7 Reasons Not To Keep A Kombucha SCOBY Hotel

A mason jar filled with kombucha SCOBYs

Most home brewers still transfer their SCOBY from one batch to another with almost a religious belief that somehow it contains some extra power which can only be passed on by its addition into a new batch of sweet tea.  For this reason the SCOBY has become a hallowed and sought after ingredient in the kombucha making process.  

Some brewers recommend that you remove the old SCOBYs from your kombucha and save them in a jar called a SCOBY hotel.  This is basically a jar filled with sweet tea or kombucha that contains several old SCOBYs stacked one on top of another.  The thought is that if you need a SCOBY for some reason you will always have one available. 

There are several reasons why this is not a good practice and is basically a waste of time and effort.  Here are six of the main reasons why storing old SCOBYs in a SCOBY hotel is not worth the trouble. 

Maintaining a SCOBY hotel takes time 

A SCOBY hotel needs to be maintained. It needs proper care otherwise the culture in the jar will become weak and ineffective.  To properly maintain a SCOBY hotel it needs to be fed at regular intervals.  The old liquid in the jar needs to be removed and replaced with new liquid with some sweetener in it to feed the culture in the jar.

As the number of SCOBYs in the jar increases so does the rate the liquid needs to be changed, increasing your work with every new SCOBY in the hotel.  

A SCOBY is not needed to make kombucha

It is a common myth that a kombucha SCOBY is a necessary ingredient to making good kombucha.  The truth is that most commercially made kombucha is made without using the SCOBY produced from a formar batch.  Rather the culture is propagated by using only the liquid starter from the former batch.  They do this to maintain consistency in flavor and fermentation time.

A SCOBY is not a living thing, nore is it special or unique to kombucha, rather it is a pecille which is a formation of cellulose produced by the culture found in the kombucha starter.  It is believed to be formed from biofilm which thickens as it is exposed to the air and grows from the top down.

If the culture has the bacteria which produce the biofilm which a SCOBY is made up of it will produce a new SCOBY every batch.  All that is needed is the starter liquid from a previous batch of kombucha and a new SCOBY will form on the surface of the container making all the extra SCOBYs in your hotel irrelevant.  

There are many ways to get another SCOBY

Some advocates of the SCOBY hotel recommend the saving of old SCOBYs so you can always have a replacement ready if something goes wrong and you need a new one or if you want to start another batch of experimental kombucha which you haven’t tried yet.

If you feel you still need to have a SCOBY for every new batch of kombucha then there are many ways you can get another in short order.

  • Buy a bottle of raw kombucha and use the little SCOBY found in the bottle to start a new batch.  
  • Use a vinegar mother instead
  • Use some kombucha from any previous batch 
  • Ask a fellow kombucha brewer for one
  • Make one from scratch

For a full explanation of how you can make your own kombucha SCOBY checkout this article here.

Each of these solutions to not having a SCOBY if your main kombucha batch fails are better than having to maintain a SCOBY hotel for two reasons:

If your main batch failed your method of kombucha brewing needs refinement

If your main kombucha batch fails then you have a serious problem with your method of making kombucha.  It is rarely the case where a culture gets contaminated with spoilage bacteria and yeast for no reason.  Usually the problem comes from improper methods while making kombucha.  Not keeping equipment clean, not using enough starter fluid or not securing the top to prevent unwanted bugs and debris from entering the brew.

A new SCOBY will not fix these problems and if you have problems with your main kombucha brewing method why do you think your method of maintaining a SCOBY hotel will be better?  Although kombucha is a fairly straightforward fermentation it still takes time and attention to maintain consistent results.

A failed batch of kombucha is seldom the result of a one time event

If your kombucha gets moldy, does not acidify properly or just tastes off somehow it is seldom the result of a one time event.  Instead it is a problem which has been growing for a while.  

The culture may become infected with unwanted bacteria or yeast which inhibit the growth of the culture which makes for good kombucha.  At first it may not be noticeable but as time passes it can get worse until finally it stops working or is bad enough for you to notice.

If you keep a SCOBY hotel as a backup for this purpose you will be adding a SCOBY to your hotel after every few batches of kombucha.  When you add the contaminated SCOBY to your hotel it will infect the culture in the jar.  This will make all your SCOBYs in the jar unusable.

Experimental batches can be made using kombucha from a previous batch

If you want to start a new experimental batch of kombucha you only need a little kombucha in a mason jar.  You can start an experimental batch of kombucha with a half a cup of kombucha this way.  

This is much easier and produces a better, more consistent result in your experimentation than digging out an old SCOBY from a jar in the cupboard and using it.  An old SCOBY may have a higher than normal acid content, have flavors from previous batches which can be unpleasant or have a high amount of dead yeast on them which can alter the flavor of your new experimental batch.

To get the best idea of what your experiment tastes like you need to control all the variables you can.  One of which is the flavor added by an old SCOBY.

Storing extra kombucha SCOBYs takes up valuable space

If you are into fermentation then you probably have several different things fermenting away in the cupboard; milk kefir, sauerkraut, pickles and maybe even water kefir or ginger ale.  Each of these takes up space in the cupboard, some of which need to be stored for longer periods of time.  With each jar of unused SCOBYs in your kitchen your capacity to experiment and try new things is lowered.

Although making kombucha is a fun and interesting pastime it does have a fairly large footprint in the usable space in the kitchen.  A warm cupboard, location on the fridge or on the counter.  By adding extra jars filled with unused SCOBYs its footprint gets larger for no reason.

There are better uses for the extra kombucha SCOBY

With every batch of kombucha you will get another SCOBY.  It just grows on the surface of the fermentation without any help from you.  So rather than treating it as a precious resource why not use it for something.  There are several things SCOBYs can be used for.  For a list of interesting ideas read this post here.

A kombucha SCOBY is a cellulose mat which has dead bacteria and yeast in it.  As a result it is a good source of B vitamins and can feed the healthy microbiome in your gut.  It can contain several probiotic species which make it a good addition to smoothies or other blended drinks or sauces.  The natural acidity of the SCOBY adds a tangy flavor to any recipe.

The SCOBY inventory will just continue to grow

With every batch of kombucha a new SCOBY will grow on the surface of your kombucha brew.  This new SCOBY grows where the liquid comes in contact with the air on the container and can grow up to a ¼ inch thick in a short 7-14 day fermentation time. 

So for each new batch of kombucha you will get another SCOBY.  If you make a new batch of kombucha every two weeks or so then you could have saved over 25 SCOBYs.  What are you going to do with 25 SCOBYs?  You will have to have several jars filled with SCOBYs in your cupboard taking up space and time which you should be using for other purposes.

Michael Grant

Mike has been an enthusiast of fermentation for over ten years. With humble beginnings of making kombucha for himself to the intricacies of making miso, vinegar and kefir. He makes a wide variety of fermented foods and drinks for his own consumption and family and friends. Being a serial learner he began experimenting with a wide variety of fermented products and learning widely from books, online from content and scientific studies about fermentation, its health benefits, how to use fermented food products in everyday life and the various techniques used to produce them both traditionally and commercially. With a focus on producing his own fermented products in an urban environment with little access to garden space he began Urban Fermentation to help others who want to get the benefits of fermentation in their lives. He provides a wide variety of content covering fermented drinks like kombucha and water kefir, milk kefir and yogurt, vinegar production and lacto-fermentation such as pickles, sauerkraut for those who have to rely on others for food production. With an insatiable hunger to know more about fermentation from all nations and cultures he also has learned to make natto, miso and soy sauce, with more to come as the body of knowledge about fermentation is constantly expanding and becoming more popular as time passes.

Recent Posts