More goodness! Brewing kombucha from tea and botanicals with Goodmore Kombucha

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November 6, 2018

Kombucha is one of those drinks that is having a moment in pop culture. This slightly sweet, sour, acidic, effervescent, fermented tea drink is usually made with green or black tea. It roots lie in China, where it was first drunk in 221 BC. Not knowing much about it and eager to learn more and see how it was brewed, I went to have a chat with Alexis and Kevin Moore of Goodmore Kombucha, brewing lakeside by Lake Banook near downtown Dartmouth.

Goodmore Kombucha had caught my eye before—the branding side of me loved their rainbow-labelled lineup, and of the local kombucha brews I’ve tried, their Oolong Hop Cardamom is my favourite.

How a small kombucha brewery started in Nova Scotia

Owners Alexis and Kevin didn’t always dream of fermented tea drinks. They actually started out as winemakers, first studying winemaking at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and then in practice working in vineyards in New Zealand for ten years.

During their decade in New Zealand, because of its southern hemisphere location, they were able to ‘double dip’ into their wine experience. Flying up to the northern hemispheres during the quiet season in New Zealand to do wine for 6 weeks to three months in places like Oregon. Alexis also worked with wine in France.

There’s something so true that Alexis said to me, about how there’s a similarity between tea and pinot noir, one of the grapes they worked with. She called it a ‘transparency.’

“There’s a transparency about it that lets you know where it’s been grown, how it’s been processed. All of these things really impact the flavour.”

Eventually, after the world travels in wine these two returned to Nova Scotia, where they’re originally from. They wanted to work in craft beverages again, and had the entrepreneurial bug. They’d already been experimenting with kombucha recipes.

In June 2017, they got their first big order from local retailer Pete’s Frootique, and two weeks later… their son Wilco was born.

From winemakers to kombucha brewers

Talk about a crazy time. These two exude energy though. The company is the two of them, plus a brewery assistant. Everything is labelled and bottled by hand, and you might have seen Alexis out doing deliveries in the family vehicle.

They caught the wave of the craft beverage explosion in Halifax, with many craft breweries, soda makers, and kombucha brewers, and more opening up shop in the last few years.

Alexis and Kevin never set out to create a health product. From the start they were focused on using their many years of experience in the wine industry to create a craft beverage, with a focus on flavour first.

Kevin mentions seeing it in a bar scenario, as an alternative artisan product for non-alcoholic drinkers.

Their name, Goodmore, is a combination of Alexis’ maiden name, Goodman, and their married surname, Moore. Goodmore is also a feeling that encompasses all of the love and light they put into their work.

How tea is a part of kombucha

In researching this I found all sorts of strange and unreferenced materials explaining kombucha’s history. Further confusing its origins is the fact that it’s similar to ‘konbucha,’ Japanese seaweed tea, which is another thing, entirely. Kombucha in Japanese is actually called ‘kocha kinoko,’ or ‘mushroom black tea.’

Basically, when you brew kombucha you begin by sitting a kombucha culture on top of a bowl, mason jar, or drum of sweetened black or green tea (traditionally, although now white tea, oolong, and more are being used as a base). This culture looks like a white, rubbery pancake. It’s often called a ‘scoby,’ or ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts.’ I’ve seen kombucha makers be quite affectionate towards their hard-working little scobys. When you have a bunch of them sitting together (usually in a big glass jar), it’s called a ‘scoby hotel.’

Welcome to the hotel scoby-fornia. Such a lovely place.

As the kombucha sits on top of the tea, it digests the sugar, and produces a range of good acids, vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes. All stuff that’s said to be quite good for you. Health claims about kombucha run the gamut, but generally speaking, it’s got good stuff in it. Anecdotally, a lot of people say the fact that it’s packed with probiotics helps their gut health. Its place in the pop culture pantheon is definitely fueled in part by its healthy status.  

Since it’s a ferment, the scobys also produce a tiny bit of alcohol in the kombucha brews (typically less than 1% by volume).

Brewing kombucha at scale

I had brewed kombucha in my home before, with various results. I wanted to see how they pros do it. Alexis and Kevin treated me to a brewery tour.

They go through about 15 kilograms of tea a month, give or take. That’s almost as much as me! (Kidding… although, maybe not by much).

This is the biggest tea bag I’ve ever seen!!!

Kevin and Alexis taught me that kombucha is also super sensitive to temperature when it’s brewing and being stored. Another thing I never thought about. Wine is apparently similar. To hone their recipes and process, they went through a yearlong process of creating recipes, and are still constantly experimenting and make improvements. “We’re… kind of perfectionists,” laughs Alexis.

Something really interested I learned is that the different tea bases take different times to reach their maturity. For examples, oolong takes months to get to where green tea gets to in weeks. Generally speaking, the less oxidized teas (like green) as faster than the more oxidized teas.

Goodmore’s focus on herbs and botanicals

One of my favourite things about Goodmore is the lack of juice. A lot of kombucha brewers add fruit juice that dilutes the real kombucha-ness of kombucha, you know? Goodmore’s dedicated to working with the natural tea kombucha flavours, and it’s a very intentional choice that makes them unique. Talking to them, it reminded me of gin making, where the focus is on things like juniper and bark and herbs.

Here are the herb and botanical ingredient breakdowns for each of their kombucha brews.

The ginger I found for this shoot was the gnarliest and most beautiful. I love a good, knobbly ginger.

White Elderflower Ginger uses a white tea base made with bai mu dan tea, and has dried elderflower and dried ginger. The elderflower is an elegant addition to the tea, which is also known as ‘white peony.’

Green Rosehip Hibiscus uses a green tea base made with mao jian, green jasmine, dried rosehips, and dried hibiscus flowers.

Green Mint Chamomile uses a green tea base made with mao jian, dried peppermint, dried spearmint, and dried chamomile. This is great if you want something relaxing and a little bit refreshing. If you had a cold, then would be a great cure-all.

Oolong Rooibos Rose uses an oolong tea base, red bush rooibos, and dried rose petals. It’s the colour of blush and very charming. I like how the rooibos comes through in this one.

Oolong Hop Cardamom uses an oolong tea base, Citra hops, and whole dried cardamom pods. This one is my personal favourite. I love the oolong and spicy cardamom combo, and then the addition of Citra hops, which are known in the craft beer world as having the most citrusy aroma, is a really cool touch.

(L to R, top to bottom) Cardamom pops, Citra hop pellets, oolong, and Citra hop flowers, reporting for duty. 

Black Lavender Sage uses a black Darjeeling tea base, dried lavender flowers, and sage leaf. This is the kind of tea you drink when you want to chill the eff out. Pairs well with a bath bomb and jazz music.

Black Ginger uses a black Darjeeling tea base, dried ginger, and fresh ginger juice. This is like the one to drink when you first wake up in the morning. The ginger juice is also good if you have a sore throat.

All of their teas are certified organic, as is their cane sugar, and the vast majority of their herbs and botanicals. Each of their seven flavours are individually fermented, which is a lot of work, but I think speaks to how they’re not willing to cut corners when it comes to flavour and craftsmanship.

You can also get kombucha on tap, in growler form.

Here’s one more idea before I leave you. Alexis and Kevin mentioned to me that they’re looking for good uses for tea leaves after they’ve been steeped. Outside of compost and the occasional salad, I couldn’t think of anything. If you have any great ideas for used tea leaves, I’d love to hear them!  

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