Brewing Kombucha

  • 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!

  • Has my SCOBY gone bad? Correct Kombucha Brewing Temperatures and more

     

    For many first time brewers, receiving a warm SCOBY culture in the mail on a hot summers day can be disconcerting. “Shouldn’t live kombucha cultures be kept cold? How long has this been in the mail for? Is this SCOBY safe to brew with?”

     

    Propagating Kombucha Cultures KBBK's tried and true propagation system. No mold, no flies; no fuss, no muss!

    These understandable concerns can cause undue worry and frustration. You’ve patiently waited for your package to arrive, and are eager to start brewing – or you just got back from vacation to find out your kit has been sitting on the porch for days! What a shame it would be if your baby SCOBY had frittered away in your absence.

     

    Except in rare case of extreme weather conditions, SCOBYs will be totally OK to brew with if they have been out for a bit.

    The combination of the acidic nature of the nutritional liquid the SCOBY sits in and the bag’s airtight seal keeps mold and other ‘buch invaders at bay. The bigger issue at hand, as foreshadowed above, is extremely high or low temperatures that will either cook the culture (85º through 90ºF) or start to destroy its complex cell structure if it starts to freeze.

    SCOBY TEMPURA! Although Extremely hot temperatures are detrimental to your culture's health, they are also really tasty. Above is our SCOBY TEMPURA!!

     

    Remember! This is a living culture, and is not unlike humans in this way. Too hot and we sizzle up, too cold and the damage can be irreversible.

    KBBK propagation tent. KBBK's Propagation tent - kept warm with a mini-heater, and clear of dust or flies with a carbon air filter.

    Mid-70º’s to 80º's though, is the ticket. Give us a warm day and a nice breeze (SCOBYs love breezes, it keeps the flies away) and next thing you know we are all getting stuff done during the day and staying up all night. Just like the SCOBY.

     

    BETTER WARMER THAN COOLER:

    Kombucha is a stable beverage due to it's acidic nature, and its acidity is dependent on the plethora of pro-biotic bacteria having a warm environment to create acids like Glucaric and Gluconic acid, Acetic acid, Caprylic and Butyric acid.

    If your brew is below 70ºF, you run the risk of not maintaining a stable pH environment and expose your brew to mold!

     

    What the fridge is great for:

    Keeping your culture cold (~40ºF) when you are taking a brewers break.

    • Simply set your culture in a cup (depending on how big it is, you may want to add more or trim your SCOBY) of kombucha in a glass or ceramic bowl, cover it, and set it to the back of your fridge.
    • There it will hibernate, as its metabolic rate slows into a state of low activity.
    • You can keep it there for a couple months at a time, but it's best to give it a quick refresher every couple of weeks with a little jolt of fresh tea and sugar.

    Bottle Conditioning!

    You can also vintage your kombucha in the fridge for great lengths of time - the flavor can be as complex and delicious as great wine. Just remember:

    •  Use a bottle / cap with a good seal
    •  Label what your brew is, and what ingredients you used
    • Date it
    • Resist temptation! if you open it early on, you will loose some excellent fizz. Save it until you are ready to drink most of it.
    • Enjoy!

     

  • How to Brew Kombucha : A day by day Analysis

    Day 1:How to Brew Kombucha

    To the right is my fresh brew! The tea and sugar has steeped and dissolved, and we have added the culture (floating in the background). We will be following it over the next couple days to see how a typical kombucha brew progresses.

     

    As your brew ferments, you will notice changes in the nute (nutritional starter). Most notably will be the formation of the new "baby SCOBY on the surface. This process begins in most brews between twenty-four and seventy-two hours.

     

    Small white patches will begin to form on the surface of the liquid, independent of the SCOBY you put in there. The first few days are an uneasy time for new brewers, and the new growth of SCOBY is often misconstrued as mold. For more info about mold, check here at our Brew FAQ.

     

    Day 2:

    We are still at the dawn of our ferment and must be patient. My starter SCOBY has floated back up which is totally OK ( so is a sunken SCOBY). It is very important during these early stages not to disturb or otherwise agitate the kombucha; one small wave can sink new formations, which slows the primary acidification process and increases the risk of mold.

     

    At this point you may have some questions or just want to know more on how to brew kombucha. What better way to learn-and-brew than dive into a good read? See our selection of brewing books here.

     

    I highly suggest for beginners our company's co-founder written book Kombucha! It's where a good chunk of this blog's body comes from. And for people who would like to expand their know-how on all other things fermented, I suggest The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz; a Michael Pollan / Harold McGee scientific break-down on all that bubbles. True Brews by Emma Christensen, on the other hand, is a beautifully laid out guide on how to make and tastily enhance all that bubbles: cider, soda pop, beer, wine, sake, soda, mead, kefir, kombucha, and fruit wines.

     

     

    Days 3-4:

    SCOBY formation: As the culture matures, these spots of new growth will become thicker and wider, eventually joining together and becoming one whole party. Wheee! SCOBY Party! Give your brew a sniff - it is important to know the smells as well as the sights of your brew as it transforms.

     

     

    Day 5:

    Kombucha yeast Only Yeast! Nothing to worry about.

    See KBBK SCOBY-power in action! that's a lot of growth in just five days. Your brew may not be here just yet, so you may need to give it an extra day or two. So, it has formed it's signature celluloid patty, the SCOBY. If you do not see anything resembling the SCOBY in these pictures, you may be in trouble - ambient temperature could be too low and is slowing the culture's metabolism, or other brewing issues may have arisen. If you see dark patches or strange tentacle looking formations such as in the inset picture above, no need for alarm. This is just spent yeast, a natural bi-product of the fermentation process.  See our Brew FAQ for more info. Again, keep your brew covered! From the pictures it may seem that this is an open-air ferment, but it is just for visual reference.

     

     

     

    Day 6:

    Taste your Brew: When the new baby SCOBY has spread across the entire surface of your brew and started to thicken, you should give your 'buch a taste. This will usually be in the three- to six-day range but can take longer depending on the strength of your culture, how long you have been brewing in that location, the type of tea and sugar used, and the temperature. Lots of changes have already occurred in your brew at this point and the flavor will give you an idea of how much longer you will want to brew your ferment. Just make sure that if you dip something into your 'buch, it is clean.

    As long as your brew is healthy and progressing normally, it's always safe to drink from the nute stage all the way through to vinegar.

    Some ideas on how to get a sip:

    • Stick a straw under the surface of the SCOBY
    • Use a clean shot glass to gently push the SCOBY down and scoop a little from the surface
    • Use a Thief! These are the professional brewers sampler. (Available here)

    A pH indicator measures the activity of hydrogen ions in a solution. The more free-floating hydrogen ions there are, the lower pH will be, indicating a higher acid profile. For the kombrewer with pH indicator strips, your buch will be ready on the sweet side at a pH of 3.1 and on the sour side at a pH of 2.7.

     

     

    Days 7-9:

    Behold, the magic of fermentation! You have just learned how to make kombucha. Millions of microorganisms in the SCOBY are happily feeding off of sugars and tea nutrients, breaking down alcohols, and multiplying. This pro-biotic adventure has come full circle.

    Unfortunately due to an accident, the jar broke before I could take a side shot. The second photo above is from a different brew, but is a similar and healthy SCOBY.

    When to bottle: Your brew, although young, is complete. Most one-gallon brews kept around 78ºF will have a nice balance of sweet and sour flavors at nine days. I like to bottle at about seven days in my kitchen when there is a little more sweetness than I would want to drink. This ensures that there will be enough sugar to produce effervescence in secondary fermentation after bottling. If you haven't yet picked up bottling equipment, I highly suggest our Pro-Bottler Package, it's six 32oz Amber Growlers, a brewers must-have Auto-siphon, and a mixed flavor pack with enough goodies to flavor all six of those Growlers.

    DSC_5824

    Whether you bottle your 'buch for some extra bubble or just pour out a cup straight-up, it's time to enjoy the pro-biotic and fizzy goodness that is home-brew kombucha. Feel it's not complete without a snazzy Kombucha Brooklyn Highball glass? Go ahead and deck out your glassware collection.

    Happy Brewing!

    Will

  • 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