Tag Archives: tea

  • Steeping for Kombucha Brewing

     
    I've utilized many different methods of steeping for kombucha brewing, both at home and at Kombucha Brooklyn. Today I'm going to analyze the effectiveness of a few of those methods. I'll also suggest one that for the average home brewer may be the simplest, fastest and most efficient of those.

     

    Tea bags

     

    ... Tea bag of Earl Gray! Kombucha Brooklyn Steeping a tea bag of Earl Gray

    If there's one ubiquitous Western archetype of tea consumption, it involves the tea bag. Initially meant in the early 20th century to offer samples of loose leaf teas, the tea bag caught on and became very popular in use for making iced tea. My earliest memories of tea were of my dad using a dedicated coffee-maker to steep Lipton bags. He'd put the tea bags into the coffee carafe, pour water into the machine, and allow the hot water to flow down and immerse the bags for 3-5 minutes. After that, the tea was poured over lots of ice in a pitcher and thrown into the refrigerator.

     

    Fast and easy

     

    Some major advantages to the tea bag are simplicity and cost-effectiveness. It's very simple to toss some hot water on a tea bag, let it sit, remove, and enjoy. I can throw a bag of Earl Grey in my back pocket for consumption later in the day (which I've just done). Since tea bags usually have a string attached, it's very easy to control the steep time. For the producer, the bag is easily marketable as a simple way to drink tea, and it offers a way to utilize broken pieces of leaves like dust and fannings that are the by-product of loose leaf tea manufacture, thus reducing waste and making more tea available. Think "seconds" of apples or tomatoes at the farmer's market.

     

    Loose leaf?

     

    That's not to say there aren't loose leaf teas packaged in bags. My consideration for this lies in the effect this has on the tea, and how it's used by the consumer. On the whole, loose leaf teas are less dense than teas usually packed in bags. That means they will expand to a much greater size than will fine, broken pieces of tea leaf. As a result of the unbroken nature of the leaves, they will take up more space once steeping than will the tea generally packed in a tea bag. The more the leaves are allowed to unfurl and "give up" their flavor to the water in which they are steeped, the more flavorful will be your infusion. While this can be done with a large, reusable mesh bag, don't skimp on space - there's not much that's more depressing in the tea world than seeing a tea bag bulging with whole, unbroken leaves.
     

    Respect the leaf!

     

    So, tea bag or no, loose leaf teas have a lot to say and a ton of flavor to give up. Steeping them in the largest environment possible, unhindered by bag or walls will elicit the most flavor from the leaves. That is, to an extent - I wouldn't boil 10 gallons of water to make 10 gallons of kombucha, ever. Keep in mind also that loose-leaf teas should always be infused multiple times, with the longevity of flavor and color decided by the amount as well as the variety of tea.

     

    The multi-steep

     

    For a kombucha brewer this would take the form of adding boiling water to your tea and allowing it to steep for 20 minutes or so; then, pouring off that first infusion and adding more boiling water, and allowing another 20 minute steep. This can be done as many times as possible until it seems there is no more nutrient left in the tea, as can be told by the flavor or color. Be vigilant that you aren't creating more tea than your fermentation vessel will be able to hold.

     

    Respect and reciprocation

     

    This attention alludes to a respect for the earth in not wasting its products, but also in reverence for the producers of the tea. Plucking tea is no simple task, and often takes place in locations that require climbing and balancing, as well as a trained attention to detail. Where the biological makeup of kombucha is the result of the symbiotic pairing of bacteria and yeast, so intertwined also is the relationship of man with the tea plant in the cultivation and preparation of tea leaves for consumption. Since in this day and age it can be nearly impossible to give back directly to the producer, at least get as much out of the leaf as is possible, and send out some aloha for all of the labor that went into getting it to you. Your 'buch will be that much tastier because of the good intentions that were incorporated during the brewing process. (Such observance with your standard tea bag might be steeping it twice, or maybe three times, and giving it a hearty squeeze after the last steep).

     

    The big steep

     

    You can always just dump your loose tea into a pot of boiling water, stir it around, and worry about straining later. Really this is the ideal, as far as the leaves are concerned, but really it makes more work than is necessary. You can use a strainer, but a strainer that will pull out all particulate will likely be difficult to clean - especially if it's made of metal (I have spent a lot of time cleaning metal strainers in my 'buch brewing days). So, you may choose to use a mesh filter bag to achieve the same end. The same issue arises, though, in that you're going to have to clean the filter bag, that while small can provide a bit of a challenge, if only by being slightly time consuming.

     

    Steeping black tea, rooibos and clove in my French press Kombucha Brooklyn Steeping black tea, rooibos and clove in my French press

     

    That's why my favorite way to steep tea for smaller home brews involves a French press. It's very easy to clean, efficient at keeping the steeping water hot, and easy to quickly empty and refill. Also, it allows me to get the most out of my tea leaves. For a one gallon brew, I'll add 12 grams of a nice loose leaf tea, and fill the 34 oz. French press 1/3 of the way with boiling water. I'll let that sit for 20 minutes, pour off the hot liquid, add the same amount of boiling water, and allow another 20 minutes.

     

    Repeat one more time, and you've got 34 ounces of steeped tea ready and hot enough to dissolve your sweetener. This is a simple model for a triple steep, but you could easily draw it out over 10 steeps - you'll just want to make sure you aren't steeping too much tea so you've overfilled your brew jar. After stirring in the sweetener, add cool water to bring the temperature down, add your starter and SCOBY, and you're ready to let your 'buch fly. Always keep in mind your final volume - if you've steeped so much tea there isn't room for the starter and SCOBY, you'll have to pour some out - but keep that in mind for your next brew.

    Steeping loose leaf tea with my French press - Kombucha Brooklyn Steeping loose leaf tea with my French press

    So, if you're brewing a lot of 'buch, using tasty loose leaf teas and herbal blends, invest in a French press. Your 'buch will be tastier and more robust, and that can't be a bad thing!

     

    Happy brewing!

  • 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!

  • 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

     

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