Tag Archives: brewing

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • Kombucha with a Kick - Brewing Kombucha Wine Pt. 1

     

    It's no secret that kombucha contains alcohol. Albeit usually in trace amounts that the body is able to metabolize quickly, and you are none the wiser. People will say to me, even after drinking a 1 oz. sample at a market, that they've received a "buzz" from my kombucha, insisting that I'm trying to get them drunk. It's definitely not from alcohol.

     

    Kombucha wine Brewing kombucha wine

    I find it hard to believe that any beverage artisan wants consumers to feel anything but fulfilled from drinking their product. Not to suppose that inebriation forfeits assessment of flavor (though we can all see how this can be possible in extreme circumstances), but getting hammered on a fine microbrew or expensive bottle of wine to an extent cheapens its value as a thing carefully-sourced and produced. Nuances and layers of flavor are best appreciated in careful consideration, and on the whole I'd say the ability to ascertain subtleties towards the end of a sizable run of alcohol consumption becomes difficult, possibly only overcome through diligent practice and variation (during the session) in the type/style of beer, wine, etc. Perhaps differences in many varieties, during a stint at a wine or beer festival, become relative to each other, making discrimination easier.

     

    I'll state for the record that I've never become drunk on kombucha; if anything, after a long day of working at the market selling kombucha, and the requisite consumption of it that accompanies the event, I feel energized and content, with acute senses, perception and mobility that would assist me in anything from writing a research paper to driving across the country. I won't encourage anyone to drink that much kombucha (sometimes up to a gallon a day), but I'm definitely an aberrance in the field; not because I think kombucha is bad for you, but because I believe (and don't always practice) the "less is more" and "everything in moderation" approaches to consumption. Maybe 32 oz. a day feels good for you, maybe 4 oz. feels right. Maybe I want 2 liters.

     

    That Being Said

     

    You can make kombucha that contains a sizable amount of alcohol, akin to that of a standard American lager, and perhaps more (do experiment, please).

     

    There are definitely kombucha companies out there who have chosen not to control the amount of alcohol in their kombucha, and they should be commended, be it for better or for worse.

     

    There are also companies that have produced hybrids of kombucha and beer, with results ranging from 5-10% alcohol by volume. Whoa! Experimentation is the spice of life, and I'm happy these boundaries have been pushed.

     

    However - I would be hard-pressed to say that I've completely enjoyed any of the marketed high-alcohol kombuchas available. Obvious merits are in the realm of a sour beer, of which I do count myself a fan, but something really different happens in kombucha - kombucha contains bacteria; beer excludes all but a certain strain of yeast (that's why extreme sanitation and an airlock are used during the production of beers).

     

    The only way I've found to make palatable and delicious (appreciably) alcoholic kombucha is in brewing kombucha wine; I've achieved about 5.5% alcohol, with only a few caveats in flavor based on a few different factors.

     

    Airlocked kombucha wine Kombucha wine ready to ferment, with airlocks

    In upcoming posts, I'll describe my process of making kombucha wine, complete with suggestions and recipes - in the meantime, do some experimentation yourself! Don't wait for me to spell it out. I'll give you a hint - airlock, champagne yeast. Go!

  • The Rookie - My Hand at Kombucha Brewing

    by Cody Cardarelli, Photos by Emily Heinz

     

    The rookie's Kombucha Brooklyn kombucha brewing kit contents

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

     

    rookie2

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

     

    Probiotic Date Night: Kombucha Brewing Part 1

     

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

     

    The rookie's SCOBY and kombucha home brew

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

     

    Happy brewing to all of my fellow 'buchfolk!

     

    Kombucha home brew ready to ferment

     

  • Sugar, Alcohol, and Kombucha Part 1

     

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

     

    Sugar Without sugar, there would be no kombucha!

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Happy brewing!

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