Tuba is an alcoholic drink prepared from juice that has been collected from coconut trees. Nonoy is a tuba collector and a neighbor of ours at Mo-Mo beach, where our boat was built. He collects the juice from his 4 coconut trees twice each day. He took Jim along one morning to see and photograph what he does. The trees are amazingly tall, and Nonoy has cut small, widely spaced notches on the sides of the tree trunks to make them easier for him to climb. He uses no other aids to climbing, and has no fall protection whatsoever.
Nonoy is very much at home in the trees, and did not seem the least bit apprehensive or concerned about what he was doing or the height at which he was doing it. He frequently stopped in the middle of some action to be sure that Jim could get a good picture. He said that he has never fallen from a tree.
After his long climb to the top of the tree, Nonoy cuts off the end of its flower stem(s). He places a bamboo tube under each stem to collect the liquid which drips from its cut end. A leaf is tied over the end of the bamboo tube to prevent rain from diluting the tuba. He must climb the tree and take off an additional slice from the stem every 12 hours, or the tree will heal the wound and the liquid will stop flowing. At the time of Jim's visit, Nonoy was getting about one gallon of tuba from each tree each day. He said that he sometimes gets more than that at other seasons of the year.
When the tuba is first collected, it is sweet like a fruit juice. It quickly begins to ferment, however, and is alcoholic by the next day. The alcohol content continues to rise for several days until it reaches a maximum after 3-5 days or so, depending on the weather and ambient temperatures. Then bacteria take over, and the tuba becomes vinegar. Tuba is considered to be at its best for 1-3 days after it is collected. (The tuba vinegar is seasoned with hot peppers and allowed to age for 2 months before use. It is delicious.)
No cultures are added to the tuba to make it ferment. (Jim thinks that the bamboo containers retain enough liquid to keep the yeast cultures alive and transfer them to each new batch as it is collected.) Nonoy does add a little "powder" to the tuba which gives it a pink color. Jim asked if the powder changed the flavor, and was told no. Then why add the powder? Because "without the powder, the tuba would be white." The powder adds only color, probably to distinguish the tuba from coconut milk, which is also white.
The finished tuba is sold in the local Sari-Sari stores (it is in the gallon bottle at the far right of the photo.) Nonoy receives 35 pesos (about 70¢) per gallon, and the store sells a gallon for 50 pesos. This is actually fairly expensive, as one can buy rum for 10 pesos a pint. The pint of rum probably contains at least as much alcohol as a gallon of tuba.
Nonoy thus earns about 140 pesos per day from his four trees, pretty close to the local minimum wage. As it takes very little time to collect the tuba, Jim guesses that he earns even this much because of the hazard of falling from the trees. With no health or disability insurance, and no workers compensation, Nonoy has a very dangerous job.
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