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!

The good life – A few days on Turtle Island

Monday, 16th of July, 2018 (2 days, 2 nights)

They are all islands in the Gulf of Thailand, but couldn’t be more different from one another. While Koh Samui is the busiest (and largest) of the three, Koh Pha-Ngan is somewhat more layed back. Koh Tao is not only the smallest of the three, it is also the sleepiest of the island group. As mentioned earlier, not much action can be expected before early noon, with people sleeping in and shops opening at random times during the day. The only folks up already in the earlier hours are the (skuba) divers, preparing for another day in the water. This is also the island’s main business – you can book a crash course and learn how to dive on your own in just a few days, with diving schools dotting the busy western shores of Koh Tao. All in walking distance from the main pier where catamarans drop off tourists in regular intervals.

Horizontal palm tree on Sairee Beach.

Strangely, I didn’t encounter many locals. Some may work in the bars and cafes, or rent you a room in one of the many rows of bungalows and resorts, but there does not seem to be a lot of “local life” taking place (anymore?). Not near Sairee Beach, anyways. It was much similar in the south. Chalok Baan Kao Bay had small shops and bars as well, plus some nice resorts and beaches. But as with Sairee Beach, foreigners were in the majority, sitting in beach restaurant, lounging on bean bags, or studying for diving certificates. There might not have been a lot of local settlement here to begin with, though. Small as the island is it might have been scarcely populated all along, with increasing tourism bringing over people from the mainland.

We quickly learned that Google Maps isn’t as reliable here as it was on the other two islands. We tried to get to Mango Bay in the North by motorbike, but were abruptly stopped at a dead end leading to a resort. A helpful employee of The Place was kind enough to point out that Mango Bay was best reached by taxiboat and only the Mango viewpoint could be reached by bike. Even that included some hiking, as he explained, and showed us many alternativ bays that were in fact reachable by motorbike. We took his advice, thanked him (he even let us keep a copy of a Koh Tao pocket guidebook) and we left in direction of the South.

Had it not been for that error in Google maps, though, we might not have discovered the Viewpoint Resort. Set on the tip of a small headland between Shark bay and Taa Toh beach, we  came across it’s inviting sun beds while looking for shells and small pieces of flotsam along the shores.

Putting up a shell token near Freedom Beach on Turtle Island!

As an outside guest you could use their infinity pool and sun beds for 250 Baht per person, but the nice woman managing the place suggested that she would give us access for free should we wish to eat lunch at their place as well. The weather was somewhat unstable that day, so we took her offer and spent the afternoon in the resort, baking in the sun and finishing novels.

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Disturbing me while reading the last pages of my thriller = a capital offense!

This was in fact a wise decision – suddenly the sky went dark, with big storm clouds assembling rapidly above the sea. It’s fascinating to experience how suddenly the weather can change here during monsoon season. One moment you see a few puffy white clouds above, with the sun peeking through every once in a while. Then you dose off for a few minutes and the next moment you startle awake to a raging thunder storm. I deeply enjoy swimming in the safe waters of a pool during heavy rain, though, and was quite content with the sudden weather change.

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Less than half an hour away from Koh Tao lies another beautiful place called Koh Nangyuan. This private island actually consists of three small rocky hills connected by a stretch of sand. You can either reach it directly by Catamaran from Koh Phangan or by long tail boat from Koh Tao. We choose the latter options since we preferred to leave our baggage in the bungalow. Not the wisest decision, because the sea got very rough that afternoon, and so the small taxiboats were not able to cross over anymore.

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A weekend on Koh Phangan

Saturday, July 14th, 2017 (spent 2 days/nights)

Compared to Koh Samui, the island of Koh Phangan is a somewhat less busy place. That is if you visit in between fullmoon  or halfmoon parties. It is hard to believe that this serene island is buzzing with people seeking noisy nighttime thrills and boozy adventures at least twice a month, with waterfall and lighthouse parties in between. I was quite skeptical before coming here, expecting to find a place defined by noise, drunks, and drugs. Yet when we arrived, Koh Phangan was all quiet. The ferry from Koh Samui dropped us of at 8:30am, and as with many tropical places, where daytime is marked by scorching heat and life takes place during the nighttime hours, only a few people get out of bed before 10am. However, we did see a few groups of orange clothed monks walking the streets, the locals already expecting them with offerings of food on silver plates.

First thing, we rented a scooter at one of the many shops near the ferry pier, were quickly on our way in search of a place to stay.

The Haad Son Resort and adjecent Koh Raham Bar were ideally located in close vicinity to the popular Yao beach and Salad beach.

Lucky coincidence led us to check out the Haad Son resort, a hotel that from the outside seems quite unremarkable. The friendly manager was quick to show us the rooms he had available, and we didn’t hesitate to book a night in one of his clean air conditioned bungalows (we even extended for another night because the resort was so nice). The real surprise was the skillfully arranged bar/restaurant, that was set among tropical plants, palm trees, flotsam and other large pieces of driftwood. A platform made from polished concrete and natural stone led into the Golf of Thailand and wide hammocks functioned as boundary to the ocean.

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We took a quick shower and were back on the road half an hour later, driving along the ocean road, past small houses, little shops and through long stretches of uninhabited land. In between you could often get a glimps at the sea and serene stretches of sand, oftentimes accessible only via private roads. This took me some time getting used to, because it always felt like trespassing when we entered a small street or mud path to get to the ocean. Soon I learned though that those roads led to small bars and cafes and that the best sea views were kept hidden behind jungle vegetation. The bar owners always seem torn whether to prefer seclusion (maintaining the secret jungle flair) or commerce (attracting customers to earn a few Baht).

The main road goes along the west coast of Koh Phangan, with the east strangely undeveloped. Some places you can only reach with a major detour first to the south and then up again to the north east. The beach of Haad Rin in the southern most part of the island was our next major stop, widely known for its infamous Fullmoon Parties. Interestingly, you wouldn’t pick this beach for the “ultimate” party destination when visiting on a regular day, with the bars almost empty.

It did get a little busy as some local fisherman roped in their nets which they had cast close to shore earlier that morning. But except for some small fish and a few crabs they didn’t catch much and the crowd quickly dispersed.

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And so we spend our time basically hopping from one viewpoint cafe to the next, enjoying the water of the delicious young coconuts, or sipping a coffee, or savoring one of the many mouthwatering Thai dishes, all the while watching the sea and hearing the waves below.

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Jungle hike to tropical waterfalls

Tuesday, 10th of July, 2018

Yesterday we did a jungle hike to Koh Samui’s tropical waterfalls and natural freshwater pools. This wasn’t our initial plan for the day, but during monsoon season the weather can change quite quickly and is somewhat unpredictable, and we estimated that an island tour would be not feasible in the current weather. We went to see three different waterfalls instead, and except for Namuang, which unfortunately had an elephant “safari” park and quite a few trashy souvenir shops at the entrance, the waterfalls and pools were hidden gems in the thick jungle and required some hiking to get to. I especially enjoyed the Hin Lad Waterfall and it’s natural pathway climbing over massive rocks and through thick lush green vegetation. The water rushed past us only a few meters away so we had a soothing natural „soundtrack“ for the half hour hike that it took to get there.

 

Beach time on Koh Samui, Southern Thailand

Chaweng Noi beach after a heavy monsoon downpour. Look closely and you can see the end of the rainbow dipping into the Thai sea.

Monday, the 9th of July, 2018

Thailand is quickly becoming one of my most well-known travel destinations I have been to so far. In late summer of 2017 Jelte & I took a roadtrip through Central Thailand, driving all the way from Kanchanaburi in the country’s west to Phanom Rung in the East. We even packed in a day to discover Bangkok, but „only“ visited Malaysias Langkawi for some island relaxation.

This time I flew in over Phuket to see more of the country’s South. Some would say that this is the much more prominent face of Thailand, one with palm tree fringed beaches with crystal clear water and soft warm sand. I have first gotten to know another facet, characterized by ancient temples, rich culture, and incredible friendly people and I was (and still am) excited to discover more. So far I was greeted with the same unconditional friendlyness, ate equally delicious food (though with much more seafood), and even saw a temple with a mummified monk, confirming my earlier impressions. Though the focus won’t be as much on ancient culture and religious sites as before, I’m sure this country will hold just as many strikingly beautiful and exciting surprises as our last trip. The beaches are breathtaking indeed, and the soft waves instill a deep sense of calm and relaxation. However, it is monsoon season at the moment, so the sun is not shining as strongly and uninterruptedly, saving me from the worst of sunburns. The picture above was taken just after such a heavy monsoon rain shower, with thick drops and quite a bit of wind. Though the waves kept low, at some parts of Koh Samui they were pretty strong, making it hard to swim in the water. On this particular day and beach though, I could easily enjoy the downpour from within the ocean, watching the raindrops hit the sea surface and enjoying the sound of the rain.

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

Traveling through Yunnan – First Leg: Lijiang

May Day Holidays, 28th – 30th of April, 2018


The May Day holidays were spent traveling through Yunnan province! Its a beautiful place with very friendly people, delicious food, and incredible sights to visit. Just sitting in one of the rooftop cafes and enjoying the view of the city is a great start into our travels. The weather was cooler than expected, even though we knew that we were traveling in somewhat higher altitudes than usual.

Its not only available in Yunnan, but breakfast every morning consisted of Xiaolongbao, local bread, and a bowl of Doujiang, which is a sort of Tofu drink. In the background is the oldtown of Lijiang, a UNESCO protected part of the city famous for its cobble stone streets and traditional buildings.

Streets like these are a typical sight in Lijiang, with narrow stone paths winding through rows of old traditional Chinese houses. Many of them are used as hostels now, but it is easy to imagine how people used to live here in the old days.

A well-known feature of Lijiang are the small water ways running through the whole city. In former times these were used to channel water to every part of the city, and today especially the older generation still uses it to wash vegetables.

During the day there are still a lot of quite places to enjoy the architecture and serenity of this ancient town, but come nighttime many of the shops turn into booming tourist bars with loud blaring music and bright disco lights. A lot of local tourists seem to enjoy this as well, we preferred to the quite Lijiang, though.