Monday, February 11, 2008

Coca Cola - How to make Coca-Cola at home

Codenamed "Merchandise 7X", the list of ingredients that go into Coke - 922 million litres of which were drunk in the UK last year - has been kept carefully shrouded in mystery since the drink's inventor, a medicinal chemist called John Pemberton, first wrote it down in 1886. These days it is supposedly kept under 24-hour guard in a vault in Atlanta, Georgia, which is odd considering that author Mark Pendergrast published it in his exposé of the cola industry For God, Country & Coca-Cola (Basic Books) in 1993. The company maintains that this recipe is not the same as the one it uses.

Kate Rich and Kayle Brandon are bar managers at the Cube Microplex, an "alternative" cinema in central Bristol. Opposed in principle to the business and environmental practices of the Coca-Cola corporation, the Cube bar has never served Coke. That doesn't mean there isn't a demand for it. "We'd tried Pepsi and Virgin Cola and various others too," says Brandon, "but they weren't really a positive alternative. They were acceptable, but they weren't Coke. And people really want Coke."

After conducting various taste tests, they felt the preference had less to do with flavour than the power of the brand. Any alternative they were going to offer had not only to taste almost identical but overcome the incredible pull of Coca-Cola's marketing. "Given that most of the Cube's customers come because they like the place's DIY attitude," Brandon explains, "one way of doing that was to make the cola ourselves."

Cola is basically a mix of caramel, caffeine, sugar, fizzy water, citric or phosphoric acid, and eight essential oils. It's the precise blend of these oils that lies at the heart of the 7X secret formula. A trawl of the web soon uncovered several 7X-type recipes, the most promising of which was adapted from the one in Pendergrast's book.

But turning the recipe into a palatable drink turned out to be more difficult than it looked. "The oils we had to import from the US," says Rich. "The caramel had to be sourced direct from DD Williamson, a large operation based in Manchester which actually provides the caramel for all the Coca-Cola manufactured in the UK. And the caffeine we found at, a body-building website."

When they had assembled most of the kit, they invited friends along to an "open lab" to help them make the drink. "Unfortunately none of us had any scientific knowledge whatsoever, and it's quite a scientific process," says Rich. "We spent half our time running out to get ingredients that we didn't have, and we kept having to go round to the local post office to weigh things on their parcel scales."

Though they came up with something like cola by the end of that first day, they couldn't replicate their success. The problem was getting the oils to mix with the other ingredients, a process called emulsification, or binding together.

The emulsifier used in most soft drinks is dried acacia sap, better known as gum arabic. But Rich and Brandon couldn't get this to work. "We managed to destroy a whole series of kitchen mixers, completely trashed them. The gum arabic scoured the sides, the blades snapped ... it was really violent and very distressing."

After the fourth mixer went west they realised it was time to seek help. A mass email to the Cube's mailing list uncovered Dr Peter Barham, adviser to the Fat Duck restaurant and expert in food emulsification. He pointed out that they were using the wrong kind of gum arabic. "We'd bought ours from the local Indian food shop, but it wasn't particularly homogenous, so each time it was giving us different results."

Barham also pointed out that making an emulsion was all about force. Rich and Brandon had scaled up their quantities, but not their mixing power. They were looking forlornly at the constituents of their cola lab when they noticed the tubular metal handle on one of their hand whisks was about the same thickness as a large drill bit. Bingo! Whisking the mixture with a hammer drill produced the desired effect.

All they needed to do now was to add caffeine, caramel, sugar, citric acid and sparkling water - and suddenly, from a single cup of emulsion, they had enough cola for a month.

So how does it taste? First, we try the real Coca-Cola. A restrained sweetness, low cool notes of caramel, dry on the tongue, quite flat on the palette. Very refreshing, but with little depth.

Now for Rich and Brandon's home-made product. The initial surprise is that it really does taste like Coke. Very slightly sweeter than "the real thing" but less acidic. A satisfying, complex flavour, subtly different from the brand leader, but easily as good.

Having found their liquid gold, Brandon and Rich plan to sell concentrate kits to other small bars and businesses. They maintain that they are not out to challenge the Coca-Cola hegemony, but they "do hope that along the way we'll help produce a small reality-shift. It's social change through science and baking. Sort of DIY aesthetic meets the WI."

The mega corporation remains unfazed. "As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," says a Coca-Cola spokesman. "But our product is unique. Anyone with a selection of ingredients could make a type of cola, but there can only be one Coke."

Thanks to Rich and Brandon, we have a much better idea of what that really means.

Brew it yourself

NB. 1 batch of 7x formula will produce three batches cola syrup, or approximately 54 litres of cola.

Step 1: 7x formula:

Using food-grade essential oils, assemble 3.75ml orange oil; 3ml lime oil; 1ml lemon oil; 1 ml cassia oil (nb. reduce cassia content for next production); 0.75ml nutmeg oil; 0.25ml coriander oil (6 drops); 0.25ml lavender oil (6 drops); 0.25ml neroli oil (optional/removed due to high cost).

Using a measuring syringe, measure out the oils into a glass or ceramic container. Keep covered to avoid volatile oil fumes escaping. Then dissolve 10g instant gum arabic (equivalent to 22ml) in 20ml water (low calcium/low magnesium, Volvic is good) with one drop vodka - Cube uses Zubrowka. (Be aware that total quantity of vodka will be 0.0007ml per litre of Cube-cola).

Place the gum/water/vodka mix in a high-sided beaker - stainless steel or glass are best. Using a high-power hammer drill with kitchen whisk attachment, whisk the gum mixture at high speed while your assistant droppers the oils. Mix in steadily with the measuring syringe. Continue to whisk at high speed for 5-7 minutes, or until the oils and water emulsify.

The resulting mixture will be cloudy. Test for emulsification by adding a few drops of the mixture to one glass of water. No oils should be visible on the surface. You now have a successful flavour emulsion, which should hold for several months.

Step 2:The mixers

This makes two allied concentrates, Composition A and Composition B, which can be stored separately before being mixed into cold syrup with the addition of sugar and water.

Composition A

Mix 30 ml double strength caramel colouring (DD Williamson Caramel 050) with 10 ml water. While stirring, add 10ml 7x flavour emulsion (oils/gum/water mix).

Composition B

Mix 3 tsp (10ml) citric acid with 5-10ml water, then sieve in 0.75 tsp (2.75ml) caffeine. Mix thoroughly using a pestle and mortar until caffeine granules are no longer evident. The mixture may behave erratically, turning either white or clear for no apparent reason. If it goes white, add more water. Pass through muslin or jelly bag to remove any anomalies.

At this point, A+B can be packaged separately and later reconstituted into cola syrup.

Step 3: The cola syrup

2 litres water; 2kg sugar

Compositions A & B

Make a sugar syrup (mix in a cooking pot on low heat to dissolve quickly) using 1.5 litres of the water and all the sugar. Filter if unsure. Mix Composition A into the remaining 500ml water. Add Composition B, then the sugar syrup. You now have 3 litres Cube-Cola syrup or approx 18 litres cola.

Step 4: The cola

As required, make up your cola as a 5:1 mix, five parts fizzy water to one part cola syrup. Cube uses 350ml syrup in a 2l bottle of Tesco Ashford Mountain Spring. This cola recipe is released under the GNU general public licence.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Absinthe - Most Notorious Drink in History

Absinthe (also absinth, absynthe, absenta) is a distilled, highly alcoholic (45%-75% ABV), anise-flavored spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the medicinal plant Artemisia absinthium, also called “grand wormwood.” Absinthe is typically of a natural green color but is also produced in both clear and artificially colored styles. It is often called “the Green Fairy.”

Natural green absinthes take their color from chlorophyll, which is present in some of the herbal ingredients during maceration. Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe is not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a liquor. Absinthe is uncommon among spirits in that it is bottled at a high proof but consumed diluted to the strength of wine.

The "ritual" (preparation)

Traditionally, absinthe is poured into a glass over which a specially designed slotted spoon is placed. A sugar cube is then deposited in the bowl of the spoon. Ice-cold water is poured or dripped over the sugar until the drink is diluted to between a 3:1-to-5:1 ratio. During this process, the components that are not soluble in water, mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise, come out of solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche. The addition of water is important, causing the herbs to "blossom" and bringing out many of the flavors originally overpowered by the anise.

Originally a waiter would serve a dose of absinthe, ice water in a carafe, and sugar separately, and the drinker would prepare it to his preference. With increased popularity, the absinthe fountain, a large jar of ice water on a base with spigots, came into use. It allowed a number of drinks to be prepared at once, and with a hands-free drip, patrons were able to socialize while louching a glass.

Although many bars served absinthe in standard glasses, a number of glasses were specifically made for absinthe. These had a dose line, bulge, or bubble in the lower portion denoting how much absinthe should be poured in. One "dose" of absinthe is around 1 ounce (30 ml), and most glasses used this as the standard, with some drinkers using as much as 1 1/2 ounces (45 ml).

In addition to being drunk with water poured over sugar, absinthe was a common cocktail ingredient in both Great Britain and the United States, and continues to be a popular ingredient today. One of the most famous of these is Ernest Hemingway's "Death in the Afternoon" cocktail, a concoction he contributed to a 1935 collection of celebrity recipes. His directions are as follows: "Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

Effects of Absinthe

Absinthe has long been believed to be hallucinogenic. This belief got a contemporary boost in the 1970s when a scientific paper mistakenly reported thujone was related to THC, the active chemical in marijuana, which has hallucinogenic properties. Ten years after his 19th century experiments with wormwood oil, the French Dr. Magnan studied 250 cases of alcoholism and claimed that those who drank absinthe were worse off than those drinking ordinary alcohol, and that they experienced rapid-onset hallucinations. Such accounts by absinthe opponents were embraced by its most famous users, many of whom were artists and bohemians. In one of the most famous accounts of absinthe drinking from the 19th century, Oscar Wilde describes the feeling of tulips on his legs after leaving a bar. Other famous artists and writers who helped popularize the notion that absinthe had powerful psychoactive properties included Vincent van Gogh, who suffered from mental instability throughout his life and Toulouse Lautrec.

Today it is known that absinthe does not cause hallucinations, especially ones similar to those described in 19th century studies. Thujone, the supposed active chemical in absinthe, is a GABA antagonist and while it can produce muscle spasms in large doses, there is no evidence that it causes hallucinations. It has been speculated that reports of hallucinogenic effects of absinthe may have been due to poisonous chemicals being added to cheaper versions of the drink in the 19th century, to give it a more vivid colour.

However, the debate over whether absinthe produces effects on the human mind additional to those of alcohol has not been conclusively resolved. The effects of absinthe have been described by some artists as mind opening. The most commonly reported experience is a 'clear-headed' feeling of inebriation — a form of 'lucid drunkenness'. Some modern specialists, such as chemist, historian and absinthe distiller Ted Breaux, claim that alleged secondary effects of absinthe may be caused by the fact that some of the herbal compounds in the drink act as stimulants, while others act as sedatives, creating an overall lucid effect of awakening.

How To Prepare History's Most Notorious Drink


Friday, February 8, 2008

The Most Disgusting Drink: Kombucha

Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented by a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a "kombucha colony," usually consisting principally of Acetobacter-species and yeast cultures. It has gained much popular support within many communities, mentioned by talk show hosts and celebrities. The increase in popularity can be seen by the many commercial brands coming onto the retail market and thousands of web pages about this fermented beverage.

In one method, the beverage is made by placing some existing kombucha culture in a jar, usually a 3 liter glass container, then pouring in cold black tea with sugar. In about 8-12 days, the first portion of the beverage is ready; part of it is removed for consumption, and more tea with sugar is added to fill the jar. A mature kombucha is several centimeters thick and produces a portion of beverage every day. As the kombucha slowly grows, from time to time slices are taken off it, which can be used to start new cultures in separate containers.

Another method allows for the bottling and saving of kombucha for later consumption. As in the previous method, the culture is placed into a large glass jar and the tea is added. The jar is covered with a coffee filter or paper towel secured with string or rubber bands, and left for seven or eight days. Part of the kombucha is poured off into glass jars and refrigerated for a few days, while part is kept back to start a new batch. The refrigeration allows the flavor to deepen, and the natural carbonation to build up.

Each time the kombucha culture goes through the fermentation process, it creates one new "mushroom" layer, or zoogleal mat, which will form atop of the original. After three or four layers have built up, the tea will become sour and taste somewhat like sour cider. When the new batch is ready, one may either use the second layer to start another batch, along with the original one for its own batch or it may be thrown away. Each culture can be used over and over again but most people discard an older one and use the newer to make their next batch of tea.