Hi, my name is Jane and I'm a tea addict.
When I think about what tea means to me it's pretty crazy how much I love it. Fair to say, it has become an integral part of my life story.
Number 1 on my bucket list is to visit a tea ceremony in Japan. Don't you think the ancient art of the Chanoyu is a lesson in how we should all conduct ourselves? With its history rooted in Zen Buddhism, the whole process is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from the heart, with the well-being of the guests as key. This is how I approach not only the tea I make, but pretty much any meal I lovingly prepare for myself or my guests.
I'd love to get the boys in my house to perform this ritual for me each morning, but for now I have my own coping mechanisms to kick start each day.
It begins with a glass of home-brewed kombucha to really wake up my system and detox any nasties that could be lurking, then I savour my two cups of Organic Clipper (long brewed in a ceramic teapot) as I'm preparing for the day ahead, with a cup at about 3pm to give a little perky refreshment.
Talking of ancient crafts from the Orient and kombucha, if you don't know about this magical elixir, let me explain the incredible benefits and why I believe everyone should be drinking it.
I first tried it a few years back when I bought a bottle in a health food store in London, but at that time I was trying all sorts of weird and wonderful lotions and potions due to stomach issues, so although I really loved the taste and enjoyed the drink I then promptly forgot all about Kombucha until recently reading all about it on my friend Tess' LoveFoodIbiza website.
Kombucha (also known as tea mushroom or Manchurian mushroom) is a living probiotic drink which is made by fermenting black tea and sugar with something called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) to create an effervescent drink that tastes different each time you brew up a batch depending on the tea you use, how long you leave it fermenting and the fruit you add during a second fermentation process.
No one seems to be exactly sure where Kombucha originated from, but it's thought perhaps in the Far East, probably China, having been consumed there for at least two thousand years, with the first recorded use in 221 BC during the Tsin Dynasty. The ancient Chinese called it "The Tea of Immortality".
So why should you drink it, and why am I talking about it on a dog blog?
Did you know that 84% of your immune system is located in the gut, and the intestine is the second largest part of your neurological system? If you think of it like that, a second brain, it starts to make much more sense to do everything in your power to fuel yourself with health-giving foods to keep your intestine ticking over like a well-oiled machine.
It doesn't take a nutritionist with a first brain the size of a pumpkin to work out that a lot of people (and dogs) are chronically sick because of what goes into their mouths.
And the irony of the situation is that doctors often prescribe a course of antibiotics which are designed to cure bacterial infections, but also kill off the good bacteria in your gut at the same time, thereby making your plump and pink intestinal tract a one-way dusty barren path to a bleak wasteland with no reserves of natural goodness to get yourself back on the wellness bus.
Fermented foods like Kombucha, Kefir, Sauerkraut and Kimchi are proven to re-introduce good bacteria, therefore creating an abundant and thriving gut garden.
Simply put, Kombucha is a powerhouse of probiotic perfection that has been accredited with helping everything from intestinal issues (IBS and Leaky Gut), to liver function, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, weight loss, diabetes and even cancer.
I know people who swear by it after a boozy night to detox with, and you can even use it as a cocktail mixer, so literally detoxing whilst retoxing!
So does it surprise you to learn that our four-legged friends can also benefit greatly from drinking Kombucha?
Just a spoonful added to their morning breakfast can help all sorts of medical conditions, from halitosis, mange and other skin problems, to cancer as well.
In fact I saw a lovely video of a man and his 14-year old cancer-riddled Maltese saying that a major miracle had occurred (after the vet had read him the Last Rights). He'd fed the dog Kombucha and fermented veggies for two weeks, returned to have a scan and the cancer had completely disappeared. True story (apparently).
Only last night I had a conversation with my friend Beki about her dog Douglas. Poor little man is covered in a skin condition and is beside himself scratching non-stop.
As I have said in a previous blog all about the evils of commercial dried dog food, it seems that unbeknownst to Beki the dry food she's fed for the past four years has seriously compromised Douglas' immune system, so the vet put him on a course of antibiotics, therefore depleting the good bacteria in his gut which would help him to fight against the skin issue. What a crazy world we live in!
So do you get where I'm coming from on how we can all benefit by introducing more fermented foods into our daily lives?
There are lots of great companies selling Kombucha, but L.A. based Kombucha Dog has to be my favourite. They print pictures of homeless dogs on the labels to help find their forever homes. I am so in love with this as a concept of how two of my favourite things can come together for good. What a brilliant idea!
But if you don't want to go out and buy it ready-made, it's very easy and completely rewarding to make your own.
Once I've brewed up a batch I decant them into these flip top bottles that I buy from the supermarket.
Look at my beautiful Kilner jar.
I learnt how to make my first batch from YouTube tutorials, and there are some great ones each with their own tricks and tips (and some that I don't completely agree with) so take a look at this one for a good all-round education to get you started...
In a nutshell, you brew up a batch of tea (always use black, green, white or something like jasmine, but never flavoured fruit teas as they have essential oils in them which can damage your SCOBY) with sugar (ratios will depend on how much you make, but as a rule it's one litre of distilled or spring water with four organic teabags or equivalent loose tea and 1/3 cup of organic sugar).
These are the three that I favour at the moment (Dragonfly Tea and Clipper Organic I buy from Waitrose; the Jasmine Tea I picked up in a beautiful tea shop in Thailand), but I am constantly evolving my kombucha making, always trying out new flavours.
Once you've got a nice dark brew you remove your teabags and let it cool. I like to add filtered water to the tea at this point to cool it right down so that I can finish the process in one go rather than hanging around.
You then transfer the cooled, sweetened tea into a sterilised wide-mouthed glass jar, add around a 1/10 measure of Kombucha from a previous batch (or a shop-bought one), either putting your SCOBY (or 'mother', if this is your first time) in, or actually fermenting with a previous measure of Kombucha, and cover with a clean piece of muslin sealed tight with a rubber band to stop anything nasty coming into contact with your SCOBY.
You then sit the jar in a dark place, like your wardrobe, and leave it for anything from seven to 20 days, depending on how you like it to taste - sweet, vinegary or somewhere in between.
As your batch is sitting there the SCOBY is weaving a magical web of probiotic awesomeness.
You can see the layers here which is the SCOBY creating babies.
It really is the most amazingly ugly disc of jellified weirdness you'll ever meet. But don't be too judgmental as you should remember, a SCOBY is alive and can, therefore, hear you.
She is quietly resting there, feeding off the sugar whilst producing really healthy things like glucuronic acid, gluconic acid, lactic acid, acetic acid, butyric acid, malic acid and usnic acid; B vitamins and vitamin C; as well as amino acids and enzymes.
Beautiful in her own way.
She should be treated with great respect as she will grow and deliver babies of her own which you can then use in subsequent batches to make more Kombucha, or give away to friends and family to start their own brew, thereby creating a beautiful Kombucha community.
What a totally gorgeous place to inhabit.
Let me finish by telling you that I had two dodgy shoulders a couple of years ago from years of yoga and performing too many chaturanga dandasana's wrongly. I literally could not lift my arms more than 45 degrees. I had been for intensive physiotherapy, which didn't help in the slightest, so I then went and had cortisone injections. These helped for about three weeks, but then the pain returned and I was back at square one.
Since drinking Kombucha every day for the past 18 months I am happy to report that my shoulders are now completely cured.
So today I'd like to wish you a very happy National Tea Day, and in whichever form you decide to enjoy our planet's most life-giving beverage, show your love and appreciation to the tea leaves and all that they stand for.