Whether you buy a SCOBY or grow your own, there may come a time when you need to keep a SCOBY alive while not actively brewing. This means it’s time for a SCOBY hotel! This guide will give some background on what exactly a SCOBY is, explain how to start a SCOBY hotel, and finish off with some tips for cleaning and caring for your hotel.
First, What’s a SCOBY?
The SCOBY is the key piece that allows fermentation to happen. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony (or Culture) of Bacteria and Yeast. Essentially, it is a large, living mass of bacteria and yeast that feeds off of the sugar in tea, leaving you with a delightfully sour kombucha.
The SCOBY will take the form of a rubbery, pale mass that typically floats on top of the kombucha. During the fermentation process, it is not uncommon for new layers to form on top of the existing SCOBY. These layers can be split off, essentially forming a new SCOBY, which can then be stored separately.
And What’s a SCOBY Hotel?
A SCOBY hotel is a temporary home that keeps the SCOBY alive, without actually making kombucha. It’s basically a glass jar that’s large enough to hold the SCOBY and a small amount of tea. This will allow the SCOBY to continue to feed, while not actively fermenting a whole batch.
How to Make a SCOBY Hotel
Starting a SCOBY hotel is quite simple. All that’s needed is a SCOBY, a jar, some fresh sweet tea, and a cloth covering like one used for larger kombucha brews. Make sure the jar is sanitized, then add the SCOBY into the jar. Add a cup or two of kombucha, and a cup or two of sweetened tea. This isn’t an exact amount – the goal is simply to have enough liquid to cover the SCOBY. Remember you’re not trying to create more tea, just giving your extra SCOBY(s) a little to snack on.
Place a thick cloth over the SCOBY hotel and tightly seal it around the edges with a rubber band or string to keep fruit flies out. Place the jar in a cool place out of direct sunlight. A good spot is wherever you brew your kombucha. If it won’t fit there, just make sure it’s not too warm and away from direct sunlight.
Some brewers keep the hotel in the fridge, but this can be risky. The cooler temperatures may slow the growth of the SCOBY too much, causing it to eventually die. It may be okay to use refrigeration for a short amount of time, but it isn’t considered ideal.
Be aware that you are in control of how large you want each SCOBY to be. You can choose when to separate layers to form different chunks, like in the photo above. If you don’t actively keep things separated, new layers will continue to grow on top of each other. While this isn’t a problem, having neatly separated SCOBYs is useful if you plan on giving them away or starting new batches of kombucha.
Keeping Your SCOBY Hotel Healthy
While relatively maintenance-free, SCOBY hotels do require some upkeep. If left unattended, the SCOBY will consume all of the sugars in the surrounding tea/kombucha, and the liquid can also dry up. Over a period of time, either of these can cause the SCOBY to eventually die. With those pitfalls in mind, there are two main maintenance items that need to be done: feeding and cleaning.
Feeding is relatively straightforward. Simply add some sweetened tea to the hotel in order to feed the SCOBY(s). This can usually just be done during the cleaning process, but if the liquid level gets low in the hotel, it is a good idea to add some sweet tea. Again, don’t worry about any kind of exact measurement, since it will depend on the size of your SCOBY(s): you just need enough to keep everything covered.
Cleaning Your SCOBY Hotel
Cleaning a SCOBY needs to be done every month or two. The yeast build-up will indicate when it’s time to clean. Yeast build-up comes in the form of long brown stringy bits, which often hang off the bottom of the SCOBY or collect at the bottom of the container. These are normal but will need to be cleared out regularly to keep the SCOBY hotel healthy.
To clean the hotel, first remove the SCOBY and place it in a sanitized container. If it has a lot of yeast clinging to it, give it a quick rinse to remove the yeast. Cover the SCOBY with a thick cloth to protect it from fruit flies. Carefully strain the kombucha through a sieve to remove the yeast bits, reserving the liquid. You will want to add some of the kombucha back into the hotel later.
Clean and sanitize the hotel jar, replace the SCOBY, and add 1-2 cups of the original kombucha into the jar. Top it off with roughly a couple cups of sweet tea, cover it, and voila! You now have a clean and happy SCOBY hotel.
The excess kombucha removed from the hotel can also still be used! This very strong acidic brew can be utilized to help kickstart another fermentation, or utilized as a vinegar.
To use the vinegar in recipes, simply use it in place of balsamic or apple cider vinegar when making vinaigrettes, sauces, or any other recipe calling for vinegar. The tart sweetness of kombucha vinegar works well with many foods, and it can be used for other applications as well. Some people have found success using kombucha as a face cleanser and a cleaning product around the home. Whatever use you find for it, there are plenty of reasons to not throw it out!
How Long Will My SCOBYs Last?
There is no set amount of a time that a SCOBY will stay healthy and active. Theoretically, the SCOBYs in a hotel could remain healthy for years. However, there are a few things that will kill or shorten the lifespan of a SCOBY. Drying out due to lack of liquid will almost certainly destroy the SCOBY, so make sure to check the liquid levels frequently and add sweet tea as needed.
Too much yeast is also problematic, and can kill a SCOBY, which is why regular maintenance is needed for long term storage. You should also monitor color and potential infections from pests like fruit flies. A darker colored SCOBY may be alive and able to ferment, but the chances of success are lowered. All of these problems can be avoided by following proper practices, allowing SCOBYs to prosper for a very long time.
Summing Things Up
While making kombucha is fun, sometimes your SCOBY can become too large (or you just need a break!), which is where a SCOBY hotel becomes useful. A hotel allows you to safely store a healthy SCOBY until you’re ready to brew more. Storing SCOBYs like this also makes it easy to share a SCOBY with a friend or family member looking to brew kombucha. No matter the reason for starting your hotel, make sure to keep it clean, fed, and well hydrated!