How to brew Kombucha at home (FYI: it’s RIDICULOUSLY easy) plus my favourite Kombucha recipes

I first learned how to brew Kombucha a few years back, while taking a break from drinking alcohol. At the time, I’d bottle it up, pop it in my handbag and head on out to social occasions, enjoying the small buzz it gave me while my friends got tipsy on wine and Aperol Spritzers. I even concocted my own “Blood Orange ‘Bucha” so as not to feel left out.

Back then, bottled Kombucha was only available from the humble shelves of health food stores and trendy cafes. Fast forward to 2018, and you can find it nestled earnestly amongst the sugary sodas and bottled juices of any supermarket or convenience store.

Yet unbeknown to most, Kombucha is ridiculously easy (and really cheap) to brew at home. Not just that, but as brewer, you have full control over its strength, fizziness and flavour.

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Why drink Kombucha?

The health benefits of Kombucha are touted to be endless, but for me it’s all about increasing good gut bacteria. Kombucha is brewed with a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Yeast and Bacteria) that “eats” the sugars in sweetened tea and creates an acidic, vitamin and probiotic-rich beverage. The second major win for me is the energy kick I get when I drink it, without the crash I get from guzzling coffee or energy drinks.

So, what is a SCOBY?

Well, it looks and feels exactly like one of those clear, round, blubbery jellyfish you find washed up on Aussie beaches. SCOBYs are mysterious things. You can’t make a SCOBY from scratch, you have to either be gifted one, or, these days, you can buy a Kombucha homebrew kit online. No one actually knows where the first SCOBY originated (the Chinese have been brewing Kombucha for thousands of years, so go figure) – all we know is that you can’t actually physically make Kombucha without it.

The brilliant thing about a SCOBY, however, is that with each brew, a baby SCOBY is born.  My biggest advice for hunting down a free SCOBY is to ask around (maybe post on social media) to see if any of your friends are brewing Kombucha, or find a local forum where you can ask a fellow brewer to pass one on, OR if all else fails, simply buy one, which seems fairly easy these days (not the case when I first started SCOBY hunting).

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My SCOBY family

Once you have your SCOBY and starter liquid, you can get brewing. The recipe below uses 300ml of starter liquid. If you find you have less than 300ml, simply adjust the ingredients accordingly (eg. for 100ml, divide by three).

What you’ll need

  • A clean glass jar or vessel to brew in
  • Kombucha SCOBY and stater liquid from a previous batch
  • 300ml starter liquid
  • 3 litres of chemical/ chlorine free water. Don’t use tap or chlorinated water unless it has been boiled for 10-15 minutes and then cooled to room temperature.
  • 5 teabags or 2.5 teaspoons of organic leaf tea in tea bags (I recommend only using plain black tea, green tea, rooibos or Oolong, Avoid using tea with extra ingredients, like Earl Grey. Going for plain black teas like Darjeeling or Orange Pekoe is perfect.)
  • 1 cup of organic white or raw sugar. Do not use Rapadura sugar
  • 1 large saucepan
  • 1 funnel
  • Clean glass bottle or flip top bottle (for storage of the brewed Kombucha)
  • For the second ferment (in 7-21 days): Your choice of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs or spices (see suggestions below)
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Pictured here: glass jar, raw castor sugar, flip-top bottle, SCOBY and starter liquid, bags of Oolong tea, SENCHA tea, empty tea bags, cheesecloth and elastic band

Method

  1. Bring the water to the boil and turn off the heat
  2. Add the tea bags
  3. Add 1 cup of sugar and stir to dissolve. Let it all sit and brew
  4. Remove the teabags after 15 to 60 minutes (depending on how strong you like your brew!).
  5. Cool the liquid to body temperature
  6. In your clean jar, add the sweetened tea, the starter liquid and place the SCOBY on top
  7. Cover the top of the jar with a loose, clean cloth such as muslin or cheesecloth and secure it tight with an elastic band or string.
  8. Cover the jar with a clean tea towel to block the light. Store it on a shelf, away from direct sunlight
  9. Brew for 7-21 days depending on the flavour you prefer and the air temperature (if it’s warmer, you might want to brew for less. If it’s cooler, longer. Optimum temperature is 22-24degrees.) You can start to taste test after 6 days, but do not disturb the new SCOBY while fermenting.
  10.  When your brew is ready, remove the original SCOBY and new SCOBY and some of the fermented kombucha as a new starter liquid.
  11. Pour the remaining liquid into clean flip top jars and add your flavour (fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs or spices) for a second ferment. Favourite combinations of mine are below.
  12. Second ferment for 24-48 hours depending on air temperature and potency of flavour.
  13. Remove any fruit or vegetables from the second ferment and place in a bottle in the fridge,
  14. After it chills, pour a small glass and enjoy your first brew! It’s best to start with a small amount daily, and observe your body’s reaction. Over time, increase your intake. If you are pregnant and haven’t tried Kombucha before, please only test a very small amount in a tablespoon.

Kombucha recipe ideas

Suggestions for your second ferment (adjust the amount depending on your strength preference):

  • Pineapple and Cilantro with sencha green tea
  • Strawberry and Mint with Darjeeling
  • Cucumber and Ginger with green tea and Oolong
  • Manuka Honey and Apricot with Rooibos (caffeine-free)
  • Cinnamon and Orange with organic black leaf tea and Rooibos
  • Blueberry and Star Anise with Orange Pekoe
  • Lime and Jalapeno with green tea
  • Red currants and Allspice with Oolong
  • Blood Orange with organic black leaf tea

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Some important things to note while brewing

  • It’s ok if the original SCOBY sinks during the fermenting process
  • Avoid using teas containing oils or spices – they can upset the SCOBY
  • To save space, you can store youre excess SCOBYs in one jar with starter liquid. Just ensure you remove and replace the starter liquid with each brew
  • The shorter you ferment, the more sugary your Kombucha will be. The longer you ferment, the more vinegary it will be.

Happy Bucha-ing!

Share pics and Insta Stories of your brew with @the_tealady on Instagram

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Recipe: the best chai in India!

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India: the land of yoga, ‘cha’ (tea) and Ayurveda… just a few of my favourite things.

But strangely enough, as I traveled through India (from the jungles and tea plantations of the south to the snow-capped Himalayas), I seldom came across an ashram or Ayurvedic hospital. While India is revered for giving the western world many treasured spiritual hand-me-downs, I only occasionally met a local who practiced yoga. Or who meditated on a daily basis. Or who followed an Ayurvedic diet. Sadly, many Indians do not have access to the health and wellbeing resources born of their own country, yet so readily available in the west.

But there is one thing consistent through India that we don’t do so well in the western world. Most Indians do meditate daily in their own special way. Over a cuppa. Tea. Everyone… drinks it. All day. And they stop everything and chill while they drink it.

Sydney is a city of hardcore on-the-go espresso coffee drinkers, so to be surrounded by my own kind was utterly divine. Streets are lined with cha carts. On the train, a tea man or ‘cha walla’ will appear on the platform with a freshly poured pot of tea, serving it to you through your window for 10 rupee (20 cents) a cup. Black tea is sipped at dawn, while ginger tea is sipped at dusk. Even on a trip through the desert, in the sweltering heat, camels stop, drop and break so that their riders can enjoy tea intermissions.

There is one downside to all this tea drinking: sugar is often added to the vat or pot of tea, making it impossible to ask for cha sans-sucre. After a week or so of traveling through India, I just gave in. I was sipping sweet tea like a local. It’s been a few months since my return, and I still battle sugar cravings.

Masala cha is the most commonly sipped tea in India. It translates to, quite simply, black tea with spices, and has been adopted by other languages as ‘chai’. It is most commonly brewed in a metal or copper pot using ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and/or other spices and black tea leaves.

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Of all the cha I tasted in India, brewed at home, in a restaurant or from a cart, nothing was as refreshing or unique as a tea we tried in Rajasthan, from a café called ‘Base Camp’ run by a guy called Sandeep. I think it’s fair to say I’ve tasted nothing like it before. Refreshing, fiery, cleansing… I love it and make it at home all the time back in Australia. How? Because I was lucky enough to be passed down the recipe. It’s called ‘Magic Pinch Masala’.

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We met Sandeep at the foot of Savriti temple mountain, in the holy city of Pushkar. It was a hot winter’s afternoon, and my my husband and I had just climbed up and down the mountain. As we dragged our feet along the dusty road, a man called to us from his empty café. At first we said no and kept walking, but when I heard him say ‘Ayurvedic herbal tea’, I about-turned.

We walked back to the café and sat down. I’m so glad we did, because this guy was serious about his tea. He brought out a beautiful leather-bound handwritten menu, consisting only of Ayurvedic or ‘herbal mix drink’ tea items. I went for the ‘Mint Magic Pinch Masala’ mint tea, while Stu went for ‘Lemon Magic Pinch Masala’.

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Sandeep invited us into his kitchen to demonstrate how he brews the tea. He explained this recipe was his grandmother’s, of which she learnt many years ago from Ayurvedic doctors. He told us he had been drinking Magic Pinch since he was a child. In his 30 years, he claimed he had never fallen ill or visited a doctor.

I told Sandeep about my tea blog and asked if I could share the recipe here. He said the more people in the world that benefit from Magic Pinch the better. He told us he wanted to share his “Om Shanti” with the world.

Magic Pinch acquires its namesake because quite literally, all you need is one pinch. “Add it to curry, add it to soup, tea, anything…” says Sandeep. “Just one pinch is all you need.” In this instance, he boiled some fresh mint in one saucepan along with one pinch of Magic Pinch and a teaspoon of sugar (by this point I was well and truly addicted) and boiled another pinch in a second saucepan. After 3 minutes, he squeezed lemon into a tall glass and added the contents of the first saucepan. The mint concoction was poured into a  glass handed to me. We headed outside to sit in big comfortable leather armchairs in the winter sun.

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IMG_2513After the first sip, we glanced over the rims of our glasses at each other with grins. This tea was special: fiery, flavoursome and soothing on the stomach. Our two separate additives, mint and lemon, each complimented the spice blend in their own unique way.

We gladly purchased a tin of Magic Pinch from Sandeep for 300 rupees ($5) and have been drinking Magic Pinch ever since (boiled, not brewed. I tried brewing it once and it wasn’t the same). Sometimes I mix it up with dried peppermint leaves from the garden or boil it with black tea and soy milk to make a masala chai.

When I come down with the cold or flu, I mix Magic Pinch with lemon and honey and it clears me right up. it also helps soothe stomach upsets.

We also use it for cooking. Magic Pinch tastes great in a pineapple and cashew nut curry, but be careful: don’t over do it! It’s called a ‘pinch’ for a reason., anything more and the flavour is way too intense. Once we do finish the tin (which Sandeep assured us would take years) I’ll tackle the following recipe myself.

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So here’s the recipe. Sandeep didn’t give me measurements, so I guess it’s up to personal taste!

Magic Pinch Ayurvedic Masala Tea

Ingredients:
Black pepper
Ginger
Cinnamon
Cloves
Star anise
Tulsi (holy basil) dried leaves
One tulsi root

Preparation:
Dry herbs and blend together to taste.
Add one pinch to a saucepan of 350 ML water.
Add one pinch of raw sugar if you dare, or maybe a pinch of coconut sugar or a drop of honey. Otherwise this tea is perfectly delicious without sweetness.
Boil (don’t brew!) for 3mins.
Serve.

Note: if you wanted to make this as chai, simply boil Magic Pinch in a saucepan or chai pot with black tea leaves and milk.

~Thank you Sandeep for this recipe and spreading Om Shanti through the world~

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Tea review // Zanzibar Chai by Kettle Town

Brand:   Kettle Town
Tea:       Black tea blend, loose-leaf
Name:    Zanzibar Chai
Cost:      $12/ 100g

Chai is the ying-yang of teas: it both calms and energises, relaxes and inspires, warms in winter, and cools on a sweltering hot summer’s day. Originally known as masala chai, which is Hindi, Urdu and Nepali for “mixed spice tea”, it traditionally blends black tea with Indian spices.

For me it is the most comforting of teas: the rich flavours remind me of the spices used to embellish alcohol and food during my annually celebrated Swedish family Christmas, so it’s no surprise that it’s often lovingly referred to as ‘Christmas in a cup’.

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Zanzibar Chai by Kettle Town

Most westerners (including myself) were introduced to masala chai via the chai latte – the non-coffee alternative to the latte, most commonly concocted using chai flavoured syrup and frothed milk when served up in cafes (I’m not dissing chai syrup here, some chai syrups (especially homemade) are incredible). When chai teabags first started appearing on supermarket shelves I switched my morning cup of office Earl Grey to a chai. I’ve since tried blending my own chai, but I think my true blending moment will come after my trip to India next month.

I picked up this box of Zanzibar Chai by Australian tea company Kettle Town at the Sydney Tea Festival several months back (yes, another Aussie tea review!) . Of all the chais I tasted/ inhaled at the festival, this one was the most unique.

The tea tasting

Upon opening the package, a fiery, peppery aroma escapes the brown paper box and fills my nostrils and my kitchen: spicy, not sweet like your typical chai teabag or café syrup. The black tea is fine and blended with small lumps of ginger along with cloves, cardamom and peppercorns. When I dash a teaspoon into the teapot and douse it in hot water (boiled to 90 degrees) the aroma turns to sweet cinnamon: that reassuring Christmas smell.

As I bring the teacup to my lips, I’m comforted by both the aroma and taste fine black tea and cinnamon. But not for long: the other spices take over like a cold slap in the mouth: ginger, aniseed and clove cool the tastebuds, while the pepper gives it a final kick. I polish off the cup and am left feeling refreshed and wanting more.

The Tea Lady verdict?

I love that Kettle Town took inspiration from Zanzibar when creating this tea: the East-African archipelago known for producing spices like black pepper, cinnamon and cloves. Like I mentioned, chai cools when you’re hot, and this tea really hits the spot on a sweltering summer’s day (we’ve already experienced a few of those in Sydney this spring), just as I’d imagine it would on a tropical beach in exotic Zanzibar.

This is not a sweet chai: add a teaspoon of honey if you like it sweet, but I prefer ‘as is’ to relish the the full assault of flavour. Can’t wait to try this iced! Will update as soon as I do.

Best sipped under an umbrella on a sweltering day, mid-morning, with a slice of banana bread.

Oh – and this tea is great value at $12 per 100 grams.

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Where can I get it?

From the Kettle Town website

Tea Review // Spring Tonic by Storm in a Teacup

Brand:   Storm in a Teacup
Tea:       Tisane/ herbal, loose-leaf
Name:    Spring Tonic
Cost:      $12/ 50ml

Spring arrived out of nowhere today. The sky turned to a pale hazy blue, the sun morphed into a white-golden blur and the air became thick with the buzz of crickets, birds and cicadas. For the first time in a while, the asphalt warmed my bare feet. Later in the evening, the air is balmy and still, the insects sing, mosquitoes nip at my ankles and moths charge at the window pane.

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I’ve been waiting for a magical, light-filled evening such as this to try out a new tea. Several weeks back, I asked my husband, in the midst of a trip to Melbourne, to visit a tea room I had discovered on Instagram. I stumbled across Storm in a Teacup when I searched for the song of the same name. To my delight, the user turned out to be a tea blender and tea room/ bar based in Collingwood, Melbourne (@tea_room_bar).

The tea tasting

Upon opening the packet, I was greeted by the familiar sweet scents of lemon, mint and what can only be compared to as fresh hay. Not only does this tea smell like spring, it looks like spring. Inside, I found a pretty mix of dried green leaves, yellow petals and whole calendulas.

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After steeping the tea for the recommended two minutes, the calendulas literally blossomed in my teapot. The tea sparkled with a golden-sunshine hue. Initially, the taste was sweet with mellow floral undertones. As I swirled it across my tongue, the distinctive yet subtle flavours of lemon balm, clover and calendula emerged. As I set my teacup back down, I was left with the reassuring cooling of spearmint.

The Tea Lady verdict?

A subtle and refreshing herbal tea, perfectly suited to the nurturing season of spring. A fantastically well thought-out blend (created by naturopath Misha Moran) to detoxify and balance the body.

I actually prefer it iced to hot. I steeped the tea for a second time, this time for a little bit longer (3 minutes) and added a couple of lemon slices and fresh mint from the garden. I then placed it in a jug inside the fridge for 3 hours, bottled it and took it to yoga – where it kept me energised and refreshed throughout the class.  A fantastic fitness alternative to water or energy drinks!

Where to buy? Visit Storm in a Teacup online, or if you’re in Melbourne head to their Tea Room and Bar in Collingwood.

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Liquorice tea + how I became a liquorice lover

Never in a million aeons did I ever think I’d learn to like liquorice. Growing up with a Swedish grandmother, I spent Christmas-after-Christmas surrounded by Scandinavians diving into tins of liquorice allsorts, twists and even SALTY liquorice.

I fell in love with liquorice tea quite by accident, after ordering a pot of cinnamon tea from a local café. It had a sweet, buttery aftertaste that I immediately fell head over heels for. Later, when I stumbled across that same tea in a health food store, I was flabbergasted to discover it contained liquorice root. What, me?! Like… liquorice?

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What’s the deal here? How can a liquorice hater love liquorice tea? So I did some research: while both candy and tea are made with liquorice root, aniseed oil is added to liquorice confectionary to reinforce the liquorice flavour. Or ruin it, as far as I’m concerned! So all this time, it wasn’t the poor liquorice that was the problem: it was the aniseed oil, or possibly just the combination of the two. And considering liquorice is so polarising, I’m presuming there are a great deal of people out there, who like me, wrote off liquorice tea and are missing out.

So why do I love it so? Liquorice root tisane has an initial salty, mineral taste, which gives way to a sweet, soft, mellow flavour. My favourite part is the aftertaste: buttery, sweet and delicious, it lingers and tingles on the tip of your tongue.

It’s also good for you. Liquorice root tea has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to treat upset stomach and heartburn, reduce inflammation, and treat the common cold. And that sweet flavour is not sugar but the liquorice root itself, which is up to 30 times sweeter than sugar cane.

Here are five of my favourite liquorice teas:

The Tea Hut – Liquorice Tea
Loose leaf, straight up liquorice root from Egypt.

Madame Flavour – Luscious Liquorice Tisane
Pyramid teabags containing large pieces of liquorice root, organic peppermint leaves, Australian aniseed myrtle leaf and whole fennel seeds.

Attic – Tea Clinic Stress Busting Tea
I picked this one up at a market in the UK. Loose leaf tea. Ingredients: black tea, peppermint, rose and small pieces of liquorice root.

Higher Living – Cinnamon (the tea I mentioned earlier!)
Teabags. Ingredients: cinnamon, whole fennel seeds, liquorice, citrus peel and ginger.

Tea 2 – Liquorice Legs
Loose leaf tea. Ingredients: liquorice root, peppermint and fennel.

Tea review // Popcorn Tea (Genmaicha)

Brand:   Perfect South
Tea:       Green, loose-leaf
Type:     Genmaicha
Cost:      $12/ 50ml

Green tea with cast iron teapot

Today I embarked on my first official Tea Lady tasting, armed with a cast-iron teapot, kettle, teacup and a fresh package of unopened tea.

I picked this one up at the Sydney Tea Festival a few weeks ago, after masochistically imposing a hideous rule upon myself: to purchase just one pack of green tea. Spoilt by choice, I circled several laps of the hall before following my gut instinct (and nose) to the Perfect South stand, where I decided on a 50ml pack of Australian-grown Genmaicha.

Genmaicha is my most beloved type of green tea. It’s a Japanese style that combines green tea leaves with roasted Japanese brown rice, a flavour pairing made in heaven. It’s often referred to as ‘popcorn tea’ because the rice pops during the roasting process.

Perfect South Genmaicha tea

Preparation

Boil:         90 degrees or let fully-boiled water cool for 4 minutes
Amount:  200ml small teapot // one teaspoon
Steep:      1 min (recommended brew time for Genmaicha is 30 secs- 1 min).

The tea teasting

Inside the brown paper packet I found small, dried yet fresh shincha leaves (tender new sencha leaves picked at the beginning of the harvest), stalks, and a wonderful amount of toasted brown rice. The tea to rice ratio (2-1) was perfect, the caramel-coloured rice puffs roasted to perfection.

Upon brewing the tea, the rice absorbed the water and became edible. The aroma from the teapot, both salty and sweet, made my stomach growl: hints of brown rice and seaweed echoed the smell of a sweet miso soup.

The liquor, when poured into my cup, sparkled with a light golden hue.

Tasting this tea took me on quite the journey: initially, the taste was subtle, slightly salty and grassy. Vegetal tones emerged as I swirled the liquor around my mouth. The familiar, slightly astringent taste of high-quality sencha, similar to that of spinach, emerged, but this was just a flash in the pan before the rice took over: salty and nutty to begin with, ending slightly sweet, toasty and buttery on the tip of my tongue. Like…. popcorn?!

This winning combination of salty and sweet was marvellously moreish, and I immediately boiled the kettle for a second cup.

The verdict?

Possibly the nicest Genmaicha I’ve ever tasted, and homegrown to boot. Who’d have thunk Australian-grown green tea could taste this good? Similar to Japanese-grown green tea, but something was definitely different, although I’m failing to place my finger/ tastebuds on it. Perfect South grow their tea leaves in the the sub-alpine valleys of Victoria, in a climate they claim is similar to that of the tea-growing regions of Japan. I was told that they sell only their two most recent harvests of shincha leaves, which explains the freshness.

A high-quality green tea that takes you on a superbly well-thought out journey of flavours. I love the packaging – simple and practical with no unnecessary extra bits to throw away.

Where to buy? Visit Perfect South’s website.

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But first, tea!

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I’ve always preferred tea to coffee. Raised by an English mother, the day never officially started until the kettle had boiled and a pot of tea was on the brew (Ceylon Orange Pekoe x Darjeeling). 

Tea is my biggest distraction and greatest motivator. How many words have I written fuelled by a hot cup of Sencha or a pot of Earl Grey? Spreadsheet, or another cup of Chai? Tax return, or 15 cups of Camomile? Tea can soothe me when I’m on the edge of mania, and inspire me when I’m a blank, useless chalkboard.

I recently visited The Tea Festival in Sydney and was overwhelmed by all the tea, glorious tea! An entire world of tea was on offer, little tasters poured into tiny paper cups: oolong, Australian-grown green tea, tisane blends I had never thought possible, and of course, all the traditionals. I burnt a whole in my wallet and chatted passionately with the various tea connoisseurs, blenders and enthusiasts in the building. 

This blog is my exploration of the world of tea: from Australia to China, Fiji to Sri Lanka, Africa to Japan. Matcha to kombucha, white tea to tisane, English Breakfast to jasmine pearls, and iced to bubble. I’ll review blends, brands, venues, events and wares. I’ll offer recipes, tips, how-to guides, photo-galleries and tea facts.

Better start my next blog post then. But first, tea… Green or black? Peppermint or liquorice?

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky