Sunday, June 7, 2009

Something About Tea

There is something about the human condition that allows us all to relate. Given some tea, the process becomes much easier. It is something so simple, yet it can also be as sophisticated as one chooses it to be. I believe there's a tea, or even a tisane, for everyone. It is just a matter of finding what you like. Living well doesn't have to include tea. However, drinking tea will certainly help you live well.

To health, friendship, and the leaf.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Homemade Ambrosia

Well it's safe to say that brewing kombucha tea at home is very rewarding. Not only is KT simple to prepare, but it's quite inexpensive. Each bottle costs less than $.50 cents to make. I've also found kombucha brewed at home tastes better than store bought KT. I like to make my tea solution a little stronger to increase the residual tea taste in the final product.

My apartment, during the late Winter/early Spring months, is around 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. I've found that 10 days of brewing accomplishes a nice cider flavor while leaving enough sugar in solution for bottling. After six days of being bottled, the yeast has had enough time to convert sugar into C02 and alcohol. There is some sugar left. I had been using around 1 and 1/4 cups sugar. The batch I started last week was cut to 1 cup to reduce final sugar content. I'm looking for that optimal range for my brewing conditions v.s. temperature.

My favorite cup. I drink KT and wine from this guy, sometimes aqua.
With a kombucha tea at about 16 days total, I'm well on my way to refining my techniques. I suspect a longer bottling phase would further convert sugar into C02 and alcohol... If only I was more patient. Nonetheless, this homemade ambrosia, from black, green and white tea, is simply delightful.

Monday, March 9, 2009

When the Time is Right, is it Time?

Let you and your body decide.

At about 8 days of brewing, the white tea and green tea jugs are doing really well. Since this is the second time through the brewing cycle, I think all the microbes are fully activated. As mentioned a few posts ago, the yeast is going nuts with the CO2 production. One of my baby SCOBYs has a big 'ol bubble on the underside of it, like one of those goldfish with big bubbles on the cheeks.

Earlier today, I ladled some kombucha from each of the two jugs into a single drinking cup. It's way better than last batch, which was far too sweet and lacking in vinegar and fizz. My apartment is around 62 F, and at day 8, it is still a bit too sweet. The vinegar taste and bubbles are great though. I use a fairly simple test for sugar content. If you've ever had soda, you may know this already... The teeth grind test. My teeth will get sticky with sugar and acid sticking to them, and you should be be able to feel it. As sugar is reduced, this effect subsides.

I also tested my kombucha with some pH paper. I have congo red pH paper which I found on eBay. It reads from 3-5 which is what the range of Kombucha tea should be around. The pH indicated it was around 4, as the paper was partially activated.

I'm guessing 10 days until the kombucha reaches the right balance, since the weather looks crummy and cold in the next few days. Anyway, the one cup a just drank feels real good in my gut. It must be treated as an elixir, as that is precisely what it is... Not for the faint of heart. Lovin' this stuff.

Update: I bottled one jug, the white tea, at 12 days. The green tea I let go to two weeks, as it seemed to be fermenting slower.

I really like the ginger berry flavor, so I mixed a few bottled with it. I'm going to try to let the kombucha gather some fizz for a few days before I crack 'em open.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Remembering Fall

Last Autumn, I went for a hike in a small park near my place. I took some pictures, enjoyed the afternoon exploring... I remember why I set out that afternoon. I thought it was going to be the last decent day of Fall, and so I meant to soak up the elements.

It wasn't the last nice day, but it was one of the last few...
With Winter waning and rainy, dreary days to come, I look back until Spring wakes up. Autumn always makes me think of the smell of dead leaves baking in the sun.

Smells: it's how I remember teas the way I do.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bubbles You Say?

...Bloop, bloop bloop...

Only five days into brewing, there is some serious bubbling going on. I have more green tea brewing in the foreground, and a mostly white tea brewing in the background (had black tea starter).

The white tea is really chugging up a storm. There is a mother of size in there, and the bubbles have forced it from the bottom up to the top.A few hours before these pictures were taken, I push down on the surface SCOBY to allow some gas to escape. A few hours later, my mothers were all gassy again...

I was doing some reading online this morning about kombucha (as I cannot seem to satiate my desire for more information), and learned that the more you brew, the more CO2 is produced. Basically, when I received my SCOBY mothers, they were somewhat shocked from inactivity and transport. As the SCOBY mother (namely the yeast) begins to proliferate, it becomes more active.

It explains why my first batch of kombucha was a bit sweet, and not so fizzy. They are drinkable, but still to sweet for my taste. Also, I kept about 1/10th of the last batch in each container to keep the brew acidic. I think this allowed the mothers to get right down to business as soon as they were plopped in the jugs.

The more you do something, the easier it gets. That means me brewing kombucha, and the mothers' laborious duty of converting sugar and tea into acids, alcohol and CO2. And yes, it's okay to personify the mothers :D

Monday, March 2, 2009

Kombucha Batch, Numero Uno

After seven days of brewing and picking up a case of EZ Cap bottles, I bottled around two gallons of kombucha tea. Temperatures throughout brewing remained around 62 degrees with minimal variation.

Included are: Five bottles are Kenyan black kombucha (back row). Three bottles are Dragonwell/Long Jing kombucha (front left). Two bottles are Dragonwell/Long Jing with raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, strawberry and ginger (front right).

...For the flavored bottles, I simply cooked about 3/4 cup of mixed berries with about an ounce of water on stove top. Simmered about five minutes, and strained and decanted into bottles. The juice is about 1/4 of the entire bottle, maybe less...

At this point, I'm letting them sit out at room temperature. Bottles of kombucha that are raw and unpasteurized will create carbonation via anaerobic yeast activity. Since this is my first time brewing and bottling, I'm going to try the kombucha at different intervals with different bottles. After 48 hours of bottled time, I'm going to taste and decide if I should let the rest of the batch continue fermenting at room temperature. The final step is refrigeration and enjoyment. I have met a few people who have either never had kombucha, or have had limited experience with it.

I'm excited to share what I have helped create :D

On a final note, I immediately began brewing two more gallons of kombucha. This time, I'm brewing large leaf Bi Lo Chun in one container, and Yunnan White Tips (~Silver Needle) to the other gallon.

Let there be fizz...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why I love Craigslist

Periodically I browse Craigslist. Sometimes the musical instruments, sometimes the free stuff- even found an apartment on there for next year.

Following in suit of my last post, while browsing the free stuff section, I found a kindly women 'giving' away kombucha mushrooms. There was a donation of $5 per mushroom, and I was more than happy to oblige.

With that said, I purchased two fully developed and rather large mushrooms. Also new are two, one-gallon jugs that I bought from a wine and hop shop. The recipes I'm using to start of this shindig are:

1 gallon water, ~10 teaspoons Kenyan black tea, 1 1/2 cups raw white sugar, 1/2 cup kombucha starter, and 1 kombucha mushroom.

The second is all the same except about 8-10 teaspoons of Long Jing, Dragonwell.

Let the good times roll...

(The dancong jug is very slow going. There are bubbles, but without a mushroom, the formation is going quite slow. After 2 1/2 weeks, the liquid is still sweet, indicating the sugars are not being consumed by the culture. )

Thank you, Kasha, for the beautiful mushrooms.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Poor man's ginseng? Hmm... I might go as far as to call it wise man's ginseng.

Jiao-gu-lan supposedly contains 4 times the amount of adaptogens than either Chinese or American ginseng. I actually just got some American ginseng from my brother over the holidays, and can be saved for another post.

From my brief experience with this herb, it is quite sweet and can be great for the mind. The buzz, if any, could be described as a tea like buzz, but not from cafeine. I got a bag from TeaSpring a while back and recall it being quite good. I did not, however, want to keep buying the herb once I found out seeds are readily available.

I decided to buy seeds from Horizen Herbs, a company specializing in fresh, USDA organic seeds. They create all their own seeds and guarantee them fresh while in season. On the back of the package in the image above, it is stamped 2009. The proprietor also mentioned fresh Camellia Sinensis seeds are due soon.

This happy herb grows as a vine, and I think it would do quite well in a sunny window with some support stakes. Expect posts later this year on growing Jiao-gu-lan.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kombucha Project

Kombucha. Kombu, meaning mushroom, and Cha, meaning tea. Kombucha is fermented mushroom beverage which has become increasingly popular. There are no "mushrooms" in the tea, but rather a mushroom-like SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast).

After deciding that I wish to make my own kombucha, I brewed up a strong pot of Peach Phoenix Dancong Oolong to be the base of the tea. I then added a decent amount of vegan raw cane sugar (~1 cup), extra spring water, and half a bottle of GT's Raw Organic Kombucha Original Flavor. Total contents are about 1 Gal.

My hopes are that I will be able to grow my own SCOBY, which looks like a large rubber disc. Because the kumbucha that I added was raw, it contains small chunks of culture (which are naturally occuring). This should be enough culture to begin the creation of my own kumbucha drink. (notice the snot looking culture.)

Kumbucha can take anywhere from 1 week to a month to be produced, which is dependent on starting cultures, desired taste and brewing conditions. Since I don't have a SCOBY, and my climate is cold, I anticipate my kombucha to take around 3-5 weeks to form. I keep my apartment around 62 F, and kombucha prefers 70-80 F.

Day1: Dancong is very sweet with the addition of cane sugar, very pleasant, but tasted only as a point of reference. Small chunks of kombucha culture float near the surface. As the weeks progress, the sugar should be converted to bacteria and yeast, and a bit of alcohol.


Day 3: Smells of Kombucha waft in the vicinity of my brewing jug. A very good sign. If you are unfamiliar with the smell of kombucha, it is a bit like apple cider vinegar and champagne. Around the rim of the brewing jug are multiple attachment sites where culture chunks have been established. Happy progress.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Appreciating Oolong Production

Oolong. Wulong. Considered the most labor intensive tea to produce, oolong tea is arguably the most diverse tea category. A few terms which can dictate how oolong turns out are: fermentation or oxidation, roasting, man/machine ratio, cultivar, shape, and climate.

Climate. Tea farmers only have so much control over their crops, as is true with most agriculture. The variations from soil pH, altitude, rain, sun, and temperature will develop teas into something unique from season to season. There is no production line for growing tea. Plantations exist, but are still subject to climate variations. Climates vary all over the globe and can be factors in teas grown in India, Africa and Nepal, to name a few.

Shape: This refers to either pellet shaped or long and twisted physical form. I've read that the latter is the older and more basic form. However, the tightly-rolled pellet form tends to lock in aroma and preserve delicate leaf-bud systems (1 bud, two leaves on single stem).

Cultivar. I don't know much about this topic, however different cultivars express different characteristics. China and Taiwan produce some of the best oolongs in the world, and the variations of cultivar vary depending on geography. Some cultivars are natural, whereas others have been cross-bred for maximum production, or desirable flavor palettes.

Man/Machine. Men and Women have been tending the tea plant for many millenia. I'm uncertain as to how long, but they've been hard at work long before machines. Ultimately, there is no replacement for human hands and the energy and diligence they possess. Machine harvested tea plants can be outstanding. But in the larger picture, machine harvested oolong tends to be your mediocre tea, and 99.99% bagged tea. The true gems of oolong tend to be hand-harvested. Oolong can taste more consistent with machine harvesting, and that may be desirable for a marketed, mass-produced product. Conversely, hand-harvested teas have the ability to be handled more gingerly and more variably, thus giving each cup the possibility to be more expressive.

Roasting. As with any other plant, tea contains sugars, the end product of photosynthesis. Sugar can be transformed from it's natural crystalline state into more complex compounds. Culinary professionals have dubbed this "caramelizing", i.e. caramelized onions, creme brulee, caramel. When tea is roasted, it is essentially caramelizing the sugars within the leaves. Roasting can play big role in the end product depending on roasting parameters, which include: length of time, repetition, and source of heat. The longer the tea is roasted, the more caramelizing that occurs. Lightly roasted teas will only have hints of "toasty" character, whereas heavily roasted teas will taste very "toasty", and usually appear a darker hue. Tea can be re-roasted, which typically takes place on an annual basis if at all. The source of heat can be charcoal, wood embers, an oven, or even tea stuffed inside of bamboo which is roasted whole.

Fermentation. Also known as oxidation. The first thing I think about is a browning apple. core... Fermentation may be considered the largest factor of how the end product will turn out. Oolong resides between green tea and black tea (red tea [China]). As such, oolong can be a pale yellow or a reddish orange color when brewed. The amount, or percentage of fermentation, creates a vastly different flavor. Basically, when the tea is plucked from the plants, they will naturally start to decay. Enzymes, or cellular catalysts, start to break down cell contents. This is accelerated by bruising the tea leaves after they have dried out a bit in the sun. Once the leaves are bruised, fermentation can be halted immediately or last for about 48 hours. Halting takes place by the application of heat, either by ovens or woks, but is almost always a flash application (like pasteurization, but with different objective). The objective is to denature, or destroy active enzyme activity which will keep the tea from fermenting, or oxidizing further. The term oxidizing refers to the idea that oxygen is needed to facilitate fermentation, also know as an aerobic reaction (requiring oxygen). Some oolongs exist which are anaerobically produced (oxygen-deficient environment), such as GABA oolong which is fermented in a n environment. Enough said.

With all the variables combined, there is an indefinite combination of possibilities. For this reason, many teas are produced under a recipe. This is done so people can enjoy Tie Guan Yin, WuYi Rock Oolong, Dong Ding, Big Red Robe, year after year with only minor variations in quality and taste.

Now that Oolong has been revealed from the plant to the end product, the final excursion lies in brewing techniques. To be continued...