What do I do with my Scobys when I want a break from making kombucha?
Well, the first question to ask yourself is how long a break do you want? Are you going on holiday for a couple of weeks and need to know that your scoby will still be alive when you come back? Or are you looking for a longer break? Maybe you like kombucha as a summer drink, but just don’t drink cold drinks during winter, so you want to keep your scoby safe through winter until springtime.
For short breaks, you can just put all your scobys together into a big jar of sweet tea on the bench – just like brewing kombucha, but for longer.
This is called a scoby hotel. It is a good solution for short or medium term storage (up to about six months).
Keep reading for how to make a scoby hotel, and also how to store your scoby for longer periods of time.
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Make a Scoby Hotel
1. Grab yourself a jar like this one. The wide-mouth is important so you can easily get the scobys out again once you’re done.
2. Make up your normal recipe of sweet tea that you use to brew kombucha. (If you need a recipe, I give a cute printable one away when people sign up to my mailing list). You’ll only need about a quart, maybe slightly less.
3. Pop your scobys into the jar and top up with your sweet tea, just like making kombucha. It doesn’t matter if the scobys take up more than half the jar, just so long as they’re covered in the sweet tea. Cover the jar with a soft tight-weave cloth instead of the lid.
4. Leave the scobys at room temperature to do their thing. The kombucha will just get more and more fermented the longer you leave it. Your scoby will be just fine being left in this kombucha brew for anywhere up to about 4 to 6 weeks.
5. When you’re ready to re-start your brew, you will find that you have made a lovely jar of kombucha vinegar (use it like apple cider vinegar), and your scoby will love being put into a fresh batch of tea to start again. Just remember to use a lot less of the starter tea the first time around, maybe a quarter of what you’d usually use, otherwise your first batch will be a bit too tart.
Leave it longer than six weeks?
If you want to leave your scoby longer than about six weeks, you have some decisions to make.
You can either keep your scoby hotel on the bench, as you would for shorter breaks, and refresh the kombucha brew by tipping out the vinegar (save it and use it!) and adding fresh tea every month, OR you can put the scoby hotel into the fridge. Read on for the pros and cons of keeping your scobys in the fridge:
Fridge vs bench
In short, putting the scoby hotel in the fridge will slow things down a lot, meaning you don’t have to keep caring for it. But you may need to re-innoculate with lactobacillus when you restart. On the other hand, keeping it on the bench will keep everything in tip top shape, but you need to keep feeding it – which is the opposite of ‘having a break’ from your kombucha 🙂
If you are keen on reading the science about why the fridge might not be the best place to store your scoby, head over to this article here, where I explore a scientific research paper that says exactly that. Basically, it seems that lactic acid bacteria don’t like being in the cold for too long. It doesn’t mean that they all die, it just means that they don’t wake up easily and quickly – it’s entirely possible that a couple of rounds of fermenting will get them all back up and running again. On the other hand, they might all die after all.
Still, that’s not a total tragedy. It’s possible to add more lactobacillus to your brew by doing a ferment with cabbage leaves in it, as I explain in this post.
So, the pros and cons of long term scoby hotels:
In the fridge
pros – will go to sleep and not need re-feeding more than about once every 4 months or so.
cons – might need to go through a round of fermenting with cabbage to ensure lactobacillus is there. – might take two or three rounds of room temperature fermenting to properly ‘wake up’.
On the bench
pros – This is the temperature that kombucha likes to be at. If fed fairly regularly it should stay perfectly healthy and happy.
cons – Needs refreshing every month or two. If you are prone to forgetting things (as I am), it will run out of food and be finicky/impossible to wake up again. – The longer it sits ignored at room temperature, the more likely it is to be contaminated and get moldy or discovered by fruit flies, especially if your cover is a bit loose or floppy (or a housemate of yours gets curious and then doesn’t put it back on properly)
Longer than six months? Dehydrating, freezing, or just starting over.
You may see discussion around the web on dehydrating or freezing your scoby for long term storage. Of these two, I would only recommend dehydrating.
Freezing a microbial culture in a domestic freezer is not a great strategy. Because water expands when it freezes, the most likely outcome is that the water inside the cells of your yeasties and bacteria will expand as it freezes, killing most of them. When cells are prepared for freezing in the laboratory environment, there’s a whole multi-step protocol that must be observed, involving some chemicals that aren’t super healthy to have in your kitchen.
If you want to try your hand at drying your scoby, then your best bet is to dry several of them. From what I can tell from reading online the resurrection rate of dried scobys is a fairly poor. You don’t want to go through the whole drying palaver for no purpose! I have never dried a scoby, but it looks like its a process that merits an article all of its own. If I ever do it, I shall be sure to write it up for you 🙂
To be honest, if I was going to take a long term break (6 months or more) from making kombucha, I’d just feed my scobys to the compost heap and start again with a fresh new scoby when I was ready – either get one from a friend, buy a starter kit, or grow a scoby from a bottle of bought kombucha.
Note: Make sure that any starter kit that you buy ships from within your own country. Different nations have different rules about importing microbial cultures and you don’t want your new scoby incinerated at the border!
But really, growing a new scoby is straightforward to do so long as the bought kombucha has live cultures in it and hasn’t been pasteurised or anything. Look for keywords like “Raw” in its name
Good luck! Enjoy your break from brewing kombucha!