Monthly Archives: June 2013
To me, one of the beautiful aspects of kombucha as a living and volatile being can be found in a basic biological inspection. Kombucha is the product of micro-organisms, a culture that produces the beverage seen bottled in grocery stores and natural markets, that results from the action of bacteria and yeasts. The acronym that’s been created for this type of biological phenomena is SCOBY - symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Yeast and bacteria are involved in a symbiotic relationship, or long-term interaction, with each other, in which both benefit and thrive.
Last week, driving towards Vermont’s Wanderlust Festival, as my kombucha cohort and I traversed winding mountain roads, appreciating shades of green we were sure were long absent from Brooklyn, something struck me about our journey and the days to follow. Something wholly fractal was happening. We, having been sent to distribute hundreds of gallons of fresh kombucha, were a minor part of the sustenance that thousands of festival-goers would receive during the 4-day fest. Others also brought their wares for trade and exchange - whether they be crystals, music, jewelry, tapestries, pizza, or knowledge.
I would say generally that all festivals are gatherings which are hubs for the transformation and trade of energies, en masse. There are of course strong and lasting connections made in observance of the most basic of human necessities, such as food, drink, and social interaction - these create the lasting bonds that are the basis of a healthy organism. In having fortified this base of relative bounty and satiety, people flocked to yoga courses all across Stratton Mountain to contort their bodies, often painfully, for 90 minutes at a time, multiple times a day.
It goes without saying that there’s some sort of irony afoot. The baseline at the festival was very easily set, the basic necessities of existence met. So, after the second day of the festival (and the dynamics of joy, gluttony and pain were successfully assimilated), I was left wondering - what’s the big picture? Is it enough for us to simply rekindle a too-long archaic sense of community and rejoice in calculated comforts and blessings of humanity? Is Wanderlust a reaction to a possibly more retracted existence, the Grand Daily Drudgery? Or is the hallmark of the festival, yoga, indicative of some other, less easily-defined facet of human desire and evolution?
I came to somewhat of a conclusion after hours of serene meditation, body-straining poses and nigh-impossible stretches. In focusing our minds and bodies strictly on physical sensation, the clearing of the mind and the sharp awareness of our bodies, we achieve a clarity very difficult to achieve under normal circumstances. It became clear that yoga is not a practice whose sole purpose is in bodily health, toned appearance, or peer validation.
The truest form of yogic effect is in the experiences that come when the mind-chatter of terrestrial existence is silent, when we are able to parlay the undistracted mind. As practitioners of yoga and as members of the human race, I realized we have a duty to explore and relay the discoveries of the subconscious mind; whether it be a profound realization of the absolute necessity of love, the ever-present flow and balance of subtle universal energies, or the observation and dissolution of boundaries. And, of course, this knowledge issues into appropriate action.
We, like the culture of our beloved beverage, had acted out an exchange of energy and sustenance, for the wellness of the whole. Kombucha played a small but integral role, and like the other energies, set a standard of operation from which yoga-fied minds could catapult into the subtler, more imperceptible realms to attain clarity, enlightenment, or whatever was sought.
As we packed up our booth at Wanderlust Vermont, finishing the last sips of Green River Ambrosia’s Liquid Sunshine, the sky darkened and it began to rain. Enlightened and now cleansed by the warm summer rain, our mission complete, I pondered the changes our collective experience would affect.
By Chris Strait
It’s common practice today to associate all plant-based infusions with the word “tea,” leaving clarification to come from context. It is especially important, however, to delineate between the varieties of tea when speaking of kombucha brewing.
Historically, the most common (and original) practice has been to use the evergreen Camellia sinensis (which is comprised of 3 main varieties I won’t explore now) in kombucha production. It’s responsible for the classics - teas like English breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and Gunpowder green come immediately to mind. That is not to say, however, that the incredibly adaptable SCOBY is unable to grow from feeding upon certain herbal teas, some with homeopathic resonance, some with cultural lineage, some with both.
Today I’d like to briefly explore yerba mate. A Holly-related tree grown predominantly in South American nations (Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil...), it was under cultivation prior to European contact and has maintained status as a daily staple for millions. In recent years, the popularity of mate has been spreading north, and it’s easy to understand why.
The leaves of the yerba mate tree possess numerous benefits in health and practicality. It is, I’ll posit, a “comprehensive” stimulant; while providing modest amounts of caffeine, it also contains the stimulant alkaloids theobromine and theophylline, most commonly associated with cacao and coffee, respectively. What’s the result? Consistent stimulation without the jitters. This herb is downright powerful, without the almost requisite crash that comes from a coffee binge. It’s is a tea you can drink all day long - to no ill physical effect - while promoting clarity and balanced energy.
Yerba mate’s health benefits are even more astounding. It’s useful to compare mate with green tea, its healthful counterpart among infused beverages. Mate is a great source for antioxidants like polyphenols, which are indicated to have immune-boosting and cell-strengthening properties. Paramount are the incredible number of minerals provided by the plant - potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc - check out your daily multivitamin, do any of these ring a bell? Let’s not forget the ever-touted importance of naturally occurring sources of vitamins - mate contains A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, and E, to name a few. In addition, yerba mate is a fantastic source of amino acids, flavanols, chlorophyll and fatty acids.
That’s enough to have me interested. But there’s even more to consider. While it’s not hard to find yerba mate in tea bags, doling out 3-5 grams per cup, traditional measurement and consumption is something much less quantifiable. Enter the gourd, a hollowed-out calabash, that is methodically filled and shared communally. The gourd, or guampa, or mate, is filled 2/3 full, which amounts easily to 20+ grams of material (in my fire gourd). After tempering the herb with cool water, the gourd is continually refilled with hot (not boiling) water, and consumed until the tea is too weak to continue. This method allows for much more of the nutrients to be passed on into the infusion, and allows you to control your nutrient/stimulant intake. Ahh, the freedom of loose-leaf. Combine loose-leaf mate with your stuffy old French press and you’ve got an incredibly simple, quick source of vitality and stimulation.
That’s a basic introduction to the world of the yerba mate. One more thing. You can steep it with room-temperature water. In under 10 minutes. What are you waiting for?
Since my introduction to the world of fermented tea 7 years ago, it seems as if the “standard operating procedure” has been inclined towards post-fermentation kombucha flavoring. This has yielded a myriad of incredibly complex and delicious drinks, for sure. The creativity involved in such conjuration is one of the most enjoyable aspects of brewing kombucha.
But just like in food, the beverage world benefits greatly from the observance of simplicity. Every pot of chili, korma, etc. has its antipode in an onion, in kale, in almonds, etc. - unadulterated, unprocessed, additive-free - you get the picture. The equivalent impulse to simplify, in the realm of kombucha, involves an examination of the unavoidable essentials - sugar and tea.
While I have extensive experience in brewing with relatively “standard” teas (English breakfast, white, gunpowder green, even yerba mate), the effects of kombucha fermentation on fine teas is relatively uncharted territory for me. What happens when you ferment a Dragonwell green tea, a fine oolong of Phoenix Mountain, the fine buds of Silver Needle white tea, or a Pu-erh? What I’m beginning to discover is a world of complexity and flavor I’ve never experienced in kombucha. Tastes of passionfruit, pineapple, coconut, chocolate - all flavors I would have added post-fermentation - and more - are completely attainable with careful tea choice, steeping and fermentation.
This is just the beginning of a long road, paved with SCOBYs, with new discoveries at every turn. In upcoming posts I’ll examine the varieties of teas, their connection with the land (contributing terroir), the important influence of human processing, and their “kombuchatization.”
So, stay tuned, get some ‘buch brewing, and let’s explore. It’s going to be an exciting journey.