Scoby doo – an introduction to kombucha with David Begg

Tangy, tasty and alcohol-free, kombucha has been a fixture on the US drinks scene for years, but remained relatively unknown here – the reserve of health shops and home-brewers. With top bars now using it in cocktails and excellent, ready-to-drink examples popping up in bottle shops (like ours), it looks like that could be about to change. Is 2018 the year the UK finally falls for fermented tea?

Deliciously dry and complex, without the sugar-crash that comes after drinking many soft drinks, kombucha is a solidly grown-up sip, and one of our recommendations for Dry JanuaryAs one of the fermented drinks we’re a little less au fait with here at BW, we called on the expertise of Real Kombucha founder and Master Brewer, David Begg to tell us more about it – how it’s made and what makes it so special.

Join David at one of our upcoming Introduction to Kombucha events where you’ll find out more and enjoy a tasting of the Real Kombucha range, alongside a specially-designed matching veggie menu.

Over to you David…

The ‘booch basics

Kombucha is a yeast and bacterial fermentation of sweet tea. The yeast consumes most of the initial sugars and converts them to alcohol, and the bacteria consumes the alcohol to create beneficial acids. Unlike vinegar, however, the acids produced are soft and delicate and just give a subtle bite and fizz.

Making kombucha

It’s actually really easy to make kombucha, and a whole lot of fun, but be careful as it can become a serious obsession (with a little bit of an addictive personality thrown in). All you need is a pot and a SCOBY.

SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s the culture used to ferment the tea and looks a bit like a round, flat piece of calamari. It is actually the cellulose that the bacteria create as an environment to live in; a bug hotel, so to speak.

Brew your favourite sweet tea, cool it to room temperature and drop in the culture. That’s all it takes.

Here’s a link to Real Kombucha’s Adrian Hodgson, explaining how to brew kombucha in more detail.

That characteristic kombucha taste

What does kombucha taste like?

It’s always hard  trying to describe a flavour. Most would liken kombucha to a slightly tart, delicate apple or pear cider, though it depends enormously on the tea you use.

For our Royal Flush we use a first flush Darjeeling tea which produces a kombucha with delicate sharpness over notes of gooseberry, rhubarb and peach. Pick up a bottle of our Smoke House though, and you will think you are drinking a light, smoky apple cider.

‘Booch health benefits

Most naturally sweetened soft drinks are between 7-12% sugar. That means that if you consume a 330ml bottle of the stuff, you are consuming up to 40g of sugar. The WHO currently suggests a maximum daily added sugar consumption of 24g, and they would like you to reduce this to 12g, so you would be consuming almost double the WHO recommendation in one bottle.

Real Kombucha has under 2g of sugar per 100ml, so only 6-7g per bottle. That is less than 50 calories compared to up to 300 for a single bottle of a soft drink. Your alternative is the artificial sweeteners that we are all getting rather concerned about. But even Real Kombucha is still 6g of sugar, so I would always advocate drinking more water than booch (although some of us are a little addicted – send help!)

While we are far more passionate about the flavour of kombucha than the health benefits, the magic booch also packs a bunch of other elements. It is a raw product with plenty of healthy probiotic bacteria. It also contains all the catechins and polyphenols that you find in a normal cup of tea, with their great antioxidant properties, and the acids produced in the fermentation are a great way to get the system going. We are learning a lot more about the benefits of fermented foods and I am sure we are going to be quite surprised by what we find.

You can click this link to read more about kombucha health benefits.

Different tea, different flavour

We currently produce three flavours, each one differentiated by the type of tea we use. We don’t see the point in flavouring kombucha when it can taste so good to begin with.

Dry Dragon – the delicate one

Dry Dragon (33cl, £2.50) is made from the pan-roasted Dragonwell green tea from China. Unlike Japanese green teas – which are steamed – Chinese green teas are roasted in a big wok, giving them flavours of hay rather than mown grass. This leads to a far more delicate flavour in a kombucha, with the fermentation also adding flavours of grapefruit and lemon.

I drink Dry Dragon every morning with eggs straight from our chickens. It is a great way to start the day, and it’s an easy drink for whenever you need a refreshment – particularly on a warm summer day.

Royal Flush – the aperitif

Royal Flush (33cl, £2.50) is brewed from first flush Darjeeling, which is known locally as the ‘Queen of Teas’. The first flush is picked by hand as the first tips of the plant emerge in the spring, leading to a richly fragrant tea. When brewed, it produces a kombucha that is fresh and floral with notes of rhubarb, gooseberry and vanilla but with subtle, astringent undertones. People often compare this drink to a kind of non-alcoholic Prosecco.

Royal Flush is the easiest to drink before or with food. It is really fantastic as an aperitif and works a treat anywhere you would otherwise drink Champagne, Prosecco or a white wine.

Smoke House – the beer-y one

Smoke House (33cl, £2.50) is much more robust. It is brewed from a high-grown black tea from the southwestern districts of the Yunnan province in Southern China. A brew with a warm, golden colour and a rich, smoky flavour, with apple and caramel undertones. On first sip, most would believe that Smoke House is a cider, albeit one with a more delicate, smoky twist.

At the end of a busy day at the brewhouse there is nothing like grabbing a cold Smoke House (or three) from the fridge and sharing them with the team.

If you’re interested, we’ve written this article on our blog about how to serve kombucha.

Using kombucha in cocktails

Real Kombucha Cocktail
G and Tea?

One of the great things about Real Kombucha is that it doesn’t come mixed with other flavourings, so you are free to mix and blend as you see fit. A Dry Dragon Mojito is fantastic, or you could mix a little cassis into a Royal Flush and you make a superb Kir Royal.

My favourite has to be a cocktail mixed by Yann at The Pig Hotel near Bath, called the Gardener’s Mistress:

  1. Take a tall tumbler, crush a little fresh ginger in the bottom.
  2. Add a small measure of fresh basil oil, followed by crushed ice.
  3. Fill to the brim with Real Kombucha Smoke House.
  4. Then top with some bruised mint and a twist of black pepper.You really have to try it to believe the subtle complexities of the flavours.

We keep a lot of kombucha cocktails on our blog, and we add to the list whenever someone sends us something interesting.

Drinking kombucha with food

I am a bit of a flavour obsessive and I am constantly experimenting with kombucha food pairings. Over  the New Year, a really foodie Italian friend of mine dispensed with the Sauternes and grabbed a bottle of Royal Flush to drink alongside his foie gras. Wow! What a success.

We have been selected by some of the greatest chefs, sommeliers and restaurateurs exactly for this reason. Anything sweet, fruity or too bold in flavour overwhelms most foods, so restaurateurs have always struggled to find a soft drink that can pair as well with food as wine. As Real Kombucha is a simple fermentation with no flavouring – just like a wine or beer – it does the same job.

I would always suggest pairing Dry Dragon with fresh salads and alongside fruit, especially citrus and more acidic fruits. It is also great with lighter Asian foods.

Royal Flush is particularly good with white meats, fish and cream sauces. It also pairs well with subtle pasta dishes and it’s a great aperitif with smoked salmon, or charcuterie.

Smoke House is great with beef or other robust meats. It’s a perfect replacement for beer with a good British curry and works well alongside other spicy food too.

Much to my disappointment, we haven’t yet found a good combination with cheese. Pairing kombucha and cheese pretty much destroys both, so my advice is to steer well clear!

Real Kombucha is available now in the Borough Wines shops and online. David Begg will host two ‘Introduction to Kombucha’ events at our Essex Road (N1) shop on Wednesday 24 January 2018 and in Kensal Rise (NW10) on Thursday 25 January 2018. Tickets (£25) include a masterclass, demo, guided tasting and three course veggie food matching menu. Book here.