What an insane ride we are all on, yes? One could literally perceive the Earth as an amusement park ride, where we are all strapped in for life, like it or not, hurdling around the sun at break-neck speeds. Or, I could just think I’m sitting here typing on the computer. Ah, perspective..
I’ve been on the fence about what kind of information I want to share on here, so I have been absent for a while trying to sort that out. I had a subscriber who I identified as my ‘best friend’ in high school, who in hindsight was nothing but a bully. My mom always warned me of how toxic he was, but hey, who listens to their parents?
As I type that last sentiment, I feel some interesting feelings I’ve never felt before. Less than a month ago, my partner and I found out that she is pregnant! It was definitely shocking, but we are overjoyed about it. Or I should say I am, as she hasn’t had much space for anything except feeling nauseous and throwing up these last few weeks (interspersed with bits of joy!). It’s hard to imagine what morning (read: all day) sickness is like – I’ve heard it compared to having an alcohol hangover all day, every day, for weeks on end. Sounds pretty awful if you ask me. One day of a hangover and I’m ready to end it all (can’t do alcohol, eek!). For me, nausea is one of those things that is really hard to remember how truly awful it is, until I am nauseous myself. I’ve had a couple moments in the last month where I felt sick for a few minutes, and was able to intensely empathize with my partner and what she is going through. Otherwise, though, I feel like a helpless, useless, and often annoying (lol) bystander. Of course, me thinking I am the herb and health guru, I had every answer and remedy in the book to ‘cure her’. Ha, the painful lessons we learn. I’ve realized the best thing I can do is be there for her when she needs or asks for anything, take good care of myself, and try to be emotionally supportive and kind 100% of the time (shit it’s hard but I’m only human). Oh and give massages. Prenatal style, yo.
Even though there are massive amounts of chaos in our lives…me with the DUI I got right after finding out she was pregnant (trying to numb those pesky feelings…..and then driving…don’t do it, kids), not really having any money to speak of, and being homeless (I had planned to move to Oregon on September 20th, and as such moved out of my place. When I found out she was pregnant that was no longer an immediate option, but I had already moved out of my place and spent all my money fixing up the car)…..and her with the family drama, and shit having to be pregnant!! I am overcome with a profound sense of peace and acceptance with the whole situation. It feels natural. I feel very, very lucky that it happened with this particular girl, as there is nobody else I would want to be the mother of my babies. We have our issues, sure, (jk we’re perfect) but I can tell she is going to be a phenomenally nurturing, supportive, caring and affectionate mother. Luckily, we also share similar lifestyle goals, and still plan to head up to the Pacific Northwest before next summer. Summertime in San Diego is a bitch and we are not down for it anymore. Raising a child somewhere that trees grow, with less pollution, lower cost of living….you get the idea. Don’t tell anyone how great the PNW is though because we want them to stay down here. Lol.
I feel more anxiety about job interviews and egotistical yoga classes than I do about having this child. The whole interview process (and the involvement of ego in yoga, for that matter) as it is, is rather unnatural; child rearing, on the other hand, is arguably what we are designed to do on many levels. I read a great quote that said “Adults don’t make children, children make adults.” The amount of changes I have already experienced in my inner world are truly remarkable (not trying to toot my own horn). I have struggled for most of my life with infidelity and lustful, flirtatious behavior – even while in ‘committed relationships’. Something about seeing my partner get pregnant just made it all click – I realized I was abusing sex, and not at all treating it or viewing it as the infinitely sacred, very special act of Love and Creation that it really is. There are a lot of things bastardized in similar fashion in our culture though. It’s quite hard to find the line where personal responsibility ends, and brainwashing begins. But I digress, my commitment to my partner is rock solid. I feel able (for the first time ever, sad as it sounds) to interact with women on a purely platonic level. I can only imagine the further healing and change this experience will bring to my life, considering we are only about 10 weeks in so far!!
The Jun is going wonderfully. Other than it being homeless thanks to my situation, some extremely significant progress has been made. Have you all seen the label my partner designed?
I love her.
I remarked to my girlfriend the other day that I think I have finally solved all the problems that have been confounding would-be Jun entrepreneurs for years. In my mind these problems are:
1.) Achieving proper carbonation levels (especially when it sits on a shelf for an extended period of time). Too much = hand grenade & lawsuit. Too little = flat disappointment and loss of repeat business. Think of GT’s kombucha…every single time you open one of those you can count on it to be perfectly carbonated.
2.) Making it profitable, mainly due to the exorbitant cost of quality raw honey (can’t complain really, those bees work so hard!! A bee makes, on average, 1/12th tsp. of honey in its entire life.)
3.) Keeping the ABV below .5% (ah government how we love you….)
4.) Creating a shelf stable flavor profile that is both sweet and sour (too sweet and it’s pretty much just kombucha or soda. Too sour and it’s vinegar. An ideal balance….well that’s heaven).
5.) Utilizing a business model that is both logistically AND financially feasible for all parties involved (distribution companies generally take 30-40% of the pie….retailers do the same…so how much pie are you left with? Very little, certainly not enough to feed your whole family. This is why businesses try to scale up so ridiculously much. Ordering 100,000 bottles is significantly cheaper than ordering 100 bottles. The problem, as my hydroponic tomato farmer friend pointed out, is that sustainability is not scaleable).
How you ask?! Well maybe you didn’t ask, maybe you don’t really care at all, and you don’t even know how you ended up on this hippy dippy site. Regardless, I will divulge the details!
1.) It takes a ridiculous amount of trial and error, but using something like a hydrometer is crucial, as well as taking notes on ratios of ingredients used. A hydrometer basically tells me how much residual sugar is in the brew. When I first mix together the guayusa, several pounds of raw honey, and spring water in the 2 gallon jar, I scoop out a 1/2 cup and pour it in a beaker (it comes with the hydrometer). Then, I just drop the hydrometer into the Jun (it basically looks like a big glass thermometer, but at the bottom is a bulb filled with a precise amount of metal beads. It is designed so that when you put it in water, it floats at 0 – so our measurements are basically the weight of a liquid in relation to pure water), let it bob up and down a few times, then take the reading. There are 2 or 3 different units of measurement on the hydrometer, it doesn’t really matter which one is used. I mark down the measurement in the journal, and let it do it’s thing for a week or two.
Once 10 days or so has passed and I feel it’s ready to bottle, I take a wooden spoon and mix it up to give it an even consistency. Otherwise it will be very sour at the top, and very sweet at the bottom. After mixing, I repeat the same process (after sanitizing all equipment of course!!!!), filling the beaker, taking the measurement. This information doesn’t make much sense at first, but it is extremely useful – allow me to attempt and explain exactly why. (The following numbers are totally random and just for the sake of explanation.) Say when the Jun was first made, before fermenting, the hydrometer read the specific gravity at 40. Then, when preparing to bottle it 10 days later, the SG dropped down to 20. After putting the Jun in bottles, one waits to see what happens with the carbonation. Was it explosive and volatile after just a couple days of bottle conditioning? Well, next time we know to bottle it at a SG of, say, 10. Alternatively, did the Jun sit for a week in the bottle, never reaching any significant level of carbonation? Well, next time we will bottle it with a SG of 30. Since the specific gravity is basically telling you how much sugar is left in the Jun, it becomes possible to fine tune this amount to achieve perfect carbonation. This is how the pros do it with champagne; the initial brew is fermented to extreme dryness (no sweetness left in the end product), and then a very precise amount of sugar is added during the bottling phase, and is referred to as a ‘primer’. They have determined exactly how much sugar it takes to get that familiar ‘pop!’. It can be frustrating at first, as Jun is no cheap experiment, but a month or two of this will have you making the most effervescent magic imaginable (as long as you are also using proper, airtight glass bottles).
The other part of carbonation that has to be played around with is how much empty space is left in the bottle. More empty space = more air, which = more carbon dioxide. When the Jun is bottled, it continues to ferment and release gases, ultimately forcing the carbon dioxide into the Jun and causing carbonation. If there is less empty space in the glass, than there is overall less potential carbonation possible. Again, experimentation and note taking are key.
2 & 3.) So, both of these problems essentially have the same solution. For the first two and a half years or so of making Jun, when bottling I would do approximately 80-90% straight Jun out of the jar, and 10-20% fresh juice or herbal infusion. This would look like having a 16oz. bottle with 14oz. of pure Jun, and 2oz. of ginger juice or hibiscus tea. Nowadays, the ratios are quite a bit different. I do anywhere from 40-60% Jun, and 40-60% herbal infusion. This has a ton of positives:
– Enables one to include an actual therapeutic, medicinal, efficacious dose of herbal medicine; instead of an extremely low dose with little to no real perceivable benefits.
– Cuts the intense, overwhelmingly sweet nature Jun can sometimes have (and of course this preference depends on the individuals palate, good luck trying to please everyone). The Jun is able to breathe and expand into the abundant herbal infusion, creating a more balanced brew overall.
– Allows space for more variety, and subsequently much more exciting flavor combinations. Instead of just chamomile, we can make lavender chamomile vanilla. Even though schizandra is great on it’s own, it’s even better with rose and hibiscus.
– Makes the Jun go twice as far!! This is huge. This technique is the difference between 20 16oz. bottles from 2 gallons, and 40 16oz. bottles.
– It’s a much more complex, connoisseur, sit-down-and-enjoy, let the flavors overwhelm, enter, and change your life sort of experience, rather than just ‘really sweet kombucha-esque drink’.
Since the Jun (and therefore the residual sugar) are being ‘diluted’ (hate that word, anyone got a better one?) with such a huge amount of herbs, there simply isn’t enough sugar in each bottle to generate a noticeable amount of alcohol. Consider that when I was bottling with the 80%Jun/20% herb ratio, I had it lab tested and it came back at 1.5%ABV, there is simply no way it is over .5% with the new herbal recipe.
(P.S. – I recommend cold infusions for most herbs, schizandra is one exception though)
4.) So, the main thing I realized with this issue, is that Jun needs a whole hell of a lot of honey. 2lbs. per gallon, at least, is what I recommend. It may sound like a lot, but there’s reasons. Adding this amount of honey allows there to be a potent sour note at the end of fermentation, but since we put in so damn much, there is still a little bit of unfermented raw honey in there, giving it that very desirable honey taste. A SCOBY can only eat so much, ya know? You’ve gotta be able to taste the honey in Jun or it just isn’t the same. I learned that the hard way after making several -very- dry batches of Jun. I hope I am explaining this thoroughly enough – basically just make sure to add enough honey that the ‘full spectrum’ effect is achieved. Doing 1lb. of honey per gallon just isn’t enough – in the week or so it takes to ferment, the SCOBY will have easily consumed the whole lot, and there will be no honey flavor left for us – just tart!
5.) The basic idea is that I am going to get my start by selling at a single farmer’s market. The benefit of the FM is that I am not paying anyone to distribute my product, shelve it, or sell it. 100% of the money (except for market fees, which are generally either 8-10% of sales, or a flat fee between $50-200) goes in my pocket. This means I can offer a better price, and also get face time with the people that are interested in buying the Jun. If it was to sit on a retail shelf, I would never get to talk to people and share my passion for the magic of Jun with them. I don’t have to worry about a retailer mishandling the product, or leaving it out of the cooler either.
In a fairly short amount of time, I would most likely be able to build a steady base of repeat business, as well as constantly attracting new customers. Once I would achieve this sort of success at one market, I can then get into another, now doing two farmer’s markets a week. This can continue until the point where I want to be in more farmer’s market than is physically possible. That would be the point when I could hire a friend to come and pick up the canopy, tables, signs, Jun, etc., have them go and sell at the market, and pay them an awesome wage. I get to not only make money by basically doing nothing, but also provide someone else with a cool job making good money, selling something they can feel good about. The point at which I am generating an income that can provide for myself and my family is the point at which I would maintain the markets I have, fine tune them, and just coast. There is also the possibility of having a large list of customers that simply order directly from me on a regular basis, making the need for even a farmers market much less.
In a year, or years, down the road, I am open to selling the Jun at certain small scale, local health foods stores and co-ops – though I would never want to get involved with a company like Whole Foods. Anytime homogenization and mass production is expected of me…well, I ain’t gonna play that game. I am not into the cookie cutter reality. Furthermore, if I had to make enough Jun to stock even 10-20 whole foods (and believe me, as much as they pride themselves on being ‘local’ friendly, if you can’t put your stuff in every single one of their stores, they really don’t want you), on top of the farmer’s markets, I simply would not be able to maintain the same integrity and quality. Like GT of GT’s kombucha, those are two things I am never willing to sacrifice on. Did you know even at the scale he is producing, all his kombucha is still made in glass? Apparently it’s an epicly huge warehouse full of 3 gallon glass jars, and GT himself is involved in production on a daily basis. But here is where the line that divides Jun and kombucha becomes apparent – sugar is cheap. Mass production is doable. ‘Nuff said I suppose.
Another idea floating around is a bottle return program. I would need to actually start vending at the markets to run an experiment on this one, but the point is generating as little waste as possible. We also plan to use recyclable labels (so many glass & plastic bottles have non-recyclable labels).
Speaking of bottles, that’s the biggest and most important change in the Jun of late. We have switched from the 16oz. swing top bottles (RIP, I’ll miss you) to 4oz. tonic style bottles. I am super stoked about the switch – it’s an enormous game changer. When people look at the swing top bottles, the first thought in most peoples’ minds is ‘alcohol’. It’s hard to separate such a powerful, lifelong conditioned association. Alternatively, when people see our new bottle, they thoughts are more like ‘elixir’, ‘potent’, ‘medicinal’, and ‘tonic’. At least I think….I’m not a [certified] mind reader. Also, as insanely potent as the Jun I make is, consuming 16oz. can make even me (the super tolerant guy who’s abused lots of drugs) feel a bit ‘cracked out‘. It’s unbelievably strong stuff, and demands respect. A common occurrence would be for myself or someone else to open a 16oz. bottle, drink half, then try and save the rest for later. It’s never as good when it’s opened and then left out like that; the carbonation dissipates, the flavors oxidize, and the tartness increases to an unpleasant level. With the 4oz. serving size, it’s much easier to pace one’s self, without sacrificing the quality of the experience. Drink a 4oz. shot, then if I want more, grab another. This way I usually end up drinking 2-3 shots a day, which is still only 12oz., significantly less than I used to drink. Somehow it feels like more though, and it’s so fantastic having every single sip brimming over with flavor and carbonation. The smaller bottles are so, so much easier to manage, transport, store, and cool. Not only can I now offer the Jun to a wider demographic (had to charge $12 for the 16oz., the bottle alone cost $3-4! Yet I can offer the 4oz. for $5, as the bottle is less than a dollar. And shit, sharing it & getting it into peoples’ bodies is the point!), but I am also to able charge more per volume. People would frequently have heart attacks (figuratively speaking) when I’d inform them of the $12 price tag for 16oz., yet now 4 of the 4oz. bottles would cost $20, and no one bats an eye! It’s almost double the price, yet somehow the perceived value is much higher. And hey, they just look really cool.
In closing, I want to share an exciting revelation in my personal hygiene. We have all heard of the myriad of health benefits that come with ingesting Apple Cider Vinegar – but have you ever used it on your hair, face, and body? I have said goodbye to body wash for good, and only use shampoo once in a while when I really need it. Check it out…
Each hair on your head has something called an acid mantle, with an average pH of 5 (slightly acidic). Most hair care products are alkaline, which damages the acid mantle and creates frizziness, roughness, and unmanageability. Simply pouring some ACV in your locks while in the shower, massaging it in thoroughly, and giving it a good rinse will give you the smoothest, most cooperative hair you’ve ever seen. After a while, due to my job, grease and grime will build up and I need a shampooing for a good oil cleanse. For daily use though, it’s the ACV for me. I’m even more fond of it’s magical effects on the face and body. What I do is take a clean washcloth, apply a small amount of ACV, and rub my whole face with it – I get everywhere; the rims of my ears, above my eyelids, all the little nooks and crannies. I continue like this over my whole body, applying more ACV to the washcloth as needed. I give extra, extra special attention to my armpits. I am careful around the b-hole and sensitive parts; using too much has caused it to dry out and be itchy in the past. Lol! After that’s done, I rinse my body off, clean the washcloth, wring it out, then rub my whole body again to make sure all the ACV is washed off. Neglecting this last step has resulted in carrying a slight vinegar odor throughout my entire day. Not the worst thing in the world, but your girlfriend might not like it. What’s really cool is this method of washing actually encourages the natural, healthy microbes that live on your skin and protect you to thrive, while simultaneously eliminating the unwanted, odor causing bacteria. Contrast this with soap & body wash that kill everything. Using ACV on a regular basis has drastically improved my body odor, even when going a day or two without showering. As a solvent, it pulls toxins from the pores (I get a potent sense of well being when rinsing off the ACV), and leaves my skin beyond soft. When I used to use soap, after even one day I would smell rank. Try it for yourself and see if it doesn’t change your life!