Brewing Kombucha : not so short guide

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Drinking Kombucha (fermented tea) is an acquired taste as it range from slightly sweet (less fermentation) to tart (apple cider) and also sour (like apple cider vinegar). The health benefits however are being touted for centuries. The TL;DR; is that is it a fermented product so it has micro-nutrients and amino acids that your body cannot product on its own. For the long version, try reading this article from draxe.com which also has a video near the middle that summarizes the main points of the article.

Kombucha is considered a health drink which translates to being expensive. In Manila, a 500ml bottle can fetch somewhere in the Php250-300 range. Brewing kombucha however is very easy as soon as certain rules are followed. For all intents and purposes it is sweet tea fermented by adding a colony of organism that will eat the sugar and poop out beneficial organics. What makes its expensive is the brewing period and the fancy labels and packaging. Enough talk, lets start with the guide.

1. Pre-requisites

  • SCOBY – or “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast” for long. It is also called mushroom due to its appearance. Or brainmatter by some. 😉 It is the living colony that will convert your sweet tea to kombucha. You can look for brewers in your area who has some to spare or some enterprising individuals that sell scoby and some starter kombucha brew.
  • tea leaf – preferrably of the black variety. Green tea can also be used for a more delicate brew. Stay away from herbal teas or flavored/fusion ones as they contain oils that can become rancid or kill the SCOBY.
  • Sugar – white or brown cane sugar is best. Don’t use honey as its anti-bacterial properties will kill the scoby. The scoby will eat the sugat so dont worry about using the real thing.
  • Brewing vessel – pots or pans for brewing sweet tea. If these are metal, try to stick to stainless steel ones.
  • Stirring implements – preferrably wooden, plastic or ceramic ones. It is ok to stir the brewing tea with metal spoons but under no circumstance should the scoby touch any metal surface.
  • Brewing containers – where the sweet tea with scoby will be left to ferment. If this has a spigot, make sure that the spigot is plastic. Try to have wide-mouthed containers as a narrow mouth can slow the brewing period.

2. Brew the tea and ferment

  • What I normally do is heat water to the point before it boils briskly (only a few bubbles starts forming). I read somewhere that using a fully boiled water in tea is frowned upon but I have used briskly boiling water without any issues.
  • Once the water has reached the desired temperatre, add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar for every liter of water and stir. This can be increased if desired. The SCOBY will eat the sugar anyway. Don’t reduce the ratio further though as it can starve the SCOBY which can lead to its death. Remember: sugar = scoby food.
  • Once the sugar has dissolved, add your teabags or tea leaf in your favorite infuser. My ratio is 1 teabag per liter of water. I normally use black tea or roiboos. Steep the tea. Some say to limit it to 15 mnutes but I have accidentally left the teabag overnight. The brew was still usable.
  • Cool the sweet tea brew. Then transfer to the brewing containers. Then add the kombucha starter brew (or from a fully fermented batch) so it makes up 20% of the total sweet tea brew. If there is no starter brew, white vinegar can be used to jumpstart the acidity/pH level of the mixture.
  • IMPORTANT!!! : Cover the mouth of the brewing canister with cheesecloth or table napkins then secure them with string or rubberband. It is important to let the brew “breathe” otherwise it can die if it suffocates. The scoby eating the sugar will product carbon dioxide so a tightly covered container will cause oxygen deprivation and build pressure that can shatter the container.
  • After 5-7 days, taste the brew if its tart enough. Make sure to take the liquid sample from the mid to lower part of the container by using a straw.

The fermentation period will vary on several factors like temperature, if the container is exposed to sunlight, the amount of sugar in the sweet tea brew, and the size of the scoby. Quick fermentation is not always desirable as it can produce a very sour brew. Some brewing guide recommends up to 30 days but I find 7-14 days is the sweet spot (pun intended) for me and my wife to consume the kombucha.

3. Consume or do a second fermentation

Kombucha can already be consumed as is when it is tart enough. To stop or slow the fermentation, transfer it to another container that has a tight lid and then put it in the refrigerator. It is now ok to have a tight lid as this will cause the carbonation of the drink or the formation of the “fizz” found in soft/soda drinks.

If the Kombucha was too sour (i.e. left to ferment for longer than expected) then another option is to do a second fermentation. The second fermentation is also desirable if you want to make flavored kombucha. The way to do it is to mix it with your preferred fruit juice and then put a tight lid. My preferred ratio for the second fermentation is 20% juice (normally grape or black currant), 70% kombucha and 10% water. Letting the mixture brew from overnight to 24 hours is usually enough to have a fizzy drink. Serve with ice or refrigerate before consuming. 🙂

4. Notes and where to go from here

Here are some items to take note:

  • Dont consume all of the liquid. Reserve some for your next brew.
  • When starting the brew, there is probably only be a small amount of kombucha with the scoby you procured. Start brewing a liter first and then use that to start brewing a larger batch.
  • The scoby can float or sink. That is normal.
  • It the floating scoby starts developing dry spots, see if you can remove it if it has not touched the liquid. That is already mold and harmful to humans. If the mold has already touched the liquid then throw the batch and start anew.
  • During fermentation the scoby will grow or might spawn a “baby scoby”. The baby scoby can be used to start a fresh brew when it is large enough.
  • Extra scoby can be eaten like a tasteless jelly or can be added to salads. Or better yet give them to a friend or sell them. 🙂

Enjoy!

Shopping and Shipping from the US

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Online shopping and buying credits presents one of the most alluring temptation combo known to the modern man. There are a few local online shops that have established their own brand but nothing beats the variety of what is available in the US market. Unfortunately not all of the US shops deliver directly to the Philippines, and some who do are expected to either leave a scorching mark on one’s wallet or are in danger of not arriving in your doorstep if its valuable enough to catch the fancy of those in the courier/custom/postal service.

Here comes to the rescue a variety of maildrop services in the US. Their services basically provides you with a US address or PO box, and then handle shipping it to the Philippines at a nominal cost. Searching for them is easy enough but I will detail something that I have used in the past, mostly because of their affordable price and convenient arrangement for somebody who doesn’t always have somebody left in the house to receive packages: Johnny Air Cargo.

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Using SMART BRO (USB Internet) Plug-it in Linux

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This guide is created to show how to use the SmartBro USB Internet dongle in Ubuntu Linux. The dongle comes with the Windows installer that enables the SmartBro application to be installed in most computers. From within that application the user is able to send and reeive SMS, and connect/disconnect their Internet subscription. It allows more operations like access to the Smart portal but for the duration of this guide only the SMS send/receive and Internet configuration is covered. The instructions should be portable to the plug-it kits of the other telcos.

From my experience, Ubuntu has easily supported the USB dongles and tethering devices as early as Karmic Koala. I no longer have my Sony Ericsson K618i that I just connect via a USB cable to my MSI Wind U100 Netbook so this is what I will use for the guide. My netbook is sporting Natty Narwhal during the time the screenshots are taken.

sm00

Lets get cracking. Caveat though that I had to recreate some activities in two different locations so don’t mind the clock too much.

Configuring data connectivity

  • Boot into Ubuntu and connect the dongle. Wait for a few second while the system recognizes the device.
  • From the system tray, click on the network-manager applet and enable the “Enable Mobile Broadband” option. Select the “Edit Connections…” entry, and add a new entry under the “Mobile Broadband” tab.
  • As can be seen below, Ubuntu has already detected the chipset of the USB dongle. Click on the Forward button.
  • Select the provider (which in this case is Smart). Click on the Forward button.
  • On the billing plan dialog, accept the default selection and click on the Forward button.
  • Confirm the summary of the selected settings by clicking the Apply button.
  • Visit back the settings of the created connection and ensure that there is no username and password in the Mobile Broadband settings page. Save any changes made and dismiss the wizard to go back to the desktop.
  • Click on the network-manager applet and click on the mobile internet entry created above.
  • If everything goes well and the signal is strong enough the user should be greeted with an established connection message.
  • Click on the network-manager to validate the type of connection.

Configuring SMS capability

The setup above can fail if the SIM card used is of the prepaid type and there is no credit loaded on the account. SMART imposes a Php10/30mins rate but there are promos that can be activated by sending some keywords via the SIM account. This implies that the SMS send and received facility should be accessed. Fortunately the wammu project provides this capability.

  • Install the wammu application by invoking the command below:
  • sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install wammu -y

  • Start the wammu application. If the wammu application doesn’t find its configuration files then it will trigger a wizard for first time-configuration.
  • wammu-first

  • Click on the Next button to start the Wizard and select the following options in the succeeding windows:
  • – Configuration Style: Guided Configuration
    – Configuration type: USB Cable (as the unit is plugged in a USB port)
    – Phone Type: None of the above (unless future versions provide an option for the chipset)

    – Connection Type: AT based
    – Driver to use: Generic AT over serial line or it’s emulation
    – Phone device: /dev/ttyUSB0

    The above part is trial and error. If the test doesn’t succeed select the next option. If it succeeds then information about the model of the dongle will be shown. In my experience it is almost always /dev/ttyUSB0 but then I do have another device that emulates a serial connection via USB.

    – Complete the remainder of the next dialog windows using the default option.

  • Once the wammu phone configuration is done, start accessing the USB dongle by invoking the Phone->Connect menu item.
  • Once the dongle is active, test the connectivity by receiving existing messages.
  • After the operation succesfully completes, select the Messages item in the left treebox to view all retrieved messages.
  • Next is to try the SMS sending capability under the Create menu. The editor is dated compared to the built-in provider interface but it would suffice. In the screenshot below, the bucket promo of Always On is being triggered.
  • Check the Sent folder if the message was successfully sent.
  • After a few seconds/minutes, retrieve the messages again to check the result of the promo registration.

And that is basically it. The instruction in this guide, with minor tweaks, should be applicable to any of the USB dongle. Enjoy your USB Internet dongle in Linux. 🙂

ciao!