Brewing kombucha is one of my favorite things to do, but every once in a while I need to take a break. The problem is that the SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) used to make kombucha is a living creature that needs to be fed in order to stay alive and functioning well. So how do we store our SCOBY and keep it healthy while taking a break from brewing booch?
A SCOBY can be stored for up to 6 weeks when in a container with sweet tea, using the sugar and nutrients in the tea as food to stay alive. After 6 weeks, the now sugar-less and vinegary kombucha will need to be replaced with a new batch of sweet tea to keep the SCOBY well fed. It is not recommended to ever refrigerate or dehydrate a SCOBY to store it.
Whether you're going on vacation, visiting family, or just don’t want to brew kombucha for a little while, this article will walk you through everything you need to know to store your SCOBYs so that they're alive and active when you're ready to get back to brewing.
What is a SCOBY?
The SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is a living culture of bacteria and yeast that is used to make kombucha. These bacteria and yeast eat the sugar and nutrients in sweet tea that kombucha starts as and ferment them into alcohol, acids, and carbon dioxide to create kombucha.
When most people speak of the SCOBY, they’re talking about the ¼ inch to 2 inch thick jelly-like disk of bacteria that sits on top of brewing kombucha. This disk on the surface of the booch is actually known as the pellicle.
The pellicle is a mat of cellulose, which is basically a bunch of sugar strung together by the bacteria. If you look at a pellicle through a microscope, you can actually watch the bacteria creating these strings of sugar. It’s pretty cool.
Technically, the pellicle is part of the SCOBY, but it’s not all of it. SCOBY refers to all the bacteria and yeast present throughout the kombucha, including that in the pellicle, but also that floating throughout the kombucha.
How to Store a SCOBY
The SCOBY is a living creature that needs to be fed in order to stay alive and functioning well. When you and I are constantly brewing kombucha, the SCOBY is getting regularly fed and will stay healthy. But how do we store our SCOBY and keep it healthy when taking a break from brewing booch?
Whether you’re going on vacation, to college, or just want a break from making kombucha, it’s important to take care of your SCOBY properly so that its healthy and ready to go when you want to get back to brewing.
If you were to just set your SCOBY aside on a plate or in a jar by itself to store it, it will die from malnutrition, because like all living things, the SCOBY needs to eat.
If you're only pausing brewing for 6 weeks or less, you can just start a batch of kombucha like normal by combining your SCOBY with sweet tea and starter tea, covering the jar, and then leaving it. The sugar and nutrients in the tea should be able to keep your SCOBY fed and healthy for up to a month and a half.
After 6 weeks, most the sugar will be eaten up and the once sweet tea will now be more like vinegar. This kombucha vinegar will be undrinkable, but your SCOBY should be healthy and ready to start brewing again.
If you need to store your SCOBY for longer than 6 weeks, all you need to do is empty ¾ of the vinegary kombucha every 6 weeks and replace it with a new batch of sweet tea. The remaining ¼ of vinegary booch in the jar will serve as starter tea to keep the environment acidic and free of mold.
As long as you're replacing most of the vinegary kombucha with new sweet tea every 6 weeks, your SCOBY will continue to stay healthy and well fed for as long as you want to store it.
How to Make a SCOBY Hotel
Another way to store SCOBYs is in a SCOBY hotel. A SCOBY hotel is just a jar or container full of a stack of extra SCOBYs. SCOBY hotels allow you to have backup SCOBYs ready in case your main one gets moldy or ruined.
As you brew kombucha, your main SCOBY will grow until at some point it's so big that it prevents oxygen from being able to reach the liquid beneath it.
In order to prevent this you can pull apart the old SCOBY layers with your washed hands, or trim them with a pair of scissors or knife that have been sanitized with kombucha or distilled vinegar.
These old layers will then get stacked into a jar full of sweet tea and starter tea, and covered with a coffee filter or cotton rag to form the SCOBY hotel.
Maintaining a SCOBY hotel is similar to storing one SCOBY, except you’re going to want to replace the liquid in it every four weeks instead of six. This is because with a lot of SCOBYs in 1 container, the liquid will ferment faster and the nutrients will be eaten up more quickly.
You can use the super strong kombucha that you drain from the SCOBY hotel every 4 weeks as good starter tea for your brews, or as kombucha vinegar for salad dressings, vegetable glazes, cleaning fluid, skincare, and more.
If you want to learn more about kombucha vinegar and its many uses, you can read the article that I wrote on it here.
How to Store SCOBYs And/Or Make a SCOBY Hotel
1 Cup of Sugar 1 Cup of Starter Tea
1. Brew Sweet Black Tea
The main step to storing SCOBYs or making a SCOBY hotel is to brew sweet tea.
To do this, boil 6ish cups of water, and then remove it from the heat and stir in 1 cup of sugar. After the sugar has dissolved, steep 8 black tea bags for 30 minutes or more. Green tea can work too, but black usually has more caffeine in it and caffeine is an important nutrient for keeping the SCOBY healthy.
The 1 cup of sugar and 8 tea bags is the amount you'll need if you're storing your SCOBY in a 1 gallon jar. If your storing your SCOBYs in a 2 gallon jar, just multiply the amount of sugar and tea above by two.
If you’re using an irregularly shaped container, you can brew the tea to the cup by using the numbers below.
To store SCOBYs in a 1 cup container you need:
0.0625 Cups of Sugar
0.5 Tea Bags or 0.375 Teaspoons of Loose Leaf Tea
0.125 Cups of Starter Tea
Just multiply these numbers by the # of cups you need to make and you'll have the right amount of each ingredient.
As I said before, the tea and sugar will provide food and nutrients for the SCOBY to keep it alive and healthy.
2. Add SCOBY and Starter Tea
Next we are going to add the few cups of sweet tea we just made to the glass jar/container and fill up whatever space remains with water. You can use cold water to help the tea cool down faster.
Once the sweet tea has cooled down to room temperature, add in the SCOBY and starter tea.
Starter tea is just unflavored kombucha from a previous brew that will help create an acidic environment in the hotel early to prevent mold growth.
If you've brewed before and didn't save any starter tea from a previous batch you can use a store bought bottle of unflavored kombucha or a splash of distilled white vinegar to give the liquid some initial acidity.
It’s important to wait until the sweet tea has cooled down to room temp to add the SCOBY because liquid that’s too hot or too cold can shock the bacteria culture.
3. Cover the Jar
After the sweet tea, SCOBY, starter tea, and water have all been combined in your container of choice, cover the top of the container with cloth or old tee shirt and secure it with a rubber band. This will keep fruit flies and other bugs out.
Do not seal the jar with a lid or anything airtight, since we need oxygenated air to be able to flow in and out of it to keep the SCOBY alive.
4. Refuel every 4-6 Weeks
Depending on how many SCOBYs there are in a jar and their activity levels, you’ll need to replace the liquid with new sweet tea every 4-6 weeks.
To do this just pour out about ¾ of the old stuff (it’ll probably smell like vinegar at this point) and replace it with fresh tea and sugar.
Congrats! you're SCOBY/s are now stored and will stay alive and healthy until you're ready to get brewing again.
Can you Refrigerate A SCOBY or SCOBY Hotel?
There are some brewers and brewing guides out there that suggest refrigerating your SCOBY to store it.
Their argument is that by refrigerating it, the slowed down fermentation and activity levels from the cold air will make the SCOBY take longer to eat up the sugar and nutrients in the tea, meaning you don't have to refuel the container with new sweet tea as often.
While this sounds like a good idea, the truth is that refrigerating your SCOBY to store it is not worth the risk, and is likely to do more harm than good.
While it’s true that cold temperatures slow down fermentation, this isn't a good thing. The reason kombucha is recommended to never be brewed in an environment below 65 degrees F (18 C) is that slow fermentation and activity from cold temperatures leads to very few acids being produced. And it’s acids that prevent mold from growing in the kombucha
So by putting your SCOBY or SCOBY hotel in the fridge, you’re slowing down the bacteria culture, leading to a less acidic liquid that will be extremely vulnerable to being ruined by mold. And if mold develops in a SCOBY hotel, all those SCOBYs are ruined and will need to be replaced.
In addition to a greater possibility of mold growth, placing your SCOBY and starter liquid in the fridge could lead to it absorbing odors from any raw meat or seafood stored in there with it.
And even if your SCOBY stays mold and odor free in the fridge, once you take it out it can take a few brewing cycles or weeks to wake back up and reacclimatize to normal temperatures.
This means that you’ll either have to wait a few extra weeks to use it, or you’ll have to be ready a few weeks in advance and take the SCOBY or SCOBY hotel out of the fridge early.
Because if you don't wake it up and reacclimatize it to warmer temperatures, the kombucha won't ferment properly, leading to off flavors and a lack of acidity.
Should You Dehydrate a SCOBY to Store it?
So now we know that refrigerating a SCOBY is a bad idea. But what about another common suggestion for storing SCOBYs: dehydration.
Dehydrating a SCOBY is done by placing it on parchment paper in a warm temperature of 80-90 degrees until it's leathery like beef jerky, and then placing it in a plastic bag and putting it into the fridge.
A dehydrated SCOBY can survive up to 3 months in the fridge, and is then rehydrated to be used to brew kombucha again.
Like refrigeration, dehydrating a SCOBY is just not worth it. Not only is there a high risk of killing the thing when you dehydrate it, but it also takes up to 6 weeks for it to rehydrate and become active again. At which point it likely still wont be as active or vibrant as it was before, leading to poor flavors and a possibility of mold growth.
If you need to take 3 months away from brewing booch and want to store your SCOBY, just use the technique I talked about earlier and you’ll only have to refill the jar one time with new sweet tea.
Or just throw the SCOBY away and buy or make a new one when you’re ready to get brewing again.
Storing a SCOBY isn’t a very complicated process. As long as you replace the sweet tea it’s in every 4-6 weeks, it will stay well fed, alive, and ready to resume brewing when you are.
If you’re going away or not brewing for more than a few months, I would just throw it away or eat it and buy a new one when you’re ready to start brewing again. You can get a SCOBY shipped to you for only $13 on Amazon here, so spending a lot of time and effort trying to keep one alive may not be worth it.
Either way I hope this article could help you out and I wish you the best of luck and happy brewing!
If you want to learn more about kombucha, how it relates to your health, and even how to brew it yourself, be sure to check out the rest of my website!