Brewing Kombucha

  • Home Brewing Kombucha: Think Outside the Box

     

    There's a lot of focus these days on bottle flavoring and carbonating of kombucha. Especially for those interested in home brewing kombucha, the simple reality is that most people got their start in 'buch through trying store-bought kombucha, making this focus understandable.

     

    The issue I'd like to address is the effect RTD (ready-to-drink) kombucha has on home brewing efforts.



    Pour KBBK 

    Carbonation - Nice, but necessary?

     

    One resounding effect the RTD industry has had on nascent home brewers has been the viewpoint that kombucha is an effervescent beverage. I can't disagree that kombucha is highly desirable and refreshing as an effervescent beverage.

     

    But does it have to be?

     

    The answer is no. Un-carbonated kombucha is just as much kombucha as is carbonated 'buch. Just like un-carbonated water is still water, the carbonated counterpart still tastes fine and is refreshing.

     

    Conversely, think about wine. The majority of wine available is not effervescent at all, but does that mean that champagne isn't wine?

     

    My point is this - as a home brewer, your only responsibility is to yourself, to produce kombucha that you enjoy. To obtain an effervescent kombucha is a fun, often variable process, and a kind of seal of success, but is not necessary. You can flavor kombuchas based on this consideration; one of my favorites is mulled kombucha.

     

    Is it more important to have good flavor or good carbonation?

     

    In home brewing I try to put the greatest emphasis on flavor and let carbonation be a lesser concern, at least for home bottling. People with a keg and CO2 system can achieve carbonation very quickly.

     

    We've all been there before. You are craving a tasty, flavorful kombucha (these are not mutually exclusive) so you head to the RTD aisle at the grocery store. You choose a bottle and go along on your way. Maybe it's too sweet, or perhaps too sour. It might even seem watered down. But hey! It's definitely carbonated.

    The flavor should be spot-on, even if the carbonation isn't.

     

    And it's clear enough RTD kombucha has hardly stepped beyond the constant flavor additions that make kombucha taste exactly like this or that fruit, herb or familiar beverage. Not to say these can't be delicious - but I'm pretty sure I know what, say, a beet tastes like, not to mention mangoes, or blueberries, ginger, etc. These are tried and true kombuchas that are classics and will always be delicious. We, as home brewers, can choose to accept or reject that same path and forge into uncharted territory.

     

    What makes 'buch 'buch?

     

    Tea is the heart and soul of kombucha, KBBK Tea is the heart and soul of kombucha

     

    Kombucha is based on tea. Not on fruits, vegetables, spices etc. So why cover up your beautiful kombucha with other stuff that makes it taste like something else? Not that it can't be fun, or that it's not tasty. But we have the opportunity to create something totally unique and special.

     

    Set aside some of your brewing time, vessels, ingredients, etc. to resisting the emulation of any drink you've ever had before. Use the time to explore what makes 'buch interesting, rather than what makes 'buch taste familiar.

     

    Sugar, water, culture, tea, and time.

     

    The most important, simplest way to flavor your kombucha is with tea. It's not an optional ingredient. We'd be ignorant if we said we were familiar with, or even heard of all of the amazing varieties of tea that are available to us.

    However, one of the most entertaining aspects of brewing is the use of combinations of herbs and spices, infused and fermented at the same time as the tea.

     

    More thoughts on home brewing

     

    Kombucha has only relatively recently become a retail product, and the real legacy of kombucha still remains inside the home. It's where cultures proliferate and change. They absorb our intent, our energy, our hand-selected ingredients. In home brewing, nothing is lost or forgotten, and everything is exactly as it should be, for better or worse.

    Your home-brewed kombucha has a much stronger microbiotic profile and robust nutritional makeup from not having been filtered, piped through machinery, force carbonated and otherwise stabilized to maintain promised shelf-life and alcohol content.

     

    So please, don't feel required to emulate the RTD sector or to assess your own success in comparing your home brew to others'. Look to the tea, coordinate your steep, prioritize flavor, and success will find you.

  • Fresh SCOBY vs Dehydrated SCOBY, a Brewer's Comparison


    If you're a brewer or kombucha follower, you may have heard about reanimating a dried SCOBY from dormancy to start a new brew. I've been curious, and having seen some dehydrated cultures available on the internet, I wanted to try it out. I bought a retail dehydrated SCOBY online. Thinking about woolly mammoths and Jurassic Park, I got excited to see if it would work.

     

    Dehydrated SCOBY, left; KBBK SCOBY, right

     

    The real question, I later discovered, was whether or not it would work for me - there are definitely some culture sources on the web that base their business around the sale of dehydrated SCOBYs - more power to them - but how easy or likely is it to resurrect a SCOBY from dormancy?

     

    The first KBBK Home Brew Kit, Kombucha Brooklyn The first KBBK Home Brew Kit

     

    Not being a stranger to dried SCOBY - I've made leather (edible and non-) as well as dehydrated SCOBY snacks (candies) before - I was somewhat tickled to fine a wafer-thin culture when it arrived in the mail. It was by no means substantial, but I know it doesn't take much to get a culture to take hold. Our first home brew kits came with a test-tube-sized SCOBY - granted, for a 32-oz brew - but it was fresh, not dried.

     

    Brewing from a dehydrated SCOBY - how long will it take?

     

    A week... A couple of weeks...? A month? If you're able to get a new, fresh SCOBY from this process, then you're ready to begin your actual brew. Our instructions indicated this should be ready to begin 30 days after starting, shown in the image below.

     

    Just the beginning for this desert SCOBY... Just the beginning for this desert SCOBY...
    Fresh vs. dry SCOBY, day 1 Fresh SCOBY, left; vs. dry SCOBY, right, day 1

    Nothing's... happening...

     

    I wasn't so lucky. Six weeks into the process, following instructions with the dehydrated SCOBY that I received (I'll call him Dehydro), I still saw no culture growth whatsoever. Keep in mind, this was after a one-month rehydration period and another two weeks waiting for a fresh culture to grow on top of the sweet tea.

     

    Fresh vs dehydrated SCOBY Kombucha Brooklyn Fresh culture, left, and dehydrated culture, right, after one week

     

    At the one week mark, I didn't expect to see a significant amount of growth from the dehydrated SCOBY. You can see on the left the KBBK SCOBY going strong with an inch or so of new growth after just a week. Our dehydrated friend still showed no signs of growth. Hang in there, little buddy.

     

    KBBK SCOBY, left and dehydrated SCOBY, right, after 5 weeks Kombucha Brooklyn KBBK SCOBY, left and dehydrated SCOBY, right, after 7 weeks

    After 7 weeks of "brewing" the two side-by-side, there was still no growth whatsoever from the dehydrated culture. I decided to let the fresh SCOBY continue growing.

     

    Had I harvested the KBBK SCOBY's kombucha and reset the brew after each week, I'd have had well over two gallons of kombucha. Still no dice from our little desert friend - though, there was another step to take before I could actually start brewing with Dehydro.

     

    Actually starting the brew, 5 weeks after receiving Dehydro, Kombucha Brooklyn Starting the brew, 7 weeks after receiving Dehydro

     

    The instructions indicated for me to check the pH after 30 days. I did (albeit far after 30 days - though I don't see why a new culture wouldn't start growing in the sweet tea), and it was at about 3.2. However, I did add 1/2 cup (!) of vinegar, as per the instructions at the start. In 2-3 cups of water, 1/2 cup of vinegar is going to drop the pH drastically. So, I surmise the pH was that low from the start since I already added so much white vinegar.

     

    Moving on, I then brewed more tea and sugar, added another 1/2 cup of vinegar, threw in the semi-rehydrated Dehydro, covered the jar, and prepared to wait again for a new culture to form atop the sweet tea (though very sour as well, with so much vinegar). I crossed my fingers for another few days, weeks, also months...

     

    Flash forward... to 12 weeks

     

    Fresh KBBK SCOBY, left, dehydrated SCOBY results, right, Kombucha Brooklyn Fresh KBBK SCOBY, left, dehydrated SCOBY, right (12 weeks)

     

    SCOBY Rancher snacks, Kombucha Brooklyn SCOBY Rancher snacks

    The KBBK SCOBY has pretty much overgrown itself in the brew jar (this is what it looks like when you don't harvest your kombucha - the SCOBY keeps growing and fills up the jar). That's a good way to make a ton of culture relatively easily - think SCOBY snacks and other kombucha foods.

     

     

    Hoping for a Halloween miracle

     

    Here I am, on All Hallows' Eve, twelve weeks from when I started to try to resurrect Dehydro on the 4th of August. In a mix of surprise and disappointment, I'm hoping the next full moon might reanimate Dehydro. I seem to have failed at playing Dr. Herbert West, at least for this go around...

     

    Stick with fresh cultures. Especially if you're new to brewing, and even moreso if you want to start a brew and drink 'buch before a few months have passed.

  • Kombucha Brewing Tool: Kombucha Fruit Fly Trap


    Fruit flies are part of the kombucha symbiosis. Much like kombucha brewing, you don't have to do much before nature takes over!

     

    That doesn't mean we're automatically buddies. Just like mold, they may be natural but they are a nuisance for us kombucha brewers - as spreaders of bacteria, infiltrators of brew jars, and generally as unpleasant company. How can you preemptively stop their proliferation, or follow up an invasion, and get them out of your space?

     

    The answer is a beautifully simple one. Build a DIY kombucha fruit fly trap.

     

    It's very simple science. Here's a list of things you'll need:

     

    • Empty bottle - can be glass, plastic, etc.
    • A piece of paper
    • Tape
    • Piece of fresh fruit such as apple or banana, or some kombucha vinegar (you know they love that!)

     

    The idea is that fruit flies will be attracted to the scent of rotting fruit or vinegar. They'll fly down into the cone in search of the delicious melange you've prepared. In disoriented ecstasy, the fruit flies won't be able to find the exit, and will end up trapped in your vessel. It's as simple as that, folks!

     

    Directions

     

    First, you'll start off by rolling your piece of paper into a cone shape. You want the hole in the tip of the cone to be pretty small, around the size of the tip of a pen. Tape tape the cone together so it stays put without unraveling.

     

    Fruit Fly Trap Kombucha Brooklyn Simple assembly of a fruit fly trap

    Next, take your bottle or vessel and fill it partially with a piece of apple, banana, some kombucha vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or any combination of those.

     

    Then, you'll put the cone into the mouth of your chosen vessel. Tape around the connection point, if necessary, so fruit flies won't be able to escape. The flies will start to build up in your bottle; free them outside like any benevolent 'buch brewer would!

     

    Happy brewing!

  • Jun, a Honey-based Kombucha


    Jun, Kombucha Brooklyn

    If you’re into kombucha, you’ve likely heard of a type of brew that utilizes honey rather than granulated sugar as the sweetener. You may also have been privy to some of the smoke and mirrors surrounding jun, a honey-based kombucha.

     

    I’ve been brewing jun for about a year and a half, and have become enamored - it’s quick to brew, forgiving when it ferments too long, and retains the aromatic characteristics of the honey that was used. And with the numerous medicinal benefits of honey, it’s hard not to gravitate towards this tenacious, bacteria-heavy ferment.

     

    Being accustomed to the taste of sugar-brewed kombucha, one of its fun aspects is how mercurial the culture can be. The range of desirable as well as undesirable notes that can develop is immense; for example, some can be lumped into a category often considered by us to be “barnyard,” and whether or not you can attribute this to the sweetener used, I can say this aspect is across the board much less prevalent in jun. On the whole, I would say jun tastes more clean than a sugar ferment.

     

    So when I started brewing jun it was pretty eye-opening. In using honey instead of sugar, brewing takes on a new level of complexity. Sugar really doesn’t provide much of a flavor characteristic other than sweetness. Honey, however, is very complex and contains a multitude of different compounds including yeasts, acids, vitamins and antioxidants. And clearly, there’s an alluring quality to the flavor and aroma of honey that can’t necessarily be ascribed to the primary utility of honey in a ‘buch brew, that being a source of sugar(s).

     

    Raw vs. Processed Honey

    Many people have asked me whether or not to use raw honey as opposed to commercially-processed honey, and really you can use either (I do use less honey, by volume, than sugar - 3/4 cup of honey to each gallon of kombucha). Raw honey will have more “stuff” in it - pollen, bits of honeycomb, propolis, sometimes even bee parts. The contribution of unwanted bacteria here is possible, but not assured. My experience hasn’t brought any folly in this regard.

     

    Bee pollen, goldenrod honey, and a jun SCOBY Bee pollen, goldenrod honey, and a jun SCOBY

     

    My thought, however, is that the more basic the source of sugar, the easier it is for the culture to consume and create kombucha. An example of this would be, when using granulated sugar, white vs. brown. While brown sugar may have additional aspects to contribute in terms of flavor, I’ve heard people say they’ve had trouble getting their culture to feed on it. A red flag here is the presence of molasses in brown sugar. As a byproduct of the refining of sugarcane, it inherently houses impurities undesirable in table sugar, and the darker the molasses (or brown sugar), the more of these will be present. Nutritive for humans, for sure, but not the best for your SCOBY - many have reported the difficulty a kombucha culture has in utilizing brown sugar.

     

    As for the honey, processing doesn’t appear to negatively affect the presence of some of its health-beneficial constituents such as vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, but I would be concerned for the aromatic and untested-for elements that otherwise may contribute desirably to your brew.

     

    Fructose and Glucose

     

    Purified, enriched sugar (i.e., table sugar) is stripped down to the most basic elements and is essentially pure sucrose (a disaccharide of fructose and glucose). It’s ready to be first inverted (broken down into fructose and glucose) and consumed by the culture.

     

    In honey, fructose and glucose have already been cleaved and separated by enzymes within the bees’ stomachs, so there is one less step the culture needs to go through in order to consume them. I think this is one of the reasons a jun ferment is generally faster than the standard sugar ferment.

     

    Lore and Contemporary Jun

     

    Upon looking at some of the existing information about jun, it can be difficult to ascertain much in the way of solid evidence, especially when it comes its origins. You’ll find anecdotes regarding the sacred maintenance and ancient transference of the culture, which usually alludes to Tibetans in some regard.

     

    These suppositions lack solid sources, so I’ll steer clear of the derivative speculation and create one of my own - perhaps jun is the original kombucha culture (and was delivered to Tutankhamun by almond-eyed star voyagers).

     

    To an extent, for kombucha brewing, it makes sense that honey be the original sweetener of choice over sugarcane, if only due to the fact that straight out of the hive, it's ready to be used. Sugar, however, requires processing to remove it from the woody grass, sugarcane, that comprises its natural form. So, it’s almost logical that the most basic, unrefined sweetener would be used in the original brew.

     

    Sugar SCOBY, left two images; Honey SCOBY, right two images Kombucha Brooklyn Sugar SCOBY, left two images (1000x); Honey SCOBY, right two images (1000x)

     

    Tea for a Jun Brew

     

    The nutritional requirements for the jun culture are a little bit different than for the sugar brew. My experiences have indicated that green tea is consumed much more readily by this culture than are oxidized teas like white, oolong, black or pu-erh tea. While I've made jun with a blend of black, green and white teas, the flavor was not found desirable and further experimentation halted. I have been ever since delighted with the results of green tea-based jun.

     

    That's not to say I've not brewed with herbs in addition to the green tea. I found pretty quickly that my favorite green tea to use with jun is simply jasmine green tea. The delightful, floral aspects of this tea pair very well with honey. In using other herbs with this culture as well, I've found no faults in terms of flavor or speed with which a final product was achieved. I would say if anything, the jun culture is more forgiving of non-camellia sinensis ingredients - I've had success with chamomile, lavender, and holy basil, to name a few.

     

    Final Thoughts

     

    Had I the opportunity to live out the rest of my kombucha brewing days fermenting only with honey rather than granulated sugar, I would. It's faster, more forgiving, amazingly fresh and smooth, and more sustainable. It's pretty easy to find local honey, which has great implications in alleviating allergies, to which our keg master Billy can attest. There are still many experiments and test brews to be made to more clearly discern the limits of the jun kombucha ferment, but given what I've discovered so far, I don't think any time soon that I'll be short of new ideas to test.

     

    Two 5-gallon jun brews, Kombucha Brooklyn Two 5-gallon jun brews

     

    So, if you're already making kombucha and haven't tried your hand at using this amazing culture, you're missing out on the next big thing in home brewing. You can use the same fermentation vessel and equipment, on the whole. Just remember that if you're brewing both a standard kombucha and a jun kombucha, keep your cultures segregated so the flavor of each brew is as specific as possible.

     

    After you have your first sip of jun, you'll never forget that flavor, and I can almost guarantee you'll never want to.

  • Making Coffee Kombucha - Not Wrong, Just Not Right

     

    Long speculated upon and feared even in anecdotes, a week ago I had the perfect opportunity to embark upon the storied nostrum that is... komffee? Coffbucha? Joebucha? Coffee kombucha. Perfect...

     

    Coffee kombucha Making coffee kombucha; after 6 days of primary fermentation

    While open-minded, I didn't think there was any way this could be tasty. Enough people had asked about it, rumors circulated, and it came to the point that this brew couldn't be avoided; of this fact the new office-tap acquisition of Stumptown cold-brewed coffee was the ultimate indicator.

     

    So, I opened up the tap, poured 32 ounces of the polarizing blackness, and added 1/4 cup of sugar to the joe after warming it on the stove. I added a bit of SCOBY, some distilled white vinegar as a starter (1 tbsp), cringed, covered and dated the jar, and set it out to ferment.

     

    After 6 days in primary fermentation, there was a pretty gnarly SCOBY growing:

     

    SCOBY of Coffee SCOBY of coffee

    Having a pretty adventurous palate still does not issue into passive consumption. The creation of what essentially is sour coffee made me reticent to attempt making this beast, though I'd thought about it many times before.

     

    Well, I wasn't proven wrong. Sour, acidic, vinegary coffee was the result - I considered the brew complete when I saw the SCOBY and smelled it - pretty awful, on both fronts. I let a couple of people in the office try it before me, still highly skeptical and protective of my taste buds' fortitude.

     

    KBBK employees investigating the coffee 'buch KBBK employees investigating the coffee 'buch

     

    The result of our tasting left us sure that the experiment had worked - coffee kombucha was assuredly the result - but in no way could this be construed by any of us as being something drinkable. Even the small cup we poured and passed around went unfinished.

     

    I bottled it, so as to preserve the train wreck that would in the future be sure to elicit fascination and disgust among unsuspecting subjects - a little carbonation should attract a completely new level of repulsion. Kind of like the time I made apricot-peppermint kombucha.

     

    *We did discover the SCOBY created from this brew was much more palatable than the brew itself.

     

     

     

    This experiment behind me, I look forward to better and brighter days. I will try not to forget what happened, only the taste. Be skeptical. It's not wrong, just not right.

     

    SCOBY can't live on beans alone SCOBY can't live on beans alone

     

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

     

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

    If you've been following our blog series, you may have read my post about the highly energizing yerba mate. It's a tasty herb that makes excellent kombucha, and I usually blend it with white tea. Check it out here if you haven't already. Now, on to Brewing Kombucha with High Caffeine ...
     
    Misinformation abounds regarding the concentrations of caffeine in the various traditional tea varieties. Among the most prominently circulated holds that "lighter" teas, such as white and green teas, contain moderate amounts, whereas darker teas such as black, oolong and pu-erh will generally contain a greater amount of caffeine.

     
    The sheer complexity of the tea plant prevents anything but generalizations from being made. That said, if you have been privy to most of the data circulating regarding caffeine and teas, you likely have a different story than what closer inspection will reveal. I'll admit to acceptance of some of these thoughts as well - white tea is low in caffeine, right? And greens have much less than black tea? Wrong - for the most part.

     

    Young leaves mean higher caffeine

     

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

    The younger a tea leaf is when it is plucked, the higher the concentration of caffeine there will be. So, since green and white teas are made from the youngest parts of the plant, on the whole these leaves will be highest in caffeine. This will, then, be especially true of silver bud white tea, or any tea that contains buds, for that matter. This doesn't necessarily exclude black teas.

     

    This blog written by Nigel Melican was extremely helpful when I was trying to find out more regarding my favorite beverage and the caffeine therein. In it, Nigel debunks caffeine content myths and discusses the early pour-off method, thought (falsely) by many to decrease caffeine.

     

    Guayusa - cousin to yerba mate

     

    Another great tea-like herb that provides a lot of energy from caffeine is guayusa. Primarily grown in Ecuador, it is said to be consumed before and during hunting. Like yerba mate, it provides a clean energy boost without risk of "crashing" after the boost wears off.

     

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

    I love to make kombucha with it not only because of the physiological effects, but it also has a great flavor, not unlike rooibos. You could almost look at guayusa as a caffeinated rooibos, one I often describe as having an herbal cherry flavor.

     

    So, definitely consider this one when concocting your 'buch energy drink! Think probiotic coffee substitute. Many thanks to our friends at Runa for all the knowledge and tea.

     

    Remember pu-erh?

     

    Another tea to consider when making a high energy kombucha is a style called pu-erh. You may have read my blog post on pu-erhs posted back in March. If not, check it out here.

     

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

    While pu-erhs may not have the highest caffeine content, there's definitely a strength and energy that is really noted across the board with this style. So these make a great, boosting kombucha that also will be very medicinal and also have a unique taste.

     

    When endeavoring to make high-energy kombucha, look no further than yerba mate, guayusa, white and green (check out Jade Dewdrops - it's outstanding) teas, and pu-erhs. Of course other styles will still provide you with caffeine, but if you're looking to maximize, it's useful to look at these types.

     

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

     

    Until next time - consider brewing up a little something to get you jacked in the morning - that won't make your stomach writhe and your body crash. A healthier part of waking up ;-).

     

    An array of (mostly) teas arranged left to right, higher to lower caffeine An array of (mostly) teas arranged left to right, higher to lower caffeine
  • 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

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