Sunday, 10 February 2019

Kombucha Krazy


If you've been to a vegan fair recently or perused the chilled drinks section in a health food store you would doubtless have seen kombucha.  Even some supermarkets are selling it now.  This healthy ancient beverage has really taken off, particularly in the last two years or so.

Kombucha is simply fermented sweet tea. To some that may not necessarily sound that appealing and even less so when you see the scoby; the jelly like pancake shaped culture that is responsible for the fermentation.  Without going into the science behind this (whole books have been written on this) the scoby, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, works its magic on the sweetened tea and the result is a surprisingly tasty and refreshing drink.  Less tea like and less sweet than the sweetened  tea ingredients would lead you to believe, kombucha is more apple/cider like, perhaps with a hint of champagne, in its base form. In addition, the multitude of different flavouring options possible can lead it into even more tasty and interesting directions.

It's not just taste that makes kombucha an increasingly popular drink in our modern world.  It promises health boosting qualities too, and is therefore a good alternative to the usual line up of shop bought sugary drinks (the sugar used to make kombucha is eaten up by the bacteria leaving only trace amounts).  Courtesy of the bacteria, kombucha is a rich source of probiotics so great for digestion and maintaining healthy intestinal flora.  This also goes a long way, coupled with the high levels of antioxidants and vitamin C, in boosting immunity.  Energy can also be enhanced by all of the above and the presence of a good amount of vitamins; predominantly a range of B vitamins.  In fact vitamin B12, supposedly elusive to vegans, makes an appearance in kombucha.  B12 isn't just purely available in animal sources, contrary to the 'propaganda'.  It is produced by bacteria and as fermented foods like kombucha are all about bacteria, it follows B12 and kombucha are good bed fellows.  

I could go on about the reported health benefits; including its aid to natural sleep and weight loss, and helping ease the symptoms of high blood pressure, but I'm not one for science so it's best to do the proper research yourself.  What I do know is that during Dry January kombucha was very much a welcome and enjoyed alternative.  It had been suggested by a member of our family, also on Dry January, that we were cheating as, being as it is a fermented drink it does indeed have an alcoholic content.  This however is at such low levels (less than 0.5% generally in shop bought varieties but it can be a little more in home brewed creations), that a good chow down on rum enhanced Booja Booja truffles would probably give you more of a hit.

It might not have totally reached the masses yet but shop bought kombuchas are definitely on the increase.  On a recent trip to Somerset we saw two more brands we hadn't before.  I need at least two hands to count the different companies now providing for the UK market.  That wasn't the case even a few years ago.  This 2000 year old ancient beverage, with its roots in China, Korea, Japan and Russia (there are varying accounts of its definitive age and origin), was difficult to purchase.  We remember only one brand, Gavin's Kombucha, from the Totnes area, over 15 years ago.  That is one of the reasons we started making it ourselves, with the encouragement and a scoby kindly provided by Gavin himself.  We kept our brew going for some time but periods abroad and then my move to join Phil in Cornwall kind of broke the routine.  Now we are back to it.  Kombucha is really easy to make but routine (in our case weekly) is the key.  Sometimes Phil's sourdough starter routine and my kombucha routine coincide but it's no biggy.  Each process is just as simple as the other and take very little time.


In the case of kombucha you just brew up some sweetened tea (any black or green), let it cool and then let it get acquainted with the scoby. After about a week of the scoby floating around on the top, it is generally ready for drinking and bottling up.  You just repeat the process each time (using the same scoby) and you are assured of a constant stream of delicious kombucha.  The shop bought varieties are definitely very welcome and tasty and we encourage you to try them, but we have very much acquired a taste for making our own.  It's a lot easier on the pocket and resources too.  

If you fancy having a go at making it yourself, apart from water, sugar and tea, the only other thing you need to get your hands on is a good scoby.  You can buy these from the Internet but do make sure it is from a reputable source to ensure the best quality.  The tradition however, as with sourdough starters, is that you pass on scobys to other people.  All you need initially is one scoby and it grows and grows, generally in layers which you eventually separate.  It is these layers that you can pass on.  Our newest scoby came from a friend and ex-colleague from the Lake District.  She sent several scobys to a group of us at work and now we have a little Kombucha Klub going where we all bring in our latest brews for each other to sample and compare.  The difference in tastes and styles goes to show the diversity kombucha has.

If you live locally I would be more than happy to pass on any available scobys if you want to start making it yourself; along with basic instructions.  For anyone else out there that can get hold of a scoby, my basic recipe is below.  I started off making this is in a bucket and indeed you can make it in lots of different vessels.  Glass is best but metal can react so it is best avoided.  Now I use my special kombucha jar which was a very welcome Christmas present from Phil.

Scooby's Scoby Basic Bucket Kombucha Recipe
You don't definitely need the 1 cup of kombucha but it will take longer before it is ready if you don't.  You can buy small bottles of kombucha in most health food stores and Waitrose supermarkets.

1 cup kombucha
9 cups filtered boiled water
3/4 of a cup of white sugar
3 black teabags (or equivalent loose tea of any type you like - even green tea)

Ensure everything is all kept clean and that way you won't get any unwanted moulds.

Simply brew up the tea (either directly in the bucket if using bags or using some of the cups of water in a cafetiere if using loose).  Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Let completely cool down (otherwise you could kill the scoby).  It can be brewed strong but again, it is all about experimentation too.  

Remove tea bags and then gently float the scoby on the surface.  The scoby has a smoother side and I always thought this was best to put upwards but having read more these days, it appears it isn't totally necessary. Don't worry if the scoby sinks, that is natural.  Cover it with a clean cloth like a tea towel. This allows air to get to it, essential for the fermentation, but keeps out unwanted dust or flies. 

Leave it for a week then give it a taste (using a straw gently pushed past the scoby is a good way of doing this if you are not using a vessel with a tap).  It should have a hint of sharpness to it but still maintain a little sweetness.  Basically, if you like the taste, all is good!

Most of the fun of making kombucha is in the experimentation.  I am still learning so much each time I make up a new batch.  I am also learning how some flavourings work great (adding strawberries or blackcurrants to the bottles after the first fermentation is a winner!) and others not so good (redbush tea really didn't work that well).  

I've also been slowly dipping into the wealth of knowledge that is The Big Book of Kombucha along the way and have been discovering where else I could take my experimentations, along with discovering what I had been doing wrong.  I'd recommend getting a copy (I was fortunate to get mine for £2 in a charity shop!).  

Whether you decide to try a shop bought kombucha for the first time or you decide you want to give making it yourself a go; enjoy!

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Cornish Vegan For The Win

If we've had a great vegan experience we like to write about it.  If we've had a bad one, we don't. That's generally our Driftwood Vegans rule. There's an exception to this rule however.  For a couple of years now we've been keeping quiet about something really close to home; The Cornish Vegan.  

In the early excitement of The Cornish Vegan opening in September 2016, we did write about it, but the fact of the matter is we felt we needed to then keep quiet about it; much in the same way that Phil refuses to write about his favourite Cornish surf spots for fear of overcrowding.  The Cornish Vegan doesn't really need more people extolling its wonders; it needs crowd control! (or let's say in a less dramatic fashion; it's best to ring ahead and book a table if you don't want to run the chance of missing out"!).  

We are extremely fortunate that Paul and Dawn decided to set up such an amazing vegan eating experience in Cornwall. The food they offer is addictively tasty, generously portioned, value for money and creative.  The menu sensitively balances the palates for those wanting a naughty treat to those seeking a more healthy indulgence.  For Dawn and Paul it isn't just about selling food that fills vegan bellies.  They put a lot of thought into creating dishes that go beyond the standard vegan fayre or what you would create for yourself at home; so much thought in fact that not even a holiday or the much anticipated glass of wine at the end of a long working day can switch their minds off from inventing new culinary creations.  

It's not all about the food though at The Cornish Vegan.  The service is second to none. Whether you are regulars or not, the welcome is immensely warm (Dawn gives great hugs too!) and attentive.  Details will not be missed here.  Then there is the speed of service.  The ambiance may be homely and cosy but the service is fast and slick.  It just goes to demonstrate further the hard work and thought that has gone into The Cornish Vegan.  It represents what Dawn and Paul would want as customers themselves; and likewise what we always look for.  That's why we love it so much and why we now use it as a benchmark for anywhere else we eat.  Let's just say it's pretty unbeatable.

So why have we broken our Cornish Vegan silence and not just kept this one to ourselves?  After all they certainly don't need any recommendations from us or anyone else for that matter; they've done it all themselves and their customer base is already huge.  Well we are proud of them; that's why.
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In November The Cornish Vegan stormed the Cornwall Tourism Awards 2018/2019 bringing home the Gold Award for Best Cafe/Tearoom of the Year.  Let's be clear here, this is the best of the whole of Cornwall not just in the vegan sense of the word.  This needs to be shouted from the rooftops.  Cornwall is rammed full of cafes and tearooms and I'm sure many of these would have been left saying "wasson?" about this.  

Image may contain: text that says "Featured by lonely planet 2019/2020 Great Britain lonelyplanet.com"This achievement was then very quickly followed by news that The Cornish Vegan had landed an entry into the next edition of the globe trotting bible that is the Lonely Planet for Great Britain.  

Next up are the South West England Tourism Excellence Awards 2018/2019 which takes place this coming Thursday in Bristol.  The Cornish Vegan is a finalist for Best Cafe/Tearoom and is guaranteed bronze, silver or gold.  Again, let's be clear, the competition includes all cafes and tearooms across the whole of the South West of England, not just veggie or vegan establishments.  In our vegan world of course that is natural but for the rest of society to recognise this; well that is so amazing for Paul and Dawn to have achieved both for them and for veganism.  Vegans and Cornwall as a whole should be so proud.  

We wish them luck for Thursday and most of all we hope they have a lovely evening and break from all their hard work. What they express through their food and the service they provide does so much for the whole vegan ethos.  For this we love you and thank you so much.  They say an army marches on its stomach.  If The Cornish Vegan is feeding that army, we feel that their vegan campaign will continue to march way beyond the South West.  

Please note that The Cornish Vegan is closed on Thursday and Friday this week for Paul and Dawn to attend the awards ceremony.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Trending Vending and Depending

Our Christmas was a quiet, subdued affair. We really are not big on it anyway but the absence of both my parents in our lives certainly made it a thoughtful time of year for me.  I was in no mood to put pen to paper; hence the lack of blogging recently.  Instead I've been sitting back and taking in all the vegan news and offerings available from the ever increasing and widening sources.  

The World of Vegan has grown immensely over the last few years for sure but the run up to Christmas and Veganuary has seen a veritable volcano in such a few short weeks; more so I think than at any other time in the 30 odd years we have been vegan.  To us it is just unbelievable and way beyond what our earlier vegan selves would have ever hoped or imagined. Veganism is certainly 'trending' big style and there is a warm, cosy feeling in being trendsetters and now extremely trendy in our middle age!  That doesn't happen much these days.  Now we are no longer the aliens society once perceived us to be (remember people accusing you of just going through a fad?), we will have to find something else to be controversial about.

In one week alone we watched three programmes on mainstream television with a vegan theme.  Although Channel 4's Dispatches - The Truth About Vegans, wasn't exactly, in my humble opinion, a very well researched piece (since when do vegans "need more iron than meat eaters"? And insinuating Viva! and founder Juliet Gellatley fall into the extremist category wasn't the brightest move), it did put veganism in the spotlight in the mainstream media, especially as the presenter led us to believe that he was convinced enough to give veganism a go.

Dispatches was closely followed by a vegan edition of Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast.  Another Channel 4 offering, this was a more positive view of good, tasty vegan food delivered in an entertaining fashion.  The recipes were amazing and have made it into our 'food file' to cook up at some point soon.  If only Jamie had responded to our letter a few years ago, he would have been ahead of the game (as would the Food Network if they had listened to the viewers comments we offered back in 2013).  I guess everything has its time and veganism can hardly be ignored now.

A man that has definitely taken the 'rescued bull by the horns' is a certain Mathew Pritchard with his very entertaining Dirty Vegan series currently viewing on BBC Wales.  For such a tearaway nutter during his Dirty Sanchez years, Mathew offers a remarkably gentle approach to veganism with a hint of bubbling enthusiasm and mischief.  If you aren't in reach of BBC Wales you can catch up on BBC iplayer.  It's a fun and informative watch for newbies and oldies alike, with a wonderfully subtle way of busting myths about veganism without being preachy in any way.

It isn't just in the media that veganism has breached the mainstream walls of society.  The supermarkets, who had already started to 'walk the walk', have suddenly gone to running full steam ahead in the vegan million dollar race to grab their piece of the action.  The chiller sections are filling up, with whole sections marked vegan or currently Veganuary. There is also a noticeable increase in the frozen sections, recently vacated by Christmas turkeys.  There have been times when it has been difficult to squeeze in for a look and it is quite an interesting place to hang out for a little while to listen to conversations between clearly new vegans or vegan curious customers.  I've even found myself offering advice and sparking up conversations.  Yes, it certainly is a different vegan world when it comes to shopping now.

However, as much as all this is wonderfully encouraging, and indeed I wouldn't want to change this march towards a more vegan world, there is a danger of losing sight of other important considerations.  Shiny new vegan products available at all the supermarkets do I'm sure make the transition to veganism possibly easier and more 'the norm', but we really wouldn't want to hold these up as the mainstay of a good quality vegan diet.  I enjoy trying these products for sure, and yes buying them as an occasional quick dinner, but as an 'oldie' vegan thrown into the earlier less convenient days of vegan shopping, I damn well learnt how to cook from scratch very quickly; as did most vegans of earlier generations, out of necessity.  It would be a real shame if this generation of vegans grew up lacking basic cooking skills (an issue that already exists with some omnivores in our modern society I feel).  Plus, at a time when we are trying to reduce plastics, packaging and food miles, it would be a shame for those vegans concerned with the environment to fully depend on such products.  As I was having this exact thought when exploring ideas for this blogpost, this very subject came up for discussion on the  Cornwall Vegans Facebook group.  We have so many good Cornish vegan producers and providers, we should be looking to support them and reduce our food miles and fancy supermarket packaging as much as we can.

Of course, we embrace the trending of veganism, as long as the trend continues in an upwards direction and ultimately leads to a more positive outcome for animals, people and the environment.  We also embrace the vending, and all the new and exciting vegan products that seem to appear more and more frequently.  However, what we wouldn't embrace is depending on such products and their multinational corporate clutches.  In your heart and in your home is where your journey to veganism should have its main base. Veganism is also about more freedom for yourself and less reliance on others.