Kombucha in a Class of Its Own

To those who can’t ride the wave of kombucha sweeping the nation: I get it. The harsh, vinegary bite of most commercial brews can be matched in hostility only by the aggressive carbonation quick to follow. Frothing angrily in the mouth, searing all the way down the throat, such overbearing acidity obliterates all other sensations. Flavor? Who could discern a flavor from something as pungent as straight battery acid? Those sensitive to the taste know this isn’t such an exaggeration, especially when pairing equally assertive notes of ginger or lemon; an incredibly popular approach.

Marin Kombucha is the brew for you. Before breaking the seal and taking your first sip, forget everything you previously knew about fermented tea, because this is just that: tea first, tonic second. Far more balanced, sweet without being sugary, and altogether more refreshing than any other option in the category, Marin Kombucha stands apart from the pack. Founders Gerit Williams and Brian Igersheim meld their unique passions in food and chemistry to create such an unparalleled beverage right in the heart of the north bay, between Napa Valley and San Francisco.

I was lucky enough to meet Gerit at an event by Sound & Savor, who stocks only Marin Kombucha as the non-alcoholic alternative to beer or wine. Passionate about tea, his lifelong obsession progressed in knowledge, understanding, and exposure throughout the years to culminate in the brand, first launching in 2015. Ask him anything about the process and prepare yourself for a complete education. Reverse osmosis-filtered water meets a mix of dragonwell green and kimon black tea in exacting proportions, but don’t forget about the nuances drawn out by brewing time and temperature, too.

“After 90 seconds, all the bitter tannins begin to leach out,” he explains. “Longer brews don’t yield stronger flavor, just more bitter flavor. Besides that, it destroys antioxidants.”

Both art and science intermingle in every glass bottle, bringing centuries of tradition into the modern age with precise control over every step in the process. Every small batch ends at exactly a PH of 3.5 and an alcohol content of less than 0.01%. The really fascinating thing, however, is that this is truly a live food; given warmth and time, the yeast will reactivate and continue to ferment. It’s one of (if not the) only kombucha currently on the market that could actually grow its own scoby given the right conditions. If you’ve considered adding probiotics to your daily diet, skip the supplements and drink your “medicine” instead!

Marin Kombucha’s signature flavors of oak-aged fermented tea reflect the local harvest: Original Oak, Apple Juniper, Pinot Sage, and Ginger Lemongrass. While these four distinctive varieties are currently bottled for purchase in every Whole Foods in northern California and in many specialty and natural foods stores, rapidly spreading across the country, limited run batches tempt in full kegs. Unconventional combinations like Strawberry Pistachio, Raspberry Cacao, Blood Orange Cardamom, Cactus Agave, and Mojito tease, popping up randomly on tap every now and then. My current favorite, Melon Rose, is happily transitioning to single-serve packaging soon, harmonizing notes of honeydew, watermelon, and a hint of rose on a naturally effervescent foundation.

Currently producing in excess of 15,000 gallons per week, the only barrier to further growth is sheer physical space. Demand is bubbling over because once anyone tries their first sip, they’ll realize what kombucha really should be. It’s hard to go back to anything else.

 

 

 

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Stubborn as a Mule

Endlessly evaluating the population at large, it’s impossible to predict exactly when or if a trend with actually come to bear, but that sure doesn’t stop us from trying. One of the most recent assessments that hit my radar was which drinks would be big this summer.

Preferences appear to be split across the country, showing a rise in appreciation for the aperol spritz and negroni in along the west coast, while easterners are more likely to quaff hard seltzer or froze to beat the heat. However, Moscow mules were indisputably on the decline across the board, having peaked in popularity long ago. Those copper mugs are so 2018.

Naturally, that’s exactly what I find myself gravitating towards.

Rather than claiming I was on board before it was cool, I’m proud to proclaim that I’m all in after it was cool. Much less pretentious, just a bit slow, I’ve discovered the charm of bracing ginger and lime over ice, spiked with the clean, crisp bite of vodka. It’s hard to go wrong with such a classic combination, which begs the question, just who is turning up their noses to proclaim it as passe? Besides, you’ve already got the cups knocking around in the back of your cabinet… What else are you going to do with them?

Meeting Russia by way of Japan, my eastern inspiration swaps vodka for sake, lime for bold, astringent yuzu juice, and adds a touch of matcha for an earthy foil. Paired with bracing ginger beer for both a sweet and spicy bite, this new blend could very well become a trend-setter after all.

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Poppycock

Delicious, nutritious, and an illicit narcotic? Poppy seeds are an excellent source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and several essential minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc, to say nothing of the morphine residue that may remaining after harvesting from opium poppies.

Yes, opium which is also an excellent source of heroin, morphine, and codeine. While it’s true that an “overdose” may genuinely make you fail a drug test, the seeds themselves contain none of the potent drug. No need to lock your spice rack at night or keep a surveillance camera on your baking supplies; while a junkie might be sorely disappointed, I’d say that the flavor they offer is still powerfully addictive.

Nut and seed blends are gaining traction in the non-dairy aisle, but no one seems to appreciate the power of the poppy seed. This could be said across the board, however, as poor, misunderstood poppy seeds rarely get top billing in any dish. Every bit as capable of creating a creamy, dreamy, dairy-free drink, their subtle nutty flavor bears intoxicating nuances of both sweet and savory notes in every sip.

Toast them to enhance that elusive, rarely touted taste, or keep it simple with a more subtle, straightforward blitz. A mixture of oats and almonds lend a richness and body that could rival anything fresh off the farm.

If you can resist the urge to lift the entire blender right to your lips to gulp down the entire milky amalgamation as is, it happens to make a brilliant creamer for iced coffee, too. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when poppy seed lattes become the next big trend in a month… It really is an addictive drink.

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You Brew You

Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I stumble into the kitchen and blindly rummage around for sustenance. Sheer muscle memory propels me forward before my brain has fully activated, recharged and ready to begin processing a new day. Coffee is the switch that flips it on, that starts the cycle anew, for me and so many millions, if not billions of other sleepyheads across the globe. How you choose to brew says a lot of about culture, economics, habits, and personal taste, but more attention is paid to the beans than the actual mechanics of making a cuppa. Respectably so, for all their natural nuances, slick brands and designer packages notwithstanding; the bean alone is a weighty decision to contemplate when the need for caffeine overrules all other sensible demands.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appreciate the method of making coffee itself. Do you use an electric, automatic drip coffee maker like most Americans? One of those ubiquitous plastic models always found in attendance at moving sales year round? Maybe you have more than one, because it never hurts to have a backup. Cheap, easy, accessible, reliable; I’m there with you, friends. There’s nothing wrong with the effortless instant gratification of push-button service, delivering a hot cup of coffee on demand, no questions asked.

When it comes to manual brewing methods, you take control back into your hands, quite literally.

Pour Over (Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Clever): Functioning almost exactly like a standard drip machine without the buttons or whistles, there are a number of popular variations on the concept but it all boils down to pouring hot water over grounds, slowly allowing the brewed liquid to run down into a waiting glass below. It takes patience and a steady hand, but no real skill since gravity does all the hard work. Use a medium grind to extract the brighter, lighter, more floral flavor notes without any hint of bitterness. Different models have their own uniquely patterned ridges built in, which will each affect the rate of drainage differently and produce surprisingly distinctive results. Which is “best” is just a matter of preference, so experiment a bit to find what tastes just right to your palate.

Plunger (French Press, AeroPress): Most people are familiar with the French press due to it’s accessibility and wide availability. Simply add grounds, water, steep, and plunge. There are no disposable filters to trifle with and no waste as a result. Detractors grouse about gritty brews or long steeping times, but a properly sealed, well-built device shouldn’t give you any trouble. Because the beans have full contact with the hot water for the entire time, this approach extracts the full gamut of flavors locked within, as well as the most antioxidants and caffeine. Use a coarse ground to enjoy the most robust results in a traditional French press, but fine for an AeroPress, which does use filters to catch any residual sediment.

Cupping Brewer (Rattleware): Uncommon outside of serious barista circles, it doesn’t get much simpler in concept, or more complex in flavor. Grounds and water combine for extended brew times, 10 minutes and beyond, to get every element of the bean to come forward. Grounds float toward the surface, to be skimmed off with a spoon before sipping. Though impractical for multiple servings, it’s an ideal way to truly appreciate a fresh brew with zero waste. Use a very coarse grind and be prepared to stop drinking before you reach the bottom, since most will settle and remain there. It’s impossible to avoid consuming at least some of the sediment, so this stuff is like rocket fuel.

There’s also the stove top moka pot, although I’d argue that this begins to skew into a more hands-off realm where the device does most of the heavy lifting. In fact, there are electric versions available, which always pull in top recommendations from experts, so I don’t trifle with the low tech toys. Siphons, using vacuum pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds, could also fall under this distinction, but they’re more of a novelty than realistic appliance for the average home brewer. Plus, the cost for entry is rather steep- No pun intended.

Across the board, general guidelines for success start with using 60 grams of coffee for every 1 quart of water (yes, you really should weigh it!) and water heated to 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally in a goose neck kettle for easy maneuvering.

How do you do your brew? Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. You may just discover a whole new world of flavors locked within the same beans you already love, and only thought you knew.

 

 

 

Happier Holidays – A Latte CBD Joy

Dashing through the snow,
In a 200 horsepower hybrid fuel vehicle,
Over the hills we go,
Screaming all the way.
Oh Ho, No!

Wait, that’s not how the song goes? Then why is my head throbbing with Christmas carols and an endless to-do list of shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating to accomplish before the holidays hit? Pressure is mounting to make this short window of time as magical as a fairy tale, which inevitably turns it into quite the opposite experience. I know I’m not alone here based on the crazed, deranged looks staring back at me during many errand runs. Plans for a low-key celebration can quickly snowball out of control into a grand fete and before you know it, a dizzying array of demands await. Coordinating parties and managing difficult house guests, leave little space for anything but dread.

Let’s all take a moment to breathe, shall we? Peace and harmony aren’t just platitudes to espouse on seasonal greeting cards, and they certainly won’t manifest in such a state of extreme anxiety. While you can’t wrap it up with a shiny bow or have it shipped straight to your door in two days or less, taking care of your emotional well-being is really the greatest gift you can give this season. It may not seem like the most effective approach would start with a shot of espresso, but when you add a dose of CBD into the brew, the restorative results are unmistakable.

CBD oil has made a world of difference for me personally, especially at times of utmost stress. Extracted from the leaves, stem, and flowers of the hemp plant, it has no psychoactive properties, is legal in all 50 states, and readily found online. Consistently relieving anxiety, depression, inflammation, and nausea in early studies, it’s not just a Christmas miracle, but an everyday life preserver. Getting a therapeutic dose is easier than ever now, since you can find it bundled up in supplements, edibles, topical creams, and CBD vape oil, beyond just a straight tincture. That said, plain, unflavored oil is the most versatile for incorporating into recipes if pills simply don’t hold any appeal.

When it comes to culinary applications, a good rule of thumb is to substitute 3/4 to 1 teaspoon CBD oil for every serving of whatever oil is called for. That means if you were making a vinaigrette that yields four servings, remove 3 – 4 teaspoons of olive oil and replace it with CBD infusion. Take into consideration the strength of the oil when calibrating your formula as well, since quality can vary wildly between brands. In recipes meant for one, it’s much simpler; just give yourself one dose, as in the case for this balancing, calming, and simultaneously invigorating peppermint mocha latte.

Velvety frothed dairy-free milk meets the bracing bitterness of bold espresso, all tempered by a subtle undertone of chocolate indulgence. A light touch of peppermint evokes nostalgic memories of candy canes pulled off tinsel-topped presents, cool and refreshing, soothing and sweet. This unbeatable flavor sensation would be every bit as delicious without the added medicinal benefits, but not quite as effective for balancing out unreasonable mood instability.

It’s not hard to make the holidays a bit more merry and a little less scary.

Yield: 1 Serving

CBD Peppermint Mocha Latte

CBD Peppermint Mocha Latte

Velvety frothed dairy-free milk meets the bracing bitterness of bold espresso, all tempered by a subtle undertone of chocolate indulgence. A light touch of peppermint evokes nostalgic memories of candy canes pulled off tinsel-topped presents, cool and refreshing, soothing and sweet. This unbeatable flavor sensation would be every bit as delicious without the added medicinal benefits, but not quite as effective for balancing out unreasonable mood instability.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk*
  • 1 Shot (1.5 Ounces) Hot Espresso or 3 Tablespoons Strong Brewed Coffee
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Chocolate Syrup
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
  • 1 Dropper-Full CBD Oil
  • Cocoa Powder (Optional, for Garnish)

Instructions

  1. Place the non-dairy milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Gently bring up to about 100 degrees, or until just hot enough that you can only comfortably hold a finger in it for a few seconds. You don't want it to boil. Alternately, you can warm it in the microwave for about two minutes.
  2. Whisk vigorously until frothy or use an aerator or blender to help speed up the process. Add in the espresso, chocolate syrup, peppermint extract, and CBD oil, mixing to combine.
  3. This recipe can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled effortlessly to treat a crowd, but in that case, make sure the final mixture is whisked very thoroughly to ensure that the oil is equally distributed throughout. It's important that the dose isn't too strong or too weak when divided into individual mugs. On the other hand, you can skip the CBD oil if you merely want an uplifting coffee break to help power through a busy winter day.
  4. Top with a light sprinkle of cocoa powder if desired, to garnish. Serve right away and take in a moment of holiday harmony.

Notes

*For best results, seek out a "barista blend" that's formulated specifically to make a richer micro-foam. Otherwise, soy generally works best due to the protein content, but nut milks are a good choice for a lighter option. Avoid rice milk unless there's no other option, as it tends to be watery and bland.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

1

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 254 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 3g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 20mg Sodium: 149mg Carbohydrates: 40g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 31g Protein: 10g

My Milkshake Brings All the Vegans to the Yard

And they’re like,
It’s better than green juice.
Damn right it’s better than pond scum.
I can teach you,
But we have to get takeout.

While I can appreciate a tall glass of savory vegetable juice every now and then, I never got into the juice cleanse craze and still bristle slightly at the suggestion. As the summer heat intensifies along with a powerful thirst, I look to the offerings at local cafes with equal parts lust and skepticism. Whenever I see those emerald brews, freshly pressed, full of verdant vitality, I project my own true desire on that glass: Mint. All I crave on the hottest of days is a creamy, cool, mint chip milkshake. Thus, the swampy melange I end up with is inevitably disappointing, more often tasting of apple than anything else, leafy or otherwise.

Milkshakes are the easiest things to make at home, but real luxury is being able to get them on the town, prefab and instantly gratifying. Besides, if I have ice cream in the freezer, it’s a hard sacrifice to plop a scoop into the blender when I could just eat it straight. When in the bay area, there are a wide range of options to get that satisfying minty-fresh fix.

Elixiria‘s Last Samurai Shake is my gold (or more accurately, green) standard for mint chip milkshakes. Cashew-based and tinted pastel green with a touch of matcha, it’s sweetened with coconut sugar and is infused with peppermint essential oil for a bright, bold flavor. Cacao nibs add crunch, without a ton of chocolate taste, granted, but the texture gets the point across sufficiently. This formula was actually the essential inspiration for my Cashew Milkshakes in Real Food, Really Fast, for anyone else who can’t just pop into the shop.

For a superfood fix, I’m impossibly addicted to Mint Cacao Chip at Urban Remedy. I can rationalize the indulgence because it employs pea protein powder and really does drink like a meal. On busy days when I can’t stop to sit down for a proper lunch, you can bet this is my first choice for refueling. Although it’s not quite the same as what you’ll find in the refrigerated cases, Urban Remedy also offers a homemade solution that approximates the refreshing experience.

Incredibly similar to the previous pick, Project Juice is also slinging a bottled Mint Chip Shake, but ranks ever so slightly lower by employing dates for an earthier sweetness, and quite frankly, not enough of them. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I’ve snuck in packets of raw sugar on occasion to spike my drink.

Moving on to a no-holds-barred, full-throttle dessert indulgence, Saturn Cafe has you covered. The Thin Mint Milkshake was a limited edition special to coincide with the annual girl scout cookie inundation, but a simpler mint chocolate variation is available all year round. Locally made Double Rainbow non-dairy ice cream provides the thick, rich base, which always exceeds the generous old-fashioned soda fountain glasses, filling much of the metal mixing cup which is provided on the side, as if one mountainous milkshake wasn’t enough. Whipped cream, cookie chunks, and chocolate syrup complete the drinkable dessert. Better yet, Saturn is open late everyday, with a full menu of hot food available, which means you can get my all-time favorite milkshake pairing: French fries, hot, extra crispy, and lavishly salted.

Next Level Burger deserves a shout-out for the effort, but truth be told, this isn’t a blend worthy of a repeat order. Where was the mint? Where were the chips? All I could taste was syrupy sweetness; not even a modest hint of vanilla came to the fore. It’s cool and refreshing, fine pairing for a burger, but you’re better off opting for a different, stronger flavor.

Finally, one more runner up to add to the list is CREAM, with multiple locations scattered across the bay area. Vegan options are limited to just two soy-based ice creams, but as luck would have it, one is the illustrious mint chocolate chip of my dreams. Milkshakes are available, and I’ve been promised there’s non-dairy milk behind the bar as well, although that’s as far as my inquires have gone. Let’s be honest: When you’re offered chocolate fudge cookies and rainbow glitter sprinkles as garnishes, what rational person could really order otherwise?

Plenty of other competent milkshake makers are blending up the goods on a daily basis across the bay, but no one else seems to have a minty melange on the regular. Given such superlative options already, it’s hard to branch out beyond this crave-worthy sip, but do tell- What’s your favorite milkshake flavor, and more importantly, does it bring all the vegans to the yard, too?