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Summer field trip: Cultured in Berkeley, CA

27 Aug


Last summer my travels took me to Boulder, Colorado, where I had hoped to gain some insight into the Jun culture.  Unfortunately, Tonic “herban” lounge, did not have staff members that were very communicative or interested in the process.  This summer, I had better luck meeting fermentation enthusiasts.  I was in Berkeley to take a movement workshop that was serendipitously located one block away from a fermentation kitchen called Cultured.

Cultured makes many flavors of kombucha along with pickles, sauerkraut and other things, depending largely on what produce is in season.  A single glass-fronted refrigerator serves as a store front.  My impression is that most of their product ends up on the shelves of other local establishments.  I had the pleasure of catching Alex Hozven, who runs the joint, for a short conversation about her kombucha process.


This is the wall sized poster that graces the entrance of Cultured.

Alex makes some fancy flavors of kombucha.   Over the two weeks I was around, I tried yellow watermelon-juniper flavor, strawberry thyme, cucumber lime, and fennel flavors.

Just around the corner from the fridge, I could see the large fermentation vessels, and they didn’t just hold tea.  I was intrigued to see one kombucha container that had fresh nettles in it.  (nettles, my favorite!)  Another one held floating juniper berries.  Alex adds herbs into her primary ferments.  I asked her about this, and she explained that kombucha can live in any number of herbal tea environments.  For many of her ferments she uses a green tea base, and then adds flavor after the primary ferment (like I do), but with others she uses an herbal tea base and no tea– a great option for people who are avoiding caffeine.  With the herbal tea ferments, she uses starter fluid from her latest green tea batch to get it going.

It makes sense that herbal ferments would be best to try with your spare scoby, and not to let them keep going over many generations, or you could degrade the culture.  Probably some herbs work better than others, also:  I once tried to make a rosemary beer with tibicos, and the anti-bacterial properties of the rosemary killed my grains!   Although I frequently do herbal experiments with the primary ferment of tibicos, I’ve always been a purist with my kombucha and jun cultures.  Maybe it’s time to branch out….

The other thing that I noticed about Cultured’s kombucha is that the ingredient list includes honey.  Alex does not use honey in the primary ferment, but she does add some when she bottles it.  The extra sugar in the secondary ferment makes her bottles generously fizzy.  Tricky.

The ingredient list: notice the addition of seasonal herbs to the primary kombucha tea ferment, and honey to the secondary ferment.











Mmm, fennel! Consumed…













As I browsed the refrigerator shelves at Cultured, I couldn’t resist picking out the weirdest pickle product possible.  They had something called kasuzuke, which is vegetables fermented in sake lees.  Sake is Japanese rice wine, and lees is the yeast sediment byproduct of wine making that brewers generally strain out to create a clearer product.  I’ve strained the lees out of my blackberry wine and honey wine/mead creations and thrown it away.  There were a few kasuzuke vegetable options, but of course I picked the most exotic sounding one.  I chose Negi, which turns out to be not so exotic.  It’s a variety of green onion.  Cultured’s kasuzuke was 16 dollars for a 12 oz container:  not something I would buy every day, but also it seems like a many-tiered creation process that I might never take the time to make.  Here it is.


I ate some one night on toast along with avocado, but I haven’t fully decided what to do with the stuff.  Its appeal is less for newbies and more for seasoned fermentophiles.  The gooey white lees takes up just as much room as the veggies in the container.  It has a certain “ick” factor to it this way.  The taste is oddly sweet and pungent.








High Season: what’s brewing in your cabinet?

26 Jun

As we sweat through another midsummer, fermentations thrive! Here’s what I have in my cabinet today. A few are alcohol infusions, most are ferments.



I have some writing to do about these, I guess! Stay tuned.

Seasonal Flavor: Quince Kombucha

11 Oct

Painting of quince fruit and foliage

I first discovered quince about five years ago.   It was February at the time, and I was looking through a Basque style cookbook for good Valentine’s sweet recipes.  I came across a goat cheese and quince cake, and dedicated to making it, I embarked on a city-wide treasure hunt for the elusive quince.  Unsuccessful, I ended up resorting to quince preserves that first time.  I don’t recommend trying to find fresh quince in February!  Quince ripen locally in the fall, along with apple season.  Occasionally you can find them in the spring when they are shipped from the southern hemisphere, but they don’t keep all year long like apples do.  The fruits look like furry apple-pear hybrids.  They are much firmer than either apples or pears, however, and they are a bit too tart to enjoy raw.  For the last few years, I have raided my local farmers markets for quince in September or October.  A few farm stands carry them, and it’s always the fruit that seems abandoned, as many folks don’t know what to do with it.  I buy a generous bag full and cook it into an applesauce-like consistency with a little sugar.  The sauce freezes nicely to take out at any time of year.

I just got my yearly bag of quince yesterday, and this morning as I was harvesting my latest batch of kombucha (see my master recipe here), I threw a few slices of the quince into one of my bottles, on a whim.  A few hours later I tried the result.  Wowweee!  I have to make more of this stuff!  Quince has the most lovely aroma, that has already permeated the brew.  It’s a fruity-floral kind of flavor.   Despite the tartness of the raw fruit, it’s infusion in the brew is pleasantly sweet.20131011-160844.jpg

Alewife’s Birthday toys

6 Sep

So what does a brooklyn alewife get for her birthday?  Fermentation toys! I have a few new toys to show and tell about.  The two big pieces of equipment are definitely unnecessary for a beginner fermenter– I’ve gotten along without them for a few years now.


My birthday crock! That thing on the left is a weight to hold the veggies under the brine.

Recently I wrote about a failed moldy cucumber pickle recipe, and in response to that experiment, my love answered my desires and got me a birthday crock! No more moldy pickles!  Mine’s 5 L, which is as big as I think I’ll ever need, unless I start selling pickled things commercially.


Woohoo! The Kimchi Cookbook: written by a fellow Brooklyner. Her kkakdugi recipe is a little different than mine. Probably more sophisticated.

Along with that, he bought me the pretty new kimchi cookbook. I have some playing to do!  I’ve already learned a few things about kimchi.  Chun’s brining process begins the fermentation for generally an hour to overnight, then she rinses all the salt off the veggies and adds her spice mix, and lets them ferment longer in that.  The only salt in the spice mix tends to be in some anchovy sauce, from what I can see, and then there is sugar added for the ferment.  Interesting.  My kkakdugi kimchi was brined and stayed in brine…  so this is a new approach for me, which is probably a bit lower in sodium.



A self-gift that I got in early summer (for my, errr, 3/4 birthday?) is an oak barrel for brewing kombucha in, from a company that custom-makes them down in Texas. The company sites this model of upright barrel for either vinegar making or kombucha. The barrel method is my first attempt at a continuous brew batch.  It seemed like the best idea in the world when I got it, and it does impart a nice oaky flavor to my brew that I quite like. What I don’t like is that it’s much harder to see what’s going on deep in the container, which makes me in general a bit less attentive to my brew. It’s not something you can fully clean out so well either, as the wood is porous, so after a year or so it’s supposed to expire. I’m not sure I would go with it again. My 5 L barrel was $70, and you can decide whether that investment is worth it in your own experimentation. I was very happy with the service from the company I ordered from: Oak Barrels Ltd.


5L oak barrel that I have a continuous kombucha ferment in, since  June.

Goji-Chia Kombucha: a superfood triple threat

23 Jan

The following recipe is equally delicious for both kombucha and jun. I love it in the same way I love bubble tea: you can drink your drink, and eat it too. Once you’ve fermented your brew (refer to my post Kombucha 101), it’s a dump and drink creation. It also combines probably the trendiest superfoods out on the market.


Triple Threat Superfood Kombucha:

Put 1/4 c chia seeds and a small handful of goji berries into a pint-sized bottle.

Fill the bottle with kombucha.

Stir, or seal the bottle and shake gently to distribute the chia seeds.

Put it in the fridge and let the mixture sit at least overnight. This will allow the kombucha to absorb the flavor of the goji berries and it will allow the chia seeds to develop their jelly like consistency.

If your chia seeds stick together, stir the mixture a little more before consuming. The berries will float to the top of the mix, and the chia seeds sink. Both are satisfying textural additions to your kombucha experience.

Purported Health Benefits

If you look at the marketing for these superfoods, you would believe they are magical. Each superfood holds claims to do things like cure cancer, heart disesase and diabetes, help you lose weight, and anything else you can imagine that is wonderful. Here’s some basic facts from what I can see:

Goji berries are very high in antioxidants, have a healthy combination of monounsaturated fats, trace mineral contents, and amino acids. High in Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), C (note that A and C are both antioxidants), and contain some B vitamins, too. has an interesting breakdown of nutrition info.

Chia seeds seem to derive a lot of their nutritional heavyweight from the fact that they are super high in dietary fiber. They also contain ALA: an omega-3 fatty acid that is also found in walnuts, flax seeds, brussels sprouts and kale.

Kombucha’s biggest claim to fame is probably its debatable glucuronic acid content: an antioxidant that is supposed to be a major fighter of cancer. It’s also beneficial because it is undisputedly probiotic– the culture helps to give the gut good bacteria.


Herbal Kombucha add-ins

14 Oct

I remember when I was first introduced to kombucha: Synergy’s Gingerberry flavor was my gateway drug, so to speak. Flavoring is certainly helpful if you want to convert a newbie to the kombucha club, as straight-up kombucha is an acquired taste. By the time you start making your own brews, you’ll probably already like kombucha enough that you don’t require extra flavoring, but it can be fun for variation. Also, herbs can give even greater therapeutic qualities to this already strong elixer of health.

Below are some of my favorite herbal add-ins. I add the herbs AFTER the initial fermentation process. I put them in when I’m bottling my kombucha, and then I put the bottled brew right into the fridge. Wait at least a day for the flavors to seep in from the herbs. You can also leave the bottles out at room temperature for a little while to speed absorption of the herbs into your brew– this will help your kombucha build up bubbles if you like it fizzy since the brew will continue to ferment, unhindered by the refrigeration process. Use about a teaspoon of most herbs for a pint bottle of kombucha, or vary your amounts to taste. You can also mix and match the flavors:


Hibiscus will make your kombucha turn a tempting red and develop a pleasant, fruity floral taste! This is the only type of kombucha that my skeptic boyfriend will drink– I think it’s the red flavor that draws him in. When you drink it, you can strain out the hibiscus as you pour it, or if you’re like me, you might like to eat the hibiscus pieces. Hibiscus is high in Vitamin C. It is also mildly diuretic and laxative. I personally find it very helpful in reducing phlegm. Research has indicated that hibiscus might also help lower blood pressure.


Elderberry: Get dried elderberries at your local herbal or health-food store. Put them in your kombucha. The brew turns purple! Elderberries are great for colds and the flu.

Rose hips: mildly fruity in flavor, these will add a boost of Vitamin C to your drink. They are another great way to boost your immune system against colds and infection. Also help with mild constipation and are a tonic for the gall-bladder.


Ginger: Grate or finely chop fresh ginger root and toss it in. Ginger helps to make more fizz. You can eat the ginger pieces or strain them out when serving. Ginger has a multitude of medicinal uses. It’s great as a digestive (promotes gastric secretions and tones the stomach) and for menstrual cramps and promoting menstruation. It is diaphoretic (aids the skin in eliminating toxins and promotes perspiration, therefore good for fevers), stimulant (particularly stimulates circulation)and is also indicated as soothing for sore throats.

Kombucha: Getting the perfect fizz.

18 Sep

I could write up a list of troubleshooting tips for kombucha, but if someone else has already done an exemplary job, why should I bother?   Len Porzio’s site is a great reference for kombucha makers who want a more consistent batch, complete with a handy trouble-shooting chart.  I have certainly run across a lot of variation in my brews, but I never disliked a batch enough to put so much thought into brewing time for the tea and such….  Yes, my connoisseurship is lacking.

Happy brewing!

1000 views, and SCOBY goes global!

13 Sep

Yesterday, Brooklyn Alewife reached a milestone:  this blog has been viewed 1,000 times.  That might happen to some people in a few days or in one day, I don’t know.  For me it took a few months, and the number feels significant.

Meanwhile, my SCOBY has become a world traveller.  The first great adventure for SCOBY mother of kombucha was a few years ago:  my friend Monica brought her to Argentina.  I believe there are still pieces of this mother haunting Buenos Aires, even though Monica has since returned to NYC.  Last week was a big one, though.  Congratulations to Annie who adopted a Jun SCOBY which I shipped to Iceland, and Naz, who flew a kombucha mother from New York to Turkey.  In honor of milestones and worldly cultures, I offer you a picture of my current batches.  These were both taken on September 10– what with travelling I let them go pretty long, so they are both on the vinegary side.  It’s interesting to see the two ferments next to each other:  you can really see the difference in the brews.  Note how I started them both on the same day.  The scummy looking stuff hanging off the kombucha SCOBY is yeast strands.  That Jun mother sure did take over the jar, just as she seems to be planning to take over the world!Image:


Kombucha tips: Is it good, or do I throw it?

10 Jul

A very moldy SCOBY (I didn’t grow this).  Credits to

There have been many times over the years in my kombucha making process where I’ve come across a weird looking SCOBY.  Many variations occur within the normal growth process.  The main question is:  is it mold?  Holes in your SCOBY are not mold.   Air pockets are also normal and healthy.  In searching for a good illustration of what’s good and bad, I came across this website:

They had some tips in there that I hadn’t heard of before.  So this is a great read if you are having any kind of compromises in your kombucha growing.   That being said, I’ve found that most of the time, it’s pretty hard to mess up.

Kombucha Sorbet

7 Jun

Yesterday, I was browsing through my local health food store when I came across this:

Ginger kombucha? I can do that!

That’s right, kombucha sorbet, infused with strawberries and ginger!   It was over $6.  So, i didn’t buy it, but rather took it as a challenge.  You know what I did the second I got home:  I made my own.  My guess is that mine is much nicer.  It certainly came out a much rosier color– at some point I’ll buy a pint for comparison.

The finished product, with a garnish of mojito mint from my fire escape garden.

Once you have made kombucha, this couldn’t be easier, so long as you have the equipment:  a blender and an ice cream maker.

Here’s what I did:

Throw about 1.5 cups of strawberries, fresh or frozen, in the blender

Grate in 1 inch of peeled ginger straight into the blender.

Pour in your kombucha until the strawberries are covered

Add 2 T of maple syrup.


The ingredients

If all your ingredients are cold, especially if you used frozen strawberries, they should be ready to throw into the ice cream maker right away.  Add the cold ingredients to the ice cream maker, let it spin for about 20 minutes.   Scoop them out and eat, or put in the freezer.  Mmmmm!


Old Ways Herbal: Juliette Abigail Carr, RH (AHG)

Women & Children's Herbal Clinic, Vermont Herb School, & Ramblings on Family Herbal Wisdom


A great site

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Brooklyn Alewife

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Conscious Baby

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Tea Foodie [#cookingwithtea]

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Adventures in Local Food

Transforming Communities Through Food

Urban Herbwifery

your source for herbal wisdom, green living tidbits, and natural pregnancy and labor information


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