Should you refrigerate SCOBYs
or SCOBY hotels?
If you’re wondering what a SCOBY hotel is, it’s essentially just a storage vessel to keep all your extra SCOBYs that you aren’t actively using to brew a batch of kombucha. For full details on SCOBY hotels and all the amazing things they can do to upgrade your brewing process, check out this post.
People often wonder if it’s safe to store SCOBY hotels in the refrigerator — and the answer is generally yes, but I don’t recommend it because it introduces unnecessary risks to the brewing process.
Those who like to refrigerate their SCOBYs typically argue that hotels are safe to store in the refrigerator because the pH of the SCOBY hotel is low enough to ward of bacteria, mold and harmful pathogens. That’s true in many cases, but not all cases (depending on the strength of your SCOBY hotel).
Why is room temperature best for SCOBY hotels?
Kombucha fermentation happens ideally between 73-78 degrees F. You can learn more about temperature here, but that’s basically the sweet spot where the culture thrives and is actively acidifying the tea. The more acidic the tea gets, the more resilient it makes your culture. Even if you leave the tea to acidify for a few months at room temperature, that just means your culture is even more resilient and even more prepared to brew a new batch of kombucha whenever you do come back to it.
What happens when you refrigerate your SCOBY hotels?
The bacteria and yeast cultures go into a state of dormancy, so while the liquid may technically be acidic enough to ward of harmful mold/pathogens, the vessel, the dry surface of the SCOBY at the top of your vessel may not be. And if it’s exposed to common kitchen mold (which is almost unavoidable in many kitchens), that exposes your SCOBY hotel to mold. If you’ve ever left a moldy piece of cheese, some rotten veggies or a carton of spoiled milk in your fridge (it happens to all of us!), that’s usually not a big deal, but is it really worth exposing your SCOBY hotel to that? SCOBYs and starter liquid can also absorb odors and bacteria from raw meat or seafood stored in your refrigerator. Not yummy.
Since SCOBYs thrive at room temp and you may be introducing more risk and potential problems with your brew by keeping it cold — I just don’t personally think it’s worth it to take up valuable refrigerator space on a vessel that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Plus, if you keep your SCOBYs in the fridge — whenever you do decide to use them, it typically takes a few brewing cycles to get the SCOBY/starter tea to “wake back up” and get re-acclimated to being at a warmer temperature. That means you might end up with a few batches that don’t ferment properly and have off-flavors, batches that don’t acidify quickly enough and get moldy, or batches that don’t carbonate properly. A SCOBY/starter tea kept at room temperature doesn’t have to go through any of that — it’s ready to go whenever you want to use it. That means less time wasted, and fewer kombucha ingredients wasted and a smaller likelihood of bad kombucha batches.
But what about if your hotel smells?
A lot of people like to keep their hotels in the fridge, because as their hotels acidify, the smell intensifies as well. It can smell very vinegary and pungent at times. If that’s not your jam, I recommend picking up one of these activated charcoal packets.* I keep them near my brew vessels, and they absorb and neutralize those pungent odors without releasing any fumes or chemicals that could harm or hinder fermentation.
If you’re insistent on keeping it in the fridge…
If I still haven’t convinced you or if you live in a very hot climate where keeping it at room temperature results in acrid or overly astringent-tasting kombucha, then it's fine if you'd like to store your SCOBY hotel in the refrigerator. Just follow these tips:
Keep it covered with a non-porous lid to prevent it from absorbing odors, bacteria from raw meats or mold from other foods.
Don’t tighten the lid all the way — just keep it “fingertip tight,” to allow a bit of air to escape. As carbon dioxide may continue to build up in the vessel over time, you don’t want the hotel to be over-pressurized.
When you do decide to brew a new batch with a refrigerated SCOBY, give it at least a few days at room temperature to acclimate to the warmer temperature and wake back up before you brew a new batch with it or add it to sweet tea. Depending on how long it’s been refrigerated and how resilient your SCOBY is, it can take up to a couple weeks for it to be back to full strength. If you brew a batch with it, and it’s not acidifying quickly enough, just be on the lookout for mold. Add extra starter tea to help the pH drop even faster if needed.
If you do encounter mold, check out my tips on how to spot it and what to do here.
*On this page, you’ll find some affiliate links to sources where I’ve purchased my ingredients/materials that I use. I may get a small cut of Amazon's profit for finding + recommending them to you. It won't cost you any more than you’d normally pay for them. I went through a lot of trial and error to find low-cost, high-quality options to save us all money. But feel free to purchase from wherever you like!