Tea

  • 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!

  • 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.

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