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  • Learning the Ropes: Pu Erh Maddness, Rooibos Blends & Green Tea

    The highs and lows of summer are setting in....the impending notion of going back to work (awww man! But paaaycheck!!)...the want to go outside and run around, but being suffocated with windy humid warm gusts makes me hug our a/c unit...and eat ice cream. So, I guess all pretty accurate for a Wisconsin summer then?

    I've had some time on my hands lately, so as such, have been feeling quite...anxious. I usually get like this during the summer months: all of this energy, extended day light hours, and ALL OF THE PRODUCE to eat and cook with (and infuse kombucha with! Melon, basil, strawberries...below is an orange + basil + ginger combo that was amazing, as well as a strawberry + hibiscus that was also choice!). It is all wonderful, beautiful, but overwhelming at the same time. Anyone else?

    Also, blueberries! Melon! Goji! The infusion of goji + musk melon + fresh lime juice below was CRAZY carbonated after allowing it to sit for 3 days at room temp. There may have been a kombucha geyser in my kitchen from this combo...heh...So what does this all have to do with kombucha? Well, lots of brewing! I have learned quite a bit in the last 2 months. What works for what I like in a final brew, how my SCOBYs behave and also what I can experiment with (and want to). I am still recording my brews and other notes in my notebook, but alas, I have veered away from recording every single batch here. I want to get back to that, but for now, this post will serve as ketchup (get it? CATCH UP?). Ok...ok ok...

    I'll try to be succient with this, even though that type of thing is not my strong suit (heh) (also, this is from a mind of an inherently long winded person, who loves science and research, so, really, you should expect some degree of rambling):

    • Pu erh tea kombucha: WOW. SO. STRONG. I experimented with Rishi pu erh, on behalf of my sister visiting in July, and her love for this tea AND kombucha. The first ferment (8 days at 76F-78F) yielded a crazy strong, acetic acid forward brew with a distinct note of (ahem) barn yard funk. Wasn't bad, and the flavors really mellowed after infusing and bottle conditioning for a few days, but my friends: USE PU ERH SPARINGLY. I used 3 TB, and let it brew for quite a long time (i.e. I totally fell asleep when it was brewing). The flavor is deeply earthy, and the color of the final brew made with 100% pu erh is darker than, say, an oolong kombucha.
    • Blending teas: a week or so ago, I brewed two batches with a two combinations of teas, namely Rishi ruby oolong, Rishi pu erh, Rishi darjeeling muscatel 2nd flush, and rooibos. This was really an effort to clean out my tea stash. The one blend that included the pu erh (only 1 TB this time!) turned out robust, with a forward tea flavor, but was much easier to enjoy :) :) :) with the tea combo being 1 TB ruby oolong, 1 TB pu erh and 1 TB rooibos, all brewed for 15 minutes in water 30 seconds off the boil. I really liked the overall lightness of this blend, and also appreciated the flavor the rooibos gave the final brew. 
    • New method of brewing tea: soooo it is summer. The sun is out. So, SUN TEA. For the 1 TB rooibos, 1 TB ruby oolong and 1 TB darjeeling, I simply placed the tea and about 4 cups of water in a large pyrex measuring cup, securely covered with a light weight cotton kitchen towel, and sat the whole works on my deck for 12 hours. It was sunny. The teas brewed. The honey bees tried to get to the tea 'cause they are thirsty creatures, too (hence the cloth covering the sun tea). Aside from being an energy saver, the tea was really mellow in flavor, but still complex. I would 100% recommend using this method of sun brewing, just be sure you do it on a sunny, hot day :) 
    • ***TRYING NEW TEAS!*** So, I have volunteered with the team at The Kombucha Shop to be a "tea tester" for some new blends they will offer in their shop! This is the same company I got my kombucha starter kit from (and I 100% recommend it!). I should be getting the teas in the mail by the end of the month, and will have finished brew reports to share by early August. Also, doing a big move and life transition at the same time...sooo...I hope my SCOBYs are feelin' hearty and ready to brew in new environments. And really, I hope the same for me as well...(HEH!!) 
    • Sugar level: I have now reduced my batches to 3/4 cup organic cane sugar. I found that the full 1 cup was just too sweet, even after letting my batches brew upwards of 10 days at 76F-78F. The batches with 3/4 cup sugar are less sweet, and thus more to my taste. The less sweet kombucha still gets carbonated when bottle conditioned with fruits, spices, etc. Hooray! AND, in the event I do want a sweeter 'booch, I simply infuse a liter bottle with a sweeter fruit or pure fruit juice (i.e. mangos, strawberries, oranges...you get the idea).
    • Tea amount and steep time: now don't quote me on this, but, I think steeping LESS tea for a LONGER amount of time vs. steeping MORE tea for a SHORTER amount of time produces a lighter, yet still tea-forward final kombucha that successfully carbonates when bottle conditioned. On the other hand, the more tea/less time batches I have brewed are less complex, but more acetic acid forward in the final bottle conditioned brew (but still very carbonated!). But, let me note, I do think that regardless of steeping time, you should be sure to use a high quality tea...but I mean...you should always try to use high quality tea because that is best for everyone...riiiight? Right. 
    • Temperature of first fermenation: back in June, I had a batch of kombucha that was just...off. The tea I used was one I had used before, so I knew that this was unlikely the culprit. I used 1 full cup of organic cane sugar. I used a hearty looking SCOBY. The only other factor with this brew was the temperature at which it was fermented, namely ~85F. Yes, it was hot in our loft and I wasn't home to keep tabs on the brew! The result was an overly acidic, yet still too sweet kombucha. I went ahead and bottled it after 8 days, and bottle conditioning helped balance it a bit, but it still maintained an overly sweet, not tea-forward or complex flavor. I am guessing either the bacteria or yeasts didn't appreciate the sauna treatment, so one took over more than the other, leading to an imbalanced brew. Oh well! I learned my lesson...and also retired that SCOBY (as in: I peacefully threw it in a thriving heap of ferns in my neighbors planting bed...shh...don't tell anyone...ha!).
    • Infusion vessel: I had a surpluss of kombucha, and no liter bottles to infuse it in. I was also out of quart sized mason jars at this time as well. But, I still wanted to infuse my brew! I simply placed a few large chunks of fresh ginger root, and about 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice into the bew jar (this is after I removed the SCOBY). I allowed the mixture to sit for 4 days, covered with the same cotton cloth and secured with a rubber band as I use in brewing. After 4 days, the ginger bits were held together by a thin SCOBY, how cool! I simply removed this, along with the attached ginger bits, and poured the kombucha through my funnel/nutmilk bag into a (now empty) liter flip top bottle. I allowed it to condition for another day before strating to drink it, and it was super tasty, and just as carbonated as a batch infused and conditioned entirely in a liter flip top. 
    • Sharing the 'booch love: I shared my first SCOBY!! Yes!! I "gifted" one to a friend (along with 2 cups strong starter brew) and former lab mate....a perfect kinda-science-y project after defending your thesis, right? Riiiight. We also brewed a batch of kombucha together, just to go through the motions. The brew turned out so well, using 3 TB Rishi Ruby Oolong brewed for 5 minutes, then adding 3/4 cup organic cane sugar and 1 cup starter liquid. 
    • *when I say "bottled conditioned" I mean second fermentation in my liter flip top bottles, carried out on my counter at room temperature (usually right around 76F to 78F). I typically allow my kombucha to infuse with fruits, spices and herbs for 3-5 days, after which I filter it to remove the infusion bits, and then allow it to re-carbonated anywhere between 1 to 5 days before enjoying it. I really like a carbonated kombucha, so this process of allowing it to infuse and sit works for my preferences. 

    Sooo, now what?? For my fourteenth brew, I decided to experiement with a 100% green tea kombucha. I had a vacuum packed sachet of Japanese green tea in my cupboard, and thought...why not? I have no clue what variety of green tea it was, but it smelled wonderfully sweet and grassy, and had huge leaves when steeped. I used only 2 level TB total, and brewed it in water 30 seconds off the boil for 12 hours, merely because my PUR water filter was not working soooo I chose to let the water sit out, covered with a cotton cloth, in order to allow the chlorine to escape.The result? A super light, vibrant tasting kombucha with hints of grassy notes!  However, it took 11 days to ferment to the point at which I was happy with the flavor (I started to taste at 7 days, as usual). I am not sure if this was because a) the green tea variety and amount used, or, b) the fact that I may have forgot to add the 1 cup starter liquid (oopsies!). Either way, it turned out well after the first ferment, with a healthy looking SCOBY forming on the top.After the first ferment, I allowed the kombucha to infuse for 5 days with pieces of fresh ginger root, after which I strained it with my usual funnel lined with a nutmilk bag, and then allowed the strained 'booch to sit for 2 days at room temperature on my counter to allow for re-carbonation before enyoing. The result: light, crisp, slightly fizzy and very refreshing! If you are not a fan of super tea-forward brews, or want a lighter flavored brew, with not super crazy carbonation, try using green tea.