Monday, September 6, 2010

Mint Kombucha Update

It's been about two weeks since I posted about my mint kombucha experiment. I heard it couldn't be done, but I gave it a go anyways. The outcome has been entirely without regret. I've had chance to drink some of my mint-bucha now and it is definitely a full out kombucha with a nice clear taste complete with minty tones.

Last night while entertaining a couple of young ladies I told them about kombucha. Neither had heard of it before, but they welcomed my offer to let them have a try. I started out by giving them each a sample of regular kombucha which I had brewed using black tea. Their reactions to it were positive. This was a nice surprise for me as up til that point I had only been able to convince my less adventurous family to try it. None of my immediate family were very excited about it, nor did they seem to enjoy it (My father did confess later that he thought it was good. However, he didn't even finish his small glass of it). So, after my first positive kombucha sharing experience with these young ladies, I progressed on to the next mix. The mint kombucha. I tasted it first myself to make sure it hadn't aged to long and become too strong. I thought I would like it maybe a day or two younger, but still it was pretty decent so I let them try. To my surprise not only did they both like it, but they thought it was even better than the regular kombucha. I felt like a success. :)

I feel it is important that I say more about the mint kombucha itself now. Last time I blogged about it I was still waiting for signs that my experimental brew would form a new scoby during the fermentation process, as is standard with kombucha brewed from black or green tea. In the time since that post my minty brew has formed a very healthy looking white scoby complete with pockets of yeast and all. This means that the organisms which ferment the tea into kombucha not only didn't deteriorate, but they actually thrived enough to form a new cellulose mass (that we refer to as the scoby or mother).

There are a couple of other things I'd like to mention about my mint kombucha so you may better understand my methods.

Typically when one sets out to brew a new batch of kombucha they will start out with one or more scoby's and a measure of kombucha from a previous batch to help get the new batch off to a good start (by helping to make the mix more acidic). However, since I had no previous batch of mint kombucha to use as starter I had to improvise. I added one scoby borrowed from a batch of black tea kombucha, but I did not want to add any of the actual kombucha as starter. My reasoning behind this was not merely a matter of not wanting to mix flavors, but rather I wanted to know that if the mint kombucha did work that it was not due to having some trace of black tea mixed into it. For hygiene sake I needed to make the mix acidic enough to not go rancid or get moldy before it had a chance to ferment so I chose to add a small measure of distilled white vinegar. This essentially served the same purpose as adding some finished kombucha by making the tea acidic. I am aware that some people do this for regular kombucha as well, so I thought it would be a safe way to go.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it was taking longer for my mint kombucha to begin forming a new scoby than it was for my black tea kombucha, but I have a good idea for why this is. When I brew a new batch of kombucha using black tea I usually start out with about 20% kombucha mixed with the fresh sweet tea. That gets it going a lot faster. With the mint kombucha I didn't add any finished kombucha at all, only the distilled vinegar. I was very conservative with the amount of vinegar I added, and although I didn't measure it I am sure that it did not come anywhere near the amount needed to bring my mint-bucha to the level of acidity that the 20% kombucha does. Essentially the mint kombucha just had farther to go before it could get to the acidic state in which the scoby grows best. It's also possible that it took the bacterias a little while to adapt to the different environment, but I am convinced that even if this is the case it was not a significant set back.

Anyone who has brewed kombucha will know that the longer it brews the more vinegary it becomes (to a point). Eventually, if you let it go too long it becomes vinegar and is no longer drinkable unless diluted. The same is true of my mint kombucha. It becomes more and more vinegary as it ages, and I currently have a batch set aside to do just that. I am making mint vinegar. I have already started to come up with ideas for why mint vinegar is a good idea, so let me name a few. Vinegar is an important part of many salad dressings, so how cool would it be to make a refreshing minty dressing using mint vinegar? Some people use vinegar to clean, but vinegar isn't exactly the nicest smelling thing around is it? Hopefully the mint vinegar will have a more welcome minty smell. I've experimented with cleaning my hair using vinegar but found the smell too strong. I look forward to trying a mint vinegar hair rinse. We'll see how lovely I smell then. :) Also, there seems to be some sort of a tradition where people to serve leg of lamb with mint jelly. Not only that, but some people add vinegar to their meat to make it more tender. How tasty would it be to kill two birds with one stone and just marinate the lamb meat in mint vinegar to make it tender and minty? These are the things I have thought of to try to date. We'll see if I can come up with anything else.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mint Kombucha?

It seemed that kombucha and I kept running into each other online. It kept popping up here and there, but I never really gave it much thought. Then one day I was at a friends house and she said "Hey come here, there's something I want you to try."

It was kombucha.

This was the first time I had actually seen the real thing, and I did not hesitate to try it. I found it to be delicious, and not at all dissimilar to a fizzy soda like beverage minus the guilt. There was a cider like flavor to it as well, and I loved it. Of course when she offered to send me home with a couple of scobys to start my own brew I couldn't say no. I was hooked.

There, now that that's out of the way I can move on to the point of this blog.

I have some of the most deliciously flavored mint growing in my garden and I want to put it to good use. A lot of the references I found suggest that kombucha must be brewed in tea made from Camellia sinensis, or else it would degrade and weaken the scoby over time. I've read claims that the caffene from tea is essential to the process, yet others claim to use rooibos (which has no caffene) successfully. And then I find claims that even the rooibos will degrade the kombucha scoby over time. It's hard to say what is true and what is not regarding all the mixed information out there, but I'm not letting it hold me back from trying my own brewing experiments.

So far I have experimented with two brews using non Camellia sinensis teas. One of them was most unsuccessful, but the other which shall be the focus of this blog is mint tea. As of this moment my first batch of mint-bucha is still in it's first brewing. It will be a few more days before I will disturb it to have a taste, but I can't wait to share with you the encouraging signs I have observed thus far.

It is apparent that some if not all the mixed species of micro-organisms that make up kombucha are currently active and in full force in my mint tea. It did not take long before bubbles started forming in the mix with such vigor that there is now an ever present mass of foam on the surface made from all the collected bubbles. I view this as a very good sign, because the natural carbonation is normal characteristic of standard kombucha. The next thing I am observing is a steady build up of floaties near the bottom of the mix. From what I have read these are deposits of yeast. Yeast plays an important role in the creation of kombucha, and I have seen the same deposits in my regular kombucha brews. I also take this as a good sign because it shows me that the yeasts are active and growing.

Each day the mix seems to develop a more and more definite kombucha smell, while the sweet minty scent also remains intact. This is wonderful, because I would think it a waste if the minty smell were destroyed in the fermentation process.

There is one sign however, that I am still watching for. The formation of a baby scoby on the surface of the tea. I am surely being impatient, but so far I have yet to see anything that looks like the beginning of a baby scoby. Without forming a new scoby as part of the brewing process, can I truly call it kombucha?

I need to give my brew a few more days to develop, and hopefully in that time a new baby scoby will form.

If the time comes to harvest my brew and there is still no baby scoby I will not dispair, and this is why: With or without the formation of a scoby it is still very apparent that at least part of the micro-organisms in the kombucha mix are alive and healthy, ready to impart their benefits upon the drinker.

The lack of a scoby will also not prevent me from making successive generations from my mix. As long as I save some liquid from each brew to add to the next I can pass along the yeasts and bacterias to the next generation with or without a scoby.

I look forward to learning as this experiment progresses, and I look forward to sharing what I learn with you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Strange find under the willow tree

I was just outside planting my new aronia berry plant, and waiting for one of my pregnant Jacob ewes to give birth when I noticed something strange in the grass under the weeping willow tree...

I've seen a lot of mushrooms popping up here and there lately, but they don't tend to catch my interest like this one. This one was different. It was quite unlike any mushroom I had ever seen before.

At first glance I noticed the cap of the mushroom had a shredded appearance. That in itself made for an interesting look, but there was more to it than that. Not only did it look shredded by nature, but it was wet. I'm not talking about rain or dew wet either. There was black liquid actually dripping from it. Liquid so black it looked like tar.

While I crouched down to watch the mushroom I was able to witness multiple droplets of pure blackness fall off and stain the ground below. I can't even begin to guess what purpose this black liquid serves. It didn't seem to be harming or helping anything around it, nor did it seem to be attracting anything to it.

I should think that if I were so small as Alice was in the classic story we all know so well, I would find it quite pleasant to sit beneath this mushroom. The view from below is really very nice.

My mushroom must have siblings because just about a foot away guess what I saw...

A little brother!

This younger guy looks like he just broke out of the ground and hasn't had a chance to open up yet, but I'll bet when he does he will be the spitting image of his big brother... tar and all. :P


After doing some research I found that my mushroom is one of a group of mushrooms referred to as "inky caps". As it turns out, the black liquid is formed as the cap deteriorates and actually facilitates in the dispersal of spores! Good to know. :)

When I went back and checked up on the mushroom today (April 22), I found nothing but the long stem lying on the ground. The cap had melted away to nothing.