How to Create a Kombucha SCOBY Hotel (to Store Extra SCOBYs)
Each time you make a batch of kombucha, the SCOBY spawns a new colony. This colony forms at the top of the liquid in the container, and since your SCOBY is already floating at the top, the new colony will usually settle on top of the older SCOBY and create a new layer. That’s why SCOBYs grow thicker each time you use them.
Some people just maintain one SCOBY “mother” and move it to a new brewing jar as soon as the old batch is done. They’ll frequently peel away the older layers from the bottom, where the yeast tends to build up, and leave the newest “baby” layer on the top. While this generally keeps the SCOBY healthy, there’s no backup in case of emergency, and if the SCOBY dies, you’d have to buy a new SCOBY to get started again.
If you have space, a better option is to set up a “SCOBY hotel” where you can store the SCOBYs you’re not using for your current batch.
Why Create a SCOBY Hotel?
Every time you brew a new batch of Kombucha, you end up with an extra SCOBY. Eventually, you will need to do something with those extra SCOBYS. A Scoby Hotel is the best place to store them. Another reason you want a SCOBY Hotel is that you always have a fresh source of backup SCOBYs.
Some reasons why:
- you brew a batch of contaminated moldy kombucha and need to start with NEW Scobys that are untainted
- you want to experiment with making Kombucha Coffee, kombucha without caffeine, experiment with different sugar types (maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses, etc), try out different exotic teas, or just experiment without worrying
- your current SCOBY dies and you need to replace it
How to Build a SCOBY Hotel
The first thing you need to do is FIND a container that will become your ‘hotel.’
Step 1: Find a Container for your Hotel
The container you choose for your SCOBY hotel needs to be:
- large enough to hold the SCOBYs and the liquid to cover them (recommend a 2 gallon jar)
- made out of glass so you can monitor the SCOBYs’ health visually
- easily covered with material that allows good airflow (jar should have a wide top area)
If you’re already using gallon glass jars for brewing kombucha, you can set one aside for your SCOBY hotel. Some people use other containers, like glass mixing bowls or crock pots, but glass jars have an advantage over both: the size of the jar keeps the SCOBY from growing wider than the jars you normally use, and the glass lets you quickly spot any problems like mold or foreign objects in the liquid.
My recommendation here for the best jar for a SCOBY hotel is the awesome Anchor Hocking Montana 2-1/2-Gallon Jar, Brushed Metal Lid that’s $20 bucks on Amazon. At two gallons, it’s big enough to hold quite a few SCOBYs for a long while.
Step 2: Add in Sweat Tea, Starter, and SCOBY/s
Once you have selected your jar:
1) Make sure the jar is clean and dry, and that there is no residual soap scum that will harm the SCOBYs. You can rinse out the jar with distilled white vinegar to get rid of any remaining soap residue.
2) Have your starter and sweet tea ready. Use old kombucha tea with a pH of around 2.5 for the starter, or add distilled white vinegar to plain kombucha tea until the pH is correct. Brew a batch of sweet tea using black or green tea and organic white cane sugar, the SCOBY’s preferred foods. Don’t use herb tea, honey, or any other ingredients. Make a mixture that is half sweet tea and half starter liquid.
3) Pour an inch or two of liquid in the jar, add the SCOBY (or SCOBYs) on top, and then fill the jar with the rest of the liquid. There should be at least twice as much liquid in the jar as SCOBY mass.
4) Cover the jar with the same type of thin fabric that you normally use when brewing kombucha, and secure the material around the top of the jar.
If this sounds like the process for making a batch of new kombucha well, it is! It’s exactly the same process, except you are dumping in your extra SCOBYs into the hotel jar and it will likely contain quite a few SCOBYs (I’ve had 15 or more in a single jar!) and, unlike your regular batches, you won’t be adding NEW sweat tea for 1 to 2 months periods.
Step 3: Store the Hotel in Shaded, Cooler Area
Once you have your SCOBY hotel created as in the steps above, it’s time to STORE your hotel. Two things to consider here, the temperature of the location and how shaded from the sun it is.
Best SCOBY Hotel Temperature?
You can keep your SCOBY hotel at cool room temperature, in a place where it’s relatively dark, with good airflow, and out of the way of any possible contaminants (tobacco smoke, excess dust, moldy fruit, houseplants, etc.). You should find a place where you’re not going to have to move the jar around too much.
Since you want the SCOBYs in the hotel to be more dormant than active, a cooler temperature is better than room temperature. In fact – though there are people who argue against this – you can actually store your SCOBY hotel in the refrigerator. Long-term storage at temperatures below 45F can harm the SCOBY though, so a better place would be in a basement or pantry that stays around 50F to 55F. That’s cool enough to keep the SCOBY dormant, but not so cold to hurt it.
Best Scoby Hotel Location?
Keep the SCOBY hotel out of direct sunlight. If the container is in a warm place, that just means that the SCOBY will be active, and you’ll have to replace the sweet tea and clean the hotel more often. However, direct sunlight will burn the SCOBY and harm the colony. So whatever you do, place it in a location out of the direct sun — preferably in a closet somewhere. Don’t place it near garbage, smoke, fruits, or plants lest you end up with a MOLD infestation.
Maintaining the SCOBY Hotel
Like any ‘hotel’ a bit of maintenance is required from time to time to ensure your Kombucha cultures remain healthy and viable for years to come. Kombucha is quite hardy and can survive for long periods of dormancy, but it still needs to be maintenance once in a while.
1) Top Up Kombucha Hotel with Fresh Sweet Tea Every or Raw sugar (every 4-6 weeks)
You can leave your scoby hotel sitting for months at a time — your SCOBYs in it will go into stasis mode when the sugar runs low — however, at some point the culture does need to eat again. If you leave the SCOBY hotel long enough without a re-feed, your SCOBYs will die.
Refilling your kombucha hotel with food for the SCOBYs is pretty simple — just add in a cup or two of sugar to the mix. This will add a supply of food for your SCOBYs. Keep in mind your tea mixture will get lower and lower as it evaporates in time, so you will need to top that up once in a while as well. Alternatives, instead of adding raw (white) sugar, you can add in more sweet tea to the mix ‘topping it up’. Add this food every six weeks to eight weeks.
After a few months of this though (say after 12 weeks or doing this TWICE), you will want to replace the old sweet tea with a brand new batch of it, remove excess yeast buildup at the bottom, and trim some of the thicker SCOBYs. Count on doing this ‘complete refill and clean’ every 2 or 3 months, just to keep your SCOBY hotel in good order.
How Long Can Your Scoby Hotel Survive Without Fresh Tea?
While I recommend you replace about 80 percent of the SCOBY Hotel liquid with fresh sweat tea every 2 or so months (or at least add in 1 cup of sugar if you don’t want to change the tea), it’s possible that if you just leave your SCOBY HOTEL alone the SCOBY’s will be fine in 4 to 6 months, even without any refill. This is especially true if it’s cooler (cold = scoby is less active). I’ve heard of a few cases where people left a SCOBY in a jar for a year and the SCOBY was still usable.
2) Clean and Refill Your SCOBY Hotel (every 8 to 12 weeks)
This is sort of a spring cleaning of your SCOBY hotel.
You need to do this every 8-12 weeks just to keep your SCOBYs healthy. I recommend if you add sugar or top up your hotel with sweet tea, you do this refill and cleaning after you add sugar or top up with sweet tea for the SECOND TIME. That’s roughy means you will do this every 2 or 3 months. In between that, you will be topping up the SCOBY hotel with fresh tea or adding sugar — once or twice. More is better than less, obviously — so just use my guidelines as a rule of thumb. If it makes you feel more comfortable, do this every month or two months.
While it’s possible you can just abandon your SCOBYs for 6 months or a year by just leaving them in a jar, your cultures may degrade. Healthy SCOBYs mean better tasting, healthier Kombucha.
The Cleaning and Refilling Process
Both live and dead microorganisms from the colony will begin to accumulate at the bottom of the jar over time. Many of these will be the brownish yeast cells that you normally see in kombucha. By cleaning out your SCOBY hotel regularly, you can keep the balance of yeast and bacteria in the correct proportion. You should clean your hotel every six weeks at a minimum, or whenever you see a large amount of material at the bottom of the jar. To clean the hotel, you’ll need:
- a clean glass bowl large enough to hold the SCOBYs
- another clean bowl large enough to hold the liquid from the hotel
- clean cloths to cover the bowls
- extra kombucha tea (unflavored)
- distilled white vinegar
- a fresh batch of brewed sweet black tea
Be sure to wash your hands well before handling the SCOBYs.
As you take each SCOBY out of the hotel, examine it to make sure that it doesn’t have any dead or moldy spots. You can use a stainless steel knife to trim off any ragged edges, if you like. You can also cut or peel off the lower layers that are darker and have yeast strands hanging off them. These are the oldest and least active layers. Keeping the SCOBY to a thickness of about 1 inch will help keep the colony in good shape. If your SCOBY is thicker, you can divide the SCOBY into two pieces.
Put each SCOBY into the clean glass bowl as you finish, and pour a little kombucha over it. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth to keep out dust and insects.
Step 1: Filter the Liquid (removes Yeast Strands)
Carefully pour the liquid out of the hotel through a strainer into the other clean bowl, and cover it with a clean cloth.
You’ll notice strands of the SCOBYs will remain in the mesh material you use to filter — these will be the SCOBY yeast strands (or parts of the SCOBY itself). You can save some of these to use for other purposes (like Kombucha sourdough starter, for example).
Filtering the liquid basically helps remove extra yeast from the SCOBY Hotel (see the REMOVING YEAST section below).
You’ll use some or all of this liquid you filtered through to make the 50/50 mixture of starter culture and sweet tea when you put the SCOBYs back in the hotel. If you have extra, you can use it as the starter culture for a new batch of kombucha tea
Step 2: Clean the Jar
Use hot water to rinse out the jar. If the bottom and sides of the jar are coated with some of the dead microorganisms, and they’re not coming off with a simple rinse, then use a mild soap to scrub the jar, and rinse again with hot water.
Do a final rinse with distilled white vinegar to sterilize the jar.
Step 3: Open the Scoby Hotel Again
Note, if you have some really thick SCOBYs that take up the full top surface of the jar or occupy a significant portion of the space in the jar, you’ll want to trim and think out some of the SCOBYs (see the Trimming SCOBY section below).
Mix equal amounts of the starter liquid and the fresh sweet black tea and pour some of it into the cleaned hotel, then put the SCOBYs back in and cover them with the rest of the mixture. If your SCOBYs fill up more than two-thirds of the jar, it’s better to create a second hotel for the extras, rather than trying to cram them all into one place.
If you have too many SCOBYs and don’t know what to do with them, you can look on line for the kombucha brewing forums in your area, and see if there’s anyone out there who wants a SCOBY (there will be). You can also use extra SCOBYs in a variety of interesting ways. And remember to keep a few for yourself – just in case.
Note, depending on how old your hotel is, you may need to perform additional maintenance as below.
Removing Extra Yeast from SCOBYs
Yeast is important to your culture, but too much of it can cause an imbalance. Remember that SCOBY is a symbiotic relationships between bacteria and yeast. Too much of one creates an imbalance.
You’ll see the yeast strands often hanging from the bottom of your SCOBYs. The strands often fall and accululate at the bottom of the jar. In time, the yeast can build up quite a bit and too much of it can cause an imbalance in the ratio of bacteria to yeast.
Once in a while, you should clean out extra yeast from your Hotel.
How to Trim and Thin-Out Your SCOBYs
You’ll find that the SCOBYs will grow very thick inside the hotel jar. The longer your SCOBYs sit, the bigger and thicker they will grow. Too many thick SCOBYs can block out the oxygen from from the top part to the bottom areas of the jar. Thus, it’s a good idea to trim down some of your SCOBYS so there’s an equal distribution of oxygen in the jar.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Take the top layer of SCOBY from the jar
2. Peel the layers apart. Sometimes you can peel multiple layers off. If you RIP parts of it, don’t worry — you are not hurting the SCOBY. If you can’t peel the layers by hand, take a knife or sizzors, sterilize it with vinegar, then trim the SCOBY — either cut it horizontally or vertically. The goal here is to tim it so it’s thinner.
3. Any extra parts you cut off from the main bunch, you can toss away. By the end of your trimming, you should have multiple thinner scobys, or a couple different ones you cut in half (half the width they were), or a single much thinner SCOBY.
Note: you can use trimmed pieces of SCOBY as new scobies for kombucha brew if you want to.
Using Your SCOBY HOTEL
It’s pretty simple, put any excess scobys you produce INTO your SCOBY HOTEL
Put Extra Scobys into Hotel
What I do is I brew my batch, take the extra scoby (usually the mother but sometimes the baby) and toss it into my SCOBY Hotel jar. When the new batch fineshes and I end up with another baby, I toss the mother into the hotel. I keep on doing this.
Note, you can to ensure your SCOBYs stay their healthiest, rotate between active SCOBYs and SCOBY HOTEL Scobys, just to make sure the SCOBYs are all getting used and exposed to fresh tea and sugar on a regular basis.
Rotate Existing Scobys from Hotel with Fresh Ones
Most people keep two or more SCOBYs in reserve, rotating them out as needed to make tea. The SCOBYs in the hotel are usually more dormant, while the one(s) being used to ferment the tea are in active mode. By rotating the SCOBYs you’ll give them a chance to rest, but also a chance to be active regularly, which will keep the whole colony in better shape.