Greetings dear reader(s).
I must begin with a formal apology. It has been literally months since my last post, and I admit, I’ve been selling out to another blog. That’s right, I’m actually getting paid to ramble on with my incoherent musings about life, theology, and food. Excellent gig if you can get it.
Well, I believe it is time to return home.
Let’s get right into it. I would like to tell you about the most wonderful tea I’ve tasted to date.
Here is a rather poor quality photograph of me sitting at Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters in downtown Chicago. I try to come here whenever downtown (which is not often since the Metra increased the weekend pass price from $5 to $7) and I am quite fond of Intelligentsia’s teas as well as their perfect espresso.
Every time I ordered tea in the past at Intelligentsia I would peruse the menu and choose a selection that both sounded tasty and was kind on the pocketbook. Each time, however, my eyes would linger on one selection listed under the Oolong category: the Honey Orchid Dan Cong. At $180/lb, this tea does not mess around. And it was time for me to stop messing around and buy a dang pot before God forbid I meet an early end, full of regret that I never tasted this miraculous tea.
Here’s a closeup of these precious leaves.
Oolong is one of my favourite tea varieties and – ironically in light of my previous comment about dying early – when I took the first sip I was in heaven. The baristas at Intelligentsia are also experts of tea infusion and this cuppa was perfectly balanced. There was quite literally nothing wrong with it – not too bitter, huge flavour, no residual water taste. Absolutely perfect. The tea has robust yet light and crisp honey and orchid flavours accompanied with a traditional light Oolong flavour. Interestingly enough, the flavours originate purely from the way the tea is cultivated. It is considered a high altitude mountain tea because it is grown at 1000 metres above sea level. No flavours, oils, etc. are added to the leaves prior to infusion.
I wonder if it would be possible to use this tea to make my other favourite beverage, KOMBUCHA!
I don’t think I would want to try for fear of wasting it.
However, this is a nice seque into part two of this long-winded post: Kombucha.
Kombucha is an ancient chinese fermented tea beverage not to be confused with japanese Kombu, a tea drink made from seaweed. Kombucha is actually a pretty trendy drink nowadays, and many people associate Kombucha with hipsters, but seriously, it’s been around for thousands and thousands of years. Its about the least avant garde/progressive thing out there, right after fireworks and the wheel. Kombucha is also insanely healthy and was initially used by the ancients to treat a variety of illnesses. Not to mention, it’s delicious!
So what exactly is Kombucha, you ask. Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage and considered a raw food because billions of living microorganisms populate one 16 oz. glass. In order to make it, one must first grow or obtain a SCOBY, or a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Sometimes called a ‘mushroom,’ because that’s what it looks like, it is comprised of acetobacters and a few varieties of yeast. The bacteria and yeast work together in the colony consuming sugars and caffeine to ferment the tea (no worries – kombucha is non-alcoholic because the bacteria eats any alcohol produced by the yeast – perfectly legal for Judson, I promise! I wouldn’t be making it in my room if it was against policy). Many wonderful acids and vitamins are produced in the process including glucaric acid, which actually helps your liver function more efficiently. Glucaric acid also combats strong toxins, and people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer should not drink Kombucha because it will fight off the treatment! WHOA! Drinking Kombucha is great for detoxification and it is said that drinking lots of Kombucha over time can actually help prevent cancer.
Okay, maybe the whole bacteria and yeast thing freaked you out a bit, but you gotta admit, the cancer prevention and increased liver functionality sounds pretty attractive. And the best part is, you can make as much as you want for free. And better yet, I can show you how. (These instructions begin with growing your own scoby. If you already have a scoby you can skip to the middle).
Alright. Here’s how to do it. But before you attempt, try some kombucha to see if you like it. Also, remember that sanitation is KEY in making kombucha. Even the smallest particles or oils can contaminate or increase the possibility of mould to grow in your kombucha. My instructions include very strict cleanliness guidelines that should be adamantly adhered to.
-Obtain a 1 gallon glass jar.
-Obtain 100% organic black or green tea. DO NOT USE ANY TEA THAT HAS ANY ADDED FLAVOURS OR HERBS – ONLY USE TEA LEAVES! Failure to use only 100% organic tea leaves could result in moulding or contamination, which is dangerous. I’m currently using TAZO organic darjeeling black tea.
-Obtain a bottle of organic raw kombucha. I use GT’s kombucha (but if I were back in Austin I’d totally hit up Buddha’s Brew!) Once again, make sure that you buy only the organic raw – any added flavours will cause contamination or risk mould.
-Obtain some sugar (you’ll need between 2-3 cups)
DIRECTIONS: Growing the Scoby
1. Sterilise your hands with vinegar. Do not use soap. Only use clean paper towel to dry your hands.
2. Sterilise the glass jar with vinegar. Rinse well but don’t let anything touch the inside of the container except the kombucha (below)
3. Sterilise a wooden or plastic mixing tool with vinegar. Again, rinse well but avoid contact anything. Shake excess water off but do not dry with a towel or anything.
4. Pour the entire bottle of organic raw kombucha into the jar. Try to get the strands of yeast in there also, they will help facilitate growth.
5. Pour about 1/4 cup of sugar into the kombucha and stir until dissolved. If you would like a sweeter kombucha you can add more. Sugar not only flavours the beverage but helps facilitate growth.
6. Cover the open jar with a clean, breathable cloth and fasten with a rubber band.
7. Wait about a week, maybe more. A scoby will grown on the surface of the liquid.
DIRECTIONS: Brewing the Kombucha
1. Once again, sterilise your hands with vinegar and very hot water. Some discomfort might be necessary, but it’s all for the art.
2. Find a glass jar or bowl and sterilise it with vinegar and very hot water as well. Rinse with cold water to cool down the container (temperatures over 75-80 degrees will kill the microorganisms essential to making kombucha). Once again be careful not to let anything touch the interiour of the container. Shake excess water off but do not dry with a towel or anything.
3. Transfer the scoby and the liquid in which it grew over to the glass container or bowl. Immediately cover with a cloth but don’t let the cloth touch the surface of the liquid. The liquid will serve as a starter for your kombucha.
4. Sterilise the now empty glass jar (in which the scoby grew) with vinegar and rinse. Shake off excess water but do not wipe dry.
5. Boil about 3/4 gallon of water.
6. Pour the boiled water into the empty glass gallon jar.
7. Brew some tea in the water – I use two tea bags. If using loose leaf tea you can use between 1-1.5 tbsp, more if you like a stronger tea flavour. Keep in mind that black tea will become bitter quickly if over-infused.
8. Once the tea has sufficiently steeped, remove the bags. Mix in between 1-2 cups of sugar and dissolve. You can use a wooden or ceramic stick (like a chopstick) to mix in the sugar. Never let metal touch any part of the scoby, brewed tea, or kombucha starter liquid during this process! So don’t use a metal spoon to stir!
9. Let the brewed sweetened tea cool. Remember, if the tea is above 75 degrees, you can risk killing the essential acetobactors and yeasts that ferment this marvelous beverage.
10. Once the tea is cooled, once again sterilise your hands with hot water/vinegar and shake off excess water. You know the drill. Pour the liquid in which your scoby grew into the brewed tea until the jar is full. Carefully transfer the scoby to the jar as well, making sure that it doesn’t flip upside down in the jar. The scoby will initially sink to the bottom, but as the tea ferments CO2 will be released creating carbonation and floating the scoby to the top of the tea.
11. Cover with the cloth and fasten with the rubber band.
12. WAIT. A week to a week and a half should do the trick. If you like a stronger more acidic brew, wait longer. If you want to test your kombucha, stick a clean plastic straw underneath the scoby and have a sip.
13. When your kombucha is ready, transfer the scoby and some of the kombucha to another clean class jar/bowl. Pour the finished kombucha into a sterilised (with vinegar and hot water!) jar and you’re all set to enjoy!
If you want to infuse flavours or create a more fizzy brew, you can seal the brewed kombucha in an air-tight container with fruit juices or other herbal tea flavours. Be careful, however, because these can explode.
There. I’ve shared my knowledge with you all. I hope you can go buy some of the aforementioned Dan Cong tea and please have a go at making kombucha! It’s a blast (and addicting) and the health benefits are miraculous. Good day to you all.