea, add 1 cup of white sugar. Stir to dissolve.
- Let cool to room temperature. Pour it glass container (Hotel).
- Add SCOBY (s)
- Add 1 cup starter tea (reserved kombucha from a previous brew)
- Cover with a cloth or coffee filter. Secure with a rubber band
Click here for the full tutorial on how to make kombucha.
- Use a large, clean glass jar. Any size will do, depending on the number of SCOBYs you wish to store.
- Keep the jar covered with a tightly woven cloth, secured with a rubber band, or mason jar ring.
- If possible, try and store the Hotel in a slightly cooler temperature to slow down the activity of the kombucha culture.
- 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 .
- 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.