We receive a lot of questions on the use of loose-leaf teas in kombucha brewing. This is a good thing - loose-leaf teas provide the most flavor and the most bang for your buck, as compared to commercial teas packaged in bags.
That's not to say tea bags aren't practical - they make it very easy to steep your tea, and what's in the bag is usually the remains of the processing of loose-leaf tea - this can include dust and fannings, or broken pieces of leaf - and is intended to be able to be steeped relatively quickly.
Loose-leaf tea, however, requires more effort than simple dunking to elicit the flavors and nuances of the tea. And, you're actually steeping the whole leaf - ideally, no broken pieces are part of the infusion.
Since the whole leaf is used, it poses an issue for many people used to volumetric measurements common in baking. Twelve grams of one tea will comprise a different volume than another tea. See below an example of 12 grams of 3 different types of tea:
Consistency is important
For any brewer who wants to consistently reproduce brews and generally improve technique and the quality of your brew, it helps to be accurate with your measurements. This couldn't be more important than with the steeped ingredients for your kombucha brew; you could be steeping all one tea, or using a multitude of different teas and herbs in a blend. We can easily make suggestions and approximations of the volume of teas, using tablespoons etc., but the most accurate way to measure tea is by weight. This can be simple, but expensive with a digital scale; it can be inexpensive and simple, too.
Using a pocket scale
For starters, you'll need something in which to weigh your tea. One of the easiest things to use is a nylon mesh bag that you may be steeping your loose-leaf tea in, or any zip or sandwich bag you have handy. You'll need to put your tea into the bag, and add or subtract some based on the weight you're looking for.
In this example, our nylon mesh bag weighs 4 grams:
So, we can "tare" the scale at 4 grams - meaning that after we weigh the tea in the bag, we'll subtract the 4 grams that represents the weight of the bag.
Once you know how much your bag weights, you can then begin to add your tea:
Once you've added the correct amount of tea for one gallon, you should see this - a 16 gram reading on the scale:
Simple, effective, economical
A pocket scale is an excellent, inexpensive way to make your recipes accurate, and therefore consistent and easily replicable. This is one of those must-have items for any kombucha brewer (in addition to the regal auto-siphon). Pick one up and you'll be on the way to 'buch brewing perfection in no time!
You've got your best friend (the auto-siphon). You know how to take care of it. But really, the auto-siphon is a much needier friend than to rely simply on you. That's where the auto-siphon clip comes in.
I thought I had single-handed siphon operation down, but when I discovered the clip I started to wonder what I was doing without it. Not only is it great for stabilizing the down tube, it makes it so I can make the siphon hover in the fermentation vessel just above sediment-level. That way I get less sediment in my bottles when I'm filling them, and I can be active with both hands just in case anything goes awry in bottling (when doesn't it...).
After my contentment subsided in just using the clip, I realized another part of my routine that was about to receive an upgrade - drying my auto-siphon. Just laying it in the drying rack doesn't do much for it, you really need to hang it. So, I simply clipped it to my metro rack and voila! It's now an essential part of my 'buch brewing procedure.
It's good to take care of your friends. Here are some general guidelines on cleaning an auto-siphon:
1. As soon as you're done using it, rinse it - pull out the inner tube, run water through it, and remove the end cap for the outer tube, and rinse water through it.
2. It can be tough to get SCOBY out of your auto siphon. Let the setup soak in soapy water to break down any residual culture.
3. Vigorously pump soapy water through it, until any residue or culture is dislodged. Don't be shy, either - shake it or strike it against the palm of your hand so you can make sure to get all of the SCOBY out of it. If you want to get really intense, use some PBW (powdered brewery wash) as a soaking agent.
4. Importantly, the loose plastic piece that is lodged inside your outer tube (not the end cap - that is removable) is meant to stay there - don't try to remove it! You'll hear it shaking around, but it is lodged there for a reason - it restricts some flow so you can get a good amount of pressure going easily so the flow can begin.
The auto siphon has become my favorite brewing implement for many reasons. It's saved my time and energy for years for the simple fact that it makes small batch brewing and farming SCOBYs faster and less laborious tasks.
When transferring kombucha from brew vessel into bottle, I can think of no faster or cleaner method than using an auto siphon.
Hydraulic little guy. Rinse and clean your auto siphon immediately to prevent any sticky, tenacious kombucha buildup in the tubes!
You'll find many other uses for your auto siphon to seamlessly transfer liquids! So pick one up today and say goodbye to sloppy pours and time-wasting spills.
Not many things are more refreshing than an ice-cold glass of sun tea on a warm summer afternoon.
As a child, I remember my grandma making sun tea in the summertime with simple big-name tea bags and orange slices. At the time, sustenance was simply handed to me, so to my young mind, thoughts of DIY anything were distant.
Now, to make tea I've become accustomed to plugging in a kettle, or firing up a stove, but like many things, the old way turns out to be incredibly effective, simple, and economical. And my, how sun tea does taste distinct from the standard infusion! Not bitter, but earthy, and inherently spicy - a surprisingly exotic treat.
And since I'm always thinking about sustainability, I thought I'd tackle an aspect of brewing that uses up lots of energy - boiling water. A good amount of energy is used for this, so it can be rewarding on a few fronts to avoid this unnecessary expenditure. Using the sun to brew your tea saves your time, since you can pretty much set it and forget it for a few hours. And of course, you're using no electricity.
Already having about 16 gallons of kombucha to brew for SCOBY production, and wanting to try a couple of new things, today I decided to make some special sun tea, which used minimal effort, and see where the 'buch goes.
So, I threw together a couple of my favorite teas - our house white tea and rooibos, along with some of my favorite new addiction - golden berries. If you haven't tasted golden berries before (or ground cherries as they are sometimes called), give them a try. Intensely sour, fruity and unique, I consider them the Sweet Tart of the berry world (and love to make water kefir with them).
To complete my brew (and to bring my sustainability down a notch) I had to heat just a little bit of water (1 cup) in order to allow the 1 cup of sugar to dissolve. I'm sure you could let some sugar sit in water in the sun, too, and avoid this. Next all I had to do was add a SCOBY and starter, and the sugar-water to the brew jar and voila! Oh, yeah - I didn't remove the golden berries from the brew jar during primary fermentation...
Please note: Leaving any fruits or non-SCOBY solids in your vessel during primary fermentation is not recommended, as it can contribute a surface for mold to form upon - but for the sake of adventure, I'll concede to curiosity. Luckily, the golden berries in this brew stayed submerged, and a SCOBY was able to form over them.
The recipe is very basic:
- 26 grams Sunbather sun tea blend
- 1 gallon fresh water
- 1 cup of sugar
- handful of golden berries
Allow this to steep in the sun, and after about 8 hours add the sugar (dissolved in some warm water) and your SCOBY and starter, and let it sit for about a week! Drink the tea that you must pour off in order to fit the SCOBY and starter into your brew jar. Remember to taste periodically.
What happened during primary fermentation?
Flash forward 5 days, and there's a very vigorous mother forming! This is a welcome occurrence but not necessarily expected - the best food for a kombucha culture really is black tea, and generally with other teas you may need to ferment a little bit longer to achieve balanced acidity and a healthy, thick kombucha culture.
But, as you can see here, after just 5 days there's quite an intense SCOBY forming and lots of bubbling activity going on in the brew jar. Something I've noticed before in using golden berries with water kefir, and saw in this kombucha brew, is that both kefir and kombucha cultures take very readily to the golden berries, and brewing isn't slowed at all by their presence - indeed, the berries have even seemed to potentiate the fermentation process!
The brew meets my goals for an aesthetically pleasing kombucha, but how does it taste?
Even after just 5 days, this brew tastes absolutely transcendental. Notes of cherry, birch bark and orange peel strike the palate with tropical zeal. Each and every aspect of the ingredients comes through in this one - from the herbal, earthy taste of rooibos, to the light, malty grassiness of white tea, and of course the commanding citrus punch from tart golden berries.
The big payoff
Time and again, the mantra that brings the prize at rainbow's end, that flavorful attractor for kombucha brewers, comes after treading into unknown territory. I had no idea what would happen with golden berries in the primary ferment. I wasn't positive that the sun, over the course of a few hours, would extract enough nutrients from which the culture could make 'buch. But the satisfaction and pleasure from disregarding apprehension is enveloping and driving. The feeling that you've gone into the unknown and come back with a treasure is something that will never leave me doubting the brewer's path.
Fermentation is pure alchemy - and the end result is, without a doubt, as good as gold.
Stay tuned for my next blog in which I'll delve into brewing with solids - fruits, berries etc. - in primary fermentation!
One of the funnest things about summer time is the refreshments! We're always trying to think outside the box, and in this kombucha recipe there's no exception. In honor of the coming summer, here's a great brew to turn the proverbial heads of friends and family that is sure to please on those warm, sunny occasions!
For a 1-gallon brew:
1. Steep the following for at least 20 minutes in 32 oz freshly-boiled water:
2. After removing the leaves and lavender from the infusion, add:
- 1 cup sugar (stir to dissolve)
- 64 oz (1/2 gallon) cool, filtered water
- 1 cup already-brewed kombucha (or 3 TBSP white vinegar)
3. Top the brew off with water so that the surface of the liquid is just below the neck of your vessel.
5. Once you have a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, your brew is ready for secondary fermentation. Now, you'll need three more ingredients:
- 5 grams dried (or fresh!) hops (pellet or whole-cone) such as Cascade
- 1 cup boiling water
- juice from (1) ruby red grapefruit (~ 1 cup)
6. Place hops into a nylon mesh bag or tea ball and submerge into the boiling water. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, remove hops, and allow to cool
7. Siphon or pour off your kombucha into your filling vessel - this can be a tea pitcher, another brew jar, etc.; this is the jar from which you will fill your bottles. Be sure to retain 1 cup of brewed kombucha for your next batch.
8. Once the hop-tea is cooled, you can add it to your filling vessel, along with the grapefruit juice.
9. Stir the contents of your jar, fill into glass bottles and one plastic bottle (so you can tell how much pressure builds up).
10. Allow to sit at room temperature until the plastic bottle has built up a good amount of pressure, indicating that your glass bottles will be carbonated (read here about secondary fermentation). Generally this will take 1-2 weeks, but this step is also totally optional - non-carbonated kombucha is delicious too! Place the bottles into the refrigerator and share once they've cooled.
Optional: Steep a little bit of hibiscus and add it to your brew for secondary fermentation. This is a great way to add a little color to any brew!
Once your bottles are ready to drink, pop one open and put your feet up! You deserve some time to sit back with this refresher. This is a good time to start daydreaming about your next brew!
While it's easy to brew kombucha in pretty much any container, it's an important decision to choose the best vessel you can find. Choosing a brewing vessel can make a huge difference in the quality, and of course quantity, of your kombucha brew. So, in an effort to clarify a few things for brewers new or seasoned, read below to find out more about these essential instruments.
In choosing your brewing vessel, look for a few key characteristics:
- The vessel should be glass, ceramic, stainless steel (304 or brewer grade, not cooking grade) or wood. While many will say that food-grade plastic can be used, undesirable flavors often result from continued use of plastic. Glass is an inert material and will not allow the leaching of chemicals into your brew. If brewing in a ceramic vessel, be sure it is lead-free (the crocks that KBBK carries are lead-free and USA-made). Stainless steel is especially popular in commercial brewing environments and as such will work for home brewing as well. Some choose to brew in wooden barrels, which is also fine, and will contribute woody characteristics to your brew.
- The vessel should be wide-mouthed. The kombucha SCOBY requires that air be constantly exchanged with the outside environment, as it is constantly taking in oxygen and expelling CO2. A wide surface area ensures fast growth, as well as quick acidification of the tea. This results in a healthy culture. The wider the area for the culture to exchange gases, the more numerous are the antibacterial byproducts of SCOBY metabolism. Keep in mind that although your SCOBY will grow in tall, narrow-mouthed vessels, it will do so less vigorously.
- The size of the vessel is important, though not quite so much as the available surface area. Similar to the surface area, however, the more shallow the depth of liquid in the fermentation vessel, the faster the SCOBY grows and processes the tea into delicious kombucha.
- The shape of the vessel is a matter of personal preference, and the culture will take the shape of the container at the level of the liquid’s surface.
- Vessels with a spigot can be intermittently convenient but can also tend to cause headaches. While it may seem useful to use the spigot and not worry about using or cleaning an auto-siphon, or requiring precise pouring technique, brewers will find the spigot becoming periodically clogged with kombucha culture; you'll find yourself not using the spigot as frequently as you are using it.
- Additionally, the materials from which the vessel's spigot is made could be contributing chemicals to your brew through leaching. As kombucha is very acidic, any substance that is reactive to such liquids can potentially release toxins into your brew (something interesting to consider when kombucha is a detoxifying drink). It's for precisely this reason that we advise against brewing in plastic, even BPA-free or food-grade plastic vessels.
- An auto-siphon can be just as simple to use to extract kombucha, resists transfer of large chunks of culture, is easy to clean, and requires no relocation of the brewing vessel.
Ventilation is very important for your brewing vessel. Without proper ventilation, your brew's bacteria will be unable to access the oxygen they need to produce a nicely acidic kombucha. So, consider using fans in bigger brewing setups as well as completely porous (but not too porous) covers for your brewing vessel! Remember that cheese cloth is too porous and can allow fruit flies entry into your brew.
Remember that it's not only kombucha that you can ferment in your vessels - pretty much any vegetable ferment (kimchi, sauerkraut) and some liquid ferments will work too - think kefir, mead, kvass etc. So, open up your horizons and start scouring flea markets, pawn shops, garage sales and antique malls for some sweet fermentation vessels!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
'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.
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!