How to Make and Maintain the Perfect SCOBY Hotel
Once one has gotten going with kombucha brewing with your first mother SCOBY, and it has started to produce baby SCOBYs, it is important to store these in a SCOBY hotel.
This is because SCOBY cultures do get old and lose their vitality. One can also accidentally kill a culture (for example by putting it in tea that is too hot, or by exposing it to antibacterial soap). Therefore it is a good idea to always keep extra ones on hand in a storage container.
This will also allow you to swap out your brewing SCOBY for the whitest, thickest and healthiest SCOBY in storage to carry on brewing with, ensuring that you are always making batches with a strong culture.
Another advantage to having a SCOBY hotel is that it is a great source of extra sour, strong starter liquid. This is especially useful if you like your kombucha on the sweet and mild side. If you stop your brews before they get sour, this means that your starter liquid is not very acidic. Having acidic starter liquid is very important because it protects your new brews from mold, and contamination from foreign bacteria.
Refrigeration vs SCOBY Hotel
If you want to take a break from Kombucha and pause your production for a few days, weeks, or months, the best options is to use a SCOBY hotel to store your SCOBYs in between brewing cycles. Some people put their SCOBYs (or kombucha brews) in the fridge to pause the fermentation for short period of time.
You may be able to get away with this for a few days or even a few weeks, but we don’t recommend using the fridge to ‘pause’ your fermentation. The cold temperatures in the fridge cause the bacteria to become nearly inactive, which may allow mold to develop on the Kombucha when you start brewing again. It may also take a couple brew cycles before the refrigerated SCOBYs start producing good-tasting Kombucha again.
In a pinch, you can put your SCOBYs in the fridge (yes, I have done it myself for about a month), but it’s risky and, I posit, not really worth it. Just create a SCOBY hotel and you’ll have no problems pausing Kombucha production for months if you have to.
How to Make a SCOBY Hotel
Setting up a SCOBY hotel is not too complicated. Your SCOBYs will need to be entirely covered by a strong sweet tea base, brewed with either black tea or green tea, to ensure they have adequate nutrients available to them while in storage.
What You Will Need to Create Your Hotel
- A glass storage vessel, of similar dimensions to the ones you brew with
- Sweet tea base (made with either black or green tea)
- Spirit vinegar to sterilize the storage vessel, and maybe add to the starter liquid
- Starter liquid at a ph of 2.5 (mature fermented kombucha)
If possible, the container should be the same circumference as the vessels which you use to brew with. This way SCOBYs which you take out of storage to brew with will fit nicely into the brewing container.
However if you only have a container which does not have the same circumference, that is not a problem. If the SCOBY is smaller than your vessel, it might take slightly longer to ferment. If it is larger than your vessel, and you have to fold it to get it in (this is fine, the SCOBY will be none the worse for wear), you may find that your ferments mature faster, as the SCOBY to tea ratio is larger.
1. Prepare a batch of sweet tea
Following the 1 gallon water:1 cup sugar: 8 tea bags ratio, and preparing enough to fill the storage vessel approximately one third full, make a batch or sweet tea from either black or green tea. Let the tea stand to cool until it is at room temperature.
2. Thoroughly clean your glass storage vessel
Do not use antibacterial soap, as residue from this can damage the bacteria within the SCOBY. Use warm water, and soap if necessary. You may need to scrub the sides clean of any build up. Then rinse out your storage vessel with pure spirit vinegar. This will remove any soap residues present.
3. Mix your starter liquid and sweet tea
Mix your starter liquid and sweet tea together. The ratio between starter liquid and sweet tea should be 50:50. The ph level of your starter liquid should be at 2.5 – quite sour. If it is not acidic enough, you can add pure spirit vinegar until the ph has dropped.
4. Fill vessel with liquid
Pour an inch or two of your cooled sweet tea base and starter liquid into your SCOBY hotel container. Place your extra SCOBY (or SCOBYs), right side up in the container with the sweet tea base. Then gently pour the rest of the liquid in. There should be roughly double the amount of liquid as the amount of SCOBY mass.
5. Secure cloth covering
Now just as you do for your regular batches of kombucha, securely fasten a cloth covering, over the opening of the SCOBY hotel.
And Voila! SCOBY hotel complete. Putting the SCOBY hotel together is almost exactly the same as making a new batch of kombucha. However, where you keep it and what you do with it are slightly different.
Where To Keep Your SCOBY Hotel
Once you have set up your SCOBY Hotel, you must decide where you want to keep it. The ideal place is somewhere dark and cool. This will make the stored cultures get a bit sleepy and go slightly dormant. While you do not want them very dormant, as they must be active enough to revive quickly when taken out to brew with, slightly less active is good because they do not need to be fed so often.
When deciding where to store your SCOBY hotel, look for somewhere that is:
- Out of direct light, or even in the dark
- A cool temperature, preferably 50o – 55o Fahrenheit (10o – 13o Celsius)
- Free of excessive dust or bugs
- Is not exposing the culture to contaminants (such as smoke or airborne chemicals)
You can strike a balance between how dark and how cool you think the storage place should be. The aim of the game is to keep the cultures active enough so that they will produce good ferments when taken out of the hotel (and not take forever to revive), but not so active that you have to feed them all the time and clean the SCOBY hotel continuously.
How to Use the SCOBY Hotel to Store Your Extra SCOBYs
It’s pretty easy. Simply put your extra SCOBYs into the hotel. You can store up to a dozen SCOBYs with a gallon jug — more with a bigger jar. We recommend you keep the hotel ‘pure’ — so don’t put any experimental SCOBYs that have been in contact with extra flavor agents or exotic teas. This will ensure the existing SCOBYs are not contaminated with extra flavorings and your future brews don’t have any odd tastes.
SCOBY Hotel Tips and Tricks
There are some useful things to know about SCOBY hotels.
1. The Formation of a Natural SCOBY Lid
Over time your SCOBY hotel will likely have thick SCOBYS growing near the top. These SCOBYs will help lock in the liquid and slow down evaporation. This is a good thing and means you can go for long periods without refilling with sweet tea (over a month, maybe even a couple months, though we don’t suggest waiting more than 2 months). Even if you get a ‘SCOBY lid’, we recommend you do keep a cloth over your SCOBY hotel though to keep out the pests, though.
2. The SCOBY Hotel Can Go for Several Months Between Refills
The microorganisms in your Kombucha can survive indefinitely in the hotel, provided you keep the hotel in the right temperature (roughly 70-80 degrees) and you feed them every couple months.
3. You Can Cover the Container with a Lid After a Couple Weeks
Your SCOBY will go into maintenance mode after a couple weeks in a hotel. You can cover it with a plastic lid if you wish at this point.
4. Rotate the SCOBYs for Better Health
To keep your SCOBYs primed for action, you can (optionally) rotate them in and out of the hotel every few brew cycles. This keeps all the hotels in the SCOBY active and healthy. You don’t have to do this, but if you want the best performing SCOBYs (rather than waiting a few cycles for an old, inactive SCOBY to produce good tasting brew) on demand, we recommend rotating SCOBYs in and out of the hotel.
5. SCOBYS can last for 12 or more brew cycles
Generally, older SCOBYs don’t do as well as new ones. You’ll typically get a good 10-15 brew cycles out of a SCOBY before it starts to fade. However, some people do use the same SCOBY for years even (this means dozens and dozens of brew cycles with the same SCOBY), so your own mileage will vary.
6. Save SCOBY Hotel Liquid for super powerful kombucha starter
Your SCOBY hotel Kombucha is packed with organic acids, bacteria, and a higher dosage of yeast than regular Kombucha starter liquid. This makes it idea for
1. increasing the yeast content of your first ferment if you use it
2. a kick start for those with shorter brewing cycles. Some brewers want to brew short first ferments which means you don’t get full powered Kombucha starter when you keep doing short brews (i.e. saving the weaker kombucha from the shorter brew for the next brew cycle). If this is the case, use starter from the SCOBY hotel.
3. increased alcohol content. If you are trying to increase your alcohol content in Kombucha, using Kombucha Hotel starter adds more yeast.
4. More potential Carbonation in second ferment. Using SCOBY hotel starter may give you more carbonation during the second ferment phase, if you start the first ferment with it (you will have more yeast in your brew).
5. SCOBY hotel liquid is also useful if you want to do experimental first ferment flavorings. You can substitute in juice in place of the Kombucha tea. However, the risk of contagions is higher, so using a super powered starter (like SCOBY hotel starter) lowers the pH and adds more culture to this brew. Basically, you have less chance of mold developing or getting a bad brew.
How to Maintain Your SCOBY Hotel
While the stored SCOBYs can be left unattended for quite long periods of time, they do need to fed with fresh sweet tea. The hotel also needs to be cleaned periodically.
Feeding the Hotel Guests
Your SCOBY guests need to eat too! Here’s how to do right by them so they’ll want to stay happy and healthy.
When to Feed Your SCOBYs
The SCOBYs in the SCOBY hotel will need to be fed every 6-8 weeks. The exact time period depends on how dormant the cultures are.
If they are in a cool temperature, and in the dark, then you can allow a little more time between feeds. You may be able to get by feeding them every 2-3 months.
If the temperatures are quite warm though, and you are struggling to find a cool enough place for the hotel, then the SCOBYs will be more active and will need to be fed sooner.
Generally though, we recommend starting at about a month between feeds and increasing the time. It’s better to feed them sooner than later and you don’t want to starve your cultures by going too long between feeds.
How to Feed Your SCOBYs
You have two options here:
- Add 1-2 cups of white sugar to the SCOBY Hotel. Advantage: Super quick way to provide the SCOBYs with food.
- Top up the SCOBY hotel with sweet tea base. Advantages: Supplies sugar and the nutrients from the tea. Also tops up the liquid level in the SCOBY Hotel.
If you need to quickly feed the hotel, simply adding the 1-2 cups of sugar is fine. If you have extra sweet tea from making a new brew, or you feel that the liquid level needs to be topped up and the SCOBYs need the tea nutrients, then adding more sweet tea is a good idea.
Cleaning the Hotel
You’ll need to do some hotel cleaning once in a while.
When to Clean the Hotel
Your SCOBY hotel should be cleaned every 8-12 weeks. This is important because the SCOBYs need the change of tea to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need, and cleaning the hotel keeps the yeasts down. If left to their own devices, the yeasts can become more dominant than the bacteria, resulting in an unbalanced culture which can lead to fermentation frustration!
How to Clean the Hotel
Cleaning the hotel is pretty simple, and should not take you too long.
- Make a batch of sweet tea.
- Remove the SCOBYs from the hotel, and place them in a glass bowl filled with a little kombucha. If you see that there is a lot of brown yeast strings attached to the bottom layer, you can wash them off with distilled water, or if the layer is looking very old, peel or cut it right off. For a guide on how to divide SCOBYs, check out How To Divide A SCOBY (Remove Baby from Mother) or How To Cut A SCOBY In Half.
- Trim SCOBYS: sometimes you need to trim the SCOBYs. This may be to cut down the size of the top SCOBYS which form the SCOBY lid (to let oxygen into the liquid for the other SCOBYs), or it may be to prune dead parts of the SCOBY off, or to remove excess yeast bits on the SCOBY/s.
- Filter Excess yeast: Pour the hotel’s liquid through a strainer into another glass container. This will remove free floating yeast strands, and any dead material which may have collected at the bottom. Combine this liquid, with the sweet tea, mixing it 50/50. This will be what you refill the hotel with. If there is any left over, you can keep it in a jar to use as some nice super strong starter for your next batch of kombucha.
- Rinse the storage vessel with warm/hot water. You may have to scrub the sides with a brush or even a little soap.
- Rinse the vessel with spirit vinegar.
- Add the new liquid and SCOBYs.
- Replace covering (in a couple weeks when the yeasts have converted most of the sugar, you can replace the cloth lid with a plastic lid if you wish, to reduce evaporation).
Note, you can find more tips about trimming your SCOBY and maintaining your hotel with our other article about Creating SCOBY Hotels.
And that is that! : )
The SCOBY Hotel F&Q
Here are some common questions (and the answers) about SCOBY hotels.
How to Store Your SCOBYs in the Hotel
Simply put your SCOBYs that you are not actively brewing with into the hotel.
Where Should I Store the Hotel?
Put it somewhere out of the sun, away from drafts, and isolated from potential contaminants (such as garabge, fruits, bread, other fermented products such as kefir or fermented veggies, smoke, and pollutants).
How Long Between SCOBY Hotel Hotel Feedings?
- In warmer temperatures (80 degrees+), between 1 to 1.5 months
- In cool to mild temperatures (70-79), 1.5-2 months
- In cool temperatures (60-70), 2-3 months
Do I Have to Put in Sweet Tea?
Not always. You can add in half a cup or a cup of sugar to the liquid IF you don’t want to brew a full batch of tea. The sugar will ‘feed’ the SCOBYs and can work as a quick ‘interim’ feed between regular feed cycles. This is NOT a long term solution, however. SCOBYs need tea to survive; by failing to replenish the liquid with tea, you are essentially depriving the SCOBYs of part of what they need to live.
Can I Put Experimental SCOBYs Back into the Hotel?
If you’ve been using a SCOBY for experimental brews, you should NOT put the SCOBY back into your main SCOBY hotel. It will bring back flavor agents into the hotel and possible affect the health (and taste) of the other SCOBYs when you use them for new brews. If you want to preserve that SCOBY, I recommend creating another SCOBY hotel for the ‘contaminated’ SCOBYs.
– infused first ferments (adding flavor agents to the first ferment)
– experimental; ingredient replacement during first ferment
*replacing tea with juice
* replacing the sugar with alternate sugar source (molasses, honey, maple syrup, or raw fruit)
* using a herbal tisane in place of regular tea
– coffee kombucha
How Many SCOBYs Can You Store in a Single Hotel?
Many! This depends on the size of the hotel jar. The larger the size, the more you can store. Typically, I find a 1 gallon container 3/4 full of tea can easily store 10 SCOBYs. I’ve put in up to 15 SCOBYs in such a jar. I recommend though stick to about 8-10 per 1 gallon jar.
What Tea to Use for the SCOBY Hotel?
I recommend sticking to an all black tea (SCOBYs seem to do best in this) or a 60-40 mix of black tea and green tea. Don’t use exotic teas for your hotel. The whole idea is to give the SCOBYs a place to rest.
What Sugar to Use for SCOBY Hotel Sweat Tea?
Use organic refined white sugar. Again, we want to make it easy for your SCOBYs, especially as they will be mostly dormant for long periods of time. Adding in complex sugar sources or hard-to-beak-down sugar types is asking for catastrophe here.
What is the best temperature for the SCOBY Hotel?
We recommend a cooler temperature. Somewhere 50-60F. This is cool enough where your SCOBYs do just fine, but they are mostly inactive. While your SCOBYs will mostly deactivate after the first couple weeks of fermentation (as they break down the sugar and new tea after your add in new sweet tea), the fermentation process is slowed down even more with cooler temperatures. Storing your hotel at about 50-60F means you may be able to go 2 or 3 months (or more) without having to refill your hotel with new tea.
In warmer temperatures, your SCOBYs will be more active and they will consume the sweet tea nutrients faster, meaning you’ll have less time to go between feeding your SCOBY (every 1-2 months).
Keep in mind the time between feeding your SCOBYs in the hotel will change depending on your specific SCOBY cultures, how many SCOBYs you have in the hotel, the amount of sweat tea, the type of tea, the strength of the tea, the type of sugar, and the room temperature.
Do Bigger SCOBY Hotels Need to Be Feed More Often Than Smaller Ones?
Yes, more SCOBYs packed into a jar will burn through the sugar and tea nutrients faster. But if you feed your SCOBYs every month or two, this shouldn’t be an issue. If you want to leave your SCOBY hotel for 6 months without feeding them, then it’s a different story.
SCOBY Hotels Mean SCOBY Security
Having a SCOBY hotel full of plump healthy SCOBYs means that you can play around and take chances by brewing your cultures in herbal teas, coffee (to find out how to make coffee kombucha have a look at this post) or even juices! It also means that the dreaded ‘moldy SCOBY’, ‘fruit fly infestation’ or ‘foreign bacteria invasion’ suddenly don’t sound so alarming when you have extra cultures on hand.
For those of you who want to try cooking with SCOBYs or using them in cosmetic department, a SCOBY hotel is a must for storing the extra cultures until you are ready to use them. For more idea on additional uses of SCOBYs, have a look at What To Do With Extra SCOBYs.