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SCOBY Hotel Maintenance

Long Term Maintenance SCOBY Hotel from Kombucha Kamp

The SCOBY Hotel is an important resource in every Kombucha brewer’s tool box. Since a healthy Kombucha culture reproduces with each batch, it would be foolhardy not to keep a few around in case mold strikes. Plus, with all the great uses for extra SCOBYs you never know when one will come in handy.

So you followed the instructions in our SCOBY Hotel video and made your hotel, but now your SCOBYs have been in there for awhile. What happens next? Can they just hang out in there forever?

Unlike other more delicate cultures such as milk kefir or water kefir which will disintegrate and disappear if not fed regularly, the Kombucha culture is a very hardy organism and can remain in stasis for extended periods of time. This is in part due to their very protective pH (2.5-3.5), making Kombucha one of the safest ferments to brew at home.  However, the SCOBY hotel does need to be maintained from time to time to ensure that the cultures remain viable after weeks, months or even years!

As the name implies, the SCOBY is a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. Although the bacteria and yeast live in symbiosis, they are also in competition. Our role as brewers is to maintain balance by nurturing the bacteria and removing excess yeast. This same principle applies to the hotel.

Perform maintenance on your hotel every 2-6 months or when you observe a build up in yeast to keep your cultures healthy, happy and ready to brew at a moment’s notice. Remember, never store your Kombucha SCOBYs in the fridge as the bacteria may go deeply dormant or perish, leading to flat, weak flavor and usually mold.

Hotel Maintenance

Yeast Removal

Yeast are a vital part of the Kombucha fermentation process as they provide carbonation and nutrition for the bacteria (and humans!).  They are the brown clumps or strands that hang from the SCOBY and ultimately accumulate on the bottom of the vessel once they’ve completed their life cycle. It is important to remove some of the yeast to prevent the symbiosis from getting out of balance.

As always, start with a clean space. Wiping down counters with (Kombucha) vinegar water and using clean towels and utensils is a crucial step to prevent contamination.

  1. Remove the cultures from the hotel into a separate bowl or vessel. Cover immediately with a cloth or lid to prevent fruit fly contamination.
  2. Filter the liquid of the hotel through a strainer, sieve or cheesecloth into a clean container. The yeast strands are large and will not pass through the sieve, but there is more than enough yeast in the liquid and SCOBY. (Bonus Tip: Save the filtered yeast to make Kombucha Sourdough starter!)
  3. Now you have potent starter to get new batches going (see below). Reserve a portion of this starter liquid to return to the hotel.
  4. Rinse the hotel jar with hot water to remove all traces of yeast from the bottom and sides of the vessel. If it has been a while, a good scrubbing may be needed.
  5. Once you have completed SCOBY Thinning & Trimming (see below), place the SCOBYs back into the hotel jar or use a clean jar. Add fresh sweet tea until the jar is about half full, then top off with the potent starter to provide a protective pH and prevent mold. The mix of starter to sweet tea should be about 50/50.

KKamp does not recommend rinsing the cultures to remove all of the yeast as some yeast is required to obtain carbonation. We simply want to reduce their number to maintain balance.

Hannah Crum, the Kombucha Mamma!Kombucha Mamma Sez: “**MYTH BUSTING** Kombucha is NOT harmed if it comes into brief contact with metal. Kombucha IS a powerful detoxifier and if brewed in inappropriate vessels (i.e. leaded glass, any metal other than 304 stainless steel), Kombucha will chelate toxic elements into the brew. However, incidental contact with metal strainers, spoons, knives or scissors is not a cause for concern as there is not enough time for the KT to detox anything from them. Stainless steel 304 grade is safe for brewing Kombucha as it is highly corrosive resistant and is also used in the beer, wine and vinegar brewing industries.

 SCOBY Thinning & Trimming

Kombucha loves to GROW! Even in the hotel, a new layer will form across the top. The longer it sits, the thicker the layer. If the SCOBY gets too thick, fresh oxygen cannot reach the liquid below. Thinning or trimming it down to a smaller size will keep the oxygen flowing and prevent stagnation.

  1. Remove the thick top layer from the vessel.
  2. First, see if it’s possible to simply pull the layers of SCOBY apart with your hands. If it formed in thin layers, they may peel easily or even rip at times but you cannot hurt the SCOBY this way.
  3. If you cannot rip it apart, sanitize a pair of scissors or serrated knife with Kombucha vinegar or distilled vinegar.
  4. Either trim the culture with scissors to reduce the width/thickness or slice the culture in half with the serrated knife, SCOBY flat on the cutting board with hand over the top as knife works horizontally through the thick SCOBY like a bread roll.
  5. Discard any soft, gelatinous edges or unwelcome bits as needed.

Freshly trimmed pieces of healthy SCOBY culture make excellent bandages for cuts or burns or can be tossed into the blender to make SCOBY face cream.

Using Your SCOBY Hotel as a Source for Potent Starter

With so many cultures in such a small space, the liquid in the hotel will become super sour. Go on, take a sip or a whiff – I dare you! Kombucha face is guaranteed.

One option for maintaining the hotel as you go is to use this sour KT as starter for your batch brews. This is an especially important tip for those batch brewers that prefer a short brewing cycle for their Kombucha. Using starter liquid that is only 5 or 6 days old for one batch is fine – doing that for multiple batches in a row may dilute the strength of the bacteria and result in dominant yeast and off flavor.

Consider letting an entire gallon batch go to vinegar, then converting that to your SCOBY Hotel and using 1 – 1.5 cups of liquid from the top of the Hotel as starter liquid for the next batch. You don’t have to add sweet tea back in each time, but after a few batches you will want to replenish the Hotel and give it a chance to convert that sugar, which it will do quickly.

This method allows you to use all of your batch brew at bottling time, which means more Kombucha to drink (bonus!), plus keep your backup SCOBYs happy and ready to go on a moments notice.

SCOBY Rotation

Some brewers prefer rotating SCOBYs through their batches and Hotel, taking both the starter liquid and a SCOBY from the Hotel for the new batch and returning the previously used SCOBY (and maybe also the new baby) to the Hotel until needed. This creates a dynamic Hotel environment which keeps more cultures vibrant and active while also providing rest periods which may benefit the cultures.

Other brewers prefer to keep one SCOBY going from batch to batch once they have found a balance and flavor they like. Each brewer must find their own rhythm and discover what works best in their environment and with their SCOBYs. Enjoy the journey & Happy Brewing! :)

Hannah Crum, the Kombucha Mamma!Hannah Crum is The Kombucha Mamma, founder of Kombucha Kamp, Industry Journalist & Master Brewer, educating others about Kombucha since 2004. Connect with her on Google +