Not many things are more refreshing than an ice-cold glass of sun tea on a warm summer afternoon.
As a child, I remember my grandma making sun tea in the summertime with simple big-name tea bags and orange slices. At the time, sustenance was simply handed to me, so to my young mind, thoughts of DIY anything were distant.
Now, to make tea I've become accustomed to plugging in a kettle, or firing up a stove, but like many things, the old way turns out to be incredibly effective, simple, and economical. And my, how sun tea does taste distinct from the standard infusion! Not bitter, but earthy, and inherently spicy - a surprisingly exotic treat.
And since I'm always thinking about sustainability, I thought I'd tackle an aspect of brewing that uses up lots of energy - boiling water. A good amount of energy is used for this, so it can be rewarding on a few fronts to avoid this unnecessary expenditure. Using the sun to brew your tea saves your time, since you can pretty much set it and forget it for a few hours. And of course, you're using no electricity.
Already having about 16 gallons of kombucha to brew for SCOBY production, and wanting to try a couple of new things, today I decided to make some special sun tea, which used minimal effort, and see where the 'buch goes.
So, I threw together a couple of my favorite teas - our house white tea and rooibos, along with some of my favorite new addiction - golden berries. If you haven't tasted golden berries before (or ground cherries as they are sometimes called), give them a try. Intensely sour, fruity and unique, I consider them the Sweet Tart of the berry world (and love to make water kefir with them).
To complete my brew (and to bring my sustainability down a notch) I had to heat just a little bit of water (1 cup) in order to allow the 1 cup of sugar to dissolve. I'm sure you could let some sugar sit in water in the sun, too, and avoid this. Next all I had to do was add a SCOBY and starter, and the sugar-water to the brew jar and voila! Oh, yeah - I didn't remove the golden berries from the brew jar during primary fermentation...
Please note: Leaving any fruits or non-SCOBY solids in your vessel during primary fermentation is not recommended, as it can contribute a surface for mold to form upon - but for the sake of adventure, I'll concede to curiosity. Luckily, the golden berries in this brew stayed submerged, and a SCOBY was able to form over them.
The recipe is very basic:
- 26 grams Sunbather sun tea blend
- 1 gallon fresh water
- 1 cup of sugar
- handful of golden berries
Allow this to steep in the sun, and after about 8 hours add the sugar (dissolved in some warm water) and your SCOBY and starter, and let it sit for about a week! Drink the tea that you must pour off in order to fit the SCOBY and starter into your brew jar. Remember to taste periodically.
What happened during primary fermentation?
Flash forward 5 days, and there's a very vigorous mother forming! This is a welcome occurrence but not necessarily expected - the best food for a kombucha culture really is black tea, and generally with other teas you may need to ferment a little bit longer to achieve balanced acidity and a healthy, thick kombucha culture.
But, as you can see here, after just 5 days there's quite an intense SCOBY forming and lots of bubbling activity going on in the brew jar. Something I've noticed before in using golden berries with water kefir, and saw in this kombucha brew, is that both kefir and kombucha cultures take very readily to the golden berries, and brewing isn't slowed at all by their presence - indeed, the berries have even seemed to potentiate the fermentation process!
The brew meets my goals for an aesthetically pleasing kombucha, but how does it taste?
Even after just 5 days, this brew tastes absolutely transcendental. Notes of cherry, birch bark and orange peel strike the palate with tropical zeal. Each and every aspect of the ingredients comes through in this one - from the herbal, earthy taste of rooibos, to the light, malty grassiness of white tea, and of course the commanding citrus punch from tart golden berries.
The big payoff
Time and again, the mantra that brings the prize at rainbow's end, that flavorful attractor for kombucha brewers, comes after treading into unknown territory. I had no idea what would happen with golden berries in the primary ferment. I wasn't positive that the sun, over the course of a few hours, would extract enough nutrients from which the culture could make 'buch. But the satisfaction and pleasure from disregarding apprehension is enveloping and driving. The feeling that you've gone into the unknown and come back with a treasure is something that will never leave me doubting the brewer's path.
Fermentation is pure alchemy - and the end result is, without a doubt, as good as gold.
Stay tuned for my next blog in which I'll delve into brewing with solids - fruits, berries etc. - in primary fermentation!