By Brendon Vallejo of Black Radish Kombucha
My first encounter with this was essentially vinegar – surely this can’t be the kombucha people are going on about? Later as I became obsessed, totally absorbed in my small but ever-growing world of tea and fermentation, I would myopically think that everyone must also be in love with this 'new discovery'...
Probably originating in China, only because that is where camellia sinensis, the tea plant itself originates - kombucha can be brewed with as much alcohol as beer or wine or as little as ½ %. Lightly carbonated with a little kick of fermentation that the body seems to crave in everything from sourdough, wine, cheese and kimchi, yogurt, miso, natto and so on.
The science behind brewing kombucha is roughly this; airborne yeast and bacteria settle on sweetened tea kind of similar to wild yeast settling on crushed grapes in winemaking. In fact the chemical makeup of kombucha containing water, tannins, polyphenols, and pH, is very similar to that of wine.
In sourdough where one of the by products of the yeast consuming the sugar is CO2 (carbon dioxide) is trapped in the protein structure of the dough allowing it to expand and rise. In kombucha, this CO2 is trapped in the bottle and what we end up with is a carbonated iced tea that can be easily flavoured. Because of the tannins, acidity, polyphenols and residual sugar, it touches key parts of the palate and can end up having a lot of appeal – like wine.
Recipes abound but it really comes down to the method: use good quality tea and respect the brewing time and temperature (around 24 degrees is good), the sweetness can be adjusted according to your palate. Carbonation can be increased by prolonged bottle fermentation to a point, after which there can often be over-fermentation (and over-flow!)
There are great tea merchants in Sydney and the kombucha base can be made from any kind of tea. We use organic raw sugar, filtered water and organic 'inputs' like fruit, juice, tea, spices, plants and herbs.
Enormously satisfying to make, one of the major benefits of kombucha is surprisingly not the probiotics, but the act of making something at home for yourself that tastes better than what can be bought.
As with many things we are passionate about creating in the kitchen; sprouts, yogurt, bread, pasta, fermenting, baking or growing plants - the best bit is DIY; creating something for ourselves is a self-perpetuating, spiritually nourishing experience.
Through the act of fermenting, like life, we become part of something we cannot exactly control but are able to curate and participate in, where we can after a time, be sure of a reasonably predictable outcome that is simple, creative, shared – and beautiful.
Kombucha is finally making its way out of the health food store and into supermarkets, cafés and restaurants where it can be enjoyed as a legitimate, fermented, non alcohol option that is helping to populate the once barren landscape of mineral water and juice.