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Beyond Kombucha: Three Fermented Teas You Need To Try

Heard of kombucha? Who hasn’t? This fizzy tea took over the world a few years back, and now kombucha can be ordered on tap throughout the world.

There’s a lot to like about this tangy tea, but you might not know that it’s far from the only form of fermented tea you can enjoy today. Fermented teas have been drunk in Asia for centuries, but their popularity has only just begun taking off in the western world.

This is a benefit for you, because the world of fermented teas is full of well-rounded flavor and enough health benefits to keep you in peak form. If you want to learn about some of the delicious fermented teas enjoyed around the world, keep reading to learn how you can expand your taste buds into a whole new world of tea types.

Why Go Fermented?

The human race has been enjoying its beverages fizzy and fermented for almost 10,000 years. Before the beginning of modern refrigeration, humanity was left at the mercy of the weather for preserving their food to prevent it from spoiling. Necessity is truly the mother of invention however, and our early ancestors quickly developed preservation techniques that kept their valuable foods edible longer. Fermentation, one of the easiest ways to preserve food for storage, also fills food with a plethora of benefits, including gut-healthy probiotics and plenty of enzymes to ease digestion.

Today, most of us are fairly disconnected with where our food comes from and the processes that keep it preserved. We have developed an unhealthy fear of all bacteria and have thrown most traditional forms of fermented foods far out of our lives. However, this comes at a cost. Our sterile lives are devoid of dirt, and our guts are suffering because of it.

Adding fermented foods back into your life is an easy way to start correcting that balance by restoring the ideal levels of gut bacteria into your system.

Why Fermented Tea?

Almost everyone in the modern world is severely limited in the amount of fermented foods they eat on a regular basis. An easy way to correct this problem? Add some fermented tea into your life!

Despite the wide variety of options at the store, most types of tea all come from the same plant: Camellia Sinensis. The different types of non-herbal tea we all drink (black, green and oolong) are all created through different post processing methods done to the exact same tea leaves.

Understanding what it means when tea is fermented can be confusing, because the word is often used as a synonym for oxidizing. After tea leaves are picked, they are exposed to air until they are somewhere on the spectrum between green and black through oxidization (just like an apple turning brown after being cut open). Green teas are only partially oxidized, black teas are fully, and oolong lands somewhere in the middle. However, oxidation is not technically a form of fermentation, so calling black and oolong teas “fermented” is misleading.

Instead, the teas mentioned in this article go through a second, real form of fermentation called “post fermentation” that changes them on a molecular level and fills them with microbial benefits. Similar in process to what happens when you brew beer or make sourdough bread, the microbes in fermented tea cause dramatic changes to the chemical nature of the raw material and create a deeply flavorful and complex brew brimming with health benefits.

Varieties You Can Try

The following types of tea not only taste great, they are also full of belly boosting probiotics that promote good health. Try one out, or even better, try all three!

closeup of a pile of pu-erh tea for fermenting

Pu’erh

Grown in the Yunnan Province of China, pu’erh is a post-fermented tea that is stored for months, years and even decades before being brewed. Pu’erh is one of the only forms of black tea that is aged and fermented before sold. Like a fine wine, pu’erh mellows and improves in flavor with age, meaning that older, rarer forms of pu’erh come with enormous price tags- sometimes thousands of dollars!

The taste of pu’erh is truly something to experience. Sweet and woodsy, many compare the aroma of a cake of pu’erh tea to roasted mushrooms. Microbes from the environment come into contact with the semi-processed tea leaves and begin to change the molecular structure of the tea, providing it with a healthy boost of probiotics and polyphenols. Pu’erh has also been found to reduce cholesterol levels, aid weight loss and even cleanse your blood of impurities.

How to Brew Pu’erh Tea

Once you purchase some quality pu’erh tea, brewing yourself a cup couldn’t be easier.

First, heat filtered spring water to a vigorous boil. Pour it over your tea leaves and let it sit for ten seconds before dumping the water. This opens the leaves and prepares them to produce their best flavor. Next, add more water and let your leaves seep for two to five minutes. Remove the leaves and enjoy your tea.

Note: high quality pu’erh is meant to be reused multiple times, so be sure to store your leaves for future use.

Jun Tea

If you love the fizz of kombucha but are looking to try something unique, you are sure to fall in love with the taste of jun; a fermented green tea sweetened with honey. This type of tea is still a well-kept secret, so by brewing some yourself you’ll really stand out.

The Shrouded Story Behind Jun Tea

Little is known about the origins of jun tea, which make it a drink surrounded by mystery and mysticism. For this reason, loyal jun brewers see it as far more than a probiotic-filled form of green tea but rather a ritual drink shrouded with spiritual power. Some people take the jun brewing processes so seriously that they play music throughout it.

Legend has it that jun came from the Himalayas where it was brewed by monks and nomadic warriors alike. The use that these mythical men put their drink to is still unknown. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the history of jun, it’s a delicious drink that keeps your probiotic levels high. Jun has a mild flavor with a hint of tartness, making it delicious served over ice or mixed with crushed berries. In order to make multiple batches of jun, always save at least a half cup of your previous batch to be used to provide the microbes to start the next one.

How to Make Jun Tea

Making jun tea is similar to brewing a batch of kombucha. Simply bring eight cups of filtered water to a boil and add 2 teaspoons of loose leaf green tea. Allow it to seep for two minutes before straining out the tea leaves and pouring the brew into a gallon sized glass jar. Glass works best because it won’t interfere with the bacteria in the jun.

Next, mix in half a cup of raw honey and stir the tea until it fully dissolves. Allow the tea to cool down to room temperature and add a jun mother culture as well as inoculate from previous batches. Finding a mother culture for jun can be tricky for two reasons; not only is the tea relatively rare and unknown, but the mother culture doesn’t reliable produce daughters like kombucha does. For this reason, buying a culture online is usually the best way to start out.

Cover the jar with a cheese cloth or other light material and allow it to sit for three days before pouring it into smaller flip top containers where it can continue to ferment for two to three days until it fizzes to your preference. Once you like the taste, store your jun in the refrigerator in order to stop the fermentation process. Keep in mind that jun is fizzy, so always open your tea over the sink to prevent spills.

cups of herbal teas for lacto-fermentation

Lacto-Fermented Herbal Tea

For those that love herbal tea more than any other type, the option to ferment their brew is an exciting update. Herbal teas are a great way to get the full value of a plant’s medicinal properties right in your cup, and they are sure to give you a boost in your day when you need it most. Best of all, herbal teas are usually caffeine free, meaning you can drink them all day without worrying about your sleep later.

The most popular way to ferment herbal teas is through lacto-fermentation, which is the use of dairy to initiate the fermentation activity. Because of the breakdown of the dairy through the fermentation process, even lactose intolerant people can enjoy this tea.

How To Brew Lacto-Fermented Tea

In this recipe, you can choose whatever herbs you want to use in order to personalize the taste to your preferences. Some delicious suggestions include combining nettle and red raspberry leaves, a mix of elderberry and ginger, or blending together dandelion and milk thistle.

Prepare a batch of herbal tea by heating one quart of fresh water and adding 1/4 cup of loose herbal tea of your choosing. Cover the brew and let steep for at least ten minutes before straining out the herbs.

Add 3 Tbsp. of either honey or unrefined cane sugar and stir the mixture until it dissolves. Allow the tea to cool down to room temperature, keeping it covered with a cloth in the process.

When the tea has cooled down, add a form of inoculate. This can either be 1/3 cup whey from yogurt, 1/8 tsp of a powdered starter culture, or 2 Tbsp. of lacto-fermented vegetable brine. Only one of these three options needs to be used to make your tea.

Stir the brew together well with a non-metal spoon and cover the container with a cloth lid that allows air flow without allowing anything to fall in.

Place the container in a warm, dark place for several days and give it occasional tastes. After about three days you can add more sweetener if it doesn’t have quite the taste you’re looking for. Once the brew is bubbly and carbonated, drink it right away or store it in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

In Summary

There’s no reason to rely on boring brewed teas when there are so many options for creating probiotically rich blends of fermented favorites. If you’re in love with kombucha but ready to try something new, trying pu’erh, jun or lacto-fermented tea is sure to add some excitement back into your tea drinking, all while giving you the benefits of gut-benefiting microbiotics.

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