Homebrewing Kombucha – Tea fermentation in the Jing

Beijing, 09th of September 2018 (Today is also my third anniversary on WordPress)

I recently discovered tea fermentation and became fascinated with the idea of brewing Kombucha at home. Since we moved to Beijing almost three years ago, the fast pace of the big city life and the constant exposure to the noise, grime, and the general sensorial overload of this megacity had me craving a more balanced life style. Apart from physical exercise and mental fitness I wanted to also improve our diet. From a health perspective there are a variety of reasons why drinking fermented tea is good for you, especially to improve your digestive systems due to its naturally high concentration in enzymes and probiotics. It has cleansing and detoxifying properties that improve immunity and boost energy, since it is made with either black or green tea and contains beneficial amounts of caffeine. Kombucha is also a great source of natural antioxidants and contains medicinal amounts of alcohol occurring during the fermentation process. Besides, what intrigued me is the myth that the process of tea fermentation actually originated in China and dates back thousands of years. Some say a man called Kombu discovered how to make “cha”, which is the Chinese word for tea, into this health elixir, hence the name Kombucha. But no matter where it came from or who discovered it, today its widely accepted if not scientifically proven that fermented tea is good for you.

So when a local start up recently offered a kombucha workshop at the Tech Temple fleamarket and advertised that each participant would get to take their scoby home I was in. The scoby is what makes sweetened tea into fermented tea, translating into “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. It looks like a sort of sponge, is firm to the touch, and smells somewhat like vinegar. The cultures feed on the substantial amounts of sugar that need to be stirred into the black or green tea and provide the energy necessary for the scoby to ferment the tea. This natural process produces small amounts of alcohol and carbonizes the drink, giving it a nice fizz, making it the perfect drink to substitute for fruit juices or sugary sodas. Any kind of sparkling beverages are a rarity in China, due to the fact that Chinese people are not particularly fond of drinking liquids with bubbles. Sparkling mineral water for example is quite expensive, and if you don’t fancy drinking coca cola every day you have a hard time finding a naturally sparkling drink. This made the prospect of brewing Kombucha at home even more alluring, since the second fermentation in the bottle like in the picture above infuses the ferment with quite a lot of fizz. I open the bottles daily to let out some of the pressure and to prevent the burst of the glass. Unfortunately, even that does not always guarantee the stability of the bottle, and last week I had my very first bottle of second fermentation Kombucha explode while I was at work. It was a nasty surprise coming home after a day in the office and finding the kitchen submerged in over a liter of sugary tea.

Lesson learned, I went online and purchased round bottles instead of squares one in the hope that this would give the glass a higher degree of stability to withstand the carbonation pressure. I also scaled up my fermentation vessel, going from two liters to four liters, and added a scoby hotel to store excess scobys in the future.

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Currently our third batch of Kombucha is brewing in the dark cupboard under our oven and this morning we have opened all three second fermentation bottles to release the pressure. As seen in the top picture we added three different kinds of flavours, one with blueberry puree, one with mashed kaki, and a third one featuring sliced ginger. I expected the one with the ginger pieces to ferment slowest, but opening the bottles this morning we discovered that this one had already build up an astonishing amount of bubbles. During breakfast, we tasted the ginger version and were again surprised that although the kombucha  sparkled a lot in the bottle, most of this fizz was lost when poured into glasses. We will let the remaining two bottles sit at room temperature for at least another day, opening them daily to prevent them from bursting, and will see soon enough if longer fermentation will increase the stability of the bubbles.

To good health – Cheers!

Traditional Chinese medicine treatment – Cupping/Acupressure

At the beginning of this week, a good friend from work asked me if I wanted to accompany her to a traditional Chinese wellness treatment. Apart from receiving three month of medicinal acupuncture a few year back when I hurt my knee during a run, I had fairly little experience when it came to alternative medicine. Since I knew I had a tough week ahead of me I agreed, and asked her where she wanted to go and what they had on offer. She took out her phone, opened an App, and showed me some of the practices the health center she had picked specialized in. Since she already had some experience with this, she suggested I try something called “scraping”. I remember her telling me about the last time she had this technique done, where the skin on her back got scraped with a sort of blunt spatula to increase blood circulation. I’m ridiculously ticklish so I knew I could not live through the experience of someone moving a pointed object up and down my back. Then I remembered that I always wanted to try acupressure, or cupping. Lucky for me, this was also offered and we even got an nice discount for booking the treatments via the App (gotta love China!). We finished work in time and took the bus to Tuanjiehu subway station, which is close to where the Wuzhisheng Foot Reflection Health Center is located. I have to admit I was a little nervous, because I didn’t do any research on how a session of cupping would go about and if it was painful to have these cups stuck to your back. I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder my fears, though, because the moment we entered the building we were greeted by an enthusiastic employee ushering us into the elevator to the fourth floor. Once there, we were quickly given a double room where we were to change into pink cotton pajamas. As is typical in China, the first thing that arrived in our room were two tall glasses of hot water. A minute later two women knocked on the door and pushed a small cart with around 40 tick-walled glass cups into the room. I went first with the cupping, since my friend had booked a combined session of scraping and cupping. We removed the pink shirts, and I lay face down onto the treatment table, placing my head onto the stretcher hole looking at the floor. When I peaked up a minute later, I saw the woman light what looked like a small honey dipper soaked in fuel. She kindly asked me to put my head back down and relax, and I really did feel a little uncomfortable then, not knowing what she was doing.

Later when I watched her apply the cups to the back of my friend I new what had happened, but I was clueless as to what was expecting me when I returned to looking at the floor. Another minute went by before I heard her clank the burning honey spoon against the inside of the glass, which she used to heat up the air inside the cup before quickly placing it on the skin of my back. I think I have to do this a few more times before I could get used to that feeling of my skin and underlying muscle get sucked into the glass by the vacuum. Repeating this technique 16 times I soon looked like a porcupine with glass cups sticking up from my back instead of spikes. I flinched a couple of time, not only because I was tickled, but also because of this completely new sensation all over my back. Surprisingly, the cups were only attached to my skin for less than five minutes. It felt longer since I concentrated on trying to relax a little to enjoy the treatment. It really wasn’t that bad, I think this is something that takes a while to getting used to, but it felt really good when the cups were removed and a deep relaxation spread through my muscles and uncramped my back. I’m sure I will do another session when I return from my summer holidays, because I think now that I know what to expect I won’t be surprised by the feeling. Although I have seen a few people with the resulting dark marks on their backs, I’m still a little astonished when my friend took a picture of my back and showed me the large round impressions on my skin. Now, five days after having done this, my skin itches a little bit and the circles begin to fade. It is somewhat difficult to find business clothes that cover the dark marks when going to work, though. Especially since it is summer and I can’t wear long sleeves. I honestly can’t say yet if I really have benefited from cupping, then again I was a bit nervous and might have missed out on some of the relaxing effects.

Gaming Pro

Fräulein Belly auf der Sonnenterrasse – Ms. Belly taking a sunbath

The Rescue of Baobao The Brave, a street kitten in Beijing

October 04th, 2016

It’s the Chinese National holidays at the moment and everyone gets a week off work, returns home and visits their family. Last year (2015) during this time the weather was brilliant, with days on end with clear skies, bright sunshine, and wonderful early fall weather. This year, however, we didn’t get that lucky. The days are gloomy, starting with a combination of smog and fog in the early morning, and bringing rain and clouds all day long. It was on a day like this that we found BaoBao [宝宝]. We had planned to invite friends over for dinner on Thursday night, so we went out into the rain to the grocery store to buy vegetables & meat. Two different supermarkets already didn’t have the ingredients we would have needed to prepare the meal, and after the disappointing stop at a third one we decided to bring the stuff already managed to buy back home and take a bus into town in the hopes of finding the missing pieces of the food puzzle there. Entering our compound through the east gate we took the small path through the miniature ‘park’, side-stepping the occasionnal dog droppings and puddles of mud and rainwater. I was concentrating so hard on making my way safely through this maze that I initially missed the faint sound of a cat whining under the bushes. Jelte was the one who stopped and listened intently into the continuing rain. I heard it then, too, an almost inaudible meowing coming from our right. Wedged between the trunks of a bamboo grove, shivering wet in the red dirt, lay one of the most desperate looking bundle of furr I have ever seen. Completely soaked, his black hair was matted to his spindly thin body and breathing quickly and all too shallow he kept calling out for his mother. I didn’t think much before I stepped into the bushes and pulled him out of the mud, feeling his rib cage and spine right below his cold skin. His left eye was glued shut, I feared he had already lost it, while the other glimpsed up weakly at us. Only after a quick inspection of his all-over health condition did it occur to me that his mother might still be around. As hard as it was I placed him back on the ground and we took a few steps away from him to see if she showed up. Once we knew there were kittens around and focussed on the small sound coming from this side of the walkway, we could also make out the cries of a much stronger kitten whining out of the cellar of the next building’s cellar. It came from below the basement vault’s barred windows. As one of the neighbors opened the front door we went inside after him, climbed the flight of stairs right down to floor B2 and tried to find the other kitten, fearing it had fallen though the cracks upstairs while hoping that we had discovered the mother’s nest. We have never been to this part of our compound and found an empty basement, partially flooded with rain water and smelling of mildew and rotting leaves. Lighting our way with Jelte’s cell phone flash light most of the rooms were easy enough to access, yet the one in which we assumed the kitten to be in was shut and secured with a padlock. We took this as a good sign and imagined one of the neighbors must have taken pitty and gave them food and shelter down here. Since there wasn’t much we could do (and having decided against breaking and entering), we headed back up and found Baobao still lying in the rain, trying to crawl further into the bushes. While picking him up with my bare hands the first time, I noticed that he was not only extremely dirty from the wet earth, but seemed to be covered in dog feces as well. That’s why we quickly took the elevator upstairs, grabbed tissues, plastic bags, and a small cardboard box, and headed back to the rescue. Once again upstairs in our apartment, this time with the little guy securely placed inside the box, we immediately filled a steel bowl with 3cm of warm water and rinsed him from the neck down, hoping this procedure would not only clean but also warm him up a little. As it turned out this wasn’t a very good idea. Not only did I learn later from a visit to the vet that the additional stress of bathing a stray kitten further weakens its immune system, it was also the trigger for an armee of fleas to start jumping off out of his furr. All of a sudden the little guy became a crawling mess of small insects running away from the water and looking for a drier spot atop their pray. I stopped bathing him then, wrapped him into a small towel and placed him back into his cardboard box. Meanwhile Jelte had heated up some water in the kitchen and had filled a hot water bottle that we then placed below his box to help raise his body temperature. But it all didn’t seem to help, especially since we had no clue as to how to treat a bad case of fleas. By that time it was already 6:30pm and we hurried to look up the address of a vet online. Luckily, Jelte found one less than a kilometer away from our home, and we took him there immediately. Admitted, our Chinese language skills are far from perfect, but definitly not good enough to describe all the symptoms and illnesses the kitten has shown us so far, so we were very happy to discover that the young female doctor was able to speak English. They didn’t hesitate and gave Baobao an initial overall inspection, concluding that the first step in trying to save him was to eliminate the flea pest. We bought a spray can of Frontline with which the Chinese doctor and three nurses headed back into the examination room to get to work. The procedure was a little harsh for my taste but turned out to be quite effective. They placed Baobao into a plastic bag, sprayed a generous portion of anti-flea tonic into it and kept it fixed around his neck for an entire hour. Meanwhile, all three of the assistants started picking off fleas from his head using their hands, squashing them dead with their fingernails. Odd was also that all this happened in one of the bigger examination rooms, with other pets being carried or walked in and out. They didn’t seem too worried that other animals might catch the fleas and kept treating dogs for overgrown nails, bandaging operation wounds, or setting up IVs. We were told that the Frontline spray works better than a drop of another type of medication that is placed between the shoulder blades, especially in extreme cases of investation such as Baobao’s. Another diagnosis was that Baobao also suffered from severe anemia caused by all the flea bites, decolouring his tongue and gums an odd white colour. By the time it was 9pm the doctor and nurses seemed satisfied with their defleaing efforts, and the vet went on to describe to us the usage of two kinds of eye and nose drops which would help remedy the kittens swollen eyes and inflamation of the respiration system. Appying one drop in each eye and into the nose four times a day, this medication should help cure these issues over the course of to weeks. micromsg-1475591681585Baobao was also too weak to eat or drink by himself, so the doctor advised us to buy a can of goatmilk powder which could be administered using a small syringe. I later realized that they didn’t charge us for their services, only for the medication and nutrients we bought from their in-house drug store and pet shop. On top, they gave us three medical blankets and a syringe for free, so we could prepare a better sick bed for the kitten and feed himt the milk. Thanking everyone for their hour-long efforts, we hurried back home to get some of the goat milk into Baobao. He greedily licked some 20ml out of the syringe, before he grew tired again and had to lie down. That is why the vet advised us to try to feed him every two hours throughout the night, like a much smaller kitten, even though he already had teeth and should have been able to eat solid food. All night long the fleas kept dropping dead from his black furr, but he barely seemed to get stronger. By morning, he first started to drink one more syringe of the liquified goat milk powder, but then quickly got worse again, whining non-stop as if to call for his mother. He had us very worried after 30 minutes of meowing like this, and I remembered that one of the women in a Cat Community WeChat group had offered to meet us in another vet clinic in Wangjing. By the time we boarded a taxi to go there, his condition had degraded rapidly, only taking in small quick gulps of air, and he was unable to sit or lie down properly.BaoBao when he first arrived in the vet clinic. He was a pittyful sight and we feared that he was too sick to make it. Traffic was against us that day, and out Didi took more than 30 minutes to get from our home near the south entrance of Chaoyang Park to the Wangjing vet. I sat in the back with Baobao in his banana box next to me. I peaked through the small openings, he had his head stretched up high into the air, mouth half-way open, moving his jaw like he wanted to try meowing, but no sound came out. Jelte & I were both equally relieved the moment the cab driver pulled his BYD over to the curb and we got out quickly to look for the entrance to the clinic. Easy enough to find another pet owner carried her dog inside, so we followed right behind her looking for a doctor. The night before I contacted the Doc running the place via WeChat, and since she knew we were coming this morning she singled us out of the small group of newcomers and led us right into a quarantine room. When we opened Baobao’s banana box, he had collapsed against one side of the cardboard walls and was barely breathing. The second picture shows him before they started to treat him with glucose and an IV with fluids and vitamins. He was dehydrated and low on sugar, in addition to hypothermia. When they took his temprerature, he only measured a low 36 degree C, whereas a healthy kitten his age should at least have 38 degree C body temperature. Refilling his hot water bottle and wrapping him in a thick blanket, we stayed in the international clinic for over five hours until finally Baobao showed some improvement and they could take his blood for testing. Luckily, he didn’t show any viruses or bacteria, and apart from his eye infection, his malnutrition and flea infestation he had the day before, he was basically ok. The pictures below show Baobao in his blanket ontop the hot water bottle right after we arrived in the examination room in Wangjing. To help him breathe more easily, the vet plugged the outlet of the oxigen tank into an upturned paper cup with a whole in the floor and tucked the whole think onto the kittens muzzle. He stayed for this for about 30 minutes until he seemed to recover some of his strength.

And then after all this trouble and pain, the little guy suddenly surprised us all when he started eating the wet food we wanted to feed him this morning. He didn’t even noticed it then, but now the smell of it drew him in and he gulped down the whole plate. img_20161005_134759This sight alone repaid us for all the stress we had in the past 24 hours worrying if kitty would make it or not. The folks from the clinic did the rest to make our day, granting us major discounts on all the treatments because Baobao is a rescued street cat. It’s programs like this that hopefully encourages more people to take in stray cats rather than buying them in pet shops and feeding into a system of over-breeding. There are countless homeless kittens and grown cats out in the streets, and now that summer is almost over and Beijing’s harsh winter is about to set in, many of them will starve or freeze to death. In case you think about getting a pet yourself, please consider adoping one from the foster care in and around Beijing. Feel free to contact me at ritnb[at]yahoo.de if you seek further information about the topic of this blog post.