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Gary Law temp byline 2021

Bitten by the bugs: the sparkling drinks that emerged when an NI man brought some microbes to tea

Gary Law


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Peter Barrett at work on his kombucha recipes in Drumbo

Peter Barrett at work on his kombucha recipes in Drumbo

Peter Barrett at work on his kombucha recipes in Drumbo

Fermentation is the alchemy of the drinks world. In beer-making the addition of yeast to a few simple ingredients results in the conversion of natural sugars into alcohol and the production of carbon dioxide fizz, while in food more often it is bacteria that drives the process, as in the production of yoghurt, vinegar and that vegetable accompaniment du jour, kimchi.

Kombucha, a fermented non-alcoholic tea drink devised in northern China more than 2,000 years ago, goes one step further. It’s double fermented, employing the fermentation power of both yeast and bacteria in what is known as a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria. This acts a bit like the starter culture in sourdough bread, forming a layer across the top of the tea infusion to bring unique properties to the liquid below. With a bit of care and practice, it’s something you can make at home, and that’s where Peter Barrett, the man behind Belfast’s Craft Tea Brew Co, started out.


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