Shrouded with mysticism and mystery, Jun tea is a fermented tonic made of green tea and honey. While Kombucha tea lines the shelves of natural foods markets, both small and large, Jun tea is still relatively unknown – secreted away and held quiet.
Recently, I visited my close friends Hannah Crum and Alex from Kombucha Kamp, a resource for Kombucha and kefir enthusiasts all over the world, and tucked away she held a jar full of Jun cultures. Curious about what has been called the “champagne of Kombuchas,” I asked her for a culture, and she dutifully packed one for me to take home and nurture so that I might begin preparing Jun, too.
Since that time, I’ve fallen in love with Jun tea. While I still love my continuous brew Kombucha, there’s a lovely delicacy to Jun tea that Kombucha lacks. Where Kombucha is forceful, Jun is soft. Where Kombucha is dark, Jun is light. At once they oppose each other, yet they are also very alike.
The Myth and Mystery of Jun Tea
Jun tea is shielded behind a veil of secrecy, myth, mysticism and mystery. For many brewers, Jun tea is more than a probiotic tonic of green tea and honey; rather, it’s an ancient spiritual elixir. Some brewers take their Jun tea so seriously that they play music to it and meditate with it as it brews (I’m not kidding).
The oft-repeated legend of Jun cites its origins as the Himalayas, where it is brewed by monks and spiritual warrior nomads who roam the high grasslands of Tibet, or so the stories go. And the stories are repeated, and repeated, and Jun continues to be a secret thing, enveloped in mystery and mysticism.
While stories about the sacred elixir of Jun are handed from person to person, there’s little concrete and verifiable information about the history or origins of Jun tea. Eager to learn something, even a little bit, more than internet myth, I took to my books, and again, I found nothing about Jun. A scholarly book on Himalayan ferments reveals no results for Jun, and another on worldwide ferments also reveals nothing about Jun. Further, I live in a high mountain community with many immigrants from Nepal and Tibet, and when I asked them about Jun, they had no idea what I was talking about. That’s neither here nor there, for they had no frame of reference for kombucha either.
I’m still left wanting, and I’m not alone. About Jun tea, Sandor Katz writes in The Art of Fermentation:
The lack of credible information on Jun leads me to the conclusion that it is a relatively recent divergence from the Kombucha family tree. Some websites claim that it comes from Tibet, where it has been made for 1,000 years; unfortunately, books on Tibetan food, and even a specialized book on Himalayan ferments, contain no mention of it. Whether or not it has a 1,000-year-old history, it is quite delicious.
The oft-repeated mystical lore that surrounds Jun leaves me to wonder, why do we need the justification of “sacredness” to enjoy what is, quite simply, a beautiful and delicate drink?
How Jun Tea and Kombucha Tea Differ
So, if Jun tea has unreliable origins, you might wonder just how it differs from kombucha, if it really does differ and why it’s worth brewing at all. Whether Jun tea is a new divergence from Kombucha, as Sandor Katz posits, or if the myth and lore is true and it really is a 1,000-year old ferment, the simple truth is this: Jun differs from Kombucha in several key ways just as Matsoni, a type of room temperature yogurt, differs from Viili and Piima, and other types of room-temperature yogurt.
Jun tea ferments best in green tea sweetened by honey. Kombucha tea ferments best in black tea sweetened by sugar. Indeed, having tasted both Jun and Kombucha tea made with green tea and honey, there’s a distinct difference in flavor profile between the two. Jun is delicate and not as concretely sour as Kombucha (even kombucha brewed with green tea and honey).
In addition to both a difference in substrate and flavor, Jun typically completes its fermentation cycle faster than does Kombucha. It reproduces daughter cultures with less reliability than Kombucha, and it ferments best at a lower temperature than Kombucha does – making Jun ideal for cool kitchens like mine that otherwise must rely on a heating pad to brew kombucha most effectively.
How to Make Jun Tea
To make Jun tea, you simply prepare a green tea, sweeten it with honey, and allow it to cool to room temperature before stirring in the Jun mother culture and a bit of prepared Jun tea (both of which you can find here). Allow this to sit, lightly covered with a tea towel to keep out stray debris, about 3 days before pouring into individual flip-top bottles (available here) for a secondary fermentation which will set Jun’s characteristic fizziness.
Where to Find a Jun Mother Culture
Jun tea is still relatively rare and unknown. Jun mother cultures also do not reliably produce daughter cultures like Kombucha does. You can purchase authentic Jun cultures online (mine is from Kombucha Kamp and you can find them here), or if you’re lucky enough to know someone who brews Jun, he or she may gift a daughter culture to you.
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- Bring water to 165 F in a kettle. While the water comes to temperature, sprinkle the looseleaf green tea into a large jar or pitcher. Pour the hot water over the tea and allow it to steep for 2 minutes. Strain the tea through a fine-mesh sieve into your fermentation vessel (I use this one.). Pour in the honey, and stir it until it dissolves completely in the tea. Allow the tea to cool to room temperature, 65 to 75 F, then dump the Jun culture into the jar and pour in the Jun tea. Allow the tea to ferment for 3 days at room temperature.
- After three days, the Jun tea should smell pleasantly sour and faintly sweet. Carefully remove the Jun culture and ½ cup Jun tea from the top of the jar, and dump them into a waiting jar. The Jun culture and tea are now ready for you to prepare a second batch of Jun.
- Pour the remaining Jun tea into 4 pint-sized flip-top bottles (available here, seal the bottles tightly and allow the Jun to ferment a second time for 2 to 3 days. After 2 to 3 days, your Jun tea is ready to drink. Place the bottles in the refrigerator to chill, or serve the Jun right away. Keep in mind that, like kombucha, Jun will fizz and foam when you open the bottles, so take care to open them over a sink.