Brewing Kombucha

  • Re-Thinking Kombucha Flavoring, pt. 2: Pu-erh, Caviar of Teas

     

    In Part 1, I discussed the use of teas alone as a basic and powerful method of kombucha flavoring. Now, I'd like to take a look at one variety of tea that often gets overlooked in the West...

     

    Among the most alluring aspects of tea is its ability to elicit the sensation of feeling like you are somewhere else, in time or space. It can, beyond words, call forth a sort of sensory tableau, akin to déjà vu.

     

    The sensory details of each day's occurrences are connected by our experience, and accrue as a sort of personal encyclopedia. These details inform and even alter the manner with which we perceive our world and recall our personal history. And in the same way our minds build perceptions and experiences into memory, so can our minds retrieve memory (or illusion) from similar sensations and events. These can include cues such as sights, smells, sounds, feelings etc.

     

    Chinese pu-erh - kombucha flavoring Chinese pu-erh

    Not only is the flavor, body and aroma of a tea an immediate sensory experience, but it also can call forth recollection and imagination. Consider this as I talk about one of the most alluring, evocative and enigmatic of them all - pu-erh.

     

    Pu-Erh, Caviar of Teas

     

    When you drink a pu-erh, a (dry) fermented, aged, tea, a whole host of impressions can be stimulated in striking fashion. You might re-experience acute sensations you’ve had in the forest -  the smell of sweet notes of earth, tree bark and mushrooms - along with a little stimulation, possibly from the surprise nature of revelatory sensation, like a rush of adrenaline. These flavors sound strange to find in a tea - but pu-erhs are as complex and nuanced as a fine scotch whiskey - as a memory itself. And like caviar, pu-erhs are highly revered - but can also be polarizing.

     

    What’s this have to do with kombucha?

     

    In fermenting a fine tea, you’re supercharging its nutritive potential, contributing to its flavor, and of course making it additionally refreshing (with refrigeration and carbonation from a nice bottle conditioning). Pu-erhs are considered highly medicinal - supposedly helpful in weight loss, cholesterol reduction and cleansing the blood. At KBBK, we love to drink pu-erh kombucha to give us a great boost of energy, detoxify our bodies, and provide a very unique and conversational experience.

     

     Types of Pu-erh

     

    Imperial Pu-erh Imperial Pu-erh

    Pu-Er was the name of a Chinese town of antiquity which was known for being a center of commerce from which this type of tea was regularly exported. Of pu-erhs there are two distinct categories - the one photographed above is a "shu," or ripe pu-erh. Specially conditioned to recreate long-aged teas, it is "cooked" - tea handlers essentially compost the leaves in a very controlled environment. Tea producers began to utilize this process to attempt to satisfy the high demand for aged pu-erhs - the original, singular style of pu-erh - until the "cooking" process was developed in the late 20th century. While in cooking the result isn't exactly the same as you would achieve through aging, it creates, no less, a very distinct and unique product that isn't really so far off from "sheng" pu-erhs.

     

    Sheng pu-erh from 1992, kombucha flavoring Sheng pu-erh from 1992

    Sheng pu-erhs are considered raw - the tea is not composted or fermented quickly, but over time and through closely-guarded methods. This is a style of the old days, long pre-dating the Mongol invasion of China, and it is still considered an integral part of the culture. It is well known among enthusiasts that the best pu-erhs are consumed after decades of aging. The one pictured above has seen nearly a quarter of a century pass.

     

    In our experience, longer-aged sheng pu-erhs are much mellower and less astringent than are younger examples of the style (though still remaining enigmatic, startling, and delicious).

     

    Bamboo-aged pu-erh, pu-erh knife, and a pu-erh cake Bamboo-aged pu-erh, pu-erh knife, and a pu-erh cake

     

    Pu-erh Kombucha

     

    However, when we are brewing our pu-erh teas into kombucha, we need not worry about bitterness. This is due to the unique ability of the culture to eliminate the tannic bitterness you might notice in a tea before fermentation. So, out of a pu-erh kombucha you are left with a complex, highly medicinal and refreshing beverage, a giant and healthy SCOBY; not to mention a chance to step into a distant memory or illusion elicited by the tea's terroir, processing, and especially in the case of pu-erhs, age.

     

    Silver Bud Pu-Erh Silver Bud White Pu-Erh

    If this sounds enticing, you simply must taste for yourself. A great place to start exploring pu-erh kombucha is with our office favorite, the sheng Silver Bud White Pu-erh. While usually made from older leaves, this unique variety has been made with the buds of the tea tree. And while only aged for 11 years, you'll notice a distinct fruitiness in this tea that is strongly reminiscent of sweet prunes, tobacco and honeydew. For a convincing pu-erh brew, look no further, and remember - this is kombucha flavoring at its simplest and most effective. So, brew up some pu-erh kombucha, sip with your eyes closed, and see where the tea and your imagination can take you!

  • Premium Brewing Tea with David Lee Hoffman

    Eric and David Eric and David in Lagunitas, CA

    For many years I overlooked the importance and exciting possibilities to be garnered from sweet unfermented tea, the beginning of any kombucha brew.  The "Nute" (nutrient solution of tea and sugar) holds the nutrients the SCOBY will consume during fermentation and determines the final flavor profile of your finished product. In fact, you can create such an expansive flavor profile with your Nute that many people think you’ve added juice. When I realized what I could do, I set out on a journey to discover everything I could about the ingredients that make up nute. My first stop, and my longest, was with tea.

     

    Good tea comes from good sources, but like all food, the best sources are not easy to find. There are many outlets to purchase tea through; online retailers and large wholesalers give us many different options. My experience with various suppliers yielded delicious and healthy kombucha, but nothing compares to the quality we have experienced brewing with the tea leaves from our most recent partnership.

     

    David finding a tea David finding a tea

    If there was a Kombuchman in the tea world, it would be David Lee Hoffman. Teaman! His love for tea has led him on a 40-year journey that yielded the largest loose leaf and Pu-Erh collection in the United States. A true pioneer in the art of tea, David is the first American to import premium whole leaf tea to the U.S. David has built relationships with farmers, tea factories and ancient tea shops giving him access to one of the most diverse and quality tea collections available in the world. Along with tea he has dedicated his life to organic farming and buys tea that comes from farms using only those growing techniques. Hearing him talk about tea is both educating and intoxicating.  Drinking the tea he has procured over the years takes you directly to the hills he procured them on and opens up a gateway into a world most will never see. We are now blessed to be one of his customers.

     

    Tasting a selection of Pu-Erh's Tasting a selection of Pu-Erh's

    Last month I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with David. My five-hour layover in San Francisco was just enough time to meet with David for lunch at a spectacular dim sum restaurant and tour his magical compound. Although it was a short visit, we were able to taste six teas as well as tour his massive collection of loose leaf and Pu-Erh tea, all surrounded by structures hand-built by him on his beautiful land over the past 40 years. As soon as I entered his Lagunitas compound, I felt like I was transported to the Chinese country side. It was truly remarkable and an unforgettable experience.

     

     

     

    One of the many structures on the compound One of the many structures on the compound

    I’ve been buying David’s tea for about a year now, but only for our personal collection. Most of them were for drinking straight - we are serious tea drinkers here at KBBK - but they were also used to ferment delicious batches of kombucha, some of the nicest I’ve ever had.  On our ride back to the airport David offered me a coveted wholesale account. I’m thrilled to pass that privilege on to you at the KBBK Brew Shop.

     

    The new premium brewing tea line-up represents a diverse line up of Chinese tea. There are high-end pricier options as well as budget-friendly introductions to premium tea.

     

    KBBK House teas are three selections I feel represent all the characteristics of the three most popular styles, green, black, and white. Wonderful together as a blend, individually these teas will make the perfect base for straight-up and flavored ‘buch or even as a blender to another tea style. This is an incredible value for such fine whole leaf tea.

     

    Silver Bud Pu-Erh Silver Bud Pu-Erh

    Our first Pu-Erh offerings will show you what delightful brews come from this, my favorite style of tea, that is aged like a wine or cheese to improve its flavor. The two main styles, likely the oldest and most popular tea in China, are represented in our collection as Shang (raw) and Shu (cooked). Both styles yield complex full-bodied kombucha that have an extra kick of caffeine. Another Pu-Erh we are offering is Silver Bud. This white tea that is mostly bud has been aged in David’s cave since 2003 and gives off dried fruit flavors like prune and apricot. Not only is this a crowd pleaser, it's one of my top 3 teas to use in kombucha brewing.

     

    Along with these Pu-Erhs we have chosen a strong showing of black, green and oolong teas to offer from our store.

     

    As we sell through this first round of teas, we will rotate our offering. If there is a specific tea you fall in love with, let us know and we can get you hooked up with a larger supply. One thing is certain; if you explore these delightful teas you will expand your kombucha pallet. Dive in to the wonderful world of Premium Brewing Tea and be spoiled by the quality we now offer, from the pluck to the cup. You will never go back.

     

    For more on David Hoffmann and his journey with tea check out his documentary film “All in this Tea” available at our brew shop.

     

    Also, support David in saving his structures from being demolished by the state.  See more about the Last Resort here.

  • An Introduction to Cooking with Kombucha

     

    As this is the first of many posts I will write about food, cooking and kombucha, I thought it may be enriching for the reader to understand more about what food is and has made us, where what we know has come from, and why we eat what we eat now.

     

    Food, in its simplicity is what nourishes our biological needs, stoking the fire so that we may be so lucky as to spend our time pursuing dreams and attending other needs. What we now enjoy as food comes a long way from its wild, dangerous and unmapped origins. A Chicken-Parm Hero really is haute cuisine when you think about it, but times have changed and along with it our palates, our expectations.

     

    When cooking, one manipulates food so we can either enjoy it or digest it better. It quickly becomes apparent that knowledge of chemistry, biology and technique is going to help you greatly in this vast world of crafting a meal. Attempting to put out an oil fire with water, eating the wrong mushroom, rubbing an eye after cutting peppers are mistakes not soon made again. And although edible, over seasoning, under cooking and burning your food are all roads best not taken. So, we have to understand our food; a process that has happened at times only long after we have made it. Ceviche, dried meats, curing onions or smoked salmon are all things that worked, and only later when we had the time after a lush meal to think why, did we figure it out.

     

    Over hundreds of thousands of years our bodies have adapted to cooked food. It has been evolutionarily advantageous not to spend your energy chewing and digesting, but changing what you eat so that it may better feed you. When you marinate a steak, acids help break down the fats and proteins. As you place it on a seasoned grill, the intense heat denatures the protein further. It also helps make the food safer, killing off surface bacteria.  This allows us to get the most out of our food as we absorb nutrition from broken down proteins or fibers much, much better. It is why we cook, and why we have to cook.

     

    Kombucha, among many things, is an acid.

                                                              Cook your Kombucha!

     

    Generally it is a tart and slightly fizzy, not much unlike a cider or champagne. Fermenting different teas, for different periods of time, and finishing the process with fruits or other flavorings all alter the unique flavor. The range of terroirs, ambient temperatures, water composition, and handling techniques of Chinese and Japanese tea gives kombucha a large palette to paint with. If you can take all that into consideration, the kombucha you can brew is vast. What you can do with that brew is even more varied – why not marinate your favorite grilled goods with a rich and tangy black tea kombucha vinegar reduction? Or let a mango slaw sit in a peachy white tea kombucha overnight? This light ferment will alter the flavors just a bit, and may impart just the right fragrance. Yum!

     

    I've cooked for many years, and with most things, it is easiest to start simple. Don't worry about the above mentioned terroirs or water composition of where your tea comes from. Most palates don't ever even taste the difference, and if you are cooking it later, that nuance may not even be apparent. Instead, start with kombucha vinegar! Most of us end up making it because we forget to tend to our brew - so instead of throwing it away, substitute your apple cider or white vinegars with your new tea vinegar. Again, kombucha can be a great component for a marinade, or even a ceviçhe. Once you feel comfortable with that, why not reduce it, touch it up with sugar and drizzle it over green tea ice cream? There are many, many possibilities for an adventurous cook when it comes to cooking with kombucha. And we haven't even begun to talk about working with the culture itself!

     

    For some recipes to get you started, take a look here - http://www.kombuchabrooklyn.com/cooking-with-kombucha

     

    If you have any suggestions or questions please drop us a comment and I'll try to answer as best I can. - Will

  • My First Brew - Lessons Learned by a Kombucha Brewer

    by Cody Cardarelli

    Hey folks!

     

    Last time we chatted, the police were chasing a suspect across my roof in Bushwick, and my first brew was being steeped. After waiting for my SCOBY to form, thicken and fully ferment, I can safely say that I had a brew's worth of probiotic… well, vinegar.

     

     

    This first-time kombucha brewer was devastated. I had just spent an hour trying to tip my jar into appropriate sized-funnels and spilling the lab experiment gone wrong all over the floor. And there I was, trying to convince myself and my girlfriend that the kombucha wasn't an unmitigated disaster, while my roommates gave the familiar and equally reassuring notion that it wasn't, "that bad." I followed our instructions to the letter, and I came into work asking the usual questions such as "Why hasn't my baby SCOBY started forming yet?" or "What's that strand hanging off of my baby?" How could I have gone wrong?

     

     

    The truth was, I was in the throes of what I like to call: New Brewer's Syndrome, or NBS. After spending so much time fretting about the specifics of my brew, I'd forgotten that SCOBYs themselves are weird, resilient, alien little things that only need time and a bit of attention.

     

     

    So the next time around, I knew the score. My big healthy vinegar SCOBY mocked and cackled, while I whipped up its sugar slurry of a dinner. I placed my antagonist in its jar of broken dreams and waited. This time, however, I avoided NBS and made a well-balanced brew. For all of my fretting from before, I wasn't paying attention to the taste during the fermentation process!

     

     

    After 4 days when I started noticing activity in my jar, I used a thief to monitor the taste of my brew. After 7 days, it was finally perfect and the road to victory was within reach. This time around, I also avoided the joke that was my previous bottling process and used an auto siphon. This simple instrument saved me a massive headache, and made my brew move like a dream.

     

    Thief and auto-siphon Thief, left; Auto-siphon, right.

     

    With pride I returned to the KBBK office with a growler of my homebrew. The  flavor was even, it wasn't too sweet, and it lacked the funk of some homebrew I've had in the past. This wasn't my first cup of 'buch by a longshot, but it was far and away the most satisfying. My sensei, Chris, nodded with acknowledgment.
     

    Probiotic Date Night Pt. 2

     

    When life hands you probiotic vinegar, you make probiotic vinegarade, or salad dressing! After failing to convert my brew with secondary fermentation containing primarily crystalized ginger, Emily and I used the final bottle of vinegar with a nice Spanish olive oil and some minced garlic in a salad. The vinegar has a nice bite-y tart, and at least we were able to reap the 'buch benefits from this wayward brew.

     

    Happy brewing!

  • The Rookie - My Hand at Kombucha Brewing

    by Cody Cardarelli, Photos by Emily Heinz

     

    The rookie's Kombucha Brooklyn kombucha brewing kit contents

    It's kind of strange being the new guy at Kombucha Brooklyn. It's not the world of 'buch that's new -- au contraire--, like many health foods shining their new appeal for the mass market, it's been a known commodity in Northern California for years. It is, rather, how close I've been to fermentation my entire life - from having a beer-brewing stepfather, to literally working across the hall from KBBK for the past 12 months. As I'd been stopping by nearly every day for some of the best R&D brews (and enjoying more than a few other types of fermented beverages after hours), it only made sense to join the team when the opportunity arose.

     

    rookie2

    I've had my hand in homebrew kit production for the last couple of months, so it was only natural when SCOBY Wizard Chris handed me a SCOBY and like a wise sage uttered, "It is time." While homework hasn't been in vogue for the years following my bachelor's, it became clear that if I was going to maintain the homebrew department of our business, I was going to have to take the plunge. I went home full of purpose and then… procrastinated for the next three weeks.

     

    Probiotic Date Night: Kombucha Brewing Part 1

     

    The other night, my girlfriend and I were homebound due to a full-scale manhunt in the neighborhood - hey, it gets hairy in the big city sometimes! While in desperate need of an activity, I found my poor unbrewed SCOBY sitting forlorn in the fridge. Well, there's no time like the present. I don't know if it was the romance in the air or the sound of a chopper flying overhead, but I was going to brew the hell out of this 'buch. So, I followed the kombucha brewing instructions on our site, and started to put the wheels in motion. Between twenty minutes of steeping our special blend, hunting for a reasonably-sized pot, and releasing the SCOBY into the smorgasbord of nutrients, our brew was soon finished. And honestly, it was pretty fun.

     

    The rookie's SCOBY and kombucha home brew

    Our box flatly states "If you can make a cup of tea, you can make kombucha," and that's absolutely true. Wish me luck for the fermentation process, and I'll let you all know how it goes.

     

    Happy brewing to all of my fellow 'buchfolk!

     

    Kombucha home brew ready to ferment

     

  • Sugar, Alcohol, and Kombucha Part 1

     

    All day long we tell people that kombucha is a “fermented tea,” but what does that really mean? I ask this question because there are a lot of assumptions that are made when the word “fermented” is used.

     

    Sugar Without sugar, there would be no kombucha!

    In reality, while kombucha is definitely a fermented beverage, it’s not only a fermented beverage. There are various other biological activities that take place inside your humble brew vessel.

     

    But when it comes down to it, regarding fermentation, most people want to know two things: the alcohol content and the amount of sugar in kombucha. These two facets of the drink are intertwined. In fermentation, the higher the initial (pre-fermentation) sugar content, the greater the potential for alcohol content. Fermentation is responsible for turning kombucha from super-sweet tea into the slightly sour, low-sugar beverage we all love - that’s because there are micro-organisms at work consuming and converting those initial sugars, among other things. That’s why your brew will become more acidic and less sweet as it progresses.

     

    Not only that, but every brew is different, and some of the various reasons why this is true would be laborious to measure. ‘Buch fermented on the East coast will be different than one fermented on the West coast, in different homes of the same city, etc., based on subtle differences - the spontaneous contributions of “wild yeasts” that will come into contact with your brew during preparation, pouring, or transference, variations in temperature, minute differences in microbe population of your SCOBY or starter, and the many qualities of the nutrient (or “nute,” the sweet tea that becomes kombucha). Those are just a handful, but it’s easy to consider even more - temperature, atmospheric pressure, available oxygen in your brewing area, ventilation, interrupted respiration from moving the vessel, proximity to magnetism, playing Mozart to your brew, and many others.

     

    When it comes down to it, considerations of sugar and alcohol in kombucha, while correlated, are still based on a number of other variables. This also makes it difficult to come to an across-the-board average on caloric content in kombucha when it’s not produced in absolutely consistent conditions, such as in a brewery or laboratory. But don’t let these considerations scare you away from brewing, it’s still as simple as ever.

     

    In subsequent blogs, I’ll flesh out more of the intricacies of sugar metabolism and inversion during kombucha production. In the meantime, throw back a homebrew, and consider becoming your own ‘buch researcher, and of course be sure to let us know what you find (easy to do with our ‘Buch Brewers’ Group on Facebook).

     

    Happy brewing!

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