Monthly Archives: July 2014
If you've been following our blog series, you may have read my post about the highly energizing yerba mate. It's a tasty herb that makes excellent kombucha, and I usually blend it with white tea. Check it out here if you haven't already. Now, on to Brewing Kombucha with High Caffeine ... Misinformation abounds regarding the concentrations of caffeine in the various traditional tea varieties. Among the most prominently circulated holds that "lighter" teas, such as white and green teas, contain moderate amounts, whereas darker teas such as black, oolong and pu-erh will generally contain a greater amount of caffeine.
The sheer complexity of the tea plant prevents anything but generalizations from being made. That said, if you have been privy to most of the data circulating regarding caffeine and teas, you likely have a different story than what closer inspection will reveal. I'll admit to acceptance of some of these thoughts as well - white tea is low in caffeine, right? And greens have much less than black tea? Wrong - for the most part.
Young leaves mean higher caffeine
The younger a tea leaf is when it is plucked, the higher the concentration of caffeine there will be. So, since green and white teas are made from the youngest parts of the plant, on the whole these leaves will be highest in caffeine. This will, then, be especially true of silver bud white tea, or any tea that contains buds, for that matter. This doesn't necessarily exclude black teas.
This blog written by Nigel Melican was extremely helpful when I was trying to find out more regarding my favorite beverage and the caffeine therein. In it, Nigel debunks caffeine content myths and discusses the early pour-off method, thought (falsely) by many to decrease caffeine.
Guayusa - cousin to yerba mate
Another great tea-like herb that provides a lot of energy from caffeine is guayusa. Primarily grown in Ecuador, it is said to be consumed before and during hunting. Like yerba mate, it provides a clean energy boost without risk of "crashing" after the boost wears off.
I love to make kombucha with it not only because of the physiological effects, but it also has a great flavor, not unlike rooibos. You could almost look at guayusa as a caffeinated rooibos, one I often describe as having an herbal cherry flavor.
So, definitely consider this one when concocting your 'buch energy drink! Think probiotic coffee substitute. Many thanks to our friends at Runa for all the knowledge and tea.
Another tea to consider when making a high energy kombucha is a style called pu-erh. You may have read my blog post on pu-erhs posted back in March. If not, check it out here.
While pu-erhs may not have the highest caffeine content, there's definitely a strength and energy that is really noted across the board with this style. So these make a great, boosting kombucha that also will be very medicinal and also have a unique taste.
When endeavoring to make high-energy kombucha, look no further than yerba mate, guayusa, white and green (check out Jade Dewdrops - it's outstanding) teas, and pu-erhs. Of course other styles will still provide you with caffeine, but if you're looking to maximize, it's useful to look at these types.
Until next time - consider brewing up a little something to get you jacked in the morning - that won't make your stomach writhe and your body crash. A healthier part of waking up ;-).
Some quick updates from our 'Buch on Tap program -
- After a long drought, Jasmine is back!
- There was a short lapse in El Jefe, but it is available again.
- In collaboration with Gotham Greens, Watermelon is being reinvented - the next batch of this 'Buch on Tap will be available on 8/6. Get excited.
- The next several batches of 'buch are set to be BOSS.
In other news, we have new tin signs! They are absolutely gorgeous, and we are thrilled to be offering them to our accounts. Keep your eyes out for them!
- Jasmine - She's back! Smooth, light, and floral, this batch has minimal acidity. 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.
- Watermelon - Fruit forward and delicious. Always a favorite.
- El Jefe - Papaya puree dashed with lime, over a bounty of acids formed during fermentation. The result is a complex explosion of tropical flavors.
This dish is fast becoming one of my favorite Cooking with Kombucha dishes. I first made it for Eric and Jessica Childs for their Kombucha! book launch at Book Court, back in November of 2013. It was really my first experience cooking with kombucha! I decided to revert to this recipe today, as it is the season for such light but really indulgent dishes. Texturally, its a delight. The banana is creamy maybe with a hint of starch, the burnt sugar and toasted hazelnuts good and crunchy, and the reduction permeates everything with a slightly cleansing astringency.
Time needed: 30-45min
1 sharp, small knife and cutting board
1 brûlée torch or other blowtorch
1 hand-crafted banana leaf platter by Brooklyn artist Georgea Snyder; or something else presentable
an oven, turned up high
1 small metal sheet tray
a couple of bowls, measuring equipment, and a spoon or two
1/4 c white sugar
1/4 c hazelnuts
2 c M-Train (Mulberry Kombucha)*
*you can substitute with your favorite kombucha, I find it works best with black-tea based 'buch. Feel free to add a packet of our Blueberry Ginger to your 'buch for that fruity excellence.
First things to get a jump on are toasting your hazelnuts on a small sheet tray in the oven and reducing that mulberry kombucha in a sauce pot on high heat. Roast your nuts at around 400º-450ºF for 4-5 minutes, til light brown and the skins start to flake.
Remove any excess hazelnut skin by rolling them in a clean kitchen towel, or in your hands. Then crush them with the side of a knife, and chop 'em to Ice cream Sundae chunky sprinkle size, as shown below:
Remember to stir your reduction! You are looking for a good syrupy consistency, something good for drizzling.
Next Step: Brûlée Bananas!
At this point it is important not to start the brûléed bananas if your reduction is not ready, as the sugar will slowly soften if you wait too long. Once your reduction is ready, continue with the recipe.
Slice your bananas in half, lay them out on something heat resistant, like the back of a sheet tray. Then liberally sprinkle white sugar on top. Some will sink in, but re-apply more to create a great crust.
May I say oh la la ! We are close - but need to focus now - the next step is important as it makes getting them out later much much easier. Free the bananas from their skins and segment them in while keeping the skin whole.
Now all you have to do is plate! If your reduction is ready to go, so are you. Drizzle on your mulberry kombucha reduction, then hit it with the nuts - in fact go nuts, it is the only rational thing to do. Stop, smile, take a photo and post it to our Facebook and eat! Tell us what you think. :)
Kombucha has a lot of things going for it. Many people drink it based on potential boons to health - these can include improvement of digestion, prevention against oxidative stress, activity against acid reflux and inflammation, as well as its richness with probiotics, antioxidants and amino acids - to name a few.
It can be tough to eat or drink something for its health benefits when it's a stretch to find it palatable. I'll wince and bear eating a few oysters (many thanks to Brooklyn Oyster Party's hospitality at Smorgasburg), and though they're starting to taste better, I don't seek them out. Noni is considered a superfood that grows wild in tropical climates that many regard as having a scent and flavor reminiscent of feet and parmesan cheese - not exactly on my snacking radar.
I feel like kombucha is similar for a lot of people. One of the big problems is simply that it's difficult to find truly tasty kombucha in a bottle - it's very hit-or-miss. Potentially off-putting aspects of kombucha are easily countered in a home-brewing situation with a little knowledge and instruction, and the effects of carbonation and temperature can greatly increase palatability. For someone new to kombucha, like one of your friends or relatives you'd like to enjoy your home brew, making the best 'buch possible is important - it's powerful to provide a positive kombucha experience to newcomers, and ideally it will keep them coming back for more, or may even start them brewing their own.
Carbonating your kombucha - a 'buch brewer's seal of excellence
I've posted a few blogs that focus on the flavor of kombucha, which is an immensely broad category still open to even more experimentation. There's a measure of success that can be very easy to achieve, and is a milestone for brewers of every size - when you realize your home-brewed kombucha tastes much better than what is available at the store. Many people that have great success with flavoring can have issues with something else that's very important - carbonation - and it can mean the difference between brewing a dud and hitting a homerun.
While carbonation affects the delivery and sensation of flavors, and can possibly even affect our physiology, for the sake of discussion today it's a physical characteristic; there's something very pleasant about a cold carbonated beverage that has me clamoring for 'buch first thing in the morning. In its affiliation with kombucha, carbonation is something that is desirable - but that can cause a multitude of headaches for the home brewer.
As the primary fermentation process for kombucha is essentially open-air (there is a free exchange of gases taking place between the culture and the outside environment), your kombucha will not inherently retain carbonation. The CO2 produced by your SCOBY's yeast will for the most part be released to the environment. That is, until you bottle it.
Bottling your 'buch has the effect of allowing CO2 to build up in a closed environment (provided you've used a vessel with a tight-fitting lid). This will happen to the greatest extent in a warm environment - most simply, for a home brewer, at room temperature. Just like in primary fermentation, during "bottle conditioning" (or what we call secondary fermentation), yeast will continue to consume nutrients - it's the amount of sugar in your brew that has the greatest effect on the production of CO2 during this secondary fermentation. One rule of thumb I like to use is that once your kombucha has achieved a pleasant balance of sweetness and acidity, it's ready to be bottled. You must keep in mind, however, that the residual sweetness of your brew when you bottle it plays a major role in the production of CO2, and thus that delightful effervescence we love in 'buch.
Here's a quick overview of the secondary fermentation process:
- Bottle your kombucha in containers with air-tight lids
- Allow your filled bottles to sit at room temperature, generally for 1-2 weeks*
- Once it's been decided that enough carbonation has built up, place the bottles into the refrigerator and start drinking them as soon as they are cold
*This time frame depends on your room temperature and the tea/sweetener you've used
Any flavoring you add to your brew during bottling can potentially contribute to the amount of fermentable sugars available to the yeast. As your kombucha is still raw when you bottle it at home (unless you've pasteurized it, but who would do such a thing!?), yeast will still be present in the bottle and still be voracious for more sugar to eat. This is a very important fact to keep in mind - if you are adding a sweetener to your 'buch when you bottle (think fruit juice, but really, anything that is sweet), carbonation will build up more quickly than if you had left that sweetener out. Combined with the leftover residual sugars (primarily fructose) from your primary fermentation, you're potentially creating a very volatile situation. Hungry yeast + sugar = CO2. The buildup of gas in an enclosed space definitely gives our 'buch that delightful effervescence, but can also potentially create volcanic 'buch that erupts when you open it, or in extreme circumstances, can cause bottles to explode from the pressure.
If you want to prevent carbonation, place your kombucha directly into the refrigerator after bottling
We've all experienced that excitable bottle of 'buch that can no longer handle being all cooped up -
You've just stepped out of your local natural market with a bottle of your favorite 'buch. You get into your car, roll down the window, and turn on that hot summer track from the week's big artist. Time for 'buch! Only not how you expect. You unscrew the lid, and instead of befriending your belly, your freshly-purchased kombucha instead befriends the totality of the inside of your car.
Sticky 'buch everywhere, not to mention chia seeds, if you're so inclined to enjoy the style. A day-changer, for sure, but not something that can't be changed with a little know-how.
Tips for bottling your kombucha and achieving transcendent effervescence:
1. Bottle when there's a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. This will help to ensure that your 'buch isn't a sugar bomb. I've found that when there is a balance of these two factors, 1-2 weeks is plenty of time to build up a nice amount of carbonation. You will also notice some differences based on the type of tea you used in primary fermentation; take notes when you notice these types of things, it will only improve your brewing skills.
2. Bottle into one plastic bottle at the same time you fill your glass bottles. This will be a model help you to know when a good amount of CO2 has built up, based on your environment (temperature) and the unique qualities of your brew. Your plastic bottle will tell you there's carbonation when it's very tight, and thus clearly pressurized. So, when you know your plastic bottle has carbonation, your glass bottles will too. This will also ensure that you aren't wasting carbonation every time you open a glass bottle to see how much has built up.
3. Don't leave much headroom in your bottles. An inch or so is just fine - you don't want excess oxygen in your bottle, as that takes up space that could otherwise be CO2. It will oxidize your brew, and make it more likely that bacteria are still active, thus creating more acids, potentially contributing off-flavors. It's also important to note that chia seeds expand immensely in the bottle, so you'll want to leave quite a bit more headroom than usual if you're bottling with them.
4. Invest in good bottles. My favorite bottles are the 32 oz Amber Growler available on our website. They're strong, opaque to UV, and have great caps that form an excellent seal, locking in 'buch and your precious carbonation. Keep an eye out for flip-top bottles as well, these can be great for home-brewing escapades and are also very good at holding tight under pressure. We always recommend bottling into glass instead of plastic.
5. Open any extremely carbonated bottles into a large pitcher. This is especially easy to do with flip-top bottles. Take a large, empty pitcher, slowly invert any bottles you've detected to be highly effervescent, and use both hands to open the cap of the bottle when it's as deep as possible in the pitcher. Your pitcher will quickly fill with 'buch foam (which you will shortly see is still kombucha) and subside within a minute or so. Your 'buch will be delightfully bubbly, and it's now ready for you to drink, or pour back into your bottle and put in the refrigerator. It won't build up pressure like that again, and it's fine to drink without fear of volcanism ;-).
There you have it! This post highlights thoughts from many years of kombucha trial and error, and the techniques will hopefully be easily replicated in your home brew situation. Please feel free to comment and offer any insight.
I'm frequently asked about caffeine and kombucha, and caffeine content of kombucha in general. This consideration has immediate repercussions for many people, such as those allergic to caffeine, to those who are very sensitive to its effects. As such, there is a lot of interest for kombucha brewers in the range of caffeine one can find in kombucha. Today I'd like to discuss the making of kombucha without, or with very little caffeine.
*Contrary to some opinions I've heard, it has been verified that caffeine content in kombucha does not decrease during fermentation.* (from Michael Roussin's "Analyses of Kombucha Ferments," a great paper that can be found here)
**The kombucha recipe Kombucha Brooklyn provides, and that we brew with, calls for 3/4 less dry tea than does the same amount of tea you would drink, say at 2pm with snacks. That means 3/4 less caffeine than a standard cup of tea.**
Firstly, I'd like to provide a disclaimer. One of the major tenets of KBBK philosophy holds that kombucha brewed without tea (camellia sinensis) will not always reliably change from sweet to fermented, and if it does, you will find it very difficult to sustain a culture on these tisanes, herbal teas, or otherwise. Whereas you can usually get one or two ferments successfully, at most, from non-tea containing brews (grape juice, coconut water with pineapple, barley and rooibos), you will not be able to sustain a SCOBY with these seemingly normal foods that are actually alien to your culture.
As I sat pondering this issue, I started to consider other fermented beverages with foods that provide a good nutrient profile suitable for feeding yeast. My first thought was beer; then I remembered something my co-worker Anna had brought in to our office, that we enjoyed immensely when steeped as a tea - roasted barley. Bingo! I wanted to brew a kombucha that had greatly reduced caffeine, and it seemed barley might be the key. Another of my favorite alterna-"tea"ves, rooibos, came to me as the next best herb to use in this caffeine-free kombucha admixture. Said to have been cultivated by Dutch settlers of South Africa as a replacement for black tea (then a prohibitively expensive prospect for import), rooibos has become a popular facet of South African culture.
I was relatively sure that a combination of barley and rooibos would ferment just fine into kombucha. As I've been experimenting with many different herbal additions to traditional kombucha teas (which have been pretty much anything camellia sinensis), and discovered that the culture is relatively resilient to such experimentation, I figured diving in head-first would be both fun and informative.
I would call the results highly successful. To fully ferment took about 10 days, when I reached a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, and I was left with a kombucha that had a very malty and tart cherry flavor. Rooibos, tasting a lot like an herbal cherry, undoubtedly was the most forward of the flavors in this brew. My SCOBY wasn't anything substantial, about 2 mm thick, but the 'buch was definitely 'buch. And since I have an essentially unlimited supply of SCOBYs, I wasn't worried about keeping a culture going feeding on this simple, tea-free brew.
The longevity of your culture will however be a great concern to you, the home brewer. You will be able to use your initial, "seed SCOBY" multiple times, but your caffeine-free brew may not produce a nice, thick SCOBY every time you brew, as camellia sinensis is the best food for kombucha. As such, I suggest keeping a container in your refrigerator full of SCOBYs, like the one seen below. You'll want to keep it covered to prevent drying, but each time you have a nice new SCOBY, consider putting it in the refrigerator to keep it as a backup. That way, you won't have to count on your caffeine-free brew producing a SCOBY every week, as you'll have plenty, and this brew won't kill off your original "seed SCOBY" necessarily, it just won't produce a new one.
So, keep these possibilities in mind when you make your next batch, and also remember that experimentation is the spice of kombucha brewing. You may very well find many different mixtures that work for you that don't include caffeine or tea!
Stay tuned - in my next blog, I'll go over making caffeinated and energetic kombucha that will have you jumping for jitter-free joy!