Kombucha Brooklyn

  • From Urban to Ulster: KBBK Has Found Peace and Quiet


    KBBK's New Space, Kombucha Brooklyn


    Well, we've done it! KBBK has completely relocated to the beautiful Catskill mountains, on the outskirts of Kingston, NY. KBBK has found peace and quiet. While we miss the busy night life, bodega sandwiches, nearly effortless transportation and the 'buch-thirsty masses, the move has been for the best.


    View from Overlook Mountain, Kombucha Brooklyn View of the mountains from Overlook Mountain


    We're trading sirens for birdsongs, exhaust for dust, bikes for boats, and towers for trees. Not all of us grew up in a big city, so it's been a pleasant return to rural life for some, and for others an unfamiliar but welcome change of scenery and lifestyle.


    Echo Lake, Kombucha Brooklyn Echo Lake


    So, come visit us in Kingston - you'll surely be welcomed with a cold pint of kombucha when we open our retail space within the next couple of months. We might even take you on a hike or for a quick visit to the beautiful fishing lake behind our store!


    Onteora Fishing Lake, Kombucha Brooklyn Onteora Fishing Lake
  • Exciting News!


    Exciting News! We are moving!
    We have made a lot of changes over the last 12 months to better suit our personal and professional goals. In November, we halted production of our 12-oz bottle line. This decision was carefully considered. After years of experience with the bottle program, we decided that it did not fully support our company’s mission guidelines of being an environmentally sustainable operation. Environmental sustainability is something we at KBBK are committed to. No matter how hard we tried, there was always an immense amount of waste in the bottle program on multiple levels from production and glass all the way up to the sales and consumer level. The cost of this waste was passed all the way down the chain resulting in an inflated cost per bottle to customers. It’s hard to watch all of that waste when there is a better way!


    By dropping the bottles we were able to put our focus on more sustainable kombucha products: our Kombucha On-Tap Program and our Kombucha Home Brew Supplies. Now we are brewing up the best, most sustainable kombucha for on-tap purchases in reusable growlers or by the glass and we are teaching more people than ever to brew their own at home.


    Now it is time to further hone our vision and make KBBK the very best it can be. This time not just for the business and the environment, but for our family and employees too. Next month, KBBK will begin operating out of our new space just outside of Kingston, NY. By moving upstate, we will greatly reduce expenses from the high costs associated with producing products in the city while providing a clean, safe, spacious environment for our company, employees and products to grow. Our new space, the KBBK Fermentation Shop, will be a learning center, brew shop, lab, and fulfillment center housed in a beautiful, clean, mountain environment. And all are welcome! With more space to explore, we want it to be a destination for fermentation enthusiasts everywhere. Keg production will remain in New York City at our facility in Long Island City.


    Along with this move, Jessica and I and our two sons, Rider and Paxis, will be moving upstate as well. This will give our sons the environment they need to grow, learn and play with all of the “loose parts” that nature provides and that we believe are essential to a developing mind.


    In addition to our family, we are also excited to have some of our longtime KBBK employees joining us on this adventure! We’re a 2-hour drive from the heart of Manhattan, easily accessible by car, train or bus, and surrounded by mountains and trees. What better place in the world to be? We are so pleased that our crew is onboard.


    All of us at KBBK welcome a visit from you and yours at our new home in Kingston and thank you for your continued support on this great fermented mission. Drop by anytime and share a pint of refreshing hand-crafted kombucha with us.



    Eric, Kombuchman

    Team KBBK



  • White Tea Kombucha - A Regal Treat



    For a long time, white tea was a complete mystery to me. To make a distinction between a white and a green tea was like comparing apples... to apples. But with a little investigation, a Silver Needle Tea-off at Tea-Drunk, and a lot of drinking, some of the nature of white teas became clearer.


    The least processed of the teas, this style most famously hails from the Fujian province of China. Made up of the buds, the leaves, or a combination of both, the plant is withered and baked, traits that it has in common with the production of black tea.


    While there are specific varietals and cultivars that may be preferred to others before being processed into a final product, every style of tea can be made from any Camellia sinensis plant. The genetics utilized for a specific style of tea are selected by the manufacturer and are often traditional. Teas from certain plants and unique environments (terroir) contribute to the tea's flavor, body and aroma.


    So, for example, you could take leaves from a Tieguanyin varietal (usually made into oolong tea) and process them into a black tea, or any of the others, for that matter. The best white tea, however, comes from the Fujian province.



    Silver Needle bud, Kombucha Brooklyn Silver Needle bud



    The Leaves


    The development of white teas can be traced back to the end of a long era of consuming tea as a powder rather than, as we're familiar with today, an infusion. It was in these early days of white teas that the leaves were the primary constituent of the tea's pluck - it wasn't until the late 19th century that the buds of tea plants came to be part of white tea production (Bai Hao Yin Zhen, or Silver Needle, is only buds). Other varieties utilize the bud and the first two leaves past the bud (Bai Mudan), or sometimes simply the leaves (Shou Mei, Gong Mei).


    Of all varieties of white teas, the first to be plucked is strictly buds, beginning in early March, followed by Bai Mudan and the others.






    Developed late in the 18th century, the style is rather young – understandable, possibly, when you consider the relatively simple fashion in which it is processed. Soon after plucking, the leaves are withered on bamboo frames and dried slowly, which helps to preserve the shape and tiny hairs on the buds. The result of the minimal processing of this tea is a bulky, unkempt appearance in the case of the leaf-containing teas, or the striking, platinum beauty and uniformity of silver needle varieties.




    When steeping a white tea, you can expect not the vegetal flavors found in green teas, or the astringency. What pervades your palate in white teas is spicy, even herbal - bay, marjoram, oregano and even cinnamon and chicory are invoked; strikingly, the flavor of black tea is also very noticeable. With aging, fruity flavors reveal themselves, such as muscatel grape and apricot. There is a dry nuttiness, like birch bark and chestnuts, that contributes to this once-exclusive tea’s character. Lush, but also somehow dusty, this tea is sharp, yet not affronting. It's luxurious, crisp and refreshing.


    Silver Bud White Pu-Erh, Kombucha Brooklyn Silver Bud White Pu-Erh


    'Buching with White Tea


    White tea alone can make excellent kombucha, but some aspect of this style can make it difficult to support the proliferation of a SCOBY. Among my favorite kombuchas I've made was with a Silver Bud White Pu-Erh that's been aging since 2003 (true pu-erh or not). I've found that while standalone white tea kombucha can be delicious, I also love this tea in blends.


    For example, KBBK's Straight Up utilizes equal parts black, green and white teas. This results in a balanced kombucha that is not too heavily skewed towards the apple and malt flavors contributed by black tea.


    One of my favorite ways to use white tea is in a blend with yerba mate. The result is a smoky, herbaceous kombucha that is suggestive of peaches and citrus.


    Bai Mudan, Kombucha Brooklyn Bai Mudan


    With the addition of other herbs (following some guidelines) the result can be magnificent, uplifting kombucha that trumps anything store-bought 'buch has to offer, the white tea adding some herbal character and nutrients for the culture.


    It is important, as a kombucha brewer, to explore the facets of every tea so that you can blend and brew with breadth and comprehensive character that will keep you and those lucky enough to try your brew surprised and delighted.  So, try brewing with white tea and start experimenting with blending as well. Clarity and refreshing contentment will be your reward!


    You can find KBBK's house white tea (a Bai Mudanhere, as well as the Silver Bud White Pu-Erh here.

  • When Life Gives You SCOBYs...


    At Kombucha Brooklyn we get a little sentimental about SCOBYs. So much so that the thought of trash-heaping the little guys is unbearable. So, when life gives you SCOBYs...


    In the interest of respect and reverence, we have embraced our propensity to consume them. 'Buch isn't just a drink! It can be a tasty, conversation-inducing ingredient in so many dishes that there's never really a wrong way to eat them. Not to mention that you can cook with kombucha in just as many ways!


    In KBBK founders' 2013 book Kombucha!: The Amazing Probiotic Tea that Cleanses, Heals, Energizes and Detoxifies, many SCOBY and 'buch recipes are outlined in an effort to open minds, cleanse bodies, and bring kombucha full circle. Recipes such as Carrot-Ginger-SCOBY Soup, SCOBY Tempura Salad, KomQuinoa Pilaf with SCOBY and Roasted Root Vegetables, and Super Live Miso Soup with SCOBY Noodles have become beloved staples of SCOBY-kitchen repertoire.


    So, we thought we'd recap a few of the ways we've used SCOBYs here around the office. A little food smut never hurt anyone, and we'll take full responsibility for your cravings!



    SCOBY Rancher Snacks are a delicious way to use up a bunch of SCOBY very quickly, and it's a very friendly snack that's amenable to the most stalwart palates.


    KBBK's SCOBY Rancher's Snacks, Kombucha Brooklyn KBBK's SCOBY Rancher's Snacks


    This is one of those meals that probably could never happen the same way twice. Lunch is an epic adventure here. We cooked rice, diced SCOBY and mixed it into the rice with some Kombucha Breath of Fire (a pepper-kombucha vinegar concoction that is in constant rotation here). Then, we mixed fresh avocado with curry spices, served it with the rice, and topped the whole thing with a fried egg and scallions, and voila! It was an improv meal home run.


    SCOBY Avocado Curry, Kombucha Brooklyn SCOBY Avocado Curry


    A delicious and warming Fall food, SCOBY and Red Pepper-Stuffed Acorn Squash is as comforting as SCOBY foods get.


    SCOBY and Red Pepper-Stuffed Acorn Squash, Kombucha Brooklyn SCOBY and Red Pepper-Stuffed Acorn Squash


    While this dish doesn't actually contain SCOBYs, their byproduct, kombucha vinegar, is used in haute fashion for this fantastic dessert concoction devised by KBBK's resident extraordinary chef and office-master Will.


    Bananas Brûlée with Mulberry Kombucha and Toasted Hazelnuts, Kombucha Brooklyn Bananas Brûlée with Mulberry Kombucha and Toasted Hazelnuts


    This is among our all-time favorite uses for SCOBY. The light acidity of SCOBY combined with miso (extra fermentation points!), seaweed, mushrooms and tofu make a delectable and light soup that you'll be dreaming about months down the road. This is one of the recipes featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.


    Super-Live Miso Soup with SCOBY Noodles, Kombucha Brooklyn Super-Live Miso Soup with SCOBY Noodles


    Much like brewing kombucha, experimentation is rewarded many times over in the satisfaction of friends and family in sharing delicious and novel foods. Consider the above a reminder and a jumping-off point for the fact that being a probiotic pioneer is fun, healthy, and wholesome!


    For some of these recipes and many more, check out the book Kombucha!: The Amazing Probiotic Tea that Cleanses, Heals, Energizes and Detoxifies.


    Share any ideas, recipes or photos in the comments section below, or on our Facebook page!

  • Top Kombucha Brewing Questions Answered


    There are a few things about kombucha that may keep people from achieving total brewing mastery, which is why we've compiled a list of the top kombucha brewing questions we receive.


    1. Is this mold?


    What you don't want to see - a moldy SCOBY! Kombucha BrooklynThe most frequently asked question we get from home brewers revolves around the question of mold. The good news is that it’s easy to prevent, easy to spot, and relatively rare.


    A few rules of thumb apply with mold:


    • Mold will always be dry and fuzzy (never dry and bubbly)
    • Mold will never form below the surface of the liquid in your brew jar
    • Low temperatures and weak nutrient can invite mold proliferation


    Check out this blog post that covers all of the aspects of mold speculation!



    1. How can I store SCOBY? How long can I keep it there?


    scobys_thumbYou can store a SCOBY almost indefinitely in the refrigerator. You will want to make sure the culture is completely submerged in kombucha and covered. Ideally, you should store it in glass, but any vessel that seals and keeps out refrigerator odors will work well.


    The longer you store a SCOBY, the longer it will take to ferment the first brew. You can also store your SCOBY in a jar outside of the fridge, but over time it will grow into a monster SCOBY. You must be sure there is still liquid in the jar as long as you are storing it at room temperature, since if the culture dries out, it will be hard to resuscitate and may grow moldy.


    It is possible to resuscitate a frozen SCOBY. Simply allow it to thaw, and brew with it as you would normally. Be sure to speak softly to it, playing lilting ukulele music.



    1. My kombucha isn’t fizzy. What am I doing wrong?


    Pour KBBKWhile carbonation isn't a necessary component of kombucha, it is a highly polarizing yet satisfying aspect. However, one should not be troubled if unable to effectively carbonate kombucha.


    There are a few things to take note of when you want to carbonate your kombucha:


    • Kombucha will not be inherently effervescent (bubbly) right out of primary fermentation
    • The simplest carbonation method for a homebrewer is to bottle your kombucha and allow it to continue fermenting, with the lid on, at room temperature
    • The sugar content of the kombucha you are bottling will play a huge role in your resulting effervescence. Sugar is contributed in either primary fermentation (and will be residual when you bottle) or it is added as a flavoring when you bottle. This is usually juiced or dried fruit, but can also be more sugar, a couple of raisins, honey, maple syrup, etc.
    • The temperature of the environment in which you are doing secondary fermentation plays a large role as well. Just like during primary fermentation, higher temperatures will result in quicker fermentation and lower temperatures will result in slower fermentation


    Check out this blog post to read up on carbonating your kombucha.



    1. My kombucha is too sweet. What am I doing wrong?


    DSC_5357That’s a good problem to have, as it means that your brew hasn't fermented too far yet. You will just need to wait a little bit longer for your brew to reach a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. It’s better to find that it’s sweet, because at the other end of the spectrum you could be finding your ‘buch to be too vinegary.


    After day 5 of primary fermentation, taste your brew daily. Use a spoon, straw, sample thief, etc. This will help to acclimate you to the changes your brew is experiencing, giving you a good foresight on when it will be completed and ready to drink or bottle!




    1. My kombucha is too vinegary. What am I doing wrong?


    Kombucha wine

    You simply need end primary fermentation sooner. All kombucha, left at room temperature, will eventually become vinegar. Start tasting it daily after 5 days, and when you find it to have a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, it’s ready to drink!


    But if you go too far, don't fret! Simply blend in some unfermented tea and/or sugar before you bottle. This will balance out your brew and make nice bubbles in secondary!






    1. Can I use any tea to make kombucha?


    Silver Bud Pu-Erh

    Following a few guidelines, it is very easy to use pretty much any of your favorite herbal or standard teas for making kombucha:

    • A majority of your plant matter should be actual tea (Camellia sinensis)
    • If you want to use herbs, use no more than 25% the total mass of plant matter for your steep. For example - 12 grams black tea, 3 grams lavender
    • Herbal tea is not an adequate substitute for actual tea!

    For more information on using tea and herbs for your brews, check out this blog post.




    1. Can I use sweeteners other than sugar?

    SugarYes, you can! There are a few caveats, however.


    • Plain sugar is the best sweetener for your standard kombucha brew
    • You can try using other sweeteners, but train your culture into becoming comfortable with them
    • Use a Jun culture if you want to brew with honey
    • Maple syrup makes excellent kombucha, and both standard and Jun cultures do well with it
    • For liquid sweeteners, use 3/4 cup per 1-gallon brew
    • Maple crystals do not do so well alone in kombucha, the same goes for brown sugar


    Read up on Jun kombucha here



    8. How much alcohol is in kombucha?


    Kombucha Brooklyn Brews BeerAs a home brewer, you will generally see higher alcohol content in your 'buch than you will find in store-bought kombucha. This is due to a legal requirement that non-alcoholic beverages must contain less than .5% alcohol by volume, and they are carefully processed and handled to keep the alcohol content low.


    So, in your home-brewed kombucha, you will generally see alcohol content anywhere from .5% to 2.5%. At the high end of that scale, the booziness will be evident but still very subtle and easily broken down by your body.




    For more information about alcohol in kombucha, read this blog post.


    For information about brewing high alcohol kombucha, check out this one.




    Have we missed anything? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below, or send us an email at info@kombuchabrooklyn.com

  • Bamboo and Ceramic-Aged Pu-Erhs


    Rare and Limited Offerings from KBBK's Premium Tea Collection


    We're pleased to now offer two new and exotic styles of pu-erh! For a limited time, rare bamboo and ceramic-aged pu-erhs will be featured on our site for your kombucha brewing delight. Both of these teas are extremely limited and won't last!


    Ceramic Aged Pu-Erh, Kombucha Brooklyn

    The ceramic-aged pu-erh is a ripe, or shu pu-erh, and it has been processed to accelerate fermentation, and aged a further 15 years. We're very happy to offer this tea as it's a great example of the art and care taken in preparation, storage and presentation of tea. The included ceramic pot is hand-made by the manufacturer, and is a beautiful companion to this delicious tea and will surely bring an air of authenticity to your kitchen!


    The quick fermentation accentuates notes of malt and root vegetables, while the full body alludes to buttery corn cob and rich earth. It's a true treat to behold with full, dark color and loads of flavor to reveal after multiple infusions.


    Ceramic Pot Aged Sheng Pu-Erh, 2000, Kombucha Brooklyn Ceramic Pot Aged Sheng Pu-Erh, 2000



    And for a more rustic style, we're introducing a bamboo-aged pu-erh that's been cave-conditioned for 14 years. This is a great example of a raw, or shu pu-erh, that's been undergoing natural fermentation and maturation. At once green, then citrusy, and next smoky and mouth-filling, this tea is a true flavor chameleon.  A cooling, minty effect stimulates your palate with each sip, giving way to a pleasant, non-bitter and lingering mouthfeel that is remarkably clean for a pu-erh.


    Bamboo Pu-Erh, Kombucha Brooklyn


    A part of the preservation process involves a heating of the bamboo after it's been packed with the pu-erh maocha, or unfermented leaf, which imparts a lightly smoky taste that is as alluring as it is comforting.


    Both of these new pu-erh offerings produce a rapidly-growing SCOBY, a sure sign that the culture loves these teas! A truly unique kombucha awaits, and sharing this tea's taste as well as its story is the real treat of this experience.


    For more information on pu-erh, see this blog post about this fantastic style!

  • Kombucha Tea and Herb Guide


    For brewers new and experienced, use this kombucha tea and herb guide to jump off the tea bag bandwagon and into the world of loose leaf! Loose leaf teas are, across the board, of a much higher quality than those that come in tea bags. And be sure to visit our website to check out our selection of premium brewing teas.


    Kombucha Tea Guide, Kombucha Brooklyn

  • Simple Ways to Keep Your Kombucha Brew Warm


    Warmth is essential to the kombucha process, and there are many simple ways to keep your kombucha brew warm. It will ensure that your brew stays healthy, producing acids that lower the pH to fend off mold. But it will also ensure that you're able to harvest your 'buch without waiting forever.


    The ideal brewing temperature for kombucha is between 70 and 80 degrees. Lower than that range, you are running the risk of allowing mold to form. Higher than that range, you might get finished 'buch more quickly but it will also potentially become vinegar more quickly.


    Kombucha Warmth Kombucha Brooklyn


    It's best to find places in your home that are naturally producing or retaining heat. Beyond that, you can dress up your brew with heat mats, cooler-incubators and clothes to your heart's content. You could even build a box special for fermenting. Any combination of these methods will do wonders for your 'buch and keep you from pulling your hair out in these cool winter months.


    These are just a few suggestions and you are encouraged to branch out and think for yourself based on your home environment. If all else fails, just take it to bed. I won't judge you.


    Happy brewing!


    For heat mats and other kombucha brewing accessories, click here.

  • Kombucha and Mold: What You Need To Know


    SCOBY or Io? Kombucha Brooklyn SCOBY? Or Io, moon of Jupiter?


    Think back to the first time you tasted kombucha. I remember my first bottle, back in 2004. I was visiting a food co-op with a good friend of mine (who I can credit with many of my bizarre but healthy eating habits). He had purchased a bottle and gave me a taste; it was a berry and ginger brew, and it truly was love at first sip. The stuff was effervescent, packed full of ginger intensity and luscious fruitiness. Immediately, I wanted to know more. Many questions arose in my head - What the heck is this stuff? What's this strange mass floating around in the bottle? Why does it smell like vinegar? It says it's probiotic, that's nice, but how is it made? Little did I know at the time that the next decade of my life would be spent in intimate collaboration with this, my new favorite "fizzy lifting drink."


    A few days later, I bought my own bottle, loved it again, and started talking to friends about this strange new beverage. A chef pal of mine mentioned that some coworkers of his had stashed culture to make kombucha in a refrigerator at his restaurant. I jumped at the opportunity to start making it. When he brought the cultures home, they were pretty off-putting - stored in a plastic container, looking like some sort of decaying aquatic animal; smelling like apple cider vinegar, I was skeptical of the possibility of ending up with something safe and palatable.


    SCOBY aesthetics

    The thing that turns most people off about kombucha, if they can get used to the vinegary taste, is its appearance. There are inevitably going to be stringy bits of yeast and clumps of SCOBY in a store-bought bottle. In a raw, living beverage that's completely normal. One of the reasons kombucha is so good for us is due to the probiotic qualities that must be preserved; as a result of not being pasteurized, the culture will continue to proliferate, given the right conditions (warmth), inside a closed bottle. It is this aspect of bottling that caused issues in 2010 when kombucha everywhere was pulled off the shelves. As a result of FDA tests, it was discovered that bottled kombucha from many producers had exceeded the 0.5% ABV limit.


    And during brewing there's a whole other aesthetic that is the growth and proliferation of the SCOBY in the brew jar, on top of the tea. Once you've seen kombucha brewing, you can understand that there's definitely a reason that grandmothers of old were said to keep the culture out of sight of children, lest they be reticent to drink the healthful beverage. I always describe it lovingly - imagine a jellyfish crossed with a mudskipper. Awwww.


    Stringy yeast strands adorning the underside of a SCOBY Kombucha Brooklyn SCOBY letting its hair down (yeast)

    Things you'll see

    You'll be seeing some anomalous things and inevitably start to wonder what's going on. Most shock that new brewers have is at the brown blobs that form in a kombucha brew, which are simply coagulated yeast cells. Often, you'll notice one of these blobs forming just under the surface of your brew, at the edge of the jar. Just think of it as your resident blob!


    Your SCOBY might grow tendrils (Cthulu fhtagn!), which are also yeast, that will hang down into your brewing liquid. Don't be troubled either if you see a big brown spot in the middle of your SCOBY, sometimes cellulose (which makes up the SCOBY) will be thinner in some places, especially when your mother SCOBY floats at the top of the brew jar, and new SCOBY grows around her.


    If your brew is moldy, it is easy to tell. There will be dry, fuzzy spots that will usually grow in concentric rings. There is a wide possibility for the color of the mold, generally, it could be white, blue, black, green etc.


    Mold / Not Mold Kombucha Brooklyn

    Ways to steer clear of mold

    There are very simple ways to keep kombucha and mold separate:

    • Don't skimp on ingredients. Use at least 1 cup of sugar per gallon and 12 grams of actual tea per gallon (white, green, black, oolong or puerh).
    • Don't brew oily herbs with your tea - the volatile oil content of herbs will affect your brew and can lead to mold. Since oil floats in water, and your SCOBY wants to float as well, this can effectively keep your brew from breathing and producing beneficial acids that lower pH and thus keep mold at bay. If you want to use herbs in your kombucha, use actual tea along with it - about 12 grams per gallon.
    • Keep your brew in a warm place. Warm brewing temperatures not only result in your kombucha brewing more quickly, but will make sure your culture can respire and create the acids that keep mold at bay. Cold temperatures are often the culprit with many mold issues.
    • Keep your brew away from cigarette smoke.
    • Always use already-brewed kombucha or vinegar for your starter (required for every brew). For a gallon, 12 ounces of kombucha or 3 TBSP of distilled vinegar are two easy starters you can use.
    • A dry SCOBY will become a moldy SCOBY. Keep your culture in a sealed container if you aren't going to be brewing for awhile, rather than just leaving it in the brew jar to starve - doesn't your mother deserve better?


     If you have mold

    • Don't drink it, discard the culture. Weep and plead with another friendly brewer to give you another culture or to give you some 'buch to drink while you are restarting.
    • Add strange items and take photographs, share with friends or with us on our Facebook 'Buch Brewer's Group.
    • Remember that it's always important to keep a backup SCOBY for just such an occasion. Once you start brewing, put some of the culture in the fridge, submerged in kombucha, to save you from having to order another one if your brew goes south.
    • Don't freak out. Don't stop brewing.


    If you have any questions or want to send photos of your possibly moldy brew, post them to our Facebook page or send them to info@kombuchabrooklyn.com. Happy brewing!

  • Black Tea Kombucha


    Bi Luo High Grade


    Think back to your first memories of tea. What types of images are elicited? For me, I picture a tea bag, being gingerly plunged up and down in a steaming cup of dark red or black liquid. This will have assuredly been a black tea - English breakfast, Lipton, Earl Gray - the ubiquitous facets of Western tea consumption.


    Black or Red?


    But if you’re like most Westerners, the connotation of “black tea” doesn’t really allow for the luxurious, complex experience that fine teas can elicit. More often, we’re conditioned to see black tea as common and unvarying - perhaps simply due to the title. Black is black, after all; monodimensional, uninteresting. In China, however, this variety of fully oxidized leaf (called hong cha or "red tea") contains a diverse array of qualities.


    So named because of the color of the tea’s liquor, the visual variance in the color red bring about an alluring, enigmatic quality that evokes passion, depth and complexity. These descriptors reveal the true nature of a black (red) tea, and the energy felt from these teas I would consider grounding, earnest and powerful.


    There's something about the dark, smooth, pure and strong character of these teas that is simply divine, convincing, and transcendent. Though some characteristics are shared across the board, for example, in teas from China and India, many of the factors that affect the flavor of these teas simply cannot be replicated outside of certain regions, whether it be based on soil, climate, genetics or processing. Today, I'll focus on Chinese black teas.



    Black, or red tea - A fully oxidized tea that generally has dark brown or black leaves. “Black” is a very general way to describe a tea, and in the same way that there are many shades of every color, these teas are just as varied.


    Keemun Gong Fu Kombucha Brooklyn Keemun Gong Fu

    Though not always the case with black teas, they can have an inherent astringency, or bitterness, that can be reduced with the addition of milk and/or sugar (to the chagrin of its producers). Not all black teas will take to milk and sugar successfully, though this is the most popular way to serve black tea in the West, whereas in Asia, if drinking black tea, plain is the most common fashion.


    Black teas are better suited for long term storage than green or oolong teas, and as such were more popular in the West during the early history of European/Asian tea trade.


    Chinese Black Tea


    The archetypal nature of black tea in the West belies the fact that the style's history doesn't seem to be present until being developed in plantations during the Ming dynasty (which ended in 1644). Surprising to me as a lover of black tea, this is not a popularly consumed style among even those who produce it - in China, black tea makes up only about 1/20th of the nation's total tea production - green tea, by far, makes up most of this harvest.


    Black teas can't be said, generally speaking, to contain more caffeine than, say, greens; while caffeine is largely sequestered in young leaves, with black teas there's not a polarizing distinction across the category that would suggest a more highly-caffeinated brew. It's not uncommon to find buds among the leaves, often providing beautiful golden contrast to the dark black or red leaves. The leaves of the sinensis varietal are usually small, with minor variations in shape, especially compared to the black teas of India’s Assam region (although related). Special varietals exist even within this Latin sinensis distinction, as is the case with the well-known Keemun.


    Processing the Leaves



    Raw 1992 Pu-erh, Kombucha Brooklyn Raw 1992 Pu-erh


    A side-note on Pu-erh tea:  Generally speaking, calling a Pu-erh a "black tea" may be semi-accurate but is not generally discussed as part of this category. Now often intentionally aged or simulated-aged, I like to look at Pu-erh tea as leaves that are on a (potentially) very long road to becoming a black tea, or fully oxidized.


    To read more about Pu-erh tea, check out the blog post here.







    Withering is the first step the leaves undergo after being carefully plucked. This process softens the leaves so that they are more malleable and the next step, rolling, is made easier as a result. This action stimulates the oxidizing enzymes that turn the green, withered leaves into a fully oxidized tea with leaves of black, brown, gold, orange and red.


    Next, oxidation is stimulated by covering the leaves with a damp cloth for up to half a day. Compared to oxidation of Indian black tea, this process creates a more mild and less astringent tea. There isn't really a set-in-stone methodology, as all variables are taken into account by the tea handler to produce a fine tea that is the result of much skill and experience. It is the prerogative of the tea artist to elicit fine flavor that showcases the terroir as well as his own skill in shaping the final product.


    Finally, the leaves are dried which slows oxidation. There are various methods used to dry the leaves, but warmth and heat are paramount at this stage to reduce the presence of residual moisture, improving stability.


    Chinese Black Tea Varieties


    The major black teas of China can be divided into a few major types. A short list includes Keemun, Yunnan and Lapsang Souchong. Each has its own characteristic growing region, processing methods and of course, flavor.




    Considered the birthplace of the tea species, Yunnan province in China has a surprisingly short history in making black tea. Since that start in 1939, however, it has become the main black tea producing region in China. Yunnan black tea has soft, lightly-twisted leaves that are broad and can be infused many times and yields a woody, dried apricot, leather and earthy flavor that has a strong finish. Gold-orange buds (the youngest part of a tea plant) are a major part of this tea's leaves and the appearance and flavor of tobacco and pepper is unmistakeable; tiny hairs impart a lingering tenacity on the palate. Teas from the Yunnan region are some of my absolute favorites.


    KBBK black tea




    Keemun tea is made from the small-leafed tea plant that results in a tea that is lightly sweet, with notes of cocoa and a clean and focused maltiness with a strong fruity characteristic - surprisingly fruity. The inherent sweetness of this tea is a quality I adore in teas, tending to weaken my knees, elicit wistful daydreams and strike up wordless conversations with the leaves. It is the only of the red teas that is on China's top-10 list of favorite teas.


    Lapsang Souchong


    The unique Lapsang Souchong is a special black tea that is processed with a step that contributes pine smoke to the tea -  the final drying of the tea is done above smoldering pine embers. It should be noted that the smoky characteristic is not subtle. It can often be sharp in smokiness but is clean and always convincing. While this tea will make excellent kombucha, I find the smokiness to be a little overbearing so will usually "cut" it with another, unsmoked, tea. I've had great success with Lapsang-chamomile kombucha, as well.


    'Buching with Black Teas


    Not to be overlooked is the quality of kombucha that can be achieved through use of the many varieties of black tea. Flavors that can be expected vary widely - malted barley, toffee, caramel, biscuits, coconut, to name a few - and are unique to each tea, but really across the board the stand-out flavor I find that is elicited in black teas is that of apples.


    SCOBYs are absolutely voracious for black tea, and it shows in explosive growth and a reliably quick ferment. Chinese hongcha is just the start of our exploration of brewing with black tea kombucha. Another of the world's major black tea production regions is India, whose abundance of variety is the topic of a future entry.


    Above all, 'buch brewers, remember that variety is the spice of 'buch, and you need not look to post-fermentation flavoring to make spectacular kombucha! Don't feel pinned down to any specific dogma regarding teas, especially the sleeping giant of black teas - varied and complex - which may have previously been hiding behind the Liptons and English Breakfasts of the world. Look around, sip often, and brew constantly - and don't forget to have fun!


    Check out other blog entries about tea here!
    For fine black teas and many others, look here to see what fine teas are available from Kombucha Brooklyn!


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