Kombucha Brooklyn

  • 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

     

  • KBBK Work Culture, pt. 1 - Field Trips and Office Life

    DSC_6205 KBBK on Fire Island

     

    Our lives are split in to two areas, work life and home life. The gap between these two areas is usually large. Most of us can’t wait until Friday comes along because it brings a weekend of self-guidance on what we do and where we go. Unfortunately, when it comes to work culture, most companies just don’t get it right.

     

    Since our formation, KBBK has always tried to be a place where people want to be. God knows I'm at KBBK more then I'm at home. Why on Earth would I or anyone else want to be there if it doesn't provide a way of life that is comfortable, with breaks to pad it?  With the little resources we have, KBBK has tried to create a work culture that makes people thrive and excited to return.

     

    The ‘Buch Bar fully loaded with three lines of kombucha, one Stumptown cold brew, and two beers.

     

    photo (11) 'Buch Bar

     

    Our gym, located in storage and under the inspiring eyes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is available for a quick gun blast session anytime of the day.

     

    photo (10) KBBK gym

     

    Local yoga/mediation teacher Jessa Messina comes in once or twice a month to give us an hour of meditation and “corporate yoga.”

     

    BZC8s8wCEAAtWtR Yoga at the Lab

     

    In June, the entire crew (minus Keg Master Billy, “we missed you Billy!”) took the short ride to Fire Island for the weekend.  Good food, sun, and beach cricket were some of the many things we enjoyed.

     

    DSC_6177 The beach!

     

    Inherently NYC, the US Open was one of our first field trips.  A remarkable event and great venue to unwind to as a group.

     

    IMG_6777 US Open

     

    We all love beer, so this year's first field trip was to Bitter and Esters. NYC’s only brew- on-premise beer shop. 19 gallons later we had a delicious, barnyardy saison.

     

    IMG_8430 Brewing at Bitter and Esters

     

    As KBBK grows I hope to explore the idea of Work Culture more and push the boundaries of what people know as their “work life.” If you find yourself in one of the many jobs that don’t offer such activities, create them yourself. Find the time in the day to give your mind and body a break from the stress that is put on all of us while we carve our way through life. If that is not possible leave! Find a place that allows you to thrive.

     

    Inspiration to find that sweet spot:

     

    Google

    Zappos

  • Caffeine and Kombucha, pt. 2 - Brewing Kombucha with High Caffeine

     

    Guayusa and yerba Guayusa and Yerba Mate, while not technically tea, are both traditionally consumed from a gourd

    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

     

    Jade Dewdrops, Mao Feng, Black Iron Goddess Left to right: Jade Dewdrops (green), Mao Feng (green), Black Iron Goddess (black)

    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.

     

    Guayusa, yerba mate, silver bud Left to right: Guayusa, yerba mate, silver bud white tea

    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.

     

    Remember pu-erh?

     

    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.

     

    Mi Lan Xiang Phoenix Mountain Oolong, and a Tibetan mushroom pu-erh Mi Lan Xiang Phoenix Mountain Oolong, and a Tibetan mushroom pu-erh

    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.

     

    KBBK is making it easy to do this with our selection of teas, which now includes bulk yerba mate for 2, 4, or 6 brews.

     

    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 ;-).

     

    An array of (mostly) teas arranged left to right, higher to lower caffeine An array of (mostly) teas arranged left to right, higher to lower caffeine
  • 'Buch on Tap July 2014

     

    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 GreensWatermelon 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!

    The Non-alcoholic Craft Option The Non-alcoholic Craft Option

    Current Flavors:

     

    • 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.

    Tap Handles

  • Cooking with Kombucha: Bananas Brûlée with Mulberry Kombucha and Toasted Hazelnuts

     

     

    Cooking with Kombucha: Banana's Brûlée with Mulberry Kombucha

    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

    Equipment needed:

    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

     

    Cooking with Kombucha: Banana's Brûlée with Mulberry Kombucha

    Ingredients:

    2 bananas

    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.

     

    Directions:

    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.

     

    Cooking with Kombucha: Banana's Brûlée with Mulberry Kombucha Peeling hazelnuts after roasting

     

    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:

     

    Cooking with Kombucha: Banana's Brûlée with Mulberry Kombucha

     

    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. :)

  • Carbonating your Kombucha - Tricks of the Trade

     

    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.

     

    Flip-top bottle, left, alongside a KBBK growler and fresh, carbonated 'buch Flip-top bottle, left, alongside a KBBK growler and fresh, carbonated 'buch

    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.

     

    Secondary fermentation

     

    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:

    1. Bottle your kombucha in containers with air-tight lids
    2. Allow your filled bottles to sit at room temperature, generally for 1-2 weeks*
    3. 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


    Post-primary flavoring

     

    Left: Lemon and spruce are unsweetened flavorings; Right: mango and elderberry puree are sweet flavorings Left: Lemon and spruce are unsweetened flavorings; Right: mango and elderberry puree are sweet flavorings

    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.

     

    Bottle explosion Higher summertime temperatures will speed the buildup of CO2!

    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.

     

    Lids for our growlers: Cone-shaped plug is forced into the neck of the bottle, creating an airtight seal Lids for our growlers: Cone-shaped plug is forced into the neck of the bottle, creating an airtight seal

     

    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, and if you still are wondering why your 'buch just isn't up to your standards, consider visiting the KBBK Learning Center for 'Buch Kamp 1 & 2 to build up your chops and ready yourself for a lifetime of brewing pleasure.

     

    Happy brewing!

  • Caffeine and Kombucha, pt. 1 - Brewing Kombucha without Caffeine

     

    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.

    Barley-Rooibos kombucha Barley-Rooibos kombucha

    *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.

     

    Shu-mee White tea, left; Silver Bud white tea, right Shu-mee White tea, left; Silver Bud white tea, right; great for making tea-based kombucha - but not actually low in caffeine

    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.

     

    Barley, left; Rooibos, right Barley, left; Rooibos, right

    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.

     

    Collection of SCOBYs as backup Collection of SCOBYs as backup; cover with a lid and store in the refrigerator indefinitely!

     

    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!

  • Kombucha with a Kick: Brewing Kombucha Wine Pt. 2

     

    Welcome back! It's been awhile since part 1, hasn't it?

     

    Well, to be honest, my brew didn't go exactly as planned. A couple of my wines had a really hard time getting fermentation underway, and some started bubbling the airlock right off the bat. But really, all of them took quite a bit longer than I had expected!

     

    To start, I'll touch on the alcohol issue with kombucha. We're trying to do wine since kombucha alone will not inherently or with time make an alcoholic beverage that is palatable and appreciably alcoholic. I get that question sometimes - "If I let my kombucha brew for 3 months, will I end up with alcohol?" The answer is no - you might get a 'buch that is over 2% ABV, but this won't always be palatable and will be similar to vinegar, if you let it sit for that long. As such, we're going to force anaerobic fermentation, using a 1 gallon glass carboy, champagne yeast, and an airlock.

     

    Let's take a look at the different brews I started back in October 2013.

     

    Heavenly Peak Pu-erh - Pomegranate Kombucha Wine

     

    Meng Hai Heavenly Peak Pu-erh Meng Hai Heavenly Peak Pu-erh

     

     

    Pu-erh teas are a fun way to experiment with kombucha. You're guaranteed a finished product that is almost always different from what you expected - even if you know what you are getting into in having a good grasp of the pu-erh's flavor profile, there will be aspects that are accentuated or forgotten in the final brew.

     

    Heavenly Peak Pu-Erh / Pomegranate Kombucha Wine Heavenly Peak Pu-Erh / Pomegranate Kombucha Wine

    My pu-erh pomegranate wine is no exception. Sure, I expected a strong body and an appreciable acetic acid note with pomegranate early on. Something I've noticed that happens with kombucha wine, however, is that there's an abundant yeastiness that is not always seen as a good thing when you taste it in a wine. I've lost a lot of the notes of the initial, cooked pu-erh, picked up a ton of pomegranate and yeasty characteristics, and an easily-detected alcoholic aspect. And after about 2 months of secondary fermentation under an airlock, followed by almost 6 months of being stored in the refrigerator, not much has changed. A success, yes - it's definitely alcoholic - but I'm reminded that I'm a novice at making 'buch wine, as there isn't much about this one that is supremely desirable. Acidic, alcoholic, pomegranate barnyard. Fascinating, for sure, but I'm calling this one a pu-error.

     

    Hairy Crab Oolong - Papaya Kombucha Wine

     

    Oolong/papaya kombucha wine Hairy Crab Oolong / Papaya Kombucha Wine

     

    This one sounds silly, but aside from some initial difficulty in getting fermentation underway, there wasn't anything undersirable about this one. It was clear very early on that something wasn't quite right. I did 1/2 gallon of two different brews with this one, one pasteurized before adding the yeast, and one not pasteurized before the secondary, anaerobic fermentation. I wanted to see what effect killing off all of the probiotics in the kombucha had on the final wine.

     

    Once fermentation started (after about 3 weeks, mind you - you will be able to tell because your air lock will be bubbling), I allowed this one quite a bit of time to undergo fermentation. After about 6 weeks, I could tell from tasting that there was still more to go, and ended up calling it off after about 3 months. This is the point where I found the 'buch wine to taste best - within the first few days after the champagne yeast fermentation. The longer the wine sat in bottles, the more bread and yeast notes contributed to its flavor profile.

     

    Upon tasting, I could tell that there was still quite a bit of sweetness from the papaya, but there was a marked acidity and alcoholic nature to the brew as well. The pasteurized version definitely had a cleaner, less sulfuric aspect to it. Also, there was no overreaching, bready aspect as there had been in the pu-erh pomegranate 'buch. Lower in alcohol content than the pu-erh, but quite a bit more delicious. I call this one a success.

     

    Consider this fine oolong for your first kombucha wine journey - a nice Tieguanyin Oolong, medium oxidized Consider this fine oolong for your first kombucha wine journey - a nice Tieguanyin Oolong, medium oxidized

     

    How to Make Kombucha Wine

     

    I'll bet you've been sitting on that champagne yeast for quite a while, eh? Well hopefully by now you've honed your kombucha craft and are ready to take it to the next level with a wine. Most yeast packets you find at brew shops contain 5 grams, and are intended for a 5 gallon brew. So, just use the 1 gram of yeast per gallon you're going to make. You'll want to dissolve the yeast in some warm water before mixing it with your kombucha, that way it's nicely dispersed throughout the fermentation vessel.

     

    As for the kombucha, my methodology was to cease primary fermentation while the 'buch is still slightly sweet, in an effort to minimize any strange acidic notes I might not want in the final wine brew. I also added sugar to the 'buch, after dissolving it in warm water so I didn't have to heat up my kombucha. If you're interested in trying this method with pasteurized kombucha, go ahead and boil your brew and add the sugar so that it will dissolve nicely. I used 1 cup of sugar per gallon of wine I was going to brew, to be sure the yeast had plenty of food to metabolize into alcohol.

     

    Wine usually features some type of fruit, and so did this one. Utilizing organic papaya and organic pomegranate concentrates served this purpose; also, the sugar and other nutrients in the juices will be additional food for the yeast. The sweetness, flavor and consistency of your fruit juice will likely vary from mine, but I used 6 ounces of concentrate per 1 gallon brew. Keep in mind this is a matter of preference and you should probably err on the side of more concentrate rather than less.

     

    After pouring the fruit concentrates into my designated carboys, I added the warm yeast-water. Then, I poured the kombucha into the carboy, capped with airlocks, labeled them, and let them sit until the airlock's bubbling ceased.

     

    Airlock Airlock

     

    Now for the hard part - waiting. Try not to let this part bother you! One of the great things about kombucha in general is the speed with which this ferment is ready to be consumed. But if you want to take your brewing repertoire to the next level, it's going to take a little patience.

     

    So, get another 'buch brew going, put a wine reminder in your calendar (start tasting when almost all bubbling has ceased), and relish that day in the semi-distant future when your fruity, dry 'buch wine is boozy and bodacious!

  • Watermelon Kombucha Salad with Ajo Blanco

     

     

    Watermelon Salad with Ajo Blanco (Spanish White Gaspacho) and kombucha

    Will Donnelly | June 2014
    Watermelon Salad with Kombucha Ajo Blanco

     

    Yield: 8

    This bountiful salad is a wonderful Spanish / American cuisine blend that I recently created and would love to share. Ajo Blanco is a very old-school Spanish chilled garlic and almond soup. It's rich and creamy, though inexpensive and dairy-free. Usually this Gaspacho is served with green grapes or melon, which gives this blended soup pops of crisp crunchy texture and ever-so sweet grape fragrance, which is what got me thinking about watermelon. Start by making your Ajo Blanco, as you will need to cool it in the fridge before serving. If you are up for it, let it stand overnight in the fridge to really get the flavors working

    Ingredients

    Ajo Blanco

    • 225 grams blanched almonds (roughly a cup)
    • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and cored
    • 75 grams good white bread or stale baguette soaked in water
    • 750ml (3+ Cups) Iced water
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons Sherry Vinegar
    • salt and pepper to taste

     

    Watermelon Salad

    • 1/8th large watermelon
    • 1 washed cucumber
    • 1 juicy tomato
    • 1/2 bunch cilantro
    • 2 tablespoons kombucha vinegar (long fermented kombucha)
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • salt and pepper to taste

    Directions

    Start by making your Ajo Blanco, as you will need to cool it in the fridge before serving. If you are up for it, leave it in the fridge overnight  to really let the flavors meld.

    Ajo Blanco:

    1. Blend your almonds in a food processor until they are as quite fine (3-4 minutes). You may need to push them back into the bowl with a rubber spatula as they clump and climb up the sides.
    2. slowly add 1/3 cup of the iced water into the food processor.
    3. Squeeze the bread of excess water and add to the mix.
    4. At this point, add your garlic. If you have a mortar and pestle, use it! Mash your garlic with a bit of salt into a frothy pulp, then add to the soup.
    5. Add the vinegar and the olive oil, salt and pepper, and the rest of the water.
    6. If there is too much water for your mixer, you can transfer the soup into a large bowl and stir in the rest with your spatula there.
    7. Be aware that the bread may make the soup quite stodgy. If it is so, keep adding ice water until the soup is nappe consistency, or just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
    8. reserve and cool in the fridge.

     

    Watermelon Salad:

    1. Peel stripes off your cucumber leaving some skin in tact.
    2. Cut the cucumber in half, and dice it as finely as possible. Add to a small mixing bowl.
    3. Take the other half, stand it up on your cutting board, and carefully cut a long, skinny, angular wedge. Then rotate the cucumber a bit and make the same angled cut. Continue to do this (imagine you are carving a large cucumber spear) until you have no more cucumber. This process is very similar to a roll cut or angled roll cut. Place this cucumber into separate medium mixing bowl.
    4. Wipe down your cutting board, then halve and core your tomato. Fine dice the entire thing and transfer into the small mixing bowl.
    5. Now cut the watermelon into 1.5 inch slices, and clean it of the rind and any white pith. take your end wedge (smallest piece), small dice and add to the rest of the finely diced mix.
    6. Add salt, pepper, 1 Tbsp 'buch vinegar (if you don't have 'buch vinegar you can use champagne or white vinegar) and 1Tbsp olive oil to the small mixing bowl and give it a quick toss.
    7. Take the remaining watermelon pieces and cut off long 'shingles', about a centimeter thick. This will give you a nice piece of watermelon where you can get to the seeds and remove them, and then cut it into long, angular wedges. Add this to the medium mixing bowl.
    8. Add the rest of the 'buch vinegar and olive oil to your medium mixing bowl and lightly toss with a bit of salt and pepper.

    Final Steps

    1. Wash, dry and pluck your cilantro into large plushes.
    2. Pour your Ajo Blanco into your serving bowl (s)
    3. Spoon on top your small dice mix, then arrange your large-cut mix ontop, vertically.
    4. Finish with sprinking your cilantro on top!
    5. Enjoy the taste of summer :)

     

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