Have you been brewing kombucha and getting a baby SCOBY with each batch? Are you being overrun by SCOBYs and don't know what to do with them? Check out this SCOBY hotel guide.
In this guide, we will talk about:
What is a SCOBY?
SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Colony (or Culture) or Bacteria and Yeast. It is the culture used to brew kombucha.
It has been called a mother or a mushroom (it's not a mushroom, by the way) or a pellicle. It's mostly made of cellulose produced by the bacteria and yeast.
Every time you make a batch of kombucha, you are most likely getting a new baby layer or SCOBY.
The baby SCOBY forms at the top of your brew and takes the diameter of your brewing vessel.
It can be thick or thin, depending on the temperature and other factors. Whenever you disturb your kombucha brew, the baby layer at the top will stop forming, and a new layer will form instead.
The picture below is a super thick SCOBY from a SCOBY hotel.
The SCOBY can look smooth or even bumpy. It might even look different from batch to batch.
It might be light or dark, depending on the type of real tea you used. Green tea tends to produce lighter coloured SCOBYs than black tea.
It can be attached to the mother SCOBY or not.
Regardless of how the baby SCOBY looks, the important thing is that your kombucha tastes good. That's how you know that your brew is going well and the SCOBY is still viable.
What are those brown stringy bits on the SCOBY?
The SCOBY might have brown stringy yeasty bits that hang from the side of it or at the bottom. That's OK, just remove these brown bits from the SCOBY with clean hands the next time you make a batch.
Tip: You can use the yeasty bits to make kombucha sourdough starter.
These brown bits are not mould. Mould is usually green and fuzzy and would appear at the top of the brew. If ever you do get mould, you'll have to toss the entire batch. Thus the importance of having backup SCOBYs in a SCOBY hotel! So read on.
What do I do with baby SCOBYs?
You may have been brewing for a few cycles now, and are getting a new baby SCOBY with each batch. You now have a few options:
- Keep the SCOBY layers together. Just use both in another batch.
- Use the baby for a new batch. Throw away or compost the mother SCOBY.
- Start another brewing jar with a baby SCOBY.
- Give away a SCOBY (plus starter liquid, of course) to a friend.
- Make SCOBY fruit leather.
- Start a SCOBY hotel to store extra SCOBYs.
What is a SCOBY hotel?
If you want to keep excess SCOBYs healthy and in case something goes wrong with your main brew, I suggest starting a SCOBY hotel.
The SCOBY hotel is the place where your SCOBYs rest. Mine is usually full - no vacancy! 😉
A SCOBY hotel is just another jar with your extra SCOBYs stored in some kombucha or sweet tea.
How do I start a one?
I typically brew in a half-gallon mason jar. (My kombucha brewing guide is here.) So I have another half-gallon mason jar as my SCOBY hotel.
You can use any size glass jar that you have as long as all your SCOBYs would fit in it.
Place the extra SCOBY/s inside the clean mason jar, and add ½ cup - 1 cup of plain raw kombucha from your previous batch. Add more as necessary to keep all the cultures submerged.
Cover the hotel jar with a thick weave dishcloth and hold it in place with an elastic. I like doing this to allow the SCOBYs to breathe. (This means that a baby SCOBY layer would form at the top of your hotel over time.)
Place the hotel in a cool dark place away from direct sunlight. I just place mine right next to the other kombucha jars brewing.
I wouldn't refrigerate or freeze the hotel or the SCOBYs. This avoids the SCOBYs from going dormant and avoids them being susceptible to mould.
How do I take care of a SCOBY hotel?
Keep all the SCOBYs submerged in liquid. Since I use a dishcloth, some liquid will evaporate over time. Add some more plain kombucha if that happens.
If your SCOBY hotel is really full, you may find that you'll need to push down the SCOBYs from time to time. Don't let them escape! Hahaha. The SCOBYs still produce carbon dioxide and the air may push one or two up away from the liquid.
I also like to clean out the hotel jar every couple of months or so. I just get another clean jar and with clean hands, transfer the SCOBYs one by one, checking each and removing any brown yeasty bits as necessary.
It is also important to "feed" the SCOBYs to keep them healthy. I add some fresh sugar tea to the hotel to keep the SCOBYs happy. Or sometimes I just "top up" with freshly harvested plain kombucha. You can do this at the same time you clean out the hotel.
The older liquid that came from the hotel, I typically just store in a smaller bottle and use as kombucha vinegar. It is strong! It can even make for strong starter liquid for a new kombucha batch, but beware, since it is strong, your brew will probably ferment faster than usual.
How long does a SCOBY last?
The SCOBYs are very hardy and can last for a very long time given proper care. Feed the SCOBYs in the hotel regularly with sweet sugar tea or plain kombucha to keep them healthy.
I find that the longer the SCOBY is stored in the hotel, the darker it gets.
When a SCOBY looks really dark, I usually stop using it for active brewing. It can still be used though. This is just my preference to keep the amount of SCOBYs in the hotel manageable.
When you use a SCOBY and it doesn't ferment your kombucha anymore, then you know it's time to replace it with another one.
When would I use a SCOBY from the hotel?
You may want to use a spare SCOBY to:
- start an experimental brew - trying out a herbal blend or some other flavoured tea
- start another kombucha batch so you have multiple batches going on at the same time
- replace a SCOBY in use with one from the hotel
- start a new batch in the odd case that your kombucha got mould. Again, I can't stress this enough, when you get mould, the entire batch needs to be tossed, kombucha, SCOBY and all.
- give to a friend (with some starter liquid and brewing instructions)
- make SCOBY fruit leather
- toss in the kitchen compost bin
- compost in your garden, acid-loving plants like a SCOBY fertilizer
I hope these tips help you as you continue on your kombucha brewing adventures.
Tell me in the comments below, do you have a SCOBY hotel and what do you do with your extra SCOBYs?
Have more questions about your SCOBY hotel, please let me know below and I will try my best to answer them.
Want more kombucha recipes and information? Check these out:
- Kombucha Brewing Guide
- Orange Cardamom Kombucha
- Watermelon Kombucha Shake
- Pineapple Kombucha Green Smoothie
- Kombucha Sourdough Starter
- SCOBY Fruit Leather
- Kombucha Resources
- Online Kombucha Workshop
If you'd like a virtual kombucha workshop, let me know!
- Glass mason jar
- Tight-weave dishcloth
- 1-2 cups kombucha plain
- 1-2 cups sweet tea optional
For Sweet Tea
- 2 cups water filtered
- 2 green tea bags
- ¼ cup organic cane sugar
How to start a SCOBY hotel
- In a clean mason jar, add the SCOBYs.
- Pour enough the kombucha into the jar to fully submerge all the SCOBYs. Add sweet tea if necessary.
- Cover with the dishcloth and place elastic to keep dishcloth in place.
- Keep in a cool, dark place. Do not refrigerate.
Maintaining the SCOBY hotel
- Keep the SCOBYs submerged in liquid. Push them down or add more plain kombucha.
- Every 4-6 weeks or so, clean out the hotel and "feed" the SCOBYs with kombucha or sweet tea.
- Use another clean mason jar and transfer the SCOBYs one by one.
- Clean the brown yeasty bits from the SCOBYs as they are transferred.
- Add enough kombucha and/or sweet tea to keep all the SCOBYs submerged.
- Cover with the dishcloth and elastic.
Making Sweet Tea
- In a small pot, heat water to just about boiling.
- Add green tea bags and steep for about 5 minutes or according to tea bag suggestion.
- Remove tea bags and add sugar. Stir to dissolve.
- Let cool before adding to SCOBY hotel.
- I use a 1.9L or half-gallon mason jar.