The Kombucha experiment – Part I

As usual, I’m a couple of years behind the trend. Kombucha is a drink that was extremely fashionable a few years ago but it still has a solid following. It is a tea drink that is made by fermenting sweetened black tea with a culture of yeasts and bacteria. It is also known as Tea Kvass (Russia), Hongchajun (China) and Kocha Kinoko (Japan). Confusingly, in Japan, Kombucha refers to seaweed that is powdered to produce kelp-tea. The two “kombucha” are very different.

Many websites talk about  probiotics and the detoxification and immune boosting properties of Kombucha (see notes on health at the end of article) but it also happens to be a very tasty drink that is naturally carbonated.

DBKB KombuchaWe are lucky in Dublin to have a local, organic, non-flavoured, Kombucha “brewery”. This is a very convenient option especially if you are short on time but I’ve never been one to take the easy route so I decided to experiment and try brewing my own.

A SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is needed to prepare Kombucha.  The SCOBY is sometimes called a mushroom but it’s just a colony of bacteria and yeast – no fungus. I’ve looked at lots of websites with instructions on how to brew Kombucha and almost all of them say that you start with a SCOBY. I was having some trouble locating a SCOBY but then I came across an article that said you could grow your own SCOBY so I decided to try that. I don’t know how this is going to turn out- we have to wait for two weeks to see if it works or not but here were my steps for preparation.

Kombucha IngredientsI brewed 500ml of tea. I would have preferred to use an organic black tea but I had none so I used a regular Panyong Golden Needle. I left it to steep for 10 mins and then removed the tea leaves, added 1 tsp. of sugar and allowed it to cool for 30 mins. I have since read that heat can be very destructive to the whole scoby-growing process and at 30 minutes it was still warm so this could be a problem. Leaving it for an hour would be a safer bet.

After 30 minutes I added 330ml of raw Kombucha (I used DBKB).   After adding the Kombucha I covered the bowl with a tea towel and put it in a warm dry place. I used a glass bowl because apparantly the acidity of the tea can cause it to absorb harmful elements from containers that are painted, ceramic etc (there has been two reported incidences of lead poisoning where Kombucha tea was brewed in a ceramic pot).

And now I have to wait for 2-3 weeks….

Health Note: Since the early 19th century, Kombucha tea has been promoted as an immunity-boosting tea that can strengthen the body and prevent many ailments. There is no solid scientific evidence to support the health claims of Kombucha tea.  In addition, there are potential health risks from Kombucha (source) but these equally, are not backed by solid scientific research. Because of the potential health risks, people with an immune deficiency or any other medical condition should seek medical advice before drinking the tea. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use this tea.

Afternoon tea in the Four Seasons, Dublin

“Although tea for one is certainly a fine thing, the addition of a circle of dear friends to share it with ensures the whole is larger than its parts”

 

champagneWith this quote in mind, I was delighted to arrange afternoon tea with two of my favourite people a few weeks ago. The pretext was one person moving abroad, the setting was the Lobby Lounge in the Four Seasons, Dublin and the occasion was champagne tea on a Saturday afternoon.

The Four Seasons pride themselves on attention to detail so I wasn’t surprised when they asked if there were any dietary requirements at the time of booking. I was, however, impressed that they remembered the vegetarian request when we arrived. There was a mix-up after that, which involved some very non-vegetarian chicken and salmon but the error was quickly corrected.

 

tea strainer abstract The highlight for me was infinite tea. It is possible to order as many pots of each type of tea on the menu and fresh tea is offered on a regular basis. This avoids the dilemma of choosing a tea that will go with both sweet and savoury. It also avoids drinking cold tea. Every afternoon tea service should offer this as standard but my experience in other venues is that one tea is included and there is a charge for each additional selection. Unrestricted tea – I was as happy as a clam at high tide but I was also in company so refrained from working my way through the entire menu. In fact, I only ordered two teas: the organic hoji-cha and the rooibos/hibiscus blend.  Most teas on the menu are floral or fruit blends but other teas that caught my eye were a silver needle white tea (Baihao Yinzhen) and an infusion called Ginger Twist that had a long list of ingredients (ginger, orange, lemongrass, mint, apple, ginseng, papaya and liquorice).

 

strawberries & pastriesThe Lobby Lounge is a bright, spacious rooms with large windows looking out over the courtyard garden and was bustling on that Saturday afternoon. The food is served in two courses. The savoury sandwiches are served first and then followed by the scones, preserves and pastries on the tiered platters. The scones were hot and fresh but the addition of clotted cream instead of regular would have been ideal. The profiteroles and hazelnut/chocolate pastry were also delicious but the chocolate dipped strawberries and raspberries on shortbread stole the show as a perfect, light way to finish the meal.

The champagne afternoon tea is comparatively expensive (€45) but with excellent service, good food, unconstrained tea and good company it makes for a very pleasurable afternoon. Silver teapot

Afternoon tea – Westin, Dublin

Tea at the Westin is set in the upstairs Atrium away from the hustle and bustle of the main lobby and entrance. The Atrium is is bright because of skylights but there are no windows and this adds to the sense of withdrawal from the busy streets of Dublin’s city centre. The calmness inside and well-spaced tables make it ideal for quiet get-togethers or meetings.

The tea list was extensive and confusing.  There are three pages of tea over two separate menus. The first menu had:

Black: Irish breakfast tea, Bohea Lapsang and Lychee Red Black tea

White: Jasmine Silver Needle White tea, Westin White tea blend

Green: Flowering Osmanthus Green

Yellow: Fire mountain Yellow

Tisanes: Peppermint, Rosebuds

 

Then there was a second tea menu with:

Black: Assam Breakfast, Early Grey, Darjeeling 2nd Flush

Green: Jade Green, Jasmine Green, Flowering Jasmine Peach Green

White: White peony

Tisanes: Mint, Chamomile, Blackcurrant and hibiscus

 

I wasn’t too sure what to make of it all. On the one hand I was impressed to see a Yellow tea on a hotel menu and there was an impressive selection of Black and Green tea. On the other hand have no idea what a Fire Mountain Yellow Tea is and there were two huge categories of tea missing: Oolong and Pu-erh.

Blooming Osmanthus Tea

Blooming Osmanthus Tea

I ordered the Jasmine Silver Needle White tea and was duly presented with the Flowering Osmanthus Green Tea! I was really happy for the mix-up. I just wish they had prepared it in front of me so I could see it beforehand and watch it “bloom”. Osmanthus flower can be dried and prepared on its own as a herbal tea but for flowering teas, green tea is handtied around the flower. It starts off as a small round ball and expands to reveal colourful flower when hot water is added. These teas are appreciated for their visual appeal rather than their taste and that held true in this case too.

Westin Afternoon TeaThe food on the other hand was very flavoursome. The sandwiches and scones (with clotted cream) were fresh and tasty but the fruit cake and pastries were outstanding. There was a chocolate cup of Irish whiskey cream, pistachio macaroon, lemon sponge cake,  red velvet cake and cheesecake with berries. They were all delicate and delicious.

Surprisingly, after about an hour I was told that the table was reserved and I would need to move to another table (there were plenty) or leave before 4:30pm.  I had finished eating and wasn’t in the mood for playing musical chairs so I left but was miffed that my relaxing afternoon  was turned into a clock-watching situation.

Afternoon tea at the Westin is €24 which is not bad for the city centre location, the relaxing setting and above-average pasteries. To avoid being rushed, it would be worth confirming at the booking stage that they do not need the table back.

Location on Google maps