blog

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

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

Subscribe For My Newsletter Updates

Join 1000+ readers for exclusive food fermenting tips delivered straight to your inbox

Subscribe
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.

 

 

20 Comments
  1. Clara says:

    Hi Jody,

    I’ve got a scoby hotel with 2 mother scobys and a fair few baby scobys which grew in there. My scoby hotel sits in the same place as my kombucha during its first fermentation. However, the kombucha seems to only get a very thin baby scoby during the first fermentation (7-10 days), whereas in that time a large, thick scoby will have grown in the hotel. Is this because the starter liquid in the hotel is stronger due to their being multiple scobys in there, or do you think I’m doing something wrong with the kombucha?

    Thanks in advance!

    Clara

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Clara

      Thanks for your interest and question. Glad to hear your kombucha cultures are healthy. As you know, with each new batch of kombucha, a new SCOBY is formed. It is always thin. Thick SCOBYs are the result of using the same SCOBY (mother) repeatedly. The newly formed SCOBYs generally attach to the mother SCOBY which results in a thicker SCOBY. If you look closely at the SCOBYs in your hotel, you might be able to see the lines of the baby SCOBYs that joined to the mother.

      Alternatively, I have also noticed that if I leave my SCOBYs in the hotel for an extended period of time, they will become thicker. It might be as a defence mechanism as one of the purposes of a SCOBY formation is to seal off the surface of the brew to defend against pathogens.

      It sounds like everything is going well with your cultures. Don’t worry about the thickness of your SCOBYs. Size doesn’t matter (LOL)! As long as you get a new SCOBY with every brew, the brew becomes “vinegary” and no mould forms, you are good to go!

  2. Eva says:

    Question I accidentally put the scoby in the hot tea, I then realised that was wrong and fished it out, do you think it might still work? Also, I kept some kambucha in the fridge for a few months (sealed bottle). There is now a jelly like settlement at the bottom, can I use that start a ne scoby? Sorry I’m very new to this! Thanks

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Eva! Thanks for your interest and questions! #1- It is likely you killed off the microbes in your kombucha culture, but give it a try and see if there is any activity- sometimes these microbes are more robust than we give them credit for. If after a week, there is no activity (no film of SCOBY formation, no sourness, bubbles) then we can assume the culture was killed off. On a positive note, it sounds like you have a wild culture forming in one of your bottles- you can use this to start a new batch. It will need the liquid it is currently in as well to help out

  3. Lucy says:

    Thank you, this is extremely helpful. I have a scoby currently in a jar with plenty of tea and space. Can I use that for the hotel? The scoby formed from the original start tea that I left in a cold dark place.

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Lucy- Thanks for your interest and question. Congrats on the birth of a new SCOBY! This is a common occurrence in kombucha that has a robust community kombucha culture as well as an easy way to obtain a SCOBY. You can use this jar and starter tea as a hotel, but I would also had some fresh sweet tea to help feed it over its rest period in the hotel. Also make sure that it isn’t too cold where you are storing the hotel as it can have adverse effects on the kombucha culture. Aim for a temperature of at least 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit)

  4. Rach says:

    Thank you for your post! Very helpful. After the first fermentation of my scoby (12 days at room temp) I then stored in the fridge, however the jar was not sealed to my horror! We have been away so I put the whole jar, scoby and all, into the fridge to slow down the fermentation process. Now I am home and I have learned the jar was not closed properly ( but did have a muslin cloth and rubber band on top) for a month. Is it still ok? It looks fine and smells as a scoby should- but I worry that being open all that time in the fridge it may have picked up bacteria/ tastes of other things in the fridge? Will be so sad to have to get rid of it……thank you x

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Rach- Thanks for your interest and question. First, I would not advise storing your kombucha culture in the refrigerator. This culture generally does not react well to low temperatures and can be very sluggish when taken from cold to warmer temperatures. When the culture is sluggish, its slow activity produces less byproducts, rendering the kombucha brew less acidic. This is when contamination can occur as pathogens that would normally be killed off by the kombucha’s acidity begin to thrive. As for if your cultures are contaminated, if you kombucha was active and healthy, it should be fine. Start a new batch and see what happens. If mould occurs, the culture is dead and you will need to dispose of it and obtain a new one.

  5. Tammy says:

    Hi Emma,
    I have been brewing for over a year. I have strained out the excess yeast in my SCOBY Hotel once, but I feed with new sweet tea every two months. I have a LARGE number of SCOBYs in the hotel. I have only thrown out a couple to make more room in the hotel. I tend to reuse the older SCOBYs in each completed brew many times before I discard and seldom draw from the hotel. How many SCOBYs should I keep in the hotel and for how long? How often should I strain out the excess yeast in the hotel?

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Tammy- thanks for your interest and question. I can’t really comment on how many SCOBYs you should keep in a hotel. It depends on the size of the container and the ratio of of SCOBYs to starter liquid. Remember that the starter liquid is key to an optimal ferment, not the SCOBY itself. In fact, in theory, you could use starter tea alone without the SCOBY to begin a new batch of kombucha since the culture is found throughout the liquid forms the SCOBY as a protective barrier and to be closer to an oxygen source. In summary, it is important to also have a good amount of backup starter tea on hand, as well as extra SCOBYs. It is also a good idea not to overuse the same SCOBYs as they can become weaker with age. In regards to straining excess yeast, you can judge this by the quality of the ferment. If you notice that the fermentation time has sped up or that the taste is off, it could be that the yeasts are dominating over the bacterial component of the culture.

  6. Steph says:

    Hi Jody,
    Can I keep on adding new scobies to my scoby hotel? If so, what’s the process for adding additional scobies?
    Thanks!

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Steph- thanks for your interest and question! Yes, you can keep adding SCOBYs to the hotel, but always make sure you also have a good amount of starter tea in the hotel as well. The starter tea is where the most potent cultures reside. It is also a good idea to top off your hotel every month or two with sweet tea. I have hotels that go back a few years and the cultures are still robust.

  7. Roth says:

    Jody, thanks for the hotel info and process. I am on my 3rd batch as a newbie and I keep reading that you should get a new baby SCOBY after each brew cycle. So far, I have only watched my original mother SCOBY grow thicker and thicker, with no discernible baby SCOBY. Why is this? It has always been a top floater. Thanks for any tips.

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Roth- thanks for your interest and question. Your brew is producing a baby SCOBY- it is remaining attached to the Mother, which is why the Mother is getting thicker. Alternatively, sometimes the baby SCOBY is a very thin membrane on the surface and can be overlooked. The SCOBY is produced by the kombucha culture to be closer to a source of oxygen, and simultaneously seals off the brew from pathogens. If you are reaching an acceptable level of acidity (under 4.6, I personally like mine a little more vinegary (at around 3.2)), and your SCOBY is thickening, fermentation is occuring. There are many factors that can affect the fermentation time such as temperature, strength of culture, ratio of culture to sweet tea, and the ratio of bacteria to yeast within the culture, so I recommend tasting it after a week to discern the level of sweetness. If none of these factors are an issue and your brew is no longer successful, the culture could be “tapped out” and should be replaced with a new culture. This is where the SCOBY hotel comes in handy for backup cultures. I hope this helps- give us an update on your next brew!

  8. Debi Kissick says:

    Hi Jody,
    I have neglected my SCOBY Hotel and today found mould on the top SCOBY. Do I have to throw the whole thing away with the other SCOBYs that don’t have mould. Can I still you the liquid from this hotel to save the SCOBYs. Or will it contaminate it.

    1. Jody Gowans says:

      Hi Debi- thanks for your question. Sorry to hear about the mould. The majority of time, once there is mould found in a SCOBY, the entire brew is contaminated. You might be lucky that the starter liquid below the SCOBYs is acidic enough that the mould didn’t survive below the surface of the SCOBYs. You definitely need to throw out the SCOBY’s at the top. You can try to reserve the SCOBY at the bottom with the starter liquid and try a new batch. You can also throw out all the SCOBYs to be extra cautious and try a batch with just the starter liquid. If the new batch doesn’t produce a new SCOBY (it will be thin), or mould shows up again, the culture is dead and you will need to start over with a new culture. In the future, try and keep the SCOBYs submerged in their liquid to maintain acidity on the surface to prevent mould. Good Luck!

  9. 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!)

  10. 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)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe For My Newsletter Updates

Join 1000+ readers for exclusive food fermenting tips delivered straight to your inbox

Subscribe