KBBK History

  • 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.

  • On Buchina: KBBK's 4,000 lbs of Good Karma

    Written by Jon Lane, Demogod

     

    So, amidst all the talk about the finer points of home brewing, and minuscule details of fine tea that I can’t even fully wrap my brain or my palate around, I’m gonna break from the course, a bit. Now seems like an ideal time to introduce you to present-day KBBK’s most unsung hero, and probable loudest brand ambassador:

    Buchina Meet Kombucha Brooklyn's mythical delivery van, Buchina

     

    Meet the Buchmobile.Well… actually, that’s her occupation.  Those of us who know her best know her as Buchina (or, Boo-CHEE-na, if you’re into the whole phonetic thing).

    I first came to Kombucha Brooklyn as a part-time delivery driver,so my days were almost entirely spent piloting the Buchmobile around the city (we weren’t on a first name basis, yet), slinging kegs and bottles to all our direct accounts…  and learning very quickly that driving a fluorescent beacon of Brooklyn ‘buch was a slightly different experience than I’d expected.

     

    While it was immediately apparent to me that there could be no possible better vessel for a company called "Kombucha Brooklyn" than a van that looks like the offspring of Brooklyn graffiti culture and the Scooby-Gang's Mystery Machine, It takes a little time to get used to being stared at constantly….  I’m a fairly laid back guy, almost to a fault, but found myself having to stifle the “what the hell are you looking at?” reflex more than a few times…   for about three seconds, before I’d realize (with a reasonable helping of sheepish embarrassment) that they were quite obviously eyeballing the van, rather than the driver….    I’ve undoubtedly had my picture taken over a hundred times, at the wheel, in the last year and a half, and have had 5-10 folks come up and pantomime ‘tagging’ the hood, at a stoplight -- starting with one in my first hour of driving her, on my first day.  He scored extra points for using his ‘breath freshener’ spray, for added authenticity.  Chuckle….

    Jon.Lane.Profile

    But I’m at risk of straying from the point here.  In the last few years, since having been rescued from the inhumane drudgery of life as a white cargo van, this little thing has schlepped an almost unfathomable amount of Kombucha, and hauled a pretty ridiculous list of other random cargo…  all of which I’ll spare you.

     

    She’s got all the little ticks and idiosyncrasies you’d expect from a 25 year-old Chevy Astro.  I’ll spare you most of them too.  For a brief example, throughout the entirety of my employment here, the place where her radio should be has been occupied only by a little stuffed Pound Puppy in a Santa hat.  I’ve never asked why.  Sometimes you just roll with these things.  She’s got a pretty mean overbite, as the result of being sandwiched between a poorly-driven minivan and a predictably unappreciative NYPD van.  One door doesn’t open from the inside, one doesn’t unlock from the outside…  you get the idea.   And sometimes things go rather dramatically awry...

     

    KBBK's Delivery van, Buchina

     

    But, semi-miraculous as it is that she keeps on charging forward, with scant complaints, the awesome thing about this little van is the reactions it gets from people, every day, everywhere.  Whether I’m in a sketchy Brooklyn neighborhood, or in the prime-rent section of the upper west side, people of every hue, every crowd, every age and every income level break out into smiles, grab cameras, walk up to the window and start conversations, or just throw a thumbs up, or shout approval from across an intersection.

     

    Hell, I met the Buchmobile’s first dedicated driver, AJ, in the middle of Times Square, after he spotted the van and skated up to the window to introduce himself (he kept pace with me for a few blocks, then went back to being noticeably faster than the traffic).  He incidentally now drives a fluorescent green delivery machine around town, for our friends at Runa.  Coincidence? ;)

     

    At least one person has given us an artistic rendering of the van…  somewhere we’ve got a picture of a freshly married couple posing together, standing on her back bumper.  I've even snuck her into a rock video.  The only real downside is having to constantly explain to people that I have less artistic ability than the average tree squirrel, and am not personally responsible for the paint job (they always ask).  But it’s worth it.

    KBBK's Delivery van, Buchina It's particularly worth it, in that it changes the way *I* act, when I drive.  You can’t stare at smiling faces and jubilantly bewildered kids, all day, and not have it improve your outlook on life.  Sure, it’s lovely when people spot the KBBK logo on the hood, and throw up their fists and cheer (yeah.  that happens too), as you trundle towards them, but it’s a lot more fulfilling when you find yourself smiling and waving back, rather than being annoyed by traffic, honking horns, deadlines, tickets, and all the other things that weigh on you, when you do this for a living.  You find yourself waving pedestrians and other cars ahead, rather than racing them through an intersection, or bullying your way through a crosswalk (you also find that it usually works out better that way, anyway).  And nine times out of ten they’re visibly appreciative.  Then they look at the van, and smile even more brightly.  It’s like driving 4,000 lbs of weaponized good karma around the city.

     

    It’s maybe the only sad aspect of the fact that KBBK has very definitely begun to outgrow the Buchmobile, in its past/present role.  We’ve handed the reins of our keg delivery program to our new friends at Phoenix / Bee Hive, which is a really exciting move for the company, and our customers…  and possibly my back.  So Buchina is down to one weekly patrol of the city, to make sure our bottle program is running smoothly, and the occasional trip to set up a new account, or do whatever else is necessary to bring a smile to the face of someone who probably has no idea what kombucha even is.  I’d expect she’s looking forward to Spring Smorgasburg as much as a van can possibly look forward to a thing.

     

     

    So there you have it.  If you see her on the street, give her a pat on the hood, or a low-five on the gas cap lid (yes.  it’s always open), or just throw the thumbs up…  or better yet, just smile.  It’s kinda what she does to people.  ;)

    Her name’s Buchina.  Every Chevy Astro may have been made in Baltimore, but she was very definitely Born in Brooklyn.

     

    -3

     

    Brooklyn rock band and avid KBBK drinkers The End Men called in Buchina (and, more dubiously, her driver) for a cameo in the video for "Work," their ode to the struggle of surviving in the city.  She was more than happy to oblige.

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