After your first few brews you will start to accumulate more SCOBY than you can use. This is when you need to start your first SCOBY hotel!
SCOBY hotels are safe places where you can store your SCOBY. It’s a large vessel with the sole purpose to keep your SCOBYs healthy and happy. It keeps them alive and fresh until they are ready to be used or given away.
This way, when your original mother begins to lose its vitality, you have another healthy SCOBY ready to go.
Unlike other fermented foods, such as kefir, kombucha can remain viable for months on end. You don’t need to worry about feeding them regularly as you would with kefir grains.
The SCOBY hotel only requires occasional maintenance as well as a liquid top-up every few months. Let’s learn how to make your first hotel!
Why Should I Bother With A SCOBY Hotel?
This is a valid question. Why not just use the new baby SCOBY for every new batch you make?
Well, here are a few reasons:
- SCOBY hotels are perfect for experimentation
- SCOBY hotels make a potent starter liquid
- They are perfect for anyone who wants to take a break from brewing
- You can cycle each SCOBY
There are a lot of “rules of thumb” when it comes to to brewing kombucha. I have lots of people asking if they really need to follow these rules. My answer is always: of course not!
Feel free to experiment!
Flavor your main batch. Put your SCOBY in the fridge. Use crazy recipes with exotic ingredients. Just make sure you are using a spare SCOBY from your SCOBY hotel. You don’t want to have to buy a new SCOBY every time your experiment goes wrong.
Want a shorter brewing cycle? What about a kombucha with higher alcohol and more carbonation? Using starter liquid from the hotel will give you both of these (more on this below.)
Most of us can’t keep up the brewing cycle for ever. We either get tired, or maybe we just go on vacation for a couple months. Either way, the SCOBY hotel is the perfect solution. You don’t have to worry about taking a few months off, your SCOBY will be perfectly happy resting in the hotel.
Finally, cycling each SCOBY will ensure you are using the strongest SCOBY for each brew. I will cover this topic in detail below.
Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? Let’s find out how to make your first hotel!
How To Create Your First SCOBY Hotel
Building your first SCOBY hotel is actually very simple. Here is what you’ll need (I’ve assumed you’re using a 1/2 gallon jar. If you’re using more, just double the recipe):
- Large wide-mouth glass jar (1/2 – 1 gallon will be fine)
- Cloth cover with elastic band
- 2 cups of mature kombucha
- 1 tablespoon Loose-leaf black tea
- 1/2 cup raw cane sugar
- 6 Cups of filtered water
1. Prepare Your Hotel Jar
The first stage of your hotel is very important. We want to make sure the glass jar is completely free of any pathogens or mold spores.
Rinse out the jar with hot water and wash using soap. Some brewers worry about using anti-bacteria soap with their kombucha equipment, but I’ve never had an issue. Just make sure you thoroughly rinse your vessel before use.
If you are concerned, you can always use kombucha vinegar instead.
3. Place Your SCOBY Inside The Jar
Next, using clean hands, place your SCOBY inside the jar. This is also when you want to cover the SCOBY with your mature kombucha.
Mature kombucha can be taken from your last brew. Try to take the kombucha from the top of the vessel instead of the bottom where at the spent yeast hang out. This way you will have the best balance between yeast and bacteria.
4. Brew Your New Sweet Tea
Just as you would if you were completing your batch brew, prepare your sweet tea to add to the hotel. If you’re using a 1/2 gallon vessel you will need about 1/2 cup of sugar with at least 1 tablespoons of loose-leaf black tea. Brew the tea in 6 cups of water.
Use filtered water if you have it (it’s fine if you don’t.)
Once your tea is finished brewing, let it cool to room temperature. Do not place the sweet tea directly into the vessel! This will definitely harm your SCOBY as well as increase the chance of your vessel cracking due to the rapid change in temperature.
Let your sweet tea cool to room temperature before putting it into the hotel
5. Cover You Hotel And Place In A Safe Location
The final step in the process is covering your vessel. Most people use either a cloth cover or coffee filters secured with elastic bands.
The only thing you have to watch out for here is to not use cheese cloth. The loose weave isn’t tight enough to prevent fruit flies.
If you are using coffee filters, be sure to double up for extra protection.
If you let the hotel sit undisturbed for a few weeks a thick layer of SCOBY will develop. This cuts off the evaporation process as well as cutting off the supply of oxygen. It’s also an added defense mechanism against any harmful pathogens that may want to enter the hotel.
Similar to your other brews, you want to keep the hotel somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight. As long as the hotel is at room temperature it should be fine.
Do NOT Store Your SCOBY In The Refrigerator
SCOBY is a hardy organism. If left alone under certain conditions it doesn’t need much to survive. However, there are a few ways you can really harm your SCOBY.
The most common way is through refrigeration.
The need to refrigerate food is habit so ingrained in us that it feels weird to let anything sit on the counter for months on end. This is why so many people make the mistake of refrigerating their SCOBY.
I know you may have heard others telling you they’ve been refrigerating their SCOBY for years and nothing bad has happened. But the fact is, cooling your SCOBY is completely unnecessary.
Plus, there’s definitely a risk that your SCOBY will be weakened to the point where it’s susceptible to mold. It doesn’t always happen on the first brew, but if you use the same SCOBY for a second or third brew the chance of mold is increased significantly.
With no upside, and only risk, I see no reason to store your SCOBY in the fridge.
Do NOT Dehydrate Your SCOBY
Again, I don’t know where this myth started, but it’s completely unnecessary. SCOBY can be perfectly happy for months of end if you maintain your hotel correctly.
Dehydrating your SCOBY is going to have the same effect as stressing your SCOBY by placing them in the fridge. The flavor profile will be completely off and you will most likely end up with a moldy batch of kombucha.
SCOBY Hotel Maintenance
SCOBY hotels are generally very “hands-off.” However, they do require some maintenance every so often. Basically, we have to feed the yeast and bacteria, trim the SCOBY, and occasionally remove some excess yeast.
How To Trim Your Extra SCOBY
When a SCOBY is allowed to grow over long periods of time it can get BIG! We have the same problem with SCOBY hotels as we have with continuous brewing: the SCOBY becomes too big over time and restricts the oxygen flow to other parts of the kombucha.
When the oxygen level is cut off completely, the yeast and the bacteria slowly begin to die. Obviously, we want to avoid this.
This is why, every once in a while, we want to remove the large SCOBY and trim it down.
How do we know when to trim the SCOBY?
I like to trim my SCOBY when they grow bigger than 2 inches in thickness. With my hotels, this means I’m trimming and cleaning every few months.
Here’s what you’ll need to trim your SCOBY:
- Cutting board
- Serrated knife
- Large bowl
1. Remove Your SCOBY From The Hotel
With clean hands, pull your SCOBY from the hotel. You don’t have to worry about being overly gentle. Place the SCOBY in the bowl to let some of the liquid drain off.
You may have to trim multiple SCOBY at the same time. I find it easier to remove all the SCOBY and place them in the bowl.
If any are looking particularly old, feel free to dispose of them in the garbage. Or you can even feed it to your dog or chickens.
2. Trim Off Excess SCOBY
Ideally, we want to keep the fresh SCOBY in our hotel if possible. This means we want to cut away any part of the SCOBY that is dark brown.
As the SCOBY ages, it soaks up more and more tannins from the tea. Therefore, you can usually judge the age of the SCOBY by its color.
First, try to peal off any of the new growth from the old SCOBY. You may find that it peels off easily, or you may need to bring in the knife and scissors. If your SCOBY is really big, you can try and hold it down while slicing horizontally with the knife.
Don’t worry about keeping the SCOBY in any particular shape. You can’t really hurt the culture through cutting it with knifes or scissors. As long as bits and pieces of the SCOBY are returned to the hotel you will be fine.
The yeast and bacteria will form a new layer in the shape of the vessel over time.
Before you put the SCOBY back into the hotel, it’s a good idea to strain out any of the excess yeast.
How To Strain Excess Yeast From Your SCOBY Hotel
We always want to do our best to maintain the balance between the yeast and the bacteria. The kombucha usually does a good job of keeping each in check. But, after a while, the yeast begins to overtake the bacteria.
This is when we need to step in and remove some of the older yeast from the hotel. The good news is, it’s pretty easy to do! As the yeast gets to the end of its life cycle, it grows darker in color and drops to the bottom of the vessel. This is the yeast we are looking to remove.
I like to strain out some of the excess yeast every time I trim my SCOBY. It makes it easy because the SCOBY is already removed and ready to be put back in.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Large, fine-meshed sieve (metal is completely fine)
- Large container for the liquid
1. Pour The Yeast Through The Sieve Into The Large Contianer
The sieve should be fine enough to filter out any of the large strands of yeast but still allow plenty of yeast to pass. We’re mainly concerned with filtering out the yeast that is floating in the bottom of the hotel.
2. Clean The Hotel
Now is a good opportunity to scrub down the inside of the hotel. This cleaning process also removes some of the older yeast that is stuck on the bottom.
You can use hot water and kombucha vinegar if you’re not comfortable using anti-bacteria soap.
Avoid using vinegar as it creates a risk for vinegar eels.
If you see that one of your SCOBY is becoming overcome with yeast, feel free to scrape most of it off. Too much yeast build-up isn’t good for the overall balance of your hotel.
How To Feed Your SCOBY Hotel
As long as you are keeping your hotel at room temperature your SCOBY will remain alive and well for at least a few months. This is also assuming your SCOBY has grown enough to seal off the container – slowing evaporation of the kombucha.
Even with the SCOBY sealing the container, it’s likely the kombucha will slowly evaporate over the period of a few months. This is when you’ll have to refill the hotel with a fresh batch of sweet tea.
The sweet tea not only provides the much needed fluids, it also provides some fuel for the yeast. The yeast will break down the sugars for the bacteria and the cycle will continue!
Cycling Your SCOBY For The Best Tasting Kombucha
Another huge benefit of maintaining a SCOBY hotel is the potential for maintaining a SCOBY rotation.
SCOBY is only good for about 10-15 brews (sometimes even less) before it gets tired and worn out. When it reaches this point, the quality of the kombucha begins to suffer.
You may find that you are able to achieve the same level of sour to sweet ratio as before. The kombucha will tend to remain on the sweet side as the SCOBY has a harder time breaking down the sugars.
Some brewers like to rotate around every 5 batches.Whereas some brewers like to rotate SCOBY with every batch in order to only work with the freshest of SCOBY.
Personally, once I’ve found a mother SCOBY that is providing me with the flavor profile I enjoy, I stick with it until it gets tired. I’ve had some mother SCOBY that lasted over 15 brews, while some have quit before 10.
Cycling SCOBY also has the upside of keeping the hotel environment dynamic. Through cycling SCOBY, the hotel is introduced to new cultures of bacteria and yeast levels. This helps keep the overall health of the hotel balanced.
Hotel Starter Liquid
You will find some of the strongest start liquid within the SCOBY hotel. Because there is so much SCOBY and it has so long to sit, the kombucha in the hotel will be very strongly fermented.
This makes it the perfect candidate for starter liquid when you want a faster brewing process. In the same way as continuous brewing, where we slowly strengthen the liquid over time to decrease the brewing time, using hotel starter fluid will take days off the length of the brew.
Use SCOBY hotel starter liquid for a faster brew
If you are constantly reusing the same kombucha as your starter liquid you will likely find that the brewing length increases over time. This is because the bacteria count is lowered after multiple brews.
If this is the case, just use a little bit of starter liquid straight from the top of the hotel. You will find that using less starter liquid from the hotel than you typically would produces a stronger tasting kombucha.
I recommend using 25% less starter liquid if you are using the potent buch from the hotel. If you use too much, there is the risk of your kombucha turning sour before you get a chance to taste it.
Another upside to using hotel starter liquid is you don’t have to save any of the brewed kombucha for the next batch! The more kombucha we get to drink the better!
Keep in mind that with stronger starter liquid you will likely have a higher alcohol content in your kombucha. The extra yeast will produce more alcohol in addition to increase the carbonation during the second ferment.
How Much SCOBY Can Fit Into A Hotel
The easy answer is: lots!
I’m usually able to fit 6 SCOBY easily into a 1/2 gallon jar. If you have a 1 gallon jar you will be able to fit at least a dozen (if not more) SCOBY.
Just keep the SCOBY nice and trim every few months. This way you will only have fresh and healthy SCOBY ready and waiting in your hotel.
Can I Use A Lid On The SCOBY Hotel?
Yes, after a few weeks of the SCOBY hotel being up and running you can replace the cloth lid with a plastic screw on lid.
This helps keep the SCOBY in the fermentation phase and prevents the unnecessary evaporation of liquid from the hotel. I like to keep the lid off for around 3 weeks to a month to give the initial stages of fermentation enough oxygen to function.
I hope I’ve answered all your questions about the SCOBY hotel. If you have anything else you’d like to know, I’ll try my best to answer them in comment section below. Remember, kombucha is all about experimentation. If things don’t work out straight away, just keep trying!