Kombucha Brooklyn

Wide World of 'Buch

  • Home Brewing Kombucha: Think Outside the Box

     

    There's a lot of focus these days on bottle flavoring and carbonating of kombucha. Especially for those interested in home brewing kombucha, the simple reality is that most people got their start in 'buch through trying store-bought kombucha, making this focus understandable.

     

    The issue I'd like to address is the effect RTD (ready-to-drink) kombucha has on home brewing efforts.



    Pour KBBK 

    Carbonation - Nice, but necessary?

     

    One resounding effect the RTD industry has had on nascent home brewers has been the viewpoint that kombucha is an effervescent beverage. I can't disagree that kombucha is highly desirable and refreshing as an effervescent beverage.

     

    But does it have to be?

     

    The answer is no. Un-carbonated kombucha is just as much kombucha as is carbonated 'buch. Just like un-carbonated water is still water, the carbonated counterpart still tastes fine and is refreshing.

     

    Conversely, think about wine. The majority of wine available is not effervescent at all, but does that mean that champagne isn't wine?

     

    My point is this - as a home brewer, your only responsibility is to yourself, to produce kombucha that you enjoy. To obtain an effervescent kombucha is a fun, often variable process, and a kind of seal of success, but is not necessary. You can flavor kombuchas based on this consideration; one of my favorites is mulled kombucha.

     

    Is it more important to have good flavor or good carbonation?

     

    In home brewing I try to put the greatest emphasis on flavor and let carbonation be a lesser concern, at least for home bottling. People with a keg and CO2 system can achieve carbonation very quickly.

     

    We've all been there before. You are craving a tasty, flavorful kombucha (these are not mutually exclusive) so you head to the RTD aisle at the grocery store. You choose a bottle and go along on your way. Maybe it's too sweet, or perhaps too sour. It might even seem watered down. But hey! It's definitely carbonated.

    The flavor should be spot-on, even if the carbonation isn't.

     

    And it's clear enough RTD kombucha has hardly stepped beyond the constant flavor additions that make kombucha taste exactly like this or that fruit, herb or familiar beverage. Not to say these can't be delicious - but I'm pretty sure I know what, say, a beet tastes like, not to mention mangoes, or blueberries, ginger, etc. These are tried and true kombuchas that are classics and will always be delicious. We, as home brewers, can choose to accept or reject that same path and forge into uncharted territory.

     

    What makes 'buch 'buch?

     

    Tea is the heart and soul of kombucha, KBBK Tea is the heart and soul of kombucha

     

    Kombucha is based on tea. Not on fruits, vegetables, spices etc. So why cover up your beautiful kombucha with other stuff that makes it taste like something else? Not that it can't be fun, or that it's not tasty. But we have the opportunity to create something totally unique and special.

     

    Set aside some of your brewing time, vessels, ingredients, etc. to resisting the emulation of any drink you've ever had before. Use the time to explore what makes 'buch interesting, rather than what makes 'buch taste familiar.

     

    Sugar, water, culture, tea, and time.

     

    The most important, simplest way to flavor your kombucha is with tea. It's not an optional ingredient. We'd be ignorant if we said we were familiar with, or even heard of all of the amazing varieties of tea that are available to us.

    However, one of the most entertaining aspects of brewing is the use of combinations of herbs and spices, infused and fermented at the same time as the tea.

     

    More thoughts on home brewing

     

    Kombucha has only relatively recently become a retail product, and the real legacy of kombucha still remains inside the home. It's where cultures proliferate and change. They absorb our intent, our energy, our hand-selected ingredients. In home brewing, nothing is lost or forgotten, and everything is exactly as it should be, for better or worse.

    Your home-brewed kombucha has a much stronger microbiotic profile and robust nutritional makeup from not having been filtered, piped through machinery, force carbonated and otherwise stabilized to maintain promised shelf-life and alcohol content.

     

    So please, don't feel required to emulate the RTD sector or to assess your own success in comparing your home brew to others'. Look to the tea, coordinate your steep, prioritize flavor, and success will find you.

  • Fresh SCOBY vs Dehydrated SCOBY, a Brewer's Comparison


    If you're a brewer or kombucha follower, you may have heard about reanimating a dried SCOBY from dormancy to start a new brew. I've been curious, and having seen some dehydrated cultures available on the internet, I wanted to try it out. I bought a retail dehydrated SCOBY online. Thinking about woolly mammoths and Jurassic Park, I got excited to see if it would work.

     

    Dehydrated SCOBY, left; KBBK SCOBY, right

     

    The real question, I later discovered, was whether or not it would work for me - there are definitely some culture sources on the web that base their business around the sale of dehydrated SCOBYs - more power to them - but how easy or likely is it to resurrect a SCOBY from dormancy?

     

    The first KBBK Home Brew Kit, Kombucha Brooklyn The first KBBK Home Brew Kit

     

    Not being a stranger to dried SCOBY - I've made leather (edible and non-) as well as dehydrated SCOBY snacks (candies) before - I was somewhat tickled to fine a wafer-thin culture when it arrived in the mail. It was by no means substantial, but I know it doesn't take much to get a culture to take hold. Our first home brew kits came with a test-tube-sized SCOBY - granted, for a 32-oz brew - but it was fresh, not dried.

     

    Brewing from a dehydrated SCOBY - how long will it take?

     

    A week... A couple of weeks...? A month? If you're able to get a new, fresh SCOBY from this process, then you're ready to begin your actual brew. Our instructions indicated this should be ready to begin 30 days after starting, shown in the image below.

     

    Just the beginning for this desert SCOBY... Just the beginning for this desert SCOBY...
    Fresh vs. dry SCOBY, day 1 Fresh SCOBY, left; vs. dry SCOBY, right, day 1

    Nothing's... happening...

     

    I wasn't so lucky. Six weeks into the process, following instructions with the dehydrated SCOBY that I received (I'll call him Dehydro), I still saw no culture growth whatsoever. Keep in mind, this was after a one-month rehydration period and another two weeks waiting for a fresh culture to grow on top of the sweet tea.

     

    Fresh vs dehydrated SCOBY Kombucha Brooklyn Fresh culture, left, and dehydrated culture, right, after one week

     

    At the one week mark, I didn't expect to see a significant amount of growth from the dehydrated SCOBY. You can see on the left the KBBK SCOBY going strong with an inch or so of new growth after just a week. Our dehydrated friend still showed no signs of growth. Hang in there, little buddy.

     

    KBBK SCOBY, left and dehydrated SCOBY, right, after 5 weeks Kombucha Brooklyn KBBK SCOBY, left and dehydrated SCOBY, right, after 7 weeks

    After 7 weeks of "brewing" the two side-by-side, there was still no growth whatsoever from the dehydrated culture. I decided to let the fresh SCOBY continue growing.

     

    Had I harvested the KBBK SCOBY's kombucha and reset the brew after each week, I'd have had well over two gallons of kombucha. Still no dice from our little desert friend - though, there was another step to take before I could actually start brewing with Dehydro.

     

    Actually starting the brew, 5 weeks after receiving Dehydro, Kombucha Brooklyn Starting the brew, 7 weeks after receiving Dehydro

     

    The instructions indicated for me to check the pH after 30 days. I did (albeit far after 30 days - though I don't see why a new culture wouldn't start growing in the sweet tea), and it was at about 3.2. However, I did add 1/2 cup (!) of vinegar, as per the instructions at the start. In 2-3 cups of water, 1/2 cup of vinegar is going to drop the pH drastically. So, I surmise the pH was that low from the start since I already added so much white vinegar.

     

    Moving on, I then brewed more tea and sugar, added another 1/2 cup of vinegar, threw in the semi-rehydrated Dehydro, covered the jar, and prepared to wait again for a new culture to form atop the sweet tea (though very sour as well, with so much vinegar). I crossed my fingers for another few days, weeks, also months...

     

    Flash forward... to 12 weeks

     

    Fresh KBBK SCOBY, left, dehydrated SCOBY results, right, Kombucha Brooklyn Fresh KBBK SCOBY, left, dehydrated SCOBY, right (12 weeks)

     

    SCOBY Rancher snacks, Kombucha Brooklyn SCOBY Rancher snacks

    The KBBK SCOBY has pretty much overgrown itself in the brew jar (this is what it looks like when you don't harvest your kombucha - the SCOBY keeps growing and fills up the jar). That's a good way to make a ton of culture relatively easily - think SCOBY snacks and other kombucha foods.

     

     

    Hoping for a Halloween miracle

     

    Here I am, on All Hallows' Eve, twelve weeks from when I started to try to resurrect Dehydro on the 4th of August. In a mix of surprise and disappointment, I'm hoping the next full moon might reanimate Dehydro. I seem to have failed at playing Dr. Herbert West, at least for this go around...

     

    Stick with fresh cultures. Especially if you're new to brewing, and even moreso if you want to start a brew and drink 'buch before a few months have passed.

  • 'Buch on Tap: Fall 2014


    As we dip into cooler temperatures and slip into warmer clothes, 'Buch on Tap has followed suit by providing our loyal customers delicious treats, both old and new.

     

    One of my favorite things is to see perennial flavors make their first appearance at new accounts. Just like the months differentiated by years, while the weather may be similar, the foliage is never exactly the same.

     

    Kombucha Brooklyn is in almost 50 accounts - Be sure to keep an eye on our Tap Map! It's constantly being updated as we continue to grow.

     

     

    Newest Accounts

     

     

    OG Perennial Flavors

     

    Big BlueCha leads the pack as a flavor to help carry you into fall. This recipe consists of blueberry and cinnamon. We have had it for over a month now and it has been turning heads like NYC models walking the streets after fashion week.

     

    Concord has made a big impression, and is currently the most popular flavor. Tannic and bright, yet leaving plenty of room for the Dragonwell Tea to come through. This flavor is going to be around for a while.

     

    T H E F U T U R E I S N O W H E R E

     

    We have returned with another installment of Kombucha with Premium Brewing Tea. This time, we are debuting Phoenix Mountain. It is made with a Dan Cong (meaning one bush) Oolong, heralding from the Guangdong province of China.

    Kombucha Brooklyn helps get you there Kombucha Brooklyn gets you there

    Phoenix Mountain is an exceptional showcase for the tea, which quite simply tastes like peach blossoms. On the surface, this is a delicious refreshing brew for customers. And just beneath, a story that tells itself with every sip.

     

    Dry Hop has been released into the wild! Featuring whole cone, Cascade hops from Wrobel Farms in Bridgewater, NY. The floral and citrus notes add a complementary body to this 'buch, with no bitterness from the long low temperature steep.

     

    KBBK's 'Buch on Tap is the non-alcoholic craft option for NYC. Ask for us on tap at your favorite spots - from beer halls, to cafes, or even at your office. We have a burgeoning corporate program to keep you fueled through the work day.

     

    Kombucha Brooklyn gets you there --

  • Kombucha Brewing Tool: Kombucha Fruit Fly Trap


    Fruit flies are part of the kombucha symbiosis. Much like kombucha brewing, you don't have to do much before nature takes over!

     

    That doesn't mean we're automatically buddies. Just like mold, they may be natural but they are a nuisance for us kombucha brewers - as spreaders of bacteria, infiltrators of brew jars, and generally as unpleasant company. How can you preemptively stop their proliferation, or follow up an invasion, and get them out of your space?

     

    The answer is a beautifully simple one. Build a DIY kombucha fruit fly trap.

     

    It's very simple science. Here's a list of things you'll need:

     

    • Empty bottle - can be glass, plastic, etc.
    • A piece of paper
    • Tape
    • Piece of fresh fruit such as apple or banana, or some kombucha vinegar (you know they love that!)

     

    The idea is that fruit flies will be attracted to the scent of rotting fruit or vinegar. They'll fly down into the cone in search of the delicious melange you've prepared. In disoriented ecstasy, the fruit flies won't be able to find the exit, and will end up trapped in your vessel. It's as simple as that, folks!

     

    Directions

     

    First, you'll start off by rolling your piece of paper into a cone shape. You want the hole in the tip of the cone to be pretty small, around the size of the tip of a pen. Tape tape the cone together so it stays put without unraveling.

     

    Fruit Fly Trap Kombucha Brooklyn Simple assembly of a fruit fly trap

    Next, take your bottle or vessel and fill it partially with a piece of apple, banana, some kombucha vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or any combination of those.

     

    Then, you'll put the cone into the mouth of your chosen vessel. Tape around the connection point, if necessary, so fruit flies won't be able to escape. The flies will start to build up in your bottle; free them outside like any benevolent 'buch brewer would!

     

    Happy brewing!

  • Steeping for Kombucha Brewing

     
    I've utilized many different methods of steeping for kombucha brewing, both at home and at Kombucha Brooklyn. Today I'm going to analyze the effectiveness of a few of those methods. I'll also suggest one that for the average home brewer may be the simplest, fastest and most efficient of those.

     

    Tea bags

     

    ... Tea bag of Earl Gray! Kombucha Brooklyn Steeping a tea bag of Earl Gray

    If there's one ubiquitous Western archetype of tea consumption, it involves the tea bag. Initially meant in the early 20th century to offer samples of loose leaf teas, the tea bag caught on and became very popular in use for making iced tea. My earliest memories of tea were of my dad using a dedicated coffee-maker to steep Lipton bags. He'd put the tea bags into the coffee carafe, pour water into the machine, and allow the hot water to flow down and immerse the bags for 3-5 minutes. After that, the tea was poured over lots of ice in a pitcher and thrown into the refrigerator.

     

    Fast and easy

     

    Some major advantages to the tea bag are simplicity and cost-effectiveness. It's very simple to toss some hot water on a tea bag, let it sit, remove, and enjoy. I can throw a bag of Earl Grey in my back pocket for consumption later in the day (which I've just done). Since tea bags usually have a string attached, it's very easy to control the steep time. For the producer, the bag is easily marketable as a simple way to drink tea, and it offers a way to utilize broken pieces of leaves like dust and fannings that are the by-product of loose leaf tea manufacture, thus reducing waste and making more tea available. Think "seconds" of apples or tomatoes at the farmer's market.

     

    Loose leaf?

     

    That's not to say there aren't loose leaf teas packaged in bags. My consideration for this lies in the effect this has on the tea, and how it's used by the consumer. On the whole, loose leaf teas are less dense than teas usually packed in bags. That means they will expand to a much greater size than will fine, broken pieces of tea leaf. As a result of the unbroken nature of the leaves, they will take up more space once steeping than will the tea generally packed in a tea bag. The more the leaves are allowed to unfurl and "give up" their flavor to the water in which they are steeped, the more flavorful will be your infusion. While this can be done with a large, reusable mesh bag, don't skimp on space - there's not much that's more depressing in the tea world than seeing a tea bag bulging with whole, unbroken leaves.
     

    Respect the leaf!

     

    So, tea bag or no, loose leaf teas have a lot to say and a ton of flavor to give up. Steeping them in the largest environment possible, unhindered by bag or walls will elicit the most flavor from the leaves. That is, to an extent - I wouldn't boil 10 gallons of water to make 10 gallons of kombucha, ever. Keep in mind also that loose-leaf teas should always be infused multiple times, with the longevity of flavor and color decided by the amount as well as the variety of tea.

     

    The multi-steep

     

    For a kombucha brewer this would take the form of adding boiling water to your tea and allowing it to steep for 20 minutes or so; then, pouring off that first infusion and adding more boiling water, and allowing another 20 minute steep. This can be done as many times as possible until it seems there is no more nutrient left in the tea, as can be told by the flavor or color. Be vigilant that you aren't creating more tea than your fermentation vessel will be able to hold.

     

    Respect and reciprocation

     

    This attention alludes to a respect for the earth in not wasting its products, but also in reverence for the producers of the tea. Plucking tea is no simple task, and often takes place in locations that require climbing and balancing, as well as a trained attention to detail. Where the biological makeup of kombucha is the result of the symbiotic pairing of bacteria and yeast, so intertwined also is the relationship of man with the tea plant in the cultivation and preparation of tea leaves for consumption. Since in this day and age it can be nearly impossible to give back directly to the producer, at least get as much out of the leaf as is possible, and send out some aloha for all of the labor that went into getting it to you. Your 'buch will be that much tastier because of the good intentions that were incorporated during the brewing process. (Such observance with your standard tea bag might be steeping it twice, or maybe three times, and giving it a hearty squeeze after the last steep).

     

    The big steep

     

    You can always just dump your loose tea into a pot of boiling water, stir it around, and worry about straining later. Really this is the ideal, as far as the leaves are concerned, but really it makes more work than is necessary. You can use a strainer, but a strainer that will pull out all particulate will likely be difficult to clean - especially if it's made of metal (I have spent a lot of time cleaning metal strainers in my 'buch brewing days). So, you may choose to use a mesh filter bag to achieve the same end. The same issue arises, though, in that you're going to have to clean the filter bag, that while small can provide a bit of a challenge, if only by being slightly time consuming.

     

    Steeping black tea, rooibos and clove in my French press Kombucha Brooklyn Steeping black tea, rooibos and clove in my French press

     

    That's why my favorite way to steep tea for smaller home brews involves a French press. It's very easy to clean, efficient at keeping the steeping water hot, and easy to quickly empty and refill. Also, it allows me to get the most out of my tea leaves. For a one gallon brew, I'll add 12 grams of a nice loose leaf tea, and fill the 34 oz. French press 1/3 of the way with boiling water. I'll let that sit for 20 minutes, pour off the hot liquid, add the same amount of boiling water, and allow another 20 minutes.

     

    Repeat one more time, and you've got 34 ounces of steeped tea ready and hot enough to dissolve your sweetener. This is a simple model for a triple steep, but you could easily draw it out over 10 steeps - you'll just want to make sure you aren't steeping too much tea so you've overfilled your brew jar. After stirring in the sweetener, add cool water to bring the temperature down, add your starter and SCOBY, and you're ready to let your 'buch fly. Always keep in mind your final volume - if you've steeped so much tea there isn't room for the starter and SCOBY, you'll have to pour some out - but keep that in mind for your next brew.

    Steeping loose leaf tea with my French press - Kombucha Brooklyn Steeping loose leaf tea with my French press

    So, if you're brewing a lot of 'buch, using tasty loose leaf teas and herbal blends, invest in a French press. Your 'buch will be tastier and more robust, and that can't be a bad thing!

     

    Happy brewing!

  • Cooking with Kombucha - Probiotic Salsa with Grilled Pineapple

    Probiotic Salsa with Grilled Pineapple

     

    Feed this to your guests at your next summer party and watch how well everyone gets along. This recipe is truly delicious in its simple form, but if you want to have a thrilling night, throw in some grilled corn or pineapple and watch your party blossom!

     

    Ingredients

    5 Tomatoes, 4 of them chopped*

    2 Tomatillos, halved (optional, but highly suggested)

    ½ cup Pineapple or 1 ear of Corn (optional, but highly suggested)

    1 Onion, chopped

    1 clove Garlic, finely chopped

    ½ bunch Cilantro, chopped

    ½ cup probiotic kombucha culture, chopped

    1 Lime

    2 whole Jalapeno peppers

    Salt

    Pepper

     

     

    Probiotic Salsa Directions

    1)   Roast the jalapeno. It’s the end of summer, so you might still have a grill going. If so, plop your peppers (and if you have it the pineapple and tomatillo) on your hot grill and rotate until all sides are charred. If you are doing this on your stove, find a way to safely and securely hold your pepper either by skewering it, or holding it with a pair of tongs. Hold the pepper close to the burner / flame or cook it in a cast iron (no oil, just chuck 'em in) and rotate as necessary until all sides are charred.

    Probiotic Salsa with Grilled Pineapple Mid-way through charring - let them go nice and black on each side for best results.

     

    Once your pepper cools down, it will be easy to peel off most of the charred skin leaving behind the soft and smoky pepper flesh. Remove the seeds and finely chop the flesh.

     

    2)   Cut your tomatoes, onion, garlic, seared pineapple and tomatillo and pop them into a nice bowl. Grab your tasitest looking culture, dry it with a bit of paper towel and slice them into small bits. This can be tricky as SCOBY is a bit tough - just make sure to have a sharp knife and to take your time. Once this salsa is complete, you won’t have time to transfer it to your serving dish before it starts getting gobbled up--it’s that awesome. Taste. Adjust any of these ingredients as needed.

     

    3)   Add 1/4 of the jalapenos you’ve chopped. They can be sneaky so add them slowly. Once you have settled on the right heat, add lime squeezes until you acquire the perfect balance.

     

    4)   Devour with chips or soft warm tortillas.

     

     

  • 'Buch on Tap - Summer's End 2014

     

    I am stoked to announce a new facet of the 'Buch on Tap Program, as well as old favorites to the lineup.

     

    Wild Jungle Green is our first foray into commercially producing kombucha with our Premium Brewing Teas. This kombucha is made with tea leaves plucked from trees growing wild in the jungle, in the Provence of Yunnan China. The finished product is an excellent expression of the tea. It brings 'Buch on Tap full circle with our Home Brew Program and is our first Pu-Erh brew.

    Kombucha Brooklyn - Wild Jungle Green The Non-Alcoholic Craft Option

    Rich and robust, Wild Jungle Green starts smokey and melts into a round butterscotch flavor. We recently served it at a TED event to kombucha novices, and they absolutely loved it! Very high in Qi, this  complex 'buch is universally delicious and comfortably energizing!

     

    For those of you that have been with us for a while, you will recognize the return of our favorite refreshing late summer brews - Big BlueCha (organic blueberries and cinnamon), and Lemon Drop (organic lemon blended kombucha).

     

    To follow up on last month's post:

    • We have depleted our stock of El Jefe - it will be at accounts into September, but it's moving fast. Grab a growler before it's gone.
    • The initial release of Big BlueCha was overwhelmingly well received, and we just released another batch. Be sure to get a cup if you see it at your favorite account!
    • Kevin Bacon is on the way out! we won't be running this flavor again for a while, so grab a couple growlers if you're a fan.
    Kombucha Brooklyn's El Jefe Say goodbye to El Jefe!

    Current Flavors -

     

    Wild Jungle Green-

    KBBK is pushing the envelop with this new Premium Tea Blend. Rich, and smokey, yet perfectly balanced. This 'buch brings our mission full circle. The non alcoholic craft option.

    El Jefe -

    Papaya puree dashed with Lime, over a bounty of acids formed during fermentation. The result is a complex explosion of tropical flavors.

    Big BlueCha

    Summertime isn't the same without it. Dawn kissed mornings and a big glass of this 'buch will help carry you into fall.

    Lemon Drop -

    Organic Lemons dancing with our signature blend of 'buch. Arnold Palmer wasn't a millennial, and neither is this kombucha

    Jasmine -

    Smooth, light, and floral - this is the 'buch everyone asks for by name

    Straight Up -

    Our signature blend of black, green and white teas

    Kevin Bacon -

    Orange and Rose comprise this seasonal blend. Light, balanced, and very refreshing

  • Cleaning Your Kombucha Growler Caps


    We've found that as far as bottling your kombucha goes, there are some important things to take into account (see the earlier blog post about bottling and carbonation here). Our favorite vessel to bottle our homebrew is a 32 oz amber bottle. Not only does it keep the 'buch free from UV light (reducing the possibility of spoilage), it is great for effectively containing our kombucha to contribute carbonation during secondary fermentation.

     

    Arguably the most important part of your bottling vessel is the cap. You may have purchased a bottle at the store that has no carbonation whatsoever - this can sometimes be due to a faulty seal. The caps we distribute with our growlers for our 'Buch on Tap program are the best you will find - comparable to EZ cap in their ability to hold a tight seal, but not nearly so permanently affixed to the bottle. The internal cone conforms to the mouth of the bottle, creating an airtight seal.

     

    The interchangeability of these caps, as opposed to flip-tops, does make cleaning bottles easy, though due to the physical characteristics of our caps there is a trick to properly cleaning them, which is fine considering they're reusable. Cleaning your caps is important especially when you are inevitably finding bits of yeast and tea stuck in them.

     

    Growler Cap Disassembly Disassembling your growler caps

    So, to get all parts of your growler caps nice and clean, you'll just need to separate the inner cone from the outer, threaded lid. I like to use a butter knife. Once you've done this, you can easily put them through the dishwasher (if that's how you swing), but we like to scrub them and let them soak in diluted bleach or soap, allow them to dry and then reassemble.

     

    Soaking growler caps Soaking growler caps

    It's a simple process, but important to know - your set of growlers can last you for years to come. Additional lids can be found here. Happy brewing!

  • Jun, a Honey-based Kombucha


    Jun, Kombucha Brooklyn

    If you’re into kombucha, you’ve likely heard of a type of brew that utilizes honey rather than granulated sugar as the sweetener. You may also have been privy to some of the smoke and mirrors surrounding jun, a honey-based kombucha.

     

    I’ve been brewing jun for about a year and a half, and have become enamored - it’s quick to brew, forgiving when it ferments too long, and retains the aromatic characteristics of the honey that was used. And with the numerous medicinal benefits of honey, it’s hard not to gravitate towards this tenacious, bacteria-heavy ferment.

     

    Being accustomed to the taste of sugar-brewed kombucha, one of its fun aspects is how mercurial the culture can be. The range of desirable as well as undesirable notes that can develop is immense; for example, some can be lumped into a category often considered by us to be “barnyard,” and whether or not you can attribute this to the sweetener used, I can say this aspect is across the board much less prevalent in jun. On the whole, I would say jun tastes more clean than a sugar ferment.

     

    So when I started brewing jun it was pretty eye-opening. In using honey instead of sugar, brewing takes on a new level of complexity. Sugar really doesn’t provide much of a flavor characteristic other than sweetness. Honey, however, is very complex and contains a multitude of different compounds including yeasts, acids, vitamins and antioxidants. And clearly, there’s an alluring quality to the flavor and aroma of honey that can’t necessarily be ascribed to the primary utility of honey in a ‘buch brew, that being a source of sugar(s).

     

    Raw vs. Processed Honey

    Many people have asked me whether or not to use raw honey as opposed to commercially-processed honey, and really you can use either (I do use less honey, by volume, than sugar - 3/4 cup of honey to each gallon of kombucha). Raw honey will have more “stuff” in it - pollen, bits of honeycomb, propolis, sometimes even bee parts. The contribution of unwanted bacteria here is possible, but not assured. My experience hasn’t brought any folly in this regard.

     

    Bee pollen, goldenrod honey, and a jun SCOBY Bee pollen, goldenrod honey, and a jun SCOBY

     

    My thought, however, is that the more basic the source of sugar, the easier it is for the culture to consume and create kombucha. An example of this would be, when using granulated sugar, white vs. brown. While brown sugar may have additional aspects to contribute in terms of flavor, I’ve heard people say they’ve had trouble getting their culture to feed on it. A red flag here is the presence of molasses in brown sugar. As a byproduct of the refining of sugarcane, it inherently houses impurities undesirable in table sugar, and the darker the molasses (or brown sugar), the more of these will be present. Nutritive for humans, for sure, but not the best for your SCOBY - many have reported the difficulty a kombucha culture has in utilizing brown sugar.

     

    As for the honey, processing doesn’t appear to negatively affect the presence of some of its health-beneficial constituents such as vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, but I would be concerned for the aromatic and untested-for elements that otherwise may contribute desirably to your brew.

     

    Fructose and Glucose

     

    Purified, enriched sugar (i.e., table sugar) is stripped down to the most basic elements and is essentially pure sucrose (a disaccharide of fructose and glucose). It’s ready to be first inverted (broken down into fructose and glucose) and consumed by the culture.

     

    In honey, fructose and glucose have already been cleaved and separated by enzymes within the bees’ stomachs, so there is one less step the culture needs to go through in order to consume them. I think this is one of the reasons a jun ferment is generally faster than the standard sugar ferment.

     

    Lore and Contemporary Jun

     

    Upon looking at some of the existing information about jun, it can be difficult to ascertain much in the way of solid evidence, especially when it comes its origins. You’ll find anecdotes regarding the sacred maintenance and ancient transference of the culture, which usually alludes to Tibetans in some regard.

     

    These suppositions lack solid sources, so I’ll steer clear of the derivative speculation and create one of my own - perhaps jun is the original kombucha culture (and was delivered to Tutankhamun by almond-eyed star voyagers).

     

    To an extent, for kombucha brewing, it makes sense that honey be the original sweetener of choice over sugarcane, if only due to the fact that straight out of the hive, it's ready to be used. Sugar, however, requires processing to remove it from the woody grass, sugarcane, that comprises its natural form. So, it’s almost logical that the most basic, unrefined sweetener would be used in the original brew.

     

    Sugar SCOBY, left two images; Honey SCOBY, right two images Kombucha Brooklyn Sugar SCOBY, left two images (1000x); Honey SCOBY, right two images (1000x)

     

    Tea for a Jun Brew

     

    The nutritional requirements for the jun culture are a little bit different than for the sugar brew. My experiences have indicated that green tea is consumed much more readily by this culture than are oxidized teas like white, oolong, black or pu-erh tea. While I've made jun with a blend of black, green and white teas, the flavor was not found desirable and further experimentation halted. I have been ever since delighted with the results of green tea-based jun.

     

    That's not to say I've not brewed with herbs in addition to the green tea. I found pretty quickly that my favorite green tea to use with jun is simply jasmine green tea. The delightful, floral aspects of this tea pair very well with honey. In using other herbs with this culture as well, I've found no faults in terms of flavor or speed with which a final product was achieved. I would say if anything, the jun culture is more forgiving of non-camellia sinensis ingredients - I've had success with chamomile, lavender, and holy basil, to name a few.

     

    Final Thoughts

     

    Had I the opportunity to live out the rest of my kombucha brewing days fermenting only with honey rather than granulated sugar, I would. It's faster, more forgiving, amazingly fresh and smooth, and more sustainable. It's pretty easy to find local honey, which has great implications in alleviating allergies, to which our keg master Billy can attest. There are still many experiments and test brews to be made to more clearly discern the limits of the jun kombucha ferment, but given what I've discovered so far, I don't think any time soon that I'll be short of new ideas to test.

     

    Two 5-gallon jun brews, Kombucha Brooklyn Two 5-gallon jun brews

     

    So, if you're already making kombucha and haven't tried your hand at using this amazing culture, you're missing out on the next big thing in home brewing. You can use the same fermentation vessel and equipment, on the whole. Just remember that if you're brewing both a standard kombucha and a jun kombucha, keep your cultures segregated so the flavor of each brew is as specific as possible.

     

    After you have your first sip of jun, you'll never forget that flavor, and I can almost guarantee you'll never want to.

  • Making Coffee Kombucha - Not Wrong, Just Not Right

     

    Long speculated upon and feared even in anecdotes, a week ago I had the perfect opportunity to embark upon the storied nostrum that is... komffee? Coffbucha? Joebucha? Coffee kombucha. Perfect...

     

    Coffee kombucha Making coffee kombucha; after 6 days of primary fermentation

    While open-minded, I didn't think there was any way this could be tasty. Enough people had asked about it, rumors circulated, and it came to the point that this brew couldn't be avoided; of this fact the new office-tap acquisition of Stumptown cold-brewed coffee was the ultimate indicator.

     

    So, I opened up the tap, poured 32 ounces of the polarizing blackness, and added 1/4 cup of sugar to the joe after warming it on the stove. I added a bit of SCOBY, some distilled white vinegar as a starter (1 tbsp), cringed, covered and dated the jar, and set it out to ferment.

     

    After 6 days in primary fermentation, there was a pretty gnarly SCOBY growing:

     

    SCOBY of Coffee SCOBY of coffee

    Having a pretty adventurous palate still does not issue into passive consumption. The creation of what essentially is sour coffee made me reticent to attempt making this beast, though I'd thought about it many times before.

     

    Well, I wasn't proven wrong. Sour, acidic, vinegary coffee was the result - I considered the brew complete when I saw the SCOBY and smelled it - pretty awful, on both fronts. I let a couple of people in the office try it before me, still highly skeptical and protective of my taste buds' fortitude.

     

    KBBK employees investigating the coffee 'buch KBBK employees investigating the coffee 'buch

     

    The result of our tasting left us sure that the experiment had worked - coffee kombucha was assuredly the result - but in no way could this be construed by any of us as being something drinkable. Even the small cup we poured and passed around went unfinished.

     

    I bottled it, so as to preserve the train wreck that would in the future be sure to elicit fascination and disgust among unsuspecting subjects - a little carbonation should attract a completely new level of repulsion. Kind of like the time I made apricot-peppermint kombucha.

     

    *We did discover the SCOBY created from this brew was much more palatable than the brew itself.

     

     

     

    This experiment behind me, I look forward to better and brighter days. I will try not to forget what happened, only the taste. Be skeptical. It's not wrong, just not right.

     

    SCOBY can't live on beans alone SCOBY can't live on beans alone

     

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